February 1, 2021

Ecclesiastes 4:4 

And I saw that all toil and all achievement spring from one person’s envy of another. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.


Knowing that King Solomon wrote these words brings out my inner skeptic. Sure, he was incredibly wise, but he was also a King. So he could easily afford to forgo toil. But I doubt he let his servants or slaves take the same approach to his care or commands. My sarcastic inner voice equates it to a billionaire’s child admonishing the rest of that “anything is possible if you believe in it.” Since we don’t all have unlimited funds or high level connections, belief doesn’t always pay the bills. 

But let’s be careful not to discount Solomon’s admonition so quickly. It’s easy to assume that the wealthy, successful, famous, or good-looking among us are free from envy and comparison. But that is not true. Almost any in-depth interview with a celebrity will reveal their insecurity and tendency to compare themselves to others. The most attractive among us still look in the mirror and see things they don’t like. The wealthier try to get wealthier. Successful people can feel like failures in key areas outside of career or accomplishment.

What if we assume that Solomon is talking about himself here? Perhaps he’s looking at his own tendency to compare himself to other royalty or the kings that came before him? In that light, we have something to consider. Try reading the verse in the first person.

All my toil and achievement springs from my envy of others.

Does any part of that ring true? Now, It’s unlikely that every single thing you’ve achieved came from envy. There is reasonable, godly, and righteous toil. But a regular self-check of our motivations is an incredibly healthy discipline to engage in. The next time you find yourself in the middle of toil – staying late at work, checking emails in bed, grasping for the next promotion or internally competing with other families, students, or co-workers – take a breath. Ask yourself how much of that toil is rooted in envy.

Regularly reflecting in this way opens our eyes and ears to God’s voice in a new way. As you are able to define those negative motivations, you will also be able to separate out motivations that are good, and kind, and placed there by God for a good reason. The more we focus on those things, the less space there is for envy and comparison to take root. If you find yourself toiling today, or if perhaps you are already in a toil-filled state of mind, take a moment to pause and ask yourself,

“Is this toil coming from a place of envy? Remember that it’s a meaningless pursuit.”

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