Jealousy at the Boiling Point

Jealousy is one of the world’s oldest emotions. It goes all the way back to the first case of sibling rivalry in the Bible. Abel was favored by God and Cain was consumed with jealousy. Human Jealousy is when we seek substitutes for our significance in life. Deep down it is a desire for exclusive favor with someone we value.

Jealousy is hard-wired into our human nature. I see that in my kids. Our three kids wrestle with jealousy all the time. They want exclusive favor with mom or dad. They want to be the only one who has special time with us. If one of my daughters finds out that dad is going to have “boy-time” with Luke for a little while, I immediately hear “that’s not fair! Why does Luke get to spend time with dad?” I am trying to soak up this time in my life. I am pretty sure that there will come a point in life where my kids no longer fight over my attention. But at this stage in our family, it doesn’t take much for one of my children to feel slighted if another gets my or my wife’s exclusive attention for a few minutes. We are constantly trying to give equal time to everyone and to affirm that we love each of them with a really big love.

We feel the same thing as adults. We secretly feel jealousy when someone else has a big win in their life. We wish it were our story of success. We long to be honored and noticed for things that we care about and it is hard to stand in someone else’s shadow. An unhindered jealous spirit will naturally build lots of anger. We can find ourselves expending lots of energy trying to gain other people’s favor or trying to cut down those with whom we are jealous.

What is the temperature of your emotions when it comes to jealousy? Here is an interesting thought about jealousy. The New Testament word for jealousy is not necessarily a negative term. In fact, the word you will find translated “jealousy” is the same word that is translated “zeal” in other contexts. The greek word is zelos which is an onomonopia or a word that sounds like what it is describing, i.e. “buzz,” “gurgle” and “pow.” Say zelos five times in a row. What does it sound like? Well, for the greeks it sounded like bubbling or boiling water. It is the sound of the heat being turned up and something getting ready to boil over. And this can be energy in a positive direction or a negative direction.

When life at the boiling point is directed in the way of human jealousy it is always ugly. Proverbs 27:4 says, “anger is cruel and fury overwhelming, but who can stand before jealousy.” For Cain this led to murder. For you it may mean a critical spirit that is leading you to gossip, aggressiveness or cutting words. It is also the pathway of idolatry. Tim Keller describes it this way, “it is when you look at some created thing to give you what only God can give you.”

Here is the interesting positive side. Life at the boiling point can be pointed in the way of Godly jealousy–a passion or zeal for the things of God. The Bible repeatedly speaks of God being a jealous God. Not that he has petty human jealousy, but that he is intensely focused on conveying his mercy, justice and truth with crystal clarity. God is the source of all goodness and wisdom. He alone holds the title as creator, sustainer and savior. Living a life with the heat turned up on zeal for the things of God is the other side of jealousy.

If you struggle with jealous feelings or envy, if you find that you expend a lot of energy longing for contentment, you need to take a new look a jealousy and redirect your passions for glorifying God rather than running after the things of this life. The remedy for human jealous is ultimately a life of worship. Be jealous for God’s glory!

Here are a few questions:

1. What are some ways this week you could stoke the fires of worship? Create a new Pandora station that is worship oriented. (If you don’t know what Pandora is, Google it. If you don’t know what it means to “google it,” then put in your favorite worship 8-track.)

2. What are you really jealous for in life? Isolate your jealous feelings. What is it that you really are seeking after and will obtaining that actually give you the contentment you desire? Read the life of Solomon and how he ran hard after so many things in life and at the end of his pursuit ended up finding that a life glorifying God was the only thing that filled his heart with life.

3. What scriptures are you turning to that inform your feelings? I encourage you to take Psalm 103:1-5 with you this week. They have done wonders for me as I seek to turn the heat up in my worship life.

Here are some other verses to get the fires of worship going in your heart this week.

  • “Glorify the Lord with me;  let us exalt his name together.” Psalms 34:3
  • “Not to us, O Lord,…but to your name be the glory, because of your love and faithfulness.” Psalms 115:1
  • “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” 1 Corinthians 10:31

For more on this topic check out Dr. Erik Theoennes book Divine Jealousy

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8 thoughts on “Jealousy at the Boiling Point

  1. Quoting you:

    “We feel the same thing as adults. We secretly feel jealousy when someone else has a big win in their life. We wish it were our story of success. We long to be honored and noticed for things that we care about and it is hard to stand in someone else’s shadow. An unhindered jealous spirit will naturally build lots of anger. We can find ourselves expending lots of energy trying to gain other people’s favor or trying to cut down those with whom we are jealous.”

    I find this happening to me at times; someone else gets a little recognition, I am deflated. I try not to be jealous, but that’s tough sometimes — being completely honest with myself, anyway. I’d like recognition, too but in the long run it doesn’t really matter because I am only doing what is expected of me — my job! That’s what I get money to do! Why should I need or expect recognition for what is only my duty. Going above and beyond at work is not something I want to focus my energies on — I’d rather just do my specific job with as much gusto and love as I can. The problem is when others get that special recognition, I get down on myself. And that’s wrong!

    I sort of think that’s what happened to Cain — he felt deflated. He forgot God is more important than anything else.

    Thanks! Carley

  2. Thanks for the comments. Your transparency is endearing and gives other permission to say, “yeah, me too.” We are all in that similar boat and maybe if we are honest about that, we can start to be helpful to each other when jealousy comes creeping at our door.

  3. I appreciated your comments on Sunday about how we can misunderstand Gods responds to our worship. God doesn’t need our worship, we need to worship Him and we can never worship Him enough. When we worship, our eyes are off ourselves and on Him. We need to see God better in order to gain His perspective, to see ourselves and those round us as he sees us. When we see as God sees, jealousy will no longer be a problem. ET

  4. Brian,
    yes I appreiciated you giving it to us -just like the bible states…we need to hear that we need to live by God’s word even when we may not want too! I have been told that I dont have a jealous bone in my body–with that being said–of course I do–I am human and have desires and vices like eveyone else. However, like from your messages–its how we deal with it–our own nature or do we take it to the Lord and pray about it.

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