Shakespeare called jealousy “the green sickness”, and we often speak of people being “green with envy”. And, in that regard, it’s all too easy being green!
The Greeks tell a story that has been passed down through the years. It’s about how the citizens in an ancient Greek city built a beautiful statue to one of the men in the city who was an athlete, a man who was a champion at their public games. But there was another man who was a rival of the honored athlete. He was envious, so much so that he vowed he would destroy the statue. Every night he went out in the darkness and chiseled at its base in an effort to undermine its foundation and make it fall. At last he succeeded and it did fall -- but it fell on him before he could get away. He died a victim of his own envy.
That ancient Greek was neither the first nor the last to become so furious in his envy that he did something foolish that hurt himself. Solomon said long ago, "Wrath is cruel and anger a torrent, but who is able to stand before jealousy?" (Proverbs 27:4). Paul lists jealousy as one of the works of the flesh in Galatians 5:20.
It’s been said that there are two kinds of people in the world -- those who are millionaires and those who would like to be. And that’s one example of jealousy, but it’s only a piece of it. When someone else does an outstanding thing or receives an honor and I say, "That’s great!", but inside I wish that I were in that position, that’s jealousy. When someone else receives all the attention because of their reputation or wit or ability to speak, and I think I ought to be the center of attention, that’s jealousy too.
Jealousy is that green-eyed monster we all have a problem with at times. The Corinthians were certainly having a problem with it. In I Corinthians 12, Paul talks about how each member of the body is given an ability and that each of our gifts is important. But there were some Christians who felt that their gifts were inferior. And there seems to have been a problem with some of the Christians being jealous of those with more important gifts.
So Paul says that in I Corinthians 13:4 that “Love does not envy." Love isn’t jealous. Rather, love will "rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep." (Romans 12:15).
I. The Problem With Jealousy
The problem with jealousy is that it’s very selfish. Most of our jealousy expresses itself in one of two ways.
First of all, it can say, "I want what you have." We call this "keeping up with the Joneses." For example, let’s say my neighbor gets a new car and I respond in the following way, "Oh, I wish I had that. How come he gets a new car? How can he afford it? He doesn’t make any more money than I do." This kind of envy is hard to avoid. We find ourselves wanting what everyone else has -- their clothes, their looks, their self-confidence, and their popularity, their ability to speak and persuade men.
And advertisers know how to manipulate our jealousy. They not only fuel our desire for things, but for more and better things than others have -- a better car, a better TV, a better computer. I read recently where someone made the statement, “If we did away with the sins of jealousy and envy, the entire American economy would immediately collapse.” I don’t think that statement is far off the mark at all.
A second -- and deeper -- way that jealousy manifests itself is by saying, "I wish you didn’t have it." The first level of jealousy is wanting what someone else has, but the second level is resenting that he has it. Jealousy doesn’t like to see others achieve recognition or prominence and will, whenever possible, seek to put others down. It’s been said that the only ones who will try to cut you down to size are those who are lower than you are. And that’s what jealousy does. It shows people how small we really are inside.
Envy has been called the great leveler; if it can’t level things up, then it tries to bring the other person down. Someone has said that an envious person is a lot like a crab. If crabs are caught by a fisherman in his basket and one starts to climb out, the other crabs will reach up and pull it back down.
It’s easy to be jealous, isn’t it? Somebody will give me a tape of another preacher and say, "Ivan, you’ve got to hear this guy. He’s fantastic!" Well, my first inclination, once I begin listening to the tape, is to say, "He’s not bad, but I’ve heard better." But if he’s really good, it’s hard for me to handle, because sometimes ego gets in the way. Now there are a lot of men that are better preachers than I am -- I just don’t listen to their tapes. No, that’s not true, but you understand what I’m talking about, don’t you? It’s very difficult to rejoice over somebody who does exactly what you do, but does it better.
I remember when I was a kid; I played foot ball for our Little League team. But one week, I missed schooling. When I got back, I found that I had been replaced. The second kid was short, but in the game that was played while I was away, he had made a fantastic catch, so he replaced me. You find yourself thinking a lot of terrible things in a situation like that as you sit on the bench. You want him to flub up and commit errors. Even worse, you wish that he would break his leg or something. Jealousy causes us to say and do terrible things, but it’s something we can all relate to, isn’t it?
