I have to admit I really wanted to read this book when it came up as a FIRST selection because R.T. Kendall is an author I have heard on Focus on the Family and the titles of many of his books intrigue me.
I was intrigued by the subtitle “the sin no one talks about” because to me that indicates that jealousy is something that tends to be ignored by the church. Jealousy can be a subtle sin and Kendall reminds us can even be cloaked in spirituality. I think we have all had times when jealousy strikes. Maybe a friend had a job promotion and we wonder why didn’t we get one? We’ve worked just as hard. I know many singles struggle with wishing they were married…and many married people might wish they hadn’t married. Maybe its financial, we covet someone else’s house, car, even their lawn. Then of course there’s the “mommy war” between working and stay-at-home moms. In this materialistic society the possibilities for jealousy are endless.
I know I sure haven’t been immune to jealousy as it has reared its ugly head in my life in different ways at different times. One area where this book spoke to me very strongly is in the area of ambition. As I begin in my writing career I find there are times when I have to surrender this…I am happy for the success of others but I have that “pang” of sinful feeling that must be surrendered.
The jealousy of God is one aspect of jealousy that is discussed in this book. That is a subject I have not read much about, so I found it totally fascinating. “His jealousy is our insurance policy that we won’t harm ourselves and miss what is best in our lives” (198). Many people misunderstand this aspect of God, leading Oprah to claim God’s jealousy as the reason for rejecting Christianity. Likewise, we are to have a godly jealousy for the things of Him. We feel God’s pain without being personally involved. We should be more upset when others offend God than when they offend us. That’s a truth this people-pleaser has to keep digesting.
I think any reader would benefit from Kendall’s insights, as none of us are immune to the effects of jealousy in our lives.
It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!
You never know when I might play a wild card on you!
R. T. Kendall was the pastor of Westminster Chapel in London, England, for twenty-five years. Born in Ashland, Kentucky, he was educated at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Oxford University. He is well known internationally as a speaker and teacher. Dr. Kendall is the author of more than forty-five books, including Total Forgiveness, The Sensitivity of the Spirit, The Thorn in the Flesh, Grace, Pure Joy, Imitating Christ, and The Anointing: Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow.
Visit the author's website.
List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 272 pages
Publisher: Charisma House (June 1, 2010)
AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:
Coping with Jealousy
O, beware, my lord, of jealousy; it is the green-eyed monster
Yet he was jealous, though he did not show it, for jealousy dislikes the world to know it..
Whenever a friend succeeds, a little something in me dies.
Not long ago I turned on our television set to watch Meet the Press, possibly the most important and widely watched news interview program in America, and
who was being introduced to be interviewed but my old friend Richard Land. My mouth fell open. I swallowed. I looked again. I called to Louise, “Guess who is on Meet the Press? Richard Land.” She came in and began watching. “I will never be on Meet the Press,” I thought to myself. On the other hand, why should I be? My views are not important; his are. But why wasn’t I excited that Richard Land has become a national figure? I should be rejoicing that my old Oxonian friend Richard Land is being sought after on one of the most important news programs in the United States.
Dr. Richard Land, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the powerful Southern Baptist Convention, is being brought in frequently on national television programs to discuss moral issues relative to the presidential election. Richard and I were at Oxford University doing our research degrees at the same time. We were both in the same college and had the same supervisor. We became good friends. Richard’s wife, Becky, used to babysit for us. And now there he was on national television. But why wasn’t I thrilled to bits that my friend was now being sought after like this? I think you know.
I believe I am qualified to write this book for three reasons. First, I know what it is to cope with jealousy. My own. Second, I know what it is to cope with another’s jealousy of me—both from enemies and friends. Third, I know what it is like to make other people jealous (hopefully unwittingly) and cause them to have to cope with jealousy.
It is embarrassing to admit that you are struggling with your own jealousy. I don’t like to reveal that a particular person warrants my attention in that way. I can admit to other weaknesses more readily than I can my jealousy. Writing this book may have taught me more about myself than any book I have written.
Jealousy, like the Second Coming, comes in a moment when you least expect it.
For example, one evening in 1994, while we were waiting for our food to be served at a Chinese restaurant in London’s Soho, Charlie Colchester, who had been churchwarden of Holy Trinity Brompton (HTB), said to Lyndon Bowring and me, “Have you guys heard about what is going on at HTB?” No, we had not. He continued, “A most unusual move of the Holy Spirit has descended on our church.” He began to describe extraordinary things and then asked, “What do you make of this?” I was not blessed.
