King Solomon (who history acknowledges as the wisest man to have lived) made this observation.
“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.” Eccl 4:4
He looks around him and sees that everyone’s work and everything they’re trying to achieve is motivated by their jealousy over what everyone else is doing or what they have achieved. And he says, it’s dumb! It’s meaningless!
And in the cold light of day, we’d have to agree. Doing or being or seeking to have ANYTHING because we are jealous of another person who is doing, being or having those things is nothing short of ‘chasing after the wind’. Such a lot of energy to employ to chase after something that is unable to be grasped. As soon as we do or be or have whatever it is we’re chasing there’ll always be another thing to do or be or have, or what it is that we THINK we want to do or be or have might not be what it looked like from far away anyway. We’re signing ourselves up for disappointment and we’re allowing JEALOUSY to be the engine room of our heart and lives.
Doing the right things, desiring the right things, working towards the right things, getting better at the right things, disciplining ourselves in the right things … there’s nothing wrong with that. There’s nothing innately wrong in working hard and achieving success – but doing the RIGHT things for the WRONG motive is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.
If you are serving at church because you see that someone else is and you want to appear better than them or you fear they’re appearing better than you – it’s the wrong motive (right action).
If you are working extra shifts and saving extra hard and running a tight budget because you want the lifestyle or ‘stuff’ of another person … the never ending quest for ‘more’ or ‘better’ – it’s the wrong motive (entirely admirable action).
If you are striving for better grades at school so you don’t feel inferior compared to others – it’s the wrong motive (being smarter is great!).
If you are doing things with or for your kids because you see that your friends are doing those kinds of things with or for THEIR kids – it’s the wrong motive (loving on your kids is all good).
In Ecclesiastes 12:13 Solomon concludes that the RIGHT motive and the RIGHT measurement is God. Fullness of life and true meaning and purpose are found in our motivation being relationship with God and our measurement being His commandments and His desires for us.
Some thoughts for reflection … do you find yourself motivated to do things out of jealousy of others or competition with people around you? Is jealousy a fuel that motivates you? How does the wrong motive for an action taint the value and benefit of the action itself?