There are two words in the language of the New Testament that can be translated by our English word “envy.” One is always used in the negative sense – it means to begrudge someone their success and want to take away what they have for yourself. The other is the word we find in 1 Corinthians 13:4 where we read “Love does not envy.” Believe it or not, although it is an ancient Greek word, you know it! The word is zelos; or, as your spell-checker might suggest, “zealous.” But what does the Bible mean when it says that “love is not zealous?”
Unlike the other New Testament word for envy which is always bad, “zelos” can be either a good, aspiring passion or a bad, jealous passion. The bad, jealous passion is what we find here in 1 Corinthians 13:4. This envy, or jealousy, does not involve wanting to deprive another person of some good in their life, rather, it wants to surpass all of the benefits and accolades, successes and strengths that the other person enjoys. At its heart, it is the spirit of competition that always wants to “one-up” your neighbor, colleague, friend, or spouse. It is never enough to simply glory in the fact a person you love has accomplished something great. Deep down, you know that you deserve at least as much credit or glory as they have received. This passion say to itself, “Fine, they have done something good; but I will do something great.”
In reflecting on this description of love, the famous song from “Annie Get Your Gun” comes to mind. In this Irving Berlin classic, the careers and love story of Annie Oakley and Frank Butler are set to music. The story is simple. Annie and Frank are both marksmen in a Wild West Show when they fall in love. But then Annie becomes wildly popular because of her incredible marksmanship and is adopted into the Sioux tribe. Frank is jealous and leaves for another Wild West Show. They meet again in the last act and profess their love for each other, but the same spirit of competition flares up again. Annie and Frank sing a duet that sadly reflects too many relationships today: “Anything you can do, I can do better. I can do anything better than you.” They compete with each other not only in shooting, but who is the better shopper, dresser, singer, speaker, even safe-cracker! In short, they envied one another. And their love is almost ruined. It is only when Annie decides to intentionally let Frank win their last shooting contest that the show ends on a positive note and genuine hope is felt for the unlikely couple.
Consider for a moment a Biblical alternative. You see, that song “Anything You Can Do” should never have been sung! It is very cute and funny on the stage, but in real life it betrays a heart that refuses to simply rejoice in how well the other person shoots, shops, dresses, sings, etc… (let’s exclude safe-cracking please!). Love delights in whatever good comes to or from our loved ones. Take some time to evaluate your relationships, especially your marriages, and “put your guns away.” Let’s stop ungodly competition and simply rejoice at how God has gifted and blessed one another.