Dearest brethren, vices and carnal sins must be crushed, and the infestuous plague of the earthly body must be trampled upon with spiritual vigor, lest, when we again are turned back to the conversation of the old man, we become entangled in deadly snares.
Jealousy and Envy, Cyprian
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
1 Corinthians 13:4-7
I do not think of jealousy or envy much on my own. Perhaps you are plagued by it, but I think that it is probably the case that we don’t think about it because we have become so acculturated to it. In other words, tasteful envy is acceptable, sometimes cute or sometimes funny. This is probably because of the consumeristic culture that we live in. When you get the new Fleet Farm Christmas Catalog in the mail this year, and you hand it to your children, you are teaching them either to appreciate nice pictures of toys or perhaps you are actually teaching them straight up to desire, and desire things they don’t have. And this desire (which we in older terms might call coveting) is fruitful ground for envy and jealousy. Envy and jealousy are the immoral character traits where we compare ourselves to someone else and grow bitter because of what we don’t have and someone else has. So I might be jealous of my neighbor’s beautiful fence (and my lack of a fence to keep my kids and dog contained) or I might be jealous that I don’t have 6 kids or perhaps you might be jealous of me that you don’t have 2 children. I could be jealous of the opportunity some children have to receive a truly excellent education at a certain classical school in the Twin Cities (unlike myself and what my children will get). You might be jealous of someone else’s beautiful home (when yours is defined by brown carpet full of impenetrable hair from the dog and ladies in your household). Some of you may be jealous of other’s lifestyles. Some people are too busy for their own good and could look with envy at those with a simple life. Those of you who lead a simple, quiet life might wish more would happen to you. You might regret your youth and be jealous of those who took advantage of the right stepping stones to success in life. Or you might be jealous of those who don’t have to worry about medical issues and diet. All this is to say we easily compare ourselves with others and long to be in their shoes instead of our own. We all easily look at others with jealousy.
It is one thing to know that you sort of kind of struggle with a thing like this and quite another to actually address the issue as a deadly sin. We do not, like Cyprian warns, crush our carnal sins. Instead, we let them be slowly lingering below our conscious engagement. Jealousy is at the root of the first sins. Cain and Abel both offered sacrifice to the Lord. As readers of the story, we don’t know what God was expecting, perhaps they didn’t either? God accepted Abel’s sacrifice and rejected Cain’s. This was devastating to Cain. He wanted what Abel had: an acceptable sacrifice. God warned him that sin was crouching at the door: he must deal with the carnal sin in his heart before it overtook him. But he did not. And he murdered Abel. For our purposes, it is important to see the similarities in our day. Most of our situations are not entirely up to us. We didn’t choose our salary which determined the home we live in. We didn’t choose to have chronic illness or pain. We didn’t choose to have our neighbor. Cain didn’t choose to have his sacrifice rejected. In providing an offering, we imagine he thought it would be accepted. In all of these things, God is the one who permits and gives them to us. We are in the position of receiving imperfect situations in our life: sin is crouching at our door. The question is how will we respond?
There are two attitudes that I want to draw our attention to. The first is contentment. We must change our perspective on the nature of the world. Every good and every perfect gift is from God. Often difficult things, whether sickness or difficulty, are a good work of God’s discipline in our lives. When we live with eyes of jealousy, we are denying the work of God in the world, and in fact saying that we know better than our good God. That God is the giver of good gifts teaches us to learn contentment. This is not to deny sin or the fall. Instead it is to acknowledge that God is greater than any sin we come across, and his gifts are more substantial and lasting than any vain pleasure the world might purport to offer.
The second attitude is love. In 1 Corinthians 13, an opposite attitude of envy is love or charity. We cannot be jealous when we truly love others. If we have the great gift of salvation, there is nothing else that we truly have need of because we have God’s love in Christ that endures past death. When we love others we rejoice in their good, and we pray that God would continue to be at work in their lives whether in poverty or riches, sickness or healthy vigor.
May we be defined by such a contentment and love that we challenge others to live in a similar manner, and may we crush this infestuous plague of jealousy swiftly by the power of God’s Holy Spirit.