I remember the sobering day I heard this. I could take you to the very table in the restaurant where we were sitting. I recall looking at Lyndon and he looking at me. Had you put me under a lie detector and asked whether I thought what Charlie described was of God I would have said, “No.” For one thing, I did not want it to be of God. The main thing, however, was that if this truly was an outpouring of the Holy Spirit—and absolutely from God—it would surely have come to Westminster Chapel first!
I looked for every reason not to believe in this, but I had a deep-seated fear this was of God.
The truth is, I was jealous.
How could God do this? I took it personally. Why would God visit HTB with an outpouring of the Holy Spirit? What had they done to deserve this? For example, had the clergy at HTB put themselves on the line as I had done at Westminster Chapel? How many leaders from HTB were out on the streets giving tracts to prostitutes and tourists? And why would God visit an Anglican church? Would God actually affirm these privileged Etonians and posh Brits with their Sloane Square accents? Who in central London had really borne the “heat of the day” (Matt. 20:12)? We at Westminster Chapel had, that’s who.
The following Sunday I publicly cautioned all my members at Westminster Chapel that what was going on “in some places” (all knew I meant HTB) was not of God. But I was wrong. Elsewhere I have described what changed my mind (in The Anointing: Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow and In Pursuit of His Glory). Sometime later I publicly climbed down and affirmed that a true move of the Holy Spirit had fallen on Holy Trinity Brompton. That morning we prayed for their rector Sandy Millar and the people there. HTB became a sister church to Westminster Chapel. Sandy and I became very good friends. How thankful I am that God did not judge me for my jealousy and hasty comments.
We have a gracious God. He knows our frame; He does not forget that we are dust (Ps. 103:14). I might have missed entirely what God was doing—all because I was upset that God visited another church and not us.
Jealousy is an easy thing to fall into. This is because it plays into our insecurity. Like it or not, we are all insecure.
I will never forget the first time I attended a reception at Oxford with the faculty of the divinity school and fellow research students. Here I was with Oxford dons and some
of the top minds of the whole world. They had all “arrived” academically. They had the prestige and glory, the degrees, the
credentials, the commendations, and books under their names. What I was not prepared for was how insecure some of them were. I had not expected this. What is more, they were insecure in the very area they should have been the most at home—their brains! But their conversations were a dead giveaway to their need for praise and admiration. One sensed a rivalry among the scholars, a defensiveness when challenged, a glee when an
opposing view was put down, and an obvious delight when complimented.
There are different kinds of jealousy. The most common in the Bible is sibling rivalry—both in the immediate family and (sadly) in the family of God. There is professional jealousy— when doctors are jealous of each other, lawyers are fearful of each other’s status, businesspeople are jealous of each other’s success, where preachers (oh dear) are jealous of each other, and where prophetic voices even compete for who truly speaks
for God! Both within and outside the church a woman may be jealous of another woman’s beauty, or the best of friends can fall out over a romantic competition. There is social jealousy, when one wants to be seen at the right parties or on the social
page of the newspapers. There is political jealousy, where one’s rival is a threat to his or her personal influence, charm, and power. There is in some places aristocratic jealousy, where background and antiquity give a person a certain cache.
There is royal jealousy, when kings and queens claim to be the wealthiest and most respected in the world. There is national jealousy, where a country and its citizens feel superior over another. There is educational jealousy, where one boasts of the most degrees and the best schools. There is jealousy over wealth, pedigrees, job or position, talent, the size or location of one’s office, background, culture, home, car, or friends.
There is, however, a benign envy (motivation for good) and a legitimate jealousy—what Paul calls a “godly jealousy” (2 Cor. 11:2). These are subjects I will look at later in this book.
But sometimes a far more vehement jealousy, sadly, is church jealousy—often found in a wicked denominational and theological rivalry among some churches. As a group of Baptists once put it, following their mission, “Well, we didn’t have much of a
revival last week, but thank God the Methodists didn’t either.” As one Kentucky preacher used to say, “Some people are jealous of your face, some are jealous of your place, some are jealous of your lace, and some are jealous of your grace.”
