On the Subtle Sin of Jealousy

jealousI have always thought of jealous adults as childish. But as I thought more and more about matters, I came to realize that many of the sins we see so clearly in childhood carry over into adulthood. We simply learn to hide them better. For many of us, the weaknesses and sins we displayed in childhood are still with us: jealousy, laziness, a critical spirit, fits of temper, etc.

The other day, I was teaching our AWANA kids about how Laban was jealous of Jacob. God blessed Laban with wealth (in those days, measured in livestock). Jacob, who started raising livestock with Laban’s rejects, began to catch up to and surpass Laban (Genesis 30-31). Laban and his sons became so jealous that Jacob and his family had to escape for their lives. Had God not warned Laban in a dream, he may well have killed Jacob.

Johann Strauss Sr. was a musical genius, but he envied his son, Johan Strauss Jr., who surpassed him in genius and fame. When we speak of the “Strauss Waltzes,” we are usually talking about the work of Johann Jr. Time and time again we hear stories of parents jealous of their children’s talents, beauty, or “breaks in life.” I am among those who want my children to have everything so that I can move in with them!

Even those of us in ministry get jealous. Like something out of Ecclesiastes, I hear of ungodly pastors whose churches grow leaps and bounds. Some of these guys don’t know Genesis from Revelation and are professional manipulators, yet their churches blossom. In contrast, I sometimes notice faithful pastors who love the Lord yet see their churches dissolve. Of course jealousy over a good man whose ministry blossoms is tempting, too.

Like Laban, a lot of jealousy originates with a competitive spirit. If we are doing badly, we do not mind it so much as long as everyone else does badly. But if someone surpasses us, we are tempted to resent it. If someone’s pocket book is thicker, their marriage seems happier, their job easier, their talents greater, their physique better, or their children more successful, we can revert back to that childhood tendency to be jealous.

We do not understand God’s ways: He gives one talent to some, five to another, and to yet another ten. He tells us to rejoice with those who rejoice, to weep with those who weep. He commands us to look out not only for our own interests, but the interests of others. He labels jealousy among the works of the flesh (Gal. 5:19) and places it right after hatred. I think they are ordered that way because they are closely associated.

Like Cain, Laban’s sin began with jealousy. It progressed to hatred and—like Cain’s—it would have culminated in murder. While most of us do not go around seeking to murder others, we may display hatred in various ways: we slander, we withdraw from those we hate, we stew and become bitter, we cancel commitments that involve the one we despise.

We should deal with jealousy as a sin because it is a sin! This is precisely why many of us will not admit that we are jealous.

There is another side to this coin; just as a defensive driver is careful about his habits but is also on the lookout for mistakes others might make, so we must be concerned about those who might be tempted to be jealous of us. Be sensitive that sometimes when you are blessed, your blessing can actually hurt another emotionally.

I have a great marriage. My wife and I have been married nearly 32 years and we enjoy one another’s company immensely. I do not brag about how wonderful my wife is from the pulpit, as some pastors do. We were blessed with two children, both of whom are serving the Lord. I do not brag about them despite my great pride in them.

Why do I hold back from repeated public celebrations of my wife and our kids? Because it can be painful to those whose marriages are not so great and whose children are not following the Lord. My attempts at setting an example can backfire and rub salt in open wounds.

It is hard to rejoice in another’s wonderful marriage retreat when your marriage is on the rocks. It may be tough to rejoice at the birth of a new child when you and your spouse cannot conceive. We should not be shy about praising the Lord for our blessings, but we need to temper our enthusiasm with consideration.

It is impossible to go down life’s rugged road without feeling hurt or passed by, yet God urges us to put off jealousy. We are not competing with one another. Our competition is with ourselves as we seek to run the race laid out for us. Our racing track looks different from that of our neighbor. That can be hard to accept—especially if our neighbor’s track has fewer obstacles. But accept it we must. The Spirit of God can empower us to rejoice with others rather than to be jealous of them. Jealousy is not an option. We must nip it in the bud.

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There are 9 Comments

christian cerna's picture

This is a very thoughtful article. Thank you for reminding us to be joyful when others are blessed, and to be saddened when others suffer loss. Love should always bind us together.

