I’ve preached a number of times on the difference between jealousy and envy. The bottom line is that they’re both negative and have destructive consequences, and the under-side of that bottom line is that it’s really easy to think that we’re not guilty of either one. The truth is, that it’s far more likely that there are seeds of jealousy taking root our lives and yielding fruit that we didn’t even recognize was there and defiling the field of our lives. This was the case for me, as I realized my worldview was poisoned by jealousy and I didn’t even see it.
Envy is simply wanting what someone else has. Our neighbor gets a new car, and we look at our old clunker and wish we had a new car too. Our co-worker gets a promotion and we look at our paycheck, calculate that it will be gone twelve minutes and thirty-one seconds after we deposit it, and find ourselves wishing that we had been given a promotion too. Our friend gets a hot date which buds into a genuinely wonderful relationship, and we find ourselves wishing Mr./Mrs. Right would come into our lives too. The problem with envy is that it puts our energy, effort, and focus (our worship?) onto temporal, worldly things. It’s a negative use of our hearts and minds, it’s directly prohibited in the Ten Commandments, and it yields no fruit.
Jealousy is a different animal. Rather than wanting “it” too, we look at something someone else has and wish we had it instead, often attacking the character of the other person to justify our position. Jealousy doesn’t just want to have it too, jealousy wants it and doesn’t want anyone else to have it. In a positive light, God is a jealous God (see Exodus 20:5, 34:14, Deuteronomy 24:4, Joel 2:18, 2 Corinthians 11:2). In His case it means that you are His, and he doesn’t want to share with anyone or anything else. He wants you completely, wholly—all to Himself. We have no right to claim anything in such a manner, and if we do, it’s almost always for very selfish, self-serving reasons. Jealousy, for us, is malicious. It doesn’t just bear no fruit, it bears bad fruit, the kind that stinks up a heart in hurry.
I never really thought I had a problem with jealousy. I might wrestle with envy from time to time, but until the other day, jealousy wasn’t on my list of vices. Then, the Superbowl showed up on the horizon.
It may come as no surprise that the New England Patriots are in the Superbowl … again. I’m sick of the Patriots. I know they’re a good team, that this is history in the making, and that this dynastic run is special. I don’t care. I wanted to see someone else go. You see, I have two teams watching the Superbowl from home: the San Francisco 49ers, and the Buffalo Bills (who are AFC East rivals with the Patriots and have been playoff starved for the better part of two decades). I found myself unable to watch my teams in the big show, and wishing the Patriots didn’t get to go either. There it was: jealousy, in all its “glory.” I’d talk about how the Patriots had been caught cheating and how disappointing it was since they didn’t really need to, but it tainted their achievement in the eyes of their victims. I’d talk about the player on the team whose attitudes I didn’t like, “That player is a spoiled, prima donna and a dirty player.” Assassinating the character of people I didn’t know, based on information that was, at best, incomplete… not very Christ-honoring; but that’s what sin does, right? It drags us away from Christ as we “go our own way” (Isaiah 53:6).
I began to see how easily jealousy had crept into my life. I didn’t even notice it, but I began to see other areas where it reared its ugly head and I was a little unsettled. How was this—something so seemingly innocent, so commonplace in our society—poisoning my attitude toward my family, my ministry, and the Body of Christ? Sin is only ever destructive. There is no such thing as a “harmless little sin,” and if it’s allowed to reign in such a meaningless arena, you can bet it’s deeply rooted and stirring beneath the surface in other, far more important areas of our lives. That’s how our enemy works, particularly here where theological education is so highly valued and accessible. We can know things, and completely lack wisdom—we can know the word, in Greek even, and yet fail utterly to actually do what it says (James 1:22).
Sin, in any measure, cannot be tolerated; not if we are pursuing holiness. There is no concession for sin in holiness. We are either holy, or we are not. If we are not, and God blesses us with conviction, we need to take it as seriously as He does—and He crucified His one and only Son to defeat sin and death—and follow in repentance. This is what it means to “die to self”—an expression that comes from the imagery of Jesus’ words in Matthew 16:24-26, John 12:24, and the apostles teaching in Romans 8:13, for example—to put away behaviors and attitudes and be transformed in how we think (how we receive, process, and respond to people, situations, ideas, and circumstances) so that our heart, mind, and actions reflect the character and nature of God. I guess finding such a heavy revelation is the sports world may seem silly, but I guess that means it’ll be an easy place to practice putting off that old self. No excuses.
Father, thank you that you have forgiven me, in Jesus, of my spirit of jealousy. Heal my heart and lead me in your way, by Your Holy Spirit that I might not sin against you.