By Rev Canon S Sebastian Campbell
AN Ancient Greek legend tells of how a young athlete ran in a race and placed second. In honour of the first place finisher his community erected a large statue in the town square.
Envy and jealousy attacked the athlete who placed second to the degree that he made plans to destroy the statue. Each night he went out and chipped away at the foundation of the statue, expecting it to fall on its own some day. One night however, he chipped too much. The statue’s weakened base began to crack until it popped. The huge marble statue came down upon the disgruntled athlete. He died under the crushing weight of the one he had come to hate.
The truth is, he died long before the statue fell on him. In giving up his heart to envy and jealousy he had ceased to live for himself. He became a slave to the giant of jealousy. His heart had become a picture of the Greek word “envy”, which means “to boil within”. Shakespeare called jealousy the green sickness. To be jealous is to strike out at what somebody else is or what somebody else has. Scripture says we are to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep, but the jealous person does the opposite. He rejoices while others weep, and weeps when others rejoice.
When the person of whom he is jealous is successful, he turns green with envy. When that person experiences failure, he flushes with the chance to make up for lost ground.
Jealousy can eat away at one’s insides as Proverbs suggests (Proverbs 14:30). No giant is more destructive to self and to relationships than the giant of jealousy and envy.
Jealousy makes its way through a number of networks or circles in which we each travel. To be aware of its favourite pathways is to be forearmed against its powers.
Jealousy is found in the arena of possessions and wealth. See Genesis 26:13-14; it describes the wealth Isaac accumulated and how the Philistines “envied him”.
Isaac’s possessions are mentioned three times, so we know he had accumulated quite a lot, and though the Philistines were wealthy seafaring traders, they still envied what Isaac had.
Jealousy can easily get a foothold among the wealthy. It’s easy to want just a little bit more than we already have. To be sure, it is possible to have wealth and not envy what anyone else has.
God has blessed many Christians with significant wealth and many of them have learned to live with gratitude toward God instead of envy toward others. But generally speaking, jealousy and envy have an easy time stirring up trouble in the circles of the wealthy.
Regardless of our class in life, whether we are “the rich man in his castle or the poor man at his gate”, we have one common denominator – we are human and jealousy shows up in relationships we all share with others. In the Old Testament, Cain was jealous of Abel, Ishmael was jealous of Isaac, and Jacob and Esau were jealous of each other, and Joseph’s brothers were so envious of him that they sold him into slavery.
In the New Testament, the Prodigal Son story gives us a sad illustration of jealousy (Luke 15:11-32). We are often so involved in focusing on the Prodigal and his return to the father that we miss the burning jealousy of the older brother. He was incensed that his father had never rewarded him for his faithfulness and obedience and here the Prodigal was being welcomed home like a hero. The brother’s jealousy had blinded his eyes to his own Pharisee-like misunderstanding of love and grace.
When jealousy comes in the front door, love goes out the back door. The two cannot coexist in the same person. Rest assured that if you are struggling with jealousy, you are also struggling with love. Once while Paul was imprisoned, others were taking advantage of his incarceration and preaching the Gospel, hoping to gain for themselves some of the attention Paul had received (Phil. 1:15-16). Paul had an interesting response. He said that even though others were preaching the gospel using envy as a motive (some where also preaching from proper motives) he took comfort knowing that the gospel was being proclaimed. He didn’t respond angrily or out of resentment, which would have revealed jealousy in his own life – that others were gathering to themselves “fame” which was rightly his. He was content to sit in his jail cell and allow God to sort out the motives in men’s hearts. He was simply happy that the gospel was being preached.