I 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.