And jealousy seems to be one of those sins that can tempt us no matter how much we grow as a Christian. An old story is told about Satan’s agents who were trying to tempt a holy man who lived as a hermit in the desert of northern Africa. Every attempt they made had met with failure. So Satan, angered with the incompetence of his subordinates, became personally involved in the case. He said, "The reason you have failed is that your methods are too crude for one such as this. Watch this."
He then approached the holy man with great care and whispered softly in his ear, "Your brother has just been made bishop of Alexandria." Instantly, the man’s face showed that Satan had been successful. A great scowl formed over his mouth and his eyes tightened up. And Satan said, “Envy is often our best weapon against those who seek holiness.” The story is just a fable, but I think it makes a good point.
II. Jealousy in the Bible
As we go through the Bible, it’s surprising how many sins are connected with jealousy. The first sin in the Bible involved the sin of jealousy. In Genesis 3:5, Satan encouraged Eve to eat the forbidden fruit and said, "For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." He said, in essence, "Eve wouldn’t you like to be like God?" And Eve must have thought, "Yeah, I sure would. Why should he be the only one with the knowledge of good and evil? I don’t want to be left out. I want to be like God!"
The next sin we read about in the Bible is murder. Cain killed Abel. Why? Because he was jealous -- jealous of God’s acceptance of Abel’s sacrifice over his own.
Remember Sarah and Hagar. Abraham and Sarah were promised a child. They got tired of waiting, so Sarah said to Abraham, "Why don’t you take my slave-girl Hagar as your wife and maybe you can have a child together." So, Abraham did and Hagar conceived. After that, she began to look at Sarah with disdain. "I’m going to have a baby and you’re not!" And that created jealousy toward Hagar from Sarah.
In Acts 7:9, we’re told that Joseph’s brothers sold Joseph into slavery because they were "envious". They didn’t like Joseph being honored – wearing that multi-colored coat that Dad gave him -- because that made them feel less important.
In Numbers 16, Korah and about 250 other Israelites came to Moses and Aaron and objected to the status of Moses and Aaron and claimed to be equal with them. They were envious of their position and ultimately God destroyed them because of their envy.
In the book of Esther, you remember how king Ahasuerus rewarded Mordecai for saving his life. He put Mordecai on a royal horse wearing a royal robe and led him through the streets of the city. And that drove Haman absolutely crazy. He was so envious that he determined to do everything in his power to have Mordecai and all the other Jews killed.
Envy was even one of the sins that caused the death of Christ. "For he knew that the chief priests had handed him over because of envy." (Mark 15:10).
In Luke 15, Jesus tells the familiar parable of the prodigal son. When the prodigal son came home, the father killed the fatted calf, put a ring on his son’s finger, gave him a robe and had a party. But his older brother "was angry and would not go in" (Luke 15:28). Why? Because he was jealous. His brother was getting all the attention that he deserved. After all, he’s been faithful to his father, hasn’t he? He hasn’t gone out and wasted his life in riotous partying; he hasn’t made a mockery of the family name. What’s in it for him, if this scoundrel brother of his can get such a royal welcome back home from the pigpen?
In Acts 13, almost the whole city of Antioch showed up to hear Paul preach. And how did the Jews react? "But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with envy." (Acts 13:45). Why? Because they weren’t receiving the attention they wanted to receive.
In all these stories, there is a recurring theme. In each of them, the envious character thought he would be more respected if he got rid of the one who was admired. In each case, envy not only said, “I want what you have” but also said, “I wish you didn’t have it.”
But it’s a lot easier to pick out jealousy in the lives of Bible characters than it is to recognize it in our own lives. And as long as we deceive ourselves into thinking that we don’t have a problem with jealousy, then we’re never going to grow in love. So let’s take a closer look at some of the different ways that jealousy manifests itself in our lives.
III. How Jealousy is Manifested
As children, we were sometimes jealous of brothers and sisters because they seemed to get more attention from our parents. As we got older, we may have been jealous because they were better looking or smarter or had privileges we didn’t. Sometimes those jealousies end up staying with us for a lifetime.
We’re sometimes jealous of people at work. Why did he get that promotion or honor? I deserved it more. How does she seem to get so much done with so little apparent effort?
Sometimes we’re jealous of friendships. Maybe I like Fred a lot. I want to spend a lot of time with him. But Fred spends most of his time with John. I’m jealous. I want Fred to consider me his best friend, not someone else.
Jealousy is a terrible thing. And the biggest problem is that it almost always causes strife. In fact, every passage in the New Testament that tells us not to be jealous connects it with strife. "Let us walk....not in strife and envy." (Romans 13:13).
