“Anyone can sympathize with the sufferings of a friend, but it requires a very fine nature to sympathize with a friend's success” (Oscar Wilde).
My friend had success. He was golden. I was the flake. Through 90 hours of graduate classes, he never failed to bring home all A’s. I never failed to bring home grades.
Not only was he smart, he was also Adonis – dark, wavy hair and dimples – the kind of guy at whom the girls batted their eyes. At me, they swung baseball bats.
When he signed up for softball, I thought I had my chance to outshine him. Nope. The golden boy had a gold glove and caught every ball and always managed to slide in safely to second. I caught cold and slid in by the water cooler on the bench.
His success continued. He preached for a church of a couple thousand people. He’s published several popular books. His calendar is packed with speaking engagements all over the world. It would be easy to envy his success. Easy, but wrong.
The church in ancient Corinth was successful in many ways: affluence, education, and sophistication – things for which they had worked hard. They were also richly blessed. God gave some of them amazing abilities to speak in languages they had never studied.
Yet, there were also Christians in that church who were poor and struggling. In addition, not everyone had the highly visible and very impressive gift of tongues.
These and other factors led to fights – divisions and rivalry. The church was on the verge of splintering into competing factions when Paul wrote to try to turn things around.
Jealousy still threatens today. One sibling makes it big and the other wants to break off family ties. One friend is more popular and the other wants to find a new friend. One church member gets more public recognition than others and some are ready to quit.
The antidote for envy, then as now, is love. Loving someone means wanting what’s best for him or her. Having seen someone we love get what is best for them, why should we then be jealous of that?
May God help us to sympathize with our friends’ successes.