Previously in this series we’ve looked at how our thoughts can be sinful. We established that we can’t fully control our thoughts but must press on towards sanctification anyway, trusting in the forgiveness we have in Jesus.
Now we’ll consider a particular type of sinful thought: jealousy.
Is jealousy sinful?
There is such thing as good and healthy jealousy. God is described as jealous many times in the Bible (for instance: Exodus 34:14; Deuteronomy 4:24, Joshua 24:19, Psalm 78:58). In all these places, God is jealous for his people to worship him alone. He is the true God, worthy of all honour, so he is jealous for what is rightfully his.
A similar kind of jealousy is right within marriage. Husbands and wives do belong to one another. If somebody is trying to take the affection that belongs to a spouse alone, it is right for their partner to be jealous.
However, these cases are exceptions. I suspect that 99% of the jealousy you and I feel on an everyday basis is sinful. Most of the time we’re jealous because we selfishly want things that we aren’t entitled to.
The Bible is unequivocal about this sin:
“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.” (Exodus 20:17)
“Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions…” (Galatians 5:19–20)
“So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander…” (1 Peter 2:1)
Why is jealousy so destructive?
Jealousy reveals the sin that is deep in our hearts. We envy because we are discontent and ungrateful about what God (in his infinite wisdom) has chosen to give us. So jealousy is an offense against God himself.
It’s also deeply destructive to our relationships with one another. I’m sure you’ve experienced the hatred that jealousy stirs up inside you. You don’t love others well when you’re jealous, and might look for ways to tear them down in front of others.
The book of James talks a lot about this:
“For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.” (James 3:16)
“You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” (James 4:2–3)
The damage caused by jealousy can be devastating to our relationships with God and each other. We cannot afford to let it reign in our hearts and minds.
How can we practically fight jealousy?
Yet it can feel impossible to overcome our jealous thoughts. Here are a few suggestions for how to put this sin to death. These steps are also adaptable to battling other kinds of sinful thoughts.
Cultivate love for God
If you’re going to break the chains of your desires, you need to experience the joy of a relationship with God. Take the time each day to hear from God and talk to him—this is what human relationships need to flourish, so don’t neglect it with God. Dwell on all he has done for you through the death and resurrection of Jesus, and the mercies he gives you every single day.
This is no quick-fix. It takes time to make a relationship stronger. But as you grow in thankfulness, you’ll find that it slowly poisons your envy.
Turn your thoughts over to God
You need a constant posture of repentance and humility before God. When you’ve allowed envy to rule your mind, ask God for forgiveness. Immediately say no to any jealous thoughts, bring them to God, and ask him for help to redirect your mind. God promises to always forgive us when we repent. The more you practice doing this, the more natural it will become.
Realise that these thoughts are lies
We don’t feel envy in isolation. There’s more to your jealousy than “I want [blank]”. What’s at the root of your thoughts? You might be thinking a lie like one of these:
- God is holding out on me
- God doesn’t have the power to give me what I need
- God doesn’t know what’s best for me
- God’s isn’t giving me what I really deserve
To combat these lies, you need to know what is true. This is another reason why it’s so crucial to spend regular, deep time in the Bible—so you can recognise where you’re harbouring false views of God. For instance, you might memorise and regularly recite this jealousy-killing promise: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).
Thank God for the gifts of others
Turn your mind from jealous thoughts and instead consider all the good that God is doing through the person you’re envious of. For example, you might be jealous of somebody’s social skills and charisma. They seem to have the ability to talk to and get along with everyone, while you’re shy and awkward. Instead of dwelling on your bitter thoughts, and wishing God made you differently, thank God that he is using this person to welcome people into his church. Strive to see the good and praise God for it.
It’s also helpful to humble yourself and learn from the other person. Ask them for help if you think that having more of this trait in yourself will enable you to serve and glorify God. It’s much harder to be jealous of somebody when you are thankful for them and learning from them.
Throughout this series, I hope you’ve been convicted (like I have) about the importance of following Jesus with our minds as well as our actions. Remember that jealousy, and other sins of the mind, are deeply offensive to God. Our thoughts condemn us before God, but Jesus took on our punishment and made us righteous. And because of his faithfulness and power, there is hope in the gospel for continued sanctification. Keep on pressing into Jesus, humbly repenting, and trusting in him.