What God Says About Jealousy
An intrusive yet familiar thought crossed my mind.
“I wish that was me.”
I’ve struggled with jealousy more times than I’d like to admit, and it’s often made me feel guilty because I shouldn’t think that way. I shouldn’t be jealous…I’m a Christian, and I should be happy and rejoice when others succeed, especially for the Kingdom, right? Yet why did I still struggle with feelings of discontentment and envy?
The truth is all of us have dealt with some form of jealousy along the way. It can be a sneaky and ugly sin of the heart that often stays hidden and is many times the undetected culprit that reaps havoc in our spiritual lives and relationships.
If you resonate with any of the following statements, then maybe jealousy is something you have struggled with, too:
- I need to be the smartest, best-looking, most achieved, or funniest person in the room.
- I have a hard time feeling happy for others when they succeed or have something I desire.
- I don’t have many close relationships because it’s hard for me to feel secure in most friendships.
- I have a deep fear of being unnoticed, unworthy, or unloved.
- I put a lot of my identity in who I know, what I do, what I have, or what I’ve achieved.
- I feel good when I know others are jealous of me.
- I continually compare myself with others and feel like I fall short or am less than.
- It takes a lot of effort to say something nice about someone else.
- I care a lot about what people think of me and struggle to understand how God’s love is sufficient.
If you relate to any of those statements, you are not alone. The more honest we can be about these things, with ourselves and God, the wider the door opens to receive His grace, wisdom, and power to overcome them.
Not everyone is jealous about the same things or for the same reasons. Sometimes these desires stem from fear, insecurity, or deep disappointment. These pains of the heart may lead one to envy others. These pains of the heart are not a sin. They are side effects of living in a human body with a beating heart the breaks and bleeds…God deeply cares about our hearts, fears, insecurities, and disappointments (Psalm 34:18-19). However, envy that grows into jealousy which grows into idolatry, can become a great hindrance in our spiritual lives.
Jealousy is a matter of the heart, and what lives in the heart reveals itself in how we think, feel, and act.
Even after someone becomes a believer in Jesus and has a new identity in Christ, they are still living in the flesh and will struggle with earthly things that need to be put to death (Gal. 5:19-21). Our salvation comes when we believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ, but our sanctification comes as we continually grow in His likeness throughout our life. That being said, let’s clarify a few things.
I think it’s important to distinguish when the struggle of jealousy becomes sinful. Not all admirations or desires are sinful. Suppose I were to notice something someone has and desire to have that thing, that in and of itself is not a sin. However, if I idolize that thing, then it is a sin. Or if the object of my desire is not pleasing to God, and I continually long for that thing without reservation, then it becomes sinful. Or if I recognize the jealousy in my heart and don’t seek the Lord’s help to overcome it, and allow it to grow roots of bitterness, then it becomes sinful.
Jealousy is linked to coveting, which is a form of idolatry (Col. 3:3-5). Idolatry of the heart is when we make gods out of our desires. So, when our desire for something takes the place of God, then it is a sin.
James 3:16 says, “For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.” If you have ever struggled with jealousy, you probably know this to be true. When jealousy goes unchecked, it can lead to internal and external chaos. I imagine it to be like a very invasive weed that, once it takes root, will take over an entire garden. It will suck the life out of everything around it and make any new life very hard to grow.
Let’s say you had this weed in your garden, but you decided to leave it be, or at the least, you trimmed it at the surface. You then decide to plant some new things in the garden, but no matter how many times you trim the weed at the surface, it destroys all that is around it, no matter how much you try to water it or cover it up.
When we struggle with jealousy but leave it untreated and try to either ignore it or cover it up, it doesn’t matter how many good things we try to put into our lives—their growth will be stunted, and we won’t see fruit.
This is why it is important to recognize jealousy as a form of idolatry, which is a sin. To treat it, we must repent of the sin. Repentance requires us first to acknowledge the sin, confess it to God, ask for forgiveness, and then lay it at His feet. This does not mean those feelings or desires won’t creep up, but by repenting, you are positioning your heart to receive God’s mercy for forgiveness and grace to give you strength to overcome (1 Joh. 1:19). This may be an ongoing area you have to lay at the Lord’s feet. The good news is His mercies are new every day (Lam. 3:22-23)!
By submitting these things to God, we proclaim that we love Him more than those things and put our trust in Jesus, not those things.
“So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation— if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.” 1 Peter 2:1-3
A lot of times, we become jealous because we feel discontent in one or more areas of our lives. The truth is God is good and has everything we need to be satisfied. However, if we struggle to believe in the goodness of God, we struggle to trust Him. This then leads us to seek satisfaction in places outside of God. It could sound like this…
If I just had that much money, then I would feel content.
If I just had that kind of relationship, then I would be happy.
If I just weighed that much, then I would feel good.
If I just had that many followers, then I would feel valuable.
The list could go on and on, but essentially, whatever the area of desire becomes the god. If you have ever obtained an object of your desire, then you probably know this to be true as well; it doesn’t satisfy all your desires, fix all your problems, or even make jealousy go away. The cycle will repeat itself.
This was an eye-opening realization for me several years ago when I realized I struggled to believe in the goodness of God and that His love for me is sufficient. I still longed for other things more than I did God because I exchanged the truth about God for a lie that other things could fulfill me the way only He could (Rom. 1:25).
So, we see how jealousy can be sinful, and we need to repent of sin. Great. Now how does God help us in our weakness in this area? What does being transformed by the renewal of our minds look like (Rom. 12:2)?
Recognizing my sin was the first step, followed by laying it down at the Lord’s feet. What followed was a continual positioning of the heart to believe in God’s goodness, even when I didn’t see it or feel it. This requires trust and faith.
My prayers became something like this…
Lord, help me to believe in your goodness today.
Help me to see your goodness around me.
You are enough. Help me to believe that.
It wasn’t instantaneous, but through the years I can honestly rejoice in a gradual and steady growth in believing in the goodness of God. Areas of jealousy do still creep up, but I have a much quicker recognition of them, and laying them down is like muscle memory. I’ve also found that the greater my desire is for God, my desire for things of this world lessens.
The more I draw near to Him, the more He draws near to me (Jam. 4:8). The more I seek to know God, the more I know God, and because God is love, the more I know love. It is here, in a place of surrender and trust, that my fears and insecurities are cast out as I am perfected by His love.
“So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” 1 John 4:16-18
This is resting in God. He comforts the broken heart. He calms the anxious spirit. He brings order to chaos in our minds. He increases our affections for Him and loosens the grip of this world through the power of His Son, Jesus.
There is no stronghold that He can’t overcome. If you struggle with jealousy, know that God’s wisdom and strength are infinite and offered freely to you to overcome it. His love for you is endless, and it is enough.