As I said earlier, jealousy is an easy thing to fall into, but it is still an ugly thing. Jealousy frequently makes us repress—that is, we deny that we are feeling jealous. Repression means to live in denial; thus, we honestly believe what is not true because it is less painful to avoid the truth.
We happened to be in Florida during Hurricane Andrew several years ago. We were staying with close friends. With no electricity and no possibility of fishing, we had to think of things to do. So someone read aloud an article by a well-known preacher, but they did not say who wrote it. I said, “Wow, that is really good—who said that?” When they told me, I felt a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. It was a man who has
opposed my theology and me. I said nothing. Then I realized how jealousy can divert you from solid truth merely because you don’t like the person who states it. I never told anybody at the table what was going on inside me that day, but I knew I had no choice but to accept the truth of the man’s statement and get over how I felt about him.
Jealousy can even camouflage as being the leadership of the Holy Spirit. I may have been on the verge of this when hearing about the move of the Spirit at Holy Trinity Brompton. Jealousy therefore sometimes comes alongside as if it were the very Holy Spirit Himself at work. Before we have had time to reflect clearly, jealousy unconsciously overrules our judgment, takes over our feelings, shapes our thinking, and masquerades as spiritual
discernment. Jealousy lets us proceed and make observations as if we had the wisdom from God. When we are jealous, we tend not to see it as jealousy at all but feel a righteous disgust.
Jealousy can often be a physical feeling. We feel it in our stomachs. We can get a lump in our throats so that it is hard to swallow. For this reason, if not dealt with, jealousy can have a negative physical effect on our bodies. As holding a grudge is injurious to your health, as I pointed out in Total Forgiveness, so too is jealousy. Jealousy climbs inside our haughty hearts and turns our faces green while we continue to wear a plastic smile.
It churns us inside while, unless we are alone, we act as though we are thrilled to bits. If we are alone, we just feel sickened but tend not to admit the real reason we feel a particular way. It can be so painful to admit you are jealous.
We are usually not jealous of those much older than we are. We are more prone to jealousy when another is much the same age as we are—or younger. Oh, yes, we are threatened by a younger person with a lot of promise, energy, good looks, and cleverness. We are normally not jealous of the heroes of a previous generation. It is safe to praise the dead. The Pharisees had no objectivity about themselves, as Jesus pointed out: “You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our forefathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets’” (Matt. 23:29–30). The Pharisees thought they were a cut above disobedient Israelites of a previous era, not realizing how they themselves were no different. I knew of a London pastor who would not allow Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’s
books to be sold in his church—that is, until after Dr. Lloyd-Jones died! Then it became safe to allow his books to be sold.
Those living in our own era, within the general range of our intellectual perspective or age bracket, will normally be the targets of our jealousy. Jealousy has a curious way of connecting to one’s geographical location too. This is why Jesus said, “No prophet is accepted in his hometown” (Luke 4:24). The reason that a prophet is not without honor except in his own country is because we are jealous of those near us who make it “big.” I happened to be in Australia when Steve Irwin, their most popular citizen and the man who made worldwide fame through his love and ability with animals, died. I was stunned
to hear so many Australians criticize him. There is no doubt he was far more popular in America and Great Britain than in his own country.
I know what it is to be threatened by another person’s charisma, intellect, fame, financial security, personality, charm, good looks, talent, brilliance, sense of humor, wisdom, reputation, and position. Take my friend Lyndon Bowring. He lights up a room the moment he walks into it. More people regard him as their closest friend than you can count on two hands. When he is at a table with friends, they all make eye contact with him, not me. Take Rob Parsons. I sat on the platform at a Spring Harvest celebration and watched him enthrall four thousand people with his Welsh oratory in the Big Top. I did my best to look excited. If only I could speak like that. I have watched people like J. John, Gerald Coates, Steve Chalk, Jeff Lucas, and David Pawson do the same thing—leave a crowd spellbound by their articulate flow of words, charisma, and ability to hold the attention of a vast audience. Not long ago Tony Campolo and I were speakers at a conference in Detling, Kent. His communication skills are, simply, as good as it gets. I felt utterly inferior to him.
And then there is Billy Graham. He has made more preachers jealous than you could count—not dozens, hundreds, or thousands but hundreds of thousands. I also know more church leaders who will give you their theological reasons why Billy cannot possibly have been raised up by God as a sovereign instrument of the Holy Spirit but is only a creation of the press. You can rarely get a single one of them to admit that the real issue—you could call it the elephant in the room—is not theological at all but jealousy.