James says that "Where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing will be there." (James 3:16).
Paul said to the Corinthians, "For you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men?" (I Corinthians 3:3).
I don’t think this point can be emphasized enough: if you have jealousy, then you’re going to have strife. And if you’re involved in strife right now, it might be well for you to stop and see if perhaps jealousy is the root of the problem.
IV. What Can We Do?
Let me remind you of a story in the Old Testament. King Saul had a son named Jonathan, who was likely next in line to inherit the throne. Then along came a singer by the name of David. Not only was he a singer, he was also a great shepherd, a giant-killer, articulate, poetic, a supreme musician -- he had all kinds of abilities. One person with so much talent could be a very unpopular fellow. And with Saul he was. Saul hated him, didn’t he? He hated him because of his abilities. The people were giving David more praise than Saul. Maybe David would even try to take the throne! So, one day, in a fit of fury, Saul grabbed his spear and threw it at David, trying to kill him.
Now we don’t know much in particular about Saul’s son, Jonathan, except for the fact that he shot an arrow fairly well. That’s about it. We don’t know anything about his musical ability, or his articulation or much of anything else about him. But, scripture does say one important thing about him, though. Jonathan never ever had any jealousy of David. You say, "Well, he didn’t stand to lose as much as Saul." But he did. He was in line for the throne, and from the human perspective it could one day have been his. But the Bible says this about Jonathan, "And he [Jonathan] loved him [David] as he loved his own soul." (I Samuel 20:17).
Do you see what made the difference between Saul and Jonathan? It was a difference of love. Saul was jealous, and Jonathan wasn’t. Jonathan loved David, and love can’t be jealous.
When a loving person sees somebody who’s prosperous, popular or powerful, he’s glad -- he rejoices. I think of Philippians 1 where Paul writes and says, "Yes, I’m in jail. And there are some new young preachers coming along that are being accepted by the people. They’re taking advantage of my imprisonment to make a name for themselves." In verse 16, he says they "preach Christ even from selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my chains."
How did Paul react to them? Was he jealous that they were in the limelight? Was he jealous that they were doing what he used to do, only they were getting all the glory? No. Look at his response in verse 18, "What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is preached; and in this I rejoice, yes, and will rejoice." You see, Paul had the spirit that says, "I don’t envy anyone who does what I do -- even if they do it better and get more applause."
Love rejoices in others’ success and usefulness. Let me briefly suggest three things that will serve as an antidote for jealousy:
A. A Changed Focus – The Kingdom of God
“Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all of these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33)
Where are you looking? What are you focusing on? If your focus is not the glory and the kingdom and the will of God, it will be on something else, and that something else is bound to lead ultimately to jealousy and envy. When my focus is wrong, I compare myself with others. When my focus is wrong, I am ungrateful for what I have. When my focus is wrong, I am discontent and I seek to gain more for myself. Where are you focused?
B. A Changed Attitude – Gratitude
“In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” ( I Thessalonians 5:18)
This verse appears in my Top Ten toughest Bible verses -- in everything give thanks! You’re not being honest if you say that that is easy! And yet gratitude to God for everything will guard our hearts against the sin of jealousy. The more we’re thankful for what we have, the less will be our desire to compare what we have with what someone else has.
C. A Changed Perspective - Contentment
"I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me." (Philippians 4:11-13). There’s just no way to be content and jealous at the same time. It can’t happen.
We don’t like to think of jealousy and envy as being all that bad. We like to think of works of the flesh being things like murder (that’s terrible!), fornication (what a horrible sin!), and drunkenness (disgraceful for any Christian to consider). But we sometimes forget that envy is in that same list in Galatians 5.
So how are you doing? Do you ever get jealous over someone who owns more than you, is more attractive than you, has a better job than you, is more eloquent than you, is smarter than you, is thinner than you, wears nicer clothes than you, drives a nicer car than you, has more friends than you, has a happier marriage than you, gets better grades than you, and so on?
This lesson is a reminder that Christianity is not something to be lived out in solitary confinement. We don’t lock ourselves up in monasteries so we don’t have to deal with people. And while we would never go to such extremes as that, I think sometimes we’re content to evaluate our Christianity simply by what we believe rather than how we act toward people around us. Christianity isn’t just something to talk about. It’s something that makes a difference in our attitude, a difference in the way we treat others.
May God help us to see the day when as a group of Christians, we can put all jealousy behind us and truly "rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep." Love doesn’t envy.