Indeed! Who can stand before human jealousy? It is a passionate and often violent emotion. Our readings in Proverbs 27:4 teaches us today that “wrath is fierce and anger is a flood, but who can stand before jealousy?!” Jealousy is worse than the fierceness of violent anger and the relentless, unexpected force of sweeping floods. Is this true? The wisdom of Proverbs singles it out to tell us so.
I looked in to this topic a bit today because it has always intrigued me. What else does the Bible teach us about jealousy? There was actually a procedure and offering under the Law to deal with (and defuse?) it “when a spirit of jealousy” came over a man. (Numbers 5) Romans 13:13 tells us that strife goes hand-in-hand with jealousy. Jealous people stir up trouble. And I Corinthians 3:3 says that human jealousy is carnal – meaning the fruit of fleshly thinking and attitudes. II Corinthians 12:20 outlines more of the bad fruit associated with jealousy: angry tempers, disputes (fights), slanders, gossip, arrogance, disturbances…Hmmm, it’s getting ugly in here. The insidious potential for behind-the-scenes nastiness is impossible to combat. Proverbs also tells us that it enrages people to the point of merciless violence. (Pro. 6:34).
James defines the motivation behind jealousy. He says it is “bitter” and is fueled by selfish ambition. Human pride at its worst – “I am not getting what I want so look out for what’s coming!” He says where these things are evident there is disorder and every evil work. (James 3:14-16) EVERY evil work?! So ANYTHING is possible when jealousy is rampant? And this was in reference to the churches and their teachers/leaders. This is rather astonishing perhaps, until we see jealousy more clearly as a prominent storyline in the Bible.
Think of Bible stories with jealous protagonists. We don’t have to read far to get to Cain & Abel, or how about Joseph’s brothers? But when you think of jealous people perhaps the very first to come to mind are the leaders of Jesus’ day. We saw it in our readings in John today. A divided camp of those who saw Jesus good works and had the humility to bow before them versus the jealous ones who refused to acknowledge his goodness because he was not “playing by their rules.” The word “jealous” in Greek means “envious and contentious rivalry” and that is what most of the leaders chose as their stance toward the Lord. No matter what he did – they were bitter and ready to stir up lies and violence against him. To the point of murder. In their selfish ambition they found all the supposed “holes” in Jesus’ life and justified themselves in killing him. And they carried on with this attitude even after his resurrection! Acts shows how their jealousy spurred them to all kinds of violence toward the Apostles and other believers as well. (17:5, 5:17, 13:45)
So is jealousy still a problem in our world? Definitely. It’s fruits are in the news every day – from the scale of sibling rivalry to the global contentions between rival powers. Nothing has changed since sin entered the world. And we cannot stand before jealousy.
So what do we do if we find ourselves caught in the crossfire of jealousy at any level? Recognize it for what it is. Be warned not to practice its fleshly sin. Examine ourselves to see if we walk right with regard to jealousy – petty and great. Practice love instead. I Corinthians 13 singles it out to contrast for us the simple truth that “Love…is not jealous.” v. 4 Lean on a loving God who rescues us from every trial – especially when we feel we cannot stand before it. (II Peter 2:9)