Now Israel loved Joseph more than any of his other sons, because he had been born to him in his old age; and he made a richly ornamented robe for him. When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them, they hated him… Genesis 37:3-4
A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones. Proverbs 14:30
Are you prone to jealousy?
You look at another person who is, perhaps, more attractive than you, or more gifted and successful, or someone who has had better breaks in life, and you feel a mixture of anger and self-pity: “That should have been me!” “Why don’t I have what they have?” Or, like a child in the playground, “It’s not fair!”
I suspect that few human feelings are more common than jealousy, or its close cousin, envy: as the proverb says, “If envy were a fever, all the world would be ill.”
The Bible never tackles the theme directly, but there is no doubt that it sees it as a harmful, vicious thing. Jesus includes it in his list of ugly inner “evils” which make a person “unclean” (Mark 7:20-23); Paul likewise in his list of things which arise out of “the sinful nature” rather than grow out of “the fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:19-21). And, of course, it’s right there in the Ten Commandments, in the guise of “covetousness” (Exodus 20:17).
There are various Bible stories which illustrate jealousy.
Cain was jealous of his brother Abel because Abel’s sacrifice was accepted by God and his wasn’t (Genesis 4). Result? The first murder. Joseph’s brothers (in the verse above) were jealous of him because their father favoured him over them. All right, neither Israel (that is, Jacob) nor Joseph acted well, but that doesn’t excuse the brothers, who allowed their jealousy to congeal into hatred. Result? A cruel and spiteful act. King Saul was overwhelmed with jealousy of the young man David (1 Samuel 18:5-9). Result? The disintegration of his personality and the loss of his God-given calling.
Enough! There are plenty of examples also in literature outside the Bible that drive home the same truth: jealousy is an evil. (We’re not talking, of course, about God’s jealousy, which is his perfect and holy yearning for the children he loves.)
But all this leaves us with the question: How should I deal with jealousy when it rears up in my mind?
Here are a few suggestions.
First, recognise that it is a self-destructive thing: your jealousy only hurts yourself. After all, that person you are jealous of may well be blissfully unaware of how you feel. Indeed, if they do become aware, they may very well quite enjoy it. To allow jealousy to grow is like taking a slow poison. “Envy rots the bones” (your bones!), says Proverbs 14:30. Another proverb: “Envy eats nothing but its own heart.”
Second, recognise that jealous feelings are only a start; once they take root, as the various stories I have mentioned make clear, they lead to sinful acts. Jealousy is not a one-off thing; it is the start of a process – and you cannot predict where that process will end. Shakespeare’s Othello, to his own horror, ended up killing the wife he dearly loved.
Third, of course, pray. Like any other sin or problem, jealousy can be brought openly and humbly to God. Confess it. Get it off your chest. Ask God to set you free. It may take time, but that freedom will come.
And don’t just pray about that person you’re jealous of; pray for them. Pray to see them through God’s loving eyes. Though it may go against the grain, thank God for their success or whatever it is you are jealous of. Take pleasure in their pleasure. Wish them well.
Fourth, don’t only wish them well, act well towards them too. Do them practical good. I’ve no idea who George Porter is, or was, but I found a quote of his which, I think, puts it perfectly: “As to the green-eyed monster jealousy… set on him at once and poison him with extra doses of kindness to the person he wants to turn you against.”
Yes! The poison of jealousy can itself be “poisoned” to death by those “extra doses of kindness” that you show the other person. Again, this goes against the grain, certainly; it requires determination and will-power. But by God’s grace it can be done.
And the result this time? You will be more free to discover, to use and to enjoy the various gifts you have yourself, because you’re not bothering about anyone else’s. You will be happier and more at peace. That’s a promise!
Loving Father, forgive me my envious heart. Holy Spirit, burn out of me every trace of jealousy. Lord Jesus Christ, give me victory in this battle. Amen.