The Spirit of Jealousy
Anger is cruel and fury overwhelming, but who can stand before jealousy?
Jealousy. It’s one of the deadliest poisons in the universe. And while it can be quite easy to spot in others, it can function so subtly within our own hearts that we fail to discern it. This is partly what makes it so poisonous. It can drive a person’s life without ever being recognized for what it is.
It rears its ugly head when we hear about a coworker’s promotion and are immediately outraged inside, thinking of reasons why he didn’t deserve it. It pops up when our friend steps into a season that we’re still waiting to enter. She gets pregnant. He finishes grad school. She gets married. They buy a beautiful house. Our hearts will secretly loathe this person’s new season because it’s a reminder that we’re still waiting. And we’ll think of a hundred reasons why we deserve to take that next step more than they do. This spirit also makes itself known when favor shines on someone around us while we continue to go unnoticed. We’re doing the same things, we say to ourselves. In fact, I’m doing these things better than so-and-so. So why are they in the spot light? Why are they moving forward while I’m stuck? Then there are the times we experience hard circumstances. We compare our lives to that one person who never seems to have anything bad happen to them. Ugh! I wish for just one day the she wouldn’t look so beautiful! I wish, just once, they actually had to experience what tight finances feel like. On and on we go…
Jealousy can be especially strong when someone is within our own field of expertise or passion. It’s one thing to admire and perhaps envy qualities in another person that are completely different from yours. I wish I could sing like her. I wish I were athletic like he is. I wish I were smart like her. It can be much more intense though when the person has the same gifts as ours. It can lead to an entirely new level of comparison. We are tempted to evaluate ourselves based on how “they” are doing. We admire their gifts because they’re the same as our own, but we don’t want their gifts to shine brighter than ours. We want the edge.
This jealous thinking is rooted in a very specific lie: “There’s only so much [favor, promotion, destiny, beauty, fill-in-the-blank] to go around. So other people’s victories are lessening my chances.” I doubt that anyone has ever said these words out loud. But in their hearts, those under the sway of this jealous spirit believe this. Otherwise, her gifts wouldn’t be such a threat. His favor with the boss wouldn’t get under your skin. Her beauty wouldn’t be so annoying. Their happy marriage wouldn’t be so hard to watch. Their thriving ministry wouldn’t be so difficult to celebrate. When we believe that there is a limited supply of God’s goodness and blessing, we see other people’s successes as threats. There’s only so much pie, and they just took a big slice. This thinking occurs on both the individual and corporate level. Entire organizations can be fueled by a jealous spirit.
But the truth is, God is limitless. His love, power, goodness, favor, and blessing know no bounds. His glory upon one person’s life doesn’t in any way leave less glory for another’s. Besides, it’s HIS glory anyway. Can’t he do with it what he wants? It’s HIS story, not ours. And he truly treasures each of us. We can’t begin to understand his love for us. He has a unique way of revealing himself through each and every one of us. Our life doesn’t look like so-and-so’s because it’s not supposed to!
If only King Saul had understood this. His story could have turned out so differently. He was anointed as King of Israel (I Samuel 9) but was never willing to fully obey God. He thought his ideas were better than God’s. So God rejected him and anointed David as king instead – the least likely candidate. Saul’s envy burned. After all, Saul stood a “head taller” than everyone else. David was a small, young, insignificant shepherd boy. How dare God choose him over me! So Saul spent years pursuing David with evil intent. Jealousy drove his life, and his story ended very badly (I Samuel 31).
This is a great picture of what jealousy ultimately does to a person. Given free reign in our hearts, it will snuff out life completely. The wages of sin is death.* We will never get anything in return for jealousy except death. That death may not be physical, but it is death nonetheless. “A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones.” (Proverbs 14:30).
This scripture offers an antidote to envy: a heart at peace. This kind of heart is convinced of God’s deep love – his deeply individual and passionate love. And it’s a heart at rest, a heart that is free to watch God’s story unfold without comparing it to the story he’s unfolding for others. It’s a heart fully aware that many hidden factors play into individual blessing. I once heard a preacher say, “Don’t judge the size of my harvest until you’ve seen the size of my seed.” We have no idea the tears, patience, prayers, resources, money, and waiting that someone has sown into his/her current blessing. A heart at peace recognizes that people have tapped into varying depths of treasure in their secret life with God.
This scripture also serves as a guardrail. A heart at peace must be the standard for one’s inner life. Asking ourselves some questions can be helpful as we monitor the condition of our hearts:
Am I able to genuinely rejoice with those who rejoice, or do I find fault with those who rejoice because I’m threatened by their blessing? Scripture urges us to rid ourselves of all malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander (I Peter 2:1). I don’t think it’s accidental that envy and slander are listed side by side. People who envy tend to slander. Someone mentions what God is doing at another ministry, and the immediate response is to criticize that ministry and trivialize its victory. Another person’s promotion comes up in conversation, and the reply demeans the promoted person.
Am I more concerned about God’s Kingdom story being told in my life, or am I driven by selfish ambition? “For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice” (James 3:16). This pairing of envy with selfish ambition does not seem accidental, either. If you writhe with envy, you will also be driven by selfish ambition. You will always be promoting yourself, seeking your own advancement, and looking out for number one. You will even try to suppress others (especially if you happen to be in a position of leadership) as an attempt to secure your place. This gets tiring – and can’t be done with honor, which is why it inevitably entails “disorder and every evil practice.”
Am I striving to make things happen on my own, or am I resting and allowing God to open doors for me? This tiring lifestyle of “working your way up” and pursuing things in the flesh is the antithesis of how God brings promotion to his children. Thinking that if you work hard enough, connect with the right people, and build your network, you can get where you want to go is faulty on so many levels. God gives to his beloved while they sleep (Psalm 127:1-2).** As we rest in him, he promotes, he opens doors, he unveils his glory upon our lives. The whole idea of networking is laughable. It usually refers to an attempt to get to know the “right people” and then use them as tools to further your own goals. Ladies and Gentlemen, if we’re in Christ, we’re already “networked” with the highest authority in the universe! He is unstoppable, all-powerful, limitless in love, and is completely FOR US (Romans 8:31). That’s the only connection we need. And yes, people will play a role in our Kingdom story – but God can be trusted to bring about those divine connections without any striving or scheming on our part. [I could break out in a dance right now.]
Beloved of God, there is a better way than jealousy. Let’s choose it. Let’s choose to believe that God loves us – outrageously, unimaginably, insanely – and that he is for us. That he has already written a better story for our lives than even our best attempts could ever dream of. That other people’s blessings have no bearing on God’s heart to bless my life. That there is enough of God to go around. MORE than enough.
*This link offers a fuller description of the sin=death principle.
**Most translations read, “for he grants sleep to those he loves.” However, the wording used in this post is more congruent with the Hebrew text as well as with the context of the Psalm as whole. Hebrew-savvy speakers preach the passage this way for this reason. Nearly the same idea is conveyed with the more widespread translation, but this wording (gives to his beloved while he sleeps) conveys the idea more sharply.