Your neighbor walks you up to their brand-new car, sitting in the driveway. It is pristine.
The outer surface is smooth, unlike the surface of your car, covered with chips and small dents.
He opens the door, and you immediately catch a whiff of the new car scent, unlike the whiff of stale french fries you just smelled in your car.
You look inside and view the modern, untouched interior, unlike the “kids-clearly-ride-in-this-car” look of your car’s interior.
They tell you about all the new safety features the car employs. The car seems invincible, unlike the apparent death trap you drive.
You smile and congratulate them on the new purchase. And you mean it. But as you walk back to your house, envy beings to creep in. Envy is a feeling of discontentment resulting from another person’s possessions. You long to have what they have. You deserve the new car scent.
Before you start browsing Cars.com or Autotrader.com, let me provide three quick thoughts to consider:
1. The Bible tells us not to envy.
Galatians 5:10-21 identifies envy as a deed of the flesh. Instead, we are to find contentment in what God has provided us. Contentment can be found by first realizing that God owns everything. Possession does not determine ownership. Everything you possess—money, house, car—is God’s, not yours. While God entrusts us with certain things, there is never a shift in ownership. The same is true for your neighbor.
Contentment can also be found by focusing not on what we do not have, but on how to steward what we do have. To some, God provides much. To others, He provides little. But to all, He requires stewardship (Matthew 25:14-30). Focus on how you are leveraging what God has already entrusted to your care for the advancement of His Kingdom and watch the discontentment fade.
2. Keeping up with the Joneses is real.
“Keeping up with the Joneses” means to keep pace with the lifestyle of those around you. It is a real phenomenon. A research project by the Philadelphia Federal Reserve studied the neighbors of lottery winners. Their findings revealed that neighbors of lottery winners were more likely to take on additional credit card and mortgage debt. Bankruptcy rates also increased amongst neighbors during the following three years. They tried to keep up and found themselves in financial ruin.
So, be careful when you find yourself envying your neighbors car or any other costly item. The feeling of discontentment has real financial consequences. Stay within the bounds of your own finances. Don’t try to keep up with the Joneses.
3. Your neighbors probably used debt to get that car.
It is very likely that the brand-new car you are envying came with a brand-new debt. According to Statista, eight-five percent (85%) of new car purchases are financed, with $26,000 being the average loan for a new car. It is not likely that your neighbors got a bonus at work or have significant margin within their existing budget. No, they probably could not afford the car without taking on debt. That new car doesn’t always represent status but financial burden, a burden you want to avoid.
So, don’t envy your neighbor’s new car. The Bible warns against such discontentment. It can lead you to make unwise financial decisions. And you are likely envying a façade of status propped up by debt.