I will never forget when I first met Billy Graham. I was a student at Trevecca Nazarene University in Nashville. I would not have been jealous of him at that stage; he was more of an idol. Many years later as minister of Westminster Chapel I met him again. The next day I was asked by a friend, a church leader, “What was it like to meet Billy Graham?” Before I could finish my answer, he said, “You may not agree with me, but I maintain that with a face like that he could not possibly be intelligent.” Oh yes, those were his exact words. Could jealousy lie behind a comment like that?
What was often embarrassing to me was that a lot of people thought I was close to Billy Graham just because he preached for me at Westminster Chapel. “I hear Billy Graham was in London. Did he phone you?” No. Another friend told me he rode in the car with Billy Graham from Heathrow to his hotel in central London. I swallowed hard and said, “Fantastic!” Another asked, “Billy Graham is preaching at Earl’s Court. Were you invited to sit on the platform?” No. As a matter of fact, when Louise and I took some Americans to Earl’s Court to hear him—friends who had hoped to meet Billy through us—we were put in an overflow room to watch him on a big screen. How humbling. My friends thought I had more influence than that! Even getting close to him was out of the question.
On another occasion, I did actually sit on a platform near him at Wembley Stadium. But I noticed that other ministers there were invited to spend time with him in a private room afterward, but I wasn’t. I remember the pain of going back to Victoria on the train from Wembley Park feeling left out. Had I been invited, I would not have felt jealous; but since I wasn’t, I did.
Then, of course, there are those who are quick to tell you that this sort of thing—missing out on having time with Billy Graham—doesn’t bother them one bit. Why then is it important for them to express this? I suspect there are basically two kinds of people: those who admit to jealousy and those who boast that they are never jealous, like those who say they could have tea with the queen of England and never tell it. I heard a pastor literally say, “I have never been jealous of anyone.” I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.
Jealousy sometimes manifests as fear or resentment of another’s success, speaking against the person, going on a vendetta to hurt their credibility, keeping them from being admired, or actually engaging in a conspiracy to destroy them—as in the case of King Saul pursuing David. The origin of jealousy is to be found in our natural insecurity. It is a part of our fallen nature. It is a proof of original sin, as Cain’s murder of Abel shows (Gen. 4). Whereas Paul said we should “rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn” (Rom. 12:15), the truth is, it is often not too hard to mourn with those who
mourn. Indeed, minimal grace is required to weep with those who weep. But rejoicing with those who rejoice takes considerable grace, inner security, and stature.
A true friend, therefore, is not necessarily one who will weep with you but one who will rejoice with you when you have cause for rejoicing. When you have some exciting news, your first impulse is to want to share it. But with whom? I remember telling a friend of something good that just happened to me. The expression on his face showed me that he was not thrilled—but he tried hard. I realized I should not have told him. He was a friend, yes, but hardly a good enough friend to rejoice in my good news and certainly not the kind of friend I wanted at that moment. It is lonely when you have nobody you can share good news with. But there is a lesson here—how all of us should be slow to share very happy news, especially if it has to do with one’s self-esteem.
My friend Rob Parsons says he has a hunch that the only people we might be reasonably sure will always rejoice in our successes are our own father and mother!
Jesus rejoices in good things that come our way, and He would never knowingly make someone feel jealous.
As I wrote this last paragraph, I heard a “ping” on my computer that told me I had a new e-mail. I opened it. It contained an item that inflated my ego a bit and made me want to share it with my friends. The list narrowed down as I thought, “Whom can I share this with?” Not many. A true friend will not only rejoice when you rejoice but will also keep
another from feeling jealous if you can help it.
Productive and Counterproductive
However, jealousy isn’t all bad. There is an envy that is not sinful. Whereas jealousy that manifests as resentment is rooted in our fallen nature, there is a benign envy that is traceable to what John Calvin calls “special grace in nature.” It allows for a
little bit of good in all of us, that is, what is noble. This means
that God the Creator gives special gifts, talents, and motivations in every human being. Special grace in nature partly means that God has instilled in all creatures—in every man
and every woman—a measured potential for good. It comes through creation. Special grace in nature has nothing to do with salvation.
