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September 6, 1993

Green with Envy

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[A]ll labor and all achievement spring from man’s envy of his neighbor. ECCLESIASTES 4:4
Keeping up with the Joneses is depressing. In fact, Solomon contends that it is meaningless and chasing after the wind. There is no redeeming quality about it.
But it’s a common issue: “[A] 11 labor and all achievement spring from man’s envy of his neighbor” (Ecclesiastes 4:4). While it’s true that Solomon is sometimes given to hyperbole, that is still a strong statement. In fact, its power keeps us from immediately deciding it does not apply to us. We must consider if it does apply, and if so, how.
The implication is clear that if we are able to disconnect our strivings from what our neighbors have, then our lives will be much healthier and happier. What criteria do we use to evaluate whether our lives are chained to theirs? Income, house size, vacations, friends, cars, status in the community, clothes, furniture, health, a second home—all the usual things.
To what extent are your life goals and priorities connected with what your neighbors have—or at least what they seem to have? When you make financial decisions, how strong is the “neighbor factor”? Does it affect your recommendation about where your children apply to college? Does it affect how much you’re willing to spend on a car? The list goes on, but you get the picture.
It is interesting to note that Solomon’s solution doesn’t involve moving to a place with no neighbors at all. He doesn’t recommend that we live in some sort of hermetically sealed bubble, or that we take up residence at a cabin in the woods with no other houses in sight and no families with whom to compare ourselves. (In fact, later in Ecclesiastes he makes it very clear that friendship is one of God’s most valuable gifts.)
No, Solomon’s solution is to live with other people but not be chained to them when it comes to our own material priorities. What is your plan for separating what is important to you from what is important to them? Or, to use imagery from Ecclesiastes 4:4, how do you beat the envy beast back?

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