Fighting the Works of the Flesh: Jealousies
In the ninth post in this series covering the works of the flesh, we look at jealousy and examine several strategies to combat its presence in our lives.
Imagine a teen girl waiting for that cute football player to ask her out to the school prom. Then,to her shock and horror, he asks her best friend instead. Needless to say, she is jealous.
But this is just a minor example of how jealousy can enter a person’s life. Jealousy has the potential to be much more damaging. Shakespeare’s famous tragedy Othello is all about how jealousy can grow and destroy relationships and people.
No wonder the Bible lists it as one of the “works of the flesh” (Galatians 5:19-20).
The Greek word used in Galatians 5:20 translated “jealousies” comes from zelos, meaning “an envious and contentious rivalry, jealousy” (Thayer’s Lexicon). Jealousy refers to the “emotion related to fear that something you have [or want] will be taken away by someone else” (Envy vs. Jealousy).
The type of sinful jealousy we are describing in this blog post is much different from the godly jealousy that God has for His people. To learn more about godly jealousy, read “Jealous God? What Does That Mean?”
Let’s consider some common misconceptions about human jealousy.
Lies about jealousy
Lie No. 1: “A little healthy competition for affection never hurt anyone.”
History and common sense should tear this lie apart, but jealousy is still around. Ask any child who grew up in a family who had “favorites” if he or she believes this lie.
In fact, the Bible gives several examples of this unhealthy dynamic. Isaac and Jacob, for instance, both made the mistake of letting their children know that they loved one more than the others. By choosing favorites, Isaac and Rebekah and then their son Jacob produced family climates that were ripe for jealousy. The results were bitter grudges, stolen birthrights, attempted murder, selling a sibling into slavery and deception.
The Old Testament also refers to the spirit of jealousy that comes upon a husband when he is unsure whether his wife has been faithful (Numbers 5:29-30). This kind of jealousy can destroy a marriage—whether or not the fear is built on fact!
The Bible doesn’t take this concept of jealousy lightly: “Wrath is cruel and anger a torrent, but who is able to stand before jealousy?” (Proverbs 27:4).
Lie No. 2: “Jealousy just shows the other person how much I love her [or him].”
Jealousy is based on an overwhelming fear that we are missing out on some affection that we want to have, or that we will lose recognition or appreciation that we already have from someone. Women, and even some men, who have survived and escaped situations of abuse would cringe at this lie. When jealousy shows up in close relationships, love is the last thing that everyone feels. When we read the definition of love in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, “love is jealous” is not a phrase we see. Nor do we read “love is anxious and controlling.”
Jealousy is based on an overwhelming fear that we are missing out on some affection that we want to have, or that we will lose recognition or appreciation that we already have from someone.
What does the Bible say about fear and love? “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love” (1 John 4:18). Jealous fear is actually the opposite of love!
Strategies to overcome jealousy
1. Think more about giving than getting.
Many thoughts can crop up with jealousies: “She pays attention to him more than me.” “He loves her more than me.” “They listen to him more than they ever listen to me.” “They think she’s funnier than me.”
Notice the common word: Me! Jealousy is all about the self.
The opposite of all those thoughts is love. Love is giving of ourselves with no expectation of return. It is not wrong to expect faithfulness, loyalty and love in our relationships with others; in fact, that is how God wants them to be. It is wrong, however, to expect that we should be the center of the universe in every aspect of our relationships. Healthy relationships do not include a possessive form of jealousy.
2. Identify hurt feelings leading to jealousy and discuss them.
Jealousy can sometimes rear its head because of the smallest events in our lives. For example, a wife could become jealous if she sees her husband taking a lingering look at another woman while they are out together. The only way to know if it was lust or if the husband was innocently trying to figure out if he went to high school with the girl years ago is to talk about it. This could lead to an “I’m sorry; I shouldn’t have looked” or “Yeah, I think we had algebra together.”
The point is, before we become jealous, we should try to look at it from the other person’s perspective and give him or her the benefit of a doubt. If we can’t let it go, then we should:
- Get the facts.
- Discuss it openly.
Many events happen every day that could plant the seeds of jealousy: friends not responding to your texts, parents consistently helping your sibling more than you, etc. Don’t let them turn into jealousy. Talk about it! As awkward as bringing it up might be, awkwardness and resolution are much better than lingering jealousy.
3. Learn to hate jealousy.
Jealousy is damaging to our relationships. It can lead to friendships and romantic relationships that are unreasonably controlling, full of suspicion and altogether unpleasant. Even when someone else has set all the conditions up for a perfect climate of jealousy, it is up to us to recognize jealousy in ourselves and reject it—and, yes, hate it.