This concept became the foundation for the reformed doctrine of “common grace”—called that not because it is ordinary but because it is given commonly to all people. God’s common grace is what keeps the world from being totally topsy-turvy. It is the reason we have law and order, policemen, firemen, doctors, and nurses. It is what accounts for the good Samaritans of this world (Luke 10) and the firemen who risked
their lives in New York City on September 11, 2001. Your IQ, natural talent, personality, ability to perform, and psychological makeup are all rooted in God’s common grace. It produces an Albert Einstein, a Mother Teresa, Nobel Prize winners, a Sergei Rachmaninoff, and a Winston Churchill.
So too the good kind of envy—productive envy—is rooted in this special grace in nature. A motivation to make something of your life has its origin in common grace. God uses it to produce the movers and shakers of this world.
Therefore, one of the strangest ironies regarding envy is that it can be a positive motivation to make you do something worthwhile with your life. Martin Luther said that God uses sex to drive a man to marriage, ambition to drive a man to service, and fear to drive a man to faith. But what makes a person ambitious? The “preacher” in Ecclesiastes has the answer.
According to Ecclesiastes 4:4, “All labor and all achievement spring from man’s envy of his neighbor.” Really? Could this be true? If I am to believe Ecclesiastes 4:4, nothing gets done apart from envy. This envy can be either benign or evil, either productive or counterproductive. The envy described in Ecclesiastes 4:4 emerges in one of two ways (or both): (1) productive envy is the desire to outdo what has preceded you (what motivates athletes in the Olympics); (2) counterproductive envy is the wish (consciously or unconsciously) to make another feel envious, although God may overrule and turn this to good.
It is not every day that a verse leaps out at me in the normal course of my daily Bible reading plan. When this happens, I usually write the date in the margin of my Bible. On April 18, 1988, my reading included Ecclesiastes 4:4, a verse I must have read dozens of times. But for some reason this verse leaped out at me as if I had never seen it before:
And I saw that all labor and all achievement spring from man’s envy of his neighbor. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.
I cannot explain why, but this verse gripped me deeply that morning. It not only took hold of me, but it also stayed with me for days and weeks and months. It would not betoo much to say I was consumed with this verse for a long while. It has ultimately
led to the writing of this very book. Even if the preacher (writer of Ecclesiastes) was not stating an eternal, universal principle but merely his own opinion and observation, I had
a sinking feeling that verse surely described me. It should not have made me feel bad, but it did.
For one thing, I felt exposed. Embarrassed. I would not want anybody—especially my supporters or members of my church— to find out that such a verse actually described me. Surely I was above this. It may describe others, but not me! But if somehow
it does describe me, why was I seeing this now—and not before? Was I to believe that all I have done and have achieved, such as it is, was motivated by envying what others had—or even by a desire to make people envious of me? Was it such a carnal motivation, and not the Holy Spirit, that lay behind all I have wanted to accomplish? Perhaps.
I could have told you in total honesty that I felt led of the Holy Spirit to finish the university, go to seminary, and then bring my family across the Atlantic to do research at Oxford. And I believe I was. But reading Ecclesiastes 4:4 supplied me with a parallel explanation as to why I entered and finished seminary and Oxford University. Was it the Holy Spirit, or was it explained by envy?
However, God’s common grace is applied in more ways than Ecclesiastes 4:4 might allow. There are those who help others and do so without envy as a motivation. Ecclesiastes describes a lot of people but not necessarily all. But it certainly describes
a lot of us. Dale Carnegie, author of How to Win Friends and Influence People, says that the strongest urge in a human being is the desire to feel important—or be admired. I do know that the human heart is “deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9).
My point is, there is a positive side to envy and jealousy. This book will touch on this later on, especially when it comes to God’s jealousy and godly jealousy.
But the main focus will be on jealousy that is not good— counterproductive jealousy. I will deal with that jealousy that bedevils all of us in three particular ways: coping with jealousy in ourselves, coping with people who are jealous of us, and coping with the fact that we make others jealous.
I will also make suggestions as to how we all can overcome jealousy. I believe if we grasp these, it can change our lives for good—and set us free.
Jealousy is often easy to see in others but so hard to see in ourselves. And sometimes it is hard to see in others. It can also be difficult sometimes to accept that jealousy is a huge part of your hero’s motivation!
