William Shakespeare called jealousy the green-eyed monster. Countless books and songs and even movies have been made about suspicious minds and wandering loves.
What does jealousy mean to us as Christians?
Interestingly, anger and jealousy are both ascribed to God in the Old Testament but we are warned about them in ourselves. I think that since we are made in God’s image, he built these emotions into us, but they are now fallen. God speaks of how jealous he was over his people, specifically who they worshiped.
In our common English usage, jealousy and envy have become synonymous. This is not correct. Envy wants something that someone else has, jealousy is when someone gets (or tries to get) something that is ours (or that we think is or should be ours).
Definitions of “jealous” boil down to feeling resentment toward another either stemming from rivalry, or because of desiring their success or achievements which we think should have been ours. It also covers fears of rivalry, and finally, being solicitous or vigilant in guarding something.
It is this last bit that applies to the verses in the Old Testament telling us that God is a jealous God. He is not putting up with any rivalry over the worship and affection of his people.
This is what jealousy was supposed to have been. However, as we have previously discovered, we humans are selfish. Our default setting is to skip right over careful guarding and go right to suspicion and rage.
Jealousy is an emotion that can quickly turn to sin, and what a sin it is. Suspicion, anger, rage, and hatred, all stemming from the oft-times false belief that someone is getting on our turf.
Origin- In my opinion, I think that our usual form of jealousy often comes from insecurity. Jealousy can arise from us wanting what someone else has or that we think should have been ours (a promotion at work, a position in church), or from our fear that they are going to get something that is ours (rivalry). Both of these can come from being insecure in who we are and what we have. The proper kind of jealousy, such as God displays, does not come from insecurity, but rather a sense of guardianship.
Purpose- “Good” jealousy should drive us to protect what is ours. We should be jealous of our marriage, jealous of our children’s’ minds and hearts.
Appropriate Response- Are you feeling protective or suspicious? Are your feelings based in insecurity or in a sense of guardianship? Is the threat perceived or real? Is the threat over something that is truly yours (your children) or over something that you wish was yours (a promotion)? If our jealousy is carnal, then it needs to go. Scripture tells us this multiple times.
This topic would easily provide fodder for an entire book, but to keep this article manageable, I want to focus only on what would be considered a “good” jealousy.
I’m jealous of my children’s hearts and minds and affections. I want to be their first source of comfort, of advice, and of companionship. Obviously this is not a crazy, flowers-in-the-attic, type of guarding, but it makes me careful of who and what influences them. It causes me to decide against entertainments that paint parents in a bad light or that would teach my kids that they should have secrets from their parents or that kids should handle big life decisions without parental input. It compels me to carefully choose other adults to speak into my children’s lives, those who will understand and reinforce our values. I do recognize the importance of my children having other mentors, but my husband and I should be first on their list.
I’m jealous of my marriage. Now, this gets a little stickier, jealousy in a marriage can easily get out of control and destroy the very thing it was meant to protect. I must remember that I can’t control other people, I can only govern myself. I don’t get to control how much time my husband has to spend at work. I DO get to control (to a certain extent) how badly he wants to get home after work. I do control how much effort I put into my marriage. I do control whether or not I’m available and fit to be a great helpmeet. Ladies, dear sisters, I’m not saying that if a marriage breaks up, it is because you did something wrong or didn’t guard it. Please, please, that is not my intention here at all. I’m speaking to those of us with basically healthy relationships, who need to jealously guard what we have.
The wrong kind of jealousy will tear apart a marriage faster than we can imagine, the right kind of protectiveness will spur us to make an effort when we simply don’t feel like it.
One more idea that hits me right where I live is being jealous of my walk with God. If God is jealous of his people and their worship, then shouldn’t I also be zealous about guarding my heart and mind from things that will distract me from Him? Shouldn’t I be jealous of my available time instead of squandering it on useless things? If I were as jealous of my time with God as I am with my knitting or sewing or reading or computer time, how much of a difference would that make in my life as a whole?
If jealousy is born of insecurity, what better cure for all of the wrong jealousy in my life than to spend more time with God and learn who I am in his eyes and how secure I am in his love?