Jean writes in to ask, “Pastor John, how do I handle the envy and jealousy that are eating away at me?” In the last podcast, (episode 151), you addressed the envy side. And you wanted to address them individually. So now address the jealousy category.
I wanted to break jealousy and envy up, because jealousy, I think, is significantly different. Jealousy is an anger because someone else is getting affections that I believe belong to me, and that is not always wrong, right? It is not wrong to be angry at a wife or a husband who is giving their marital affections to another when they are married to you. We know it is not wrong because God is called a jealous God: “You shall have no other gods before me . . . You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God” (Exodus 20: 3, 5).
In other words, your allegiance, your love, your worship belongs to me. Don’t give it to anybody else. If you give it to somebody else, I get angry because I am a jealous God. I want all of your love, all of your worship, your allegiance, your affections for me. And that is a beautiful thing of God to do because he is infinitely worthy of those affections and that allegiance. And therefore, it is a loving thing of God to be a jealous God. And for us, we want to find a way to distinguish between sinful jealousy and loving jealousy.
So what is the difference? What is the sin of jealousy that this person who asked this question evidently is feeling eaten up by? I could think of three things that make a desire for someone’s affections sinful.
1. Jealousy is sinful when it is for affections that don’t belong to you.
One is when there is no ground for feeling jealousy. In other words, they really aren’t giving their affections away in any inordinate or inappropriate way, and you shouldn’t be feeling the craving for their unique affections the way you are. I think I have seen mothers, for example, jealous of their son’s affections when they find a girl. They start falling in love with a girl, and mom used to be so central in this little boy’s affections, and now there is this girl who has come into his life. And this mother doesn’t have the maturity to let go of those affections that have to be now given mainly to this woman rather than to her.
That would be a sinful jealousy if this mother were angry at this son. She shouldn’t be angry, because those affections that he is giving to this young woman are not the mother’s. They don’t belong to her. She should let them go. She should be thankful that they are happening. That is the first one.
2. Jealousy is sinful when it is excessive.
The second one is when the anger is all out of proportion to the degree of the issue. A husband might spend some time reading or watching television or going bowling with his friends, and this wife might not have the security to feel okay about her husband doing some other things besides focusing all of his attention on her. And so that would be a sinful jealousy if she got all excessively bent out of shape.
It is okay for her to talk to him about his schedule and try to work out whatever seems appropriate, but there are kinds of jealousy that are out of proportion to the degree of the offense, if it is an offense at all.
3. Jealousy is sinful when it is rooted in a lack of trust in God.
And the third one I could think of — the third thing that makes jealousy sin — would be when it is flowing from a lack of trust in God to meet your needs — to intervene where it is needed. In other words, you see something happening where, in fact, maybe there is a real breach of trust, and you are legitimately feeling jealous, but that jealousy which begins as something right can move over into something wrong when, in fact, you don’t trust God with it.
So the real battle, I think, has to be fought at the level of trusting God. James 3:14–15 says, “If you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above.” In other words, James is saying your jealousy is owing to the fact that you are not getting this from heaven. This is not of the Holy Spirit. This is not borne of faith. This is coming from something demon-like and ugly. So we need to kill — I would say kill — sinful jealousy with godly jealousy.
Godly jealousy says, “I am jealous that God get all my affections of love and trust and not be given away to anybody else. And if God has them, then my heart will be steadied, and I will not crave the attention that I am sinfully craving in my jealousy of others.” So I think really at the root, being eaten up with a sinful jealousy is probably owing to a failure to be jealous enough for God getting all my affections and all my trust and all my allegiance so I can be stable and strong and restful in him.