Why this book? To help set you free. It should help bring us down from our pedestal. It will help us accept ourselves. It should rid us of some of our self-righteousness. It should
help keep us from thinking too highly of ourselves or taking ourselves too seriously. I write books to change lives, and the purpose of writing this book is to bring us closer to recognizing and overcoming our own jealousy.
This book will help you to understand others as well as to understand yourself.
If I can bring you to grasp John 5:44—“How can you believe if you accept praise from one another, yet make no effort to obtain the praise that comes from the only God?”—in the light of the principles laid down in this book, you will become less jealous and less desirous to make others jealous. I see this verse as one of the most important verses in Scripture and a key to coping with jealousy. Indeed, you will want to protect others from the hurt of being jealous of you. You will not be so hurt by your own jealousy. You will not take another’s jealousy so seriously.
Jesus never wanted to make people jealous. The more you are like Jesus, the less you will be motivated by jealousy, the less you will be affected by others’ jealousy, and the more you will grieve if you make others feel jealous. Jesus was not motivated to do what He did because He was envious or because He wanted people to admire Him. He was totally, utterly, and absolutely jealous for the glory of God. All He ever did and said was to mirror the will of the Father: “The Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing” (John 5:19). He is the only human being who was totally exempt from the point of view raised by Ecclesiastes 4:4.
There are many definitions of jealousy—all of them may be apt. The complexity of jealousy allows one to define it in different ways. It has been described as the fear of another’s success. It is threatened self-esteem. It is resentment toward the superior status or success of a rival or friend. It is hostility toward a rival or one believed to enjoy an advantage. It is the fear of being supplanted.
Many definitions of jealousy imply a triad composed of a jealous individual, a partner, and a third-party rival. Jealousy frequently involves three parties. Most definitions describe jealousy as a reaction to feeling threatened.
One of my first memories of being jealous was when I was ten years old. A boy I did not know came to the house next door to see my friend Dick. I resented this kid elbowing in on my territory. Dick said to me, “He gets your goat, RT. He gets your goat.” That is the first time I heard this expression. His saying that to me got my goat! Although my Oxford dictionary defines this phrase as merely “to annoy,” getting your goat sometimes comes close in describing jealousy.
When someone gets your goat, then chances are you are jealous—whether they try to compete for your best friend, jump the line in front of you, are very assertive and have buckets of confidence, become the center of attention, get a compliment, get chosen for a job, have a higher profile, or make the front-page news. An overly confident person often gets our goat. So does the untalented person who gets what we feel is undeserved attention. The person with very little talent but who is bubbling over with confidence will irritate us.
One of the purposes of this book is to get you to see jealousy in yourself—and admit it to yourself. We will not make progress if we sweep the dirt under the carpet.
Two Greek Words
The Greek word zelos—zeal, anger, boiling, or ferment—has been translated either as “envy” or “jealousy.” But zelos can also have a positive use. Zelos can be good—very, very good—and it can be bad—very, very bad. Positively, it can mean “zeal” or
“eagerly desiring” a spiritual gift, as in 1 Corinthians 12:31. It can refer to a “godly jealousy” (2 Cor. 11:2). Zelos used negatively describes a sinking feeling in your stomach when being threatened; it can arise in someone from their not excelling while seeing another excel. The Sadducees were “filled with jealousy” when they saw the successes of the earliest church (Acts 5:17; see also Acts 17:5). It is the anger that comes from your blocked goals that your rival reached. It is the agitation of not getting what you want and seeing others get what they want. It is a resentment that boils up inside when a friend or rival succeeds, surpasses us, or when we feel left out. It is the fear of being replaced. It is what we feel when being unfavorably compared to others. You can be jealous or envious of someone you have never met. You can be jealous of someone who is famous—if they are brilliant, beautiful, rich, or very happy.
There is another Greek word—phthonos—that means the same thing, although some modern versions are translating it as “envy.” Unlike zelos, which can be used positively or negatively, phthonos in the New Testament is always used negatively except for James 4:5, referring to God’s Spirit jealously yearning for us. Phthonos therefore can be translated either envy or jealousy, depending which version you read. The translator decides. For example, Pilate knew it was out of “envy” (phthonos) that the Jews handed Jesus over to him (Matt. 27:18; Mark 15:10). But some versions would use “jealous” (gnt) or “jealousy” (jb). The verbal form of phthonos is translated as “envying” (Gal. 5:26). Some preach Christ out of “envy” (Phil. 1:15). The two Greek words zelos and phthonos mean essentially the same thing—envy or jealousy.