Ed Vasicek's picture

christian cerna wrote:
This is a very thoughtful article. Thank you for reminding us to be joyful when others are blessed, and to be saddened when others suffer loss. Love should always bind us together.

Thanks, Christian. Loving others is so important, and sometimes so easy; at other times, it is so difficult.

"The Midrash Detective"

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Found this personally helpful, Ed.
A good measure of how well Christian love is thriving in my heart: when hearing of some great success or blessing someone else is experiencing, how long does it take me to feel genuine gladness for them? Ought to be instantaneous and easy.

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

So this article got me thinking a bit. With anger, we know there is a righteous side to it. Is there one to jealousy? God describes himself as a jealous God. Are there some things we also should be jealous of/for, or is this an attribute limited to God? If we can have "good" jealousy, it would probably be as rare as righteous anger, but I wonder if we would clearly recognize the difference.

Dave Barnhart

christian cerna's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:
Found this personally helpful, Ed.
A good measure of how well Christian love is thriving in my heart: when hearing of some great success or blessing someone else is experiencing, how long does it take me to feel genuine gladness for them? Ought to be instantaneous and easy.

Very true. And if we don't feel those things, we also ask God to give us a heart according to His own heart, that delights in those things which are good, and true, and right; and feels abhorrence at sin, lies, wrongs.

christian cerna's picture

dcbii wrote:
So this article got me thinking a bit. With anger, we know there is a righteous side to it. Is there one to jealousy? God describes himself as a jealous God. Are there some things we also should be jealous of/for, or is this an attribute limited to God? If we can have "good" jealousy, it would probably be as rare as righteous anger, but I wonder if we would clearly recognize the difference.

True. I think we shouldn't confuse jealousy with envy/covetousness. Envy/covetousness is always a sin. But jealousy is not.

Envy/covetousness has to do with desiring something that belongs to your neighbor, or harboring ill feelings toward another person when they are blessed.

Jealousy has more to do with demanding that love that is owed to you, is not given to someone else. For example, a husband is right in demanding that his wife be faithful to him, love only him and no other man, and feeling jealous if he sees his wife flirting with someone else. Of course, jealousy can turn to paranoia, when the man imagines that his wife is being unfaithful, when she is not, and tries to control her.

Ed Vasicek's picture

Some good comments. I agree that jealousy can be a good and healthy thing. Let me be a Bible thumper.

Besides God being jealous when his children worship another god, God also seeks to make his erring (or unbelieving) people jealous, as in Romans 10:19 (ESV)

Quote:
But I ask, did Israel not understand? First Moses says, “I will make you jealous of those who are not a nation; with a foolish nation I will make you angry.”

Paul tried to make the Jews jealous, as mentioned in Romans 11:14

Quote:
in order somehow to make my fellow Jews jealous, and thus save some of them.

in 2 Corinthians 11:2, Paul had a godly jealousy for his converts:

Quote:
For I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ.

And we see a godly jealousy involving the Holy Spirit in James 4:5:

Quote:
Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”?

Still, James 3:16 perhaps represents the most common use of jealousy:

Quote:
For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.

"The Midrash Detective"

Steve Newman's picture

While there is a positive jealousy, the negative one tends to be more prevalent.
It is a huge problem. May I submit that there are those among the ones God is blessing or have outward success that can sometimes foster that behavior by what the NFL would call "excessive celebration". The author is quite right that there needs to also be humility with blessing. It is part of why many believers cannot handle the trials of prosperity.

Ed Vasicek's picture

We all are responsible for our own attitudes and behaviors, but we are all also supposed to avoid putting a stumbling block before others, making it easier for them to sin.

When we talk to pastors and leaders about how much we love Piper (he is the current "spiritual celebrity") or MacArthur or Evans -- or that successful pastor a few blocks down -- we are, in a sense, encouraging jealousy.

It is kind of like speaking well of someone you know the other person dislikes. It is inconsiderate at best and a stumbling block at worst.

Many people, I have discovered, do not understand these sorts of chain reactions and entirely ignore the stumbling block concept (except when it comes to alcohol).

"The Midrash Detective"

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