Unlocking Jealousy and Putting it to Death
It’s in the tightening of your chest, the bile in your throat, and the knot in your stomach. It flashes in lightning fast, infecting whatever happiness or hope you feel. Every child knows it. Every adult knows it. It’s that fierce, familiar green monster – Jealousy.
We envy someone else: their looks, their job, their family, their vacations, their skills, their money. And it’s something so overwhelmingly common that we tend to overlook it. We minimise its sinfulness and allow it to fester to our soul’s detriment.
We don’t like to put jealousy to death. Instead, we feed it. We tend to it. We give it life.
Jealousy and envy are soul-enemies, and Scripture warns us against them over and over. We’re told that jealousy is a fruit of the flesh (Galatians 5:21), an antonym of love (1 Corinthians 13:4), a symptom of pride (1 Timothy 6:4), a catalyst for conflict (James 3:16), and a mark of unbelievers (Romans 1:29).
Jealousy is that sneaky sin that comes upon us unexpectedly, unannounced, and most certainly uninvited.
Jealousy can take the form of eagerness to obtain something that you don’t have, and this form of it is associated with covetousness and idolatry (Colossians 3:5).
Covetousness is the worship of something (a house, a car, a job) or someone (a husband, a child, a friend) that another has. Covetousness is so egregious to God, that he included it in the Ten Commandments.
“You shall not covet your neighbour’s house; you shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbour’s.” (Exodus 20:17)
And God knows that when we idolise what another has, eventually jealous feelings will follow. What are we to do with jealousy, then?
Recognising jealousy is the hardest part of killing it. Our hearts are often drowning in envy, yet we don’t even realise it.
Begin paying attention to your thoughts and feelings and responses. When you see jealousy rearing its ugly, green head, recognise it as deceptive thinking. Jealousy pretends to be a friend. It wants to sympathetically vindicate your sinful feelings by fostering discontentment and self-pity. It seeks to convince you that someone else has the all-satisfying happiness you crave.
But it’s a lie. The thoughts motivating your envy are false and crippling – that house, money, vacation, job, kid, parent, or number on the scale will not fulfill you. In those moments, grasp for this lifeline of truth: Your hope isn’t found in your circumstances being “better;” it’s in the unchangeable work of Christ (Psalm 42:5).
The lie of jealousy is, “If only things were like this, I would be happy.” But the truth is, the opposite happens, as jealousy feeds a deep, hungry dissatisfaction. Instead of confronting discontentment with jealousy, confront it with joy. Choose joy. Fight for joy. Instead of measuring your happiness against someone else’s success, root yourself in the incomparable truths of the gospel.
A few days ago, I was on social media and stumbled across a picture of a friend of mine doing something I would love to do. And I felt it: the stinging seed of jealousy sprouting fast. I want to do that. I wish that was me. Why her?
In that moment, I was faced with a choice: to dwell on my discontentment or preach the gospel to myself. I could wallow in dissatisfaction or remind myself of the riches I have in Jesus. I could believe that I knew everything going on in her life or recognise that I was only seeing the curated version she posts on social media. I could boil in envy or embrace the truth that this is God’s will for her life right now – and not for mine.
I could compare my life to hers or rejoice in the blessings God has given me. We are faced with these choices every day. Will we confront our jealousy with joy?
Counterattack jealousy by cultivating gratitude. Notice and savour the blessings all around you. The sunshine. Your pets. A delicious ice cream cone. Your church. Flowers. Flip flops. Transportation. God’s Word. Your family. Good books. There are small mercies around us 24/7 – but we need to be willing to pay attention.
And once we notice them, we ought to thank God for them. He is the gift-giver, the fountain of all blessings, so we put jealousy to death by thanking him for beauty and goodness.
Jealousy isn’t quite like other emotions. Scripture’s best answer seems to be “Just hold on. God is with you.” He is not judging you for jealousy. He knows that you are unsafe and insecure. In the midst of jealousy, the one who is self-sufficiently Jealous for you “will never leave you nor forsake you,” because he is fighting to “keep your life free.”
Like poisonous snakes or roaring fires, jealousy is too deadly to play with. Don’t pretend that jealousy is no big deal, that you need to focus your energy on fighting “bigger” sins. Jealousy is idolatry. It’s sin. Don’t just wound it, bruise it, suppress it, or maim it – kill it.
For jealousy is one of the sins Christ paid for on the cross, which means it deserves death. Jesus died for jealous people, and that’s good news for us because we are jealous people. So there is hope in Christ. Run to him, trust in him, rest in him, pursue satisfaction in him, and – by his Spirit – seek to kill jealousy today.
The Sin No One Talks About (Jealousy): Coping with Jealousy - R. T. Kendall
Enemies of the Heart: Breaking Free from the Four Emotions That Control You - Andy Stanley
Holy Envy: Finding God in the Faith of Others - Barbara Brown Taylor
Preach to Yourself: When Your Inner Critic Comes Calling, Talk Back with Truth - Hayley Morgan