Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy- Romans 13:13 NIV
Recently, I had coffee with a good friend. After some initial chit-chat I asked how things were going at her church. Tears immediately sprang to her eyes as she told me about a situation she’s encountered over the course of the last few months.
Her church has a new pastor she likes very much. His sermons are excellent and all-in-all she feels he is taking the church in a solid direction. The problem is with his wife. She acts as the co-pastor of the church. My friend has zero problem with her role and initially really liked the woman, she’s bright, funny and my friend said she appears to really love Jesus.
The problem started a couple of months back. My friend, who has been involved in a leadership capacity at the church for years was suddenly removed from groups and boards she had previously led. This was done without so much as a word to her or an explanation as to why. Furthermore, the pastor’s wife had made some public comments that were subtly demeaning and even blatantly rude to and about my friend. My friend has refused to discuss the issue with anyone at her church but she said that people were starting to ask what was going on.
My friend is content with taking a lesser role at her church. She understands sometimes new leaders take ministries in a different direction. However, she didn’t expect to be completely dismissed in such a hurtful manner. As her story unfolded it became clear, my friend is likely the victim of a behavior as old as humanity that has become all-too common in church, especially in church leadership: jealousy.
It has not escaped my observation that most Christians tend to see certain sins as more ethically acceptable than others. Such is the case with jealousy. Christians see jealousy as a problem, but not in the same way homicide or slander or lying are a problem. Christians typically place jealousy in the same category as telling someone their hair looks nice when it doesn’t. It’s seen as more of a personal shortcoming than a sin.
The New Testament does not treat jealousy as a personal fault or a spiritual misdemeanor. The apostle Paul saw fit to place jealousy in the same class as witchcraft, hatred, selfish ambition, sexual immorality and debauchery (Romans 13:12-13, Galatians 5:19-21). At best, the New Testament presents jealousy as an obvious indication of worldliness and spiritual immaturity (1st Corinthians 13:3, James 4:1-3). At worst it’s presented as a fast track to spiritual ruin.
Jealousy is a gateway sin. It naturally opens the door to feeling more comfortable with other, much bigger, much more serious sins. If jealousy is allowed to run wild it can (and usually does) lead to even worse sins like slander, lying and even homicide (Genesis 4:1-7, Genesis 37:1-36, 1st Kings 21:1-14, 1st Samuel 18:1-16, Acts 5:12-18, Acts 17:4-6).
Jealousy manifests itself in two ways. Sometimes jealousy is the result of wanting something a person feels they lack (a talent, characteristic, possession, opportunity, platform or relationship). Other times it’s the result of desiring to be the only really important person in a friend group, organization or church. At the root of jealousy there is always a spirit of self-promotion, craving for more of something (greed) and covetousness. The writer of Proverbs tells us that anger and rage are intimidating but jealousy is the real destroyer of people and relationships (Proverbs 24:7).
In an age of social media, self-promotion, celebrity Christians and “Christian influencers” believers, especially believers in leadership positions (paid or volunteer) must be on guard against jealousy. Even good, godly people can become inflamed with jealousy. It is not unusual for jealousy to make its way into the church through a spirit of competition that disguises itself as a desire to reach the lost, mentor people or disciple others. Jealousy is the ugly offspring of pride. It often begins with the belief that “I’m irreplaceable” or “no one can do X as well as me”. It ultimately manifests itself in a poverty mindset that leads to territorial thinking about things Christians should never be territorial about like ministry opportunities, leadership roles and mentoring opportunities. At the root of jealousy is the sin of unbelief. Jealous people do not believe there is ever enough of anything to go around.
Spiritually speaking, we live in the grimmest of times (2nd Timothy 3:1-5, Matthew 24). People are deconstructing their faith in droves, violence is the new normal and out-and-out evil is thought to be virtuous in our culture.
There is no room for jealousy among Christians in such times.
It is up to us to deal with jealousy aggressively. Jealousy never goes away on its own. We strangle feelings of jealousy with gratitude and thankfulness (Colossians 3:15, Colossians 4:2, Ephesians 5:3-5, Hebrews 12:28). The more intentional we are about being grateful for what we have the less likely we are to become envious of what other people have or are doing. Community kills jealousy. It is much harder to be jealous when you know someone’s story and are in community with them. Praying regularly for people we feel jealous of is another way to chase away feelings of jealously or greed.
There are some who have defended jealousy because God describes Himself as a jealous God (Exodus 20:5, Deuteronomy 4:24, Nahum 1:2). The difference between human jealousy and God’s jealousy is that God’ jealousy is never selfishly motivated. It’s never about Him. He is jealous out of concern for our well-being. Whereas human jealously wants what it wants only for its own glorification.
My heart still breaks for my sweet friend. Seeing the hurt and pain caused by a jealous spirit is painful. However, the person I worry about most is the one who’s doing the hurting.