Envy and Jealousy
Is there a difference, then, between envy and jealousy? Probably. Both zelos and phthonos are used in Galatians 5:20–21, translated “jealousy” and “envy.” However, we are not dealing so much with the etymological meaning in the Greek language
but in the way the two English words have come to be understood. Ninety percent of the time they are identical, and dictionaries use one to define the other. Envy tends to focus
on the other person’s things; jealousy includes animosity toward the person. We are sometimes ready to admit to envy, as when
we say, “I envy your vacation—I could use one myself.” But we don’t admit to jealousy; it is the nastier of the two words. This is why God is not envious of us; He is not envious of our things. But He admits to being jealous of us; He wants a relationship with our person.
Envy is also coveting what others have; jealousy is the fear of losing what you have. Envy is natural and passive. Jealousy is vengeful and active. Even though I believe that jealousy is stronger than envy—or worse than envy—we should not push the distinctions too far. You can have envy and jealousy at the same time. I have chosen for the most part to refer to jealousy in this book, realizing nonetheless that envy and jealousy can often be used interchangeably.
Speaking generally, to oversimplify, I take the view that jealousy is stronger—and worse—than envy. This is because merely to envy basically means to covet—to want what someone else has. That exposes all of us for sure. And yet you can possibly covet without seriously hurting anybody. But that does not excuse us, because the tenth commandment says, “You shall not covet” (Exod. 20:17). We must never justify ourselves in our envy or make excuses. For the tenth commandment makes coveting—envying—a sin. As we will see below, envy was an integral part of the original sin in the Garden of Eden. The tenth commandment convinced Paul he was a sinner (Rom. 7:9). We all envy; we all sin. And yet envy is natural.
Is not jealousy natural? It certainly comes from our sinful condition, but jealousy emerges more clearly when coveting becomes resentment and the devil somehow gets in. Whereas
envy is an inevitable part of our sinful condition, jealousy is envy uncontrolled. Envy—what you feel in your heart—is passive and unavoidable; jealousy—when you condone, nurse, and express what you feel—is more harmful. Envy is wanting what you don’t have—but keeping the lid on. Jealousy is wanting what you don’t have—and taking the lid off. We cannot avoid envy, but we must keep it from getting out of control—and
manifesting in a way we will always regret.
Like it or not, then, we all have envy. We all have jealousy too. But jealousy is envy that we failed to keep under control—as when the dam bursts. The volcano erupts. The tongue becomes the fire of hell (James 3:6). Although we must confront envy in ourselves and admit to what we are feeling, jealousy is what gets us into trouble. Jealousy manifests largely as uncontrolled resentment and is often triggered by the fear of losing something.
Whereas envy is basically coveting what belongs to someone else, jealousy wants that person to be hurt. Envy wants the person’s gift; jealousy wants that person to lose their gift. Envy wants that person’s beautiful new car; jealousy wants it scratched—or smashed. Envy wishes one had the other person’s new home; jealousy wants it to burn down. Envy desires the person’s job; jealousy wants them to get fired. Envy is coveting
and therefore sin. But jealousy is a worse sin.
Jealousy is envy manifested. Envy is the thought; jealousy is the obsession—when you are continually preoccupied with that thought. Jealousy is what spews out the wicked comment or gives birth to the evil deed. Although it is a sin to envy, you can avoid needless trouble if you deal with it while it is only in your thought life. But when you allow it to govern you, dominate you, and then you express what you feel—whether by word or deed—you can get yourself into a lot of trouble.
You may ask: at what point does one cross over from envy to jealousy? On a scale of one to ten (one to five being envy, six to ten being jealousy), when does one cross over a line, say, from five to six? I reply: when the thought becomes an obsession. It is not always so easy to tell, but keeping this in mind, just maybe, admitting to yourself what you are really feeling could make a difference when you struggle in this area. Keep a lid on your
envy. Refuse to let it grip you. Don’t go there in your thoughts. Don’t nurture it, don’t justify it, don’t dwell on it, and don’t encourage it. Confess it, and turn from it.
A close friend confided in me how he feels “smug” (his word) when he hears of bad things happening to others—especially to those he doesn’t particularly like, and sometimes even to people he likes. He had never admitted this to anyone before. He felt ashamed. I appreciated his honesty. It reminded me of this searching proverb: “Do not gloat when your enemy falls; when he stumbles, do not let your heart rejoice” (Prov. 24:17). It is a sin to feel smug; it is a greater sin to gloat. One way to know if you have crossed over a line into full-blown jealousy is whether you gloat if your enemy falls. The proverb continues, “The Lord will see and disapprove and turn his wrath away from him”
(v. 18). Such smugness or gloating is a dead giveaway that love is absent, for love “does not envy” (1 Cor. 13:4—“love . . . is not jealous” [gnt]). A great English preacher, F. B. Meyer, admitted to his struggle with jealousy when another great preacher, G. Campbell
Morgan, returned to England’s Westminster Chapel after being in America. “‘It was easy,’ he said, ‘to pray for the success of Campbell Morgan when he was in America. But when he came back to England and took a church near mine it was somewhat different. The old Adam in me was inclined to jealousy, but I got my heel upon his head and whether I felt right toward my friend, I determined to act right.’”4
When we examine our hearts in this area, the procedure can be very painful. Alarming. Embarrassing. How dare we feel smug when bad things happen to others—whether friends or enemies? But we do. Our fathers called it total depravity. We in the twenty-first century tend to gloss over the raw, unvarnished, sinful condition of humankind these days. But it is this aspect of humanity that made hymn writers centuries ago use words
like vile, wretch, worm, and foul in their hymns to describe all of us.
This book might therefore have an unexpected fringe benefit: to help you to see your sin. If you are like me, having been brought up with a belief one could live without sinning if you are truly saved (a belief I no longer hold), the insights of this book could help you to see why we need to confess our sins to God every day. After all, when Jesus gave us the Lord’s Prayer, the assumption was that we would need to pray, “Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us” (Luke 11:4). Before our lives can truly change, we need to see our sin and the need to change.
Although jealousy and envy can have their own distinct meaning, keep in mind that these words are often used interchangeably in Scripture, and I will do this too at times. Both
envy and jealousy arise from the same insecurity within us. A goal for this writer, and hopefully every reader of this book, will be to keep envy—which is natural—from becoming jealousy—which may be demonic. Jealousy often means that the
devil got in—and won a victory.
As we will see, God Himself is a jealous God (Exod. 20:5; 34:14). And yet it is because He loves us so much. God is jealous of every part of our lives that Satan has. It is not only because it is rightfully His, but also because He knows that when He has it all, it is how we were created to live. Indeed, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us” (James 4:5, esv). This shows how jealousy can be a good thing—when it is the Holy Spirit at work. Furthermore, our own envy is an entry point in us by which God frequently gets our attention. God clearly plays into our natural desire to acquire more by giving us the promise of blessing by our giving. “‘Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,’ says the Lord Almighty, ‘and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it’” (Mal. 3:10). Paul said much
the same thing: “Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously” (2 Cor. 9:6). In other words, God appeals to our self-interest to get our attention. Does this surprise you?
Some people might fancy that they are quite above being motivated by the promise of blessing. Just remember, the heart is deceitful (Jer. 17:9); we may think one thing and be completely wrong. The truth is, God always motivates us to obedience by the promise of our being better off if we obey.
To summarize, there are two kinds of jealousy: productive jealousy and counterproductive jealousy. Godly jealousy can be productive. There is also a benign envy that can be a motivation for doing good; God can use it. Counterproductive jealousy is what eats our souls and leaves us bitter and impoverished. It is one of Satan’s favorite vehicles by which he brings us to despair and destruction.
We turn now to the main theme of this book—namely, counterproductive jealousy that is a force for evil and not for good. It comes from our sinful nature that we did not overrule by the fruit of the Holy Spirit and is evidence of a worldly, carnal spirit (1 Cor. 3:3; Gal. 5:20). James curiously calls it “wisdom”—that is, wisdom of the devil. Indeed, “bitter jealousy” is “not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic” (James 3:14–15, esv). The sooner we see it in ourselves and want to deal with it, the better. This book is designed to help you see it and overcome it when you discover
it in yourself. It is designed to help you cope with it when others are jealous of you. It is designed to help you see when you could be causing others to feel jealous (even if inadvertently)—and how to stop it.
Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to Thy cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress;
Helpless, look to Thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Savior, or I die.5