And the patriarchs became jealous of Joseph and sold him into Egypt Acts 7:9
This verse in the New Testament book of Acts is part of a chapter recapping history from the Old Testament. In particular, this verse refers to the story of Joseph, the favorite son of Jacob, who was a victim of jealousy. Really intense jealousy.
He patiently endured the life-altering attacks brought on by the green-eyed monster and God granted him great favor. The end of his story is gloriously beautiful and we love to see the triumph God brought about.
But the subject of this post is not so much how to be like Joseph but rather it explores how to avoid being like his jealous brothers. I don't have three easy steps to snap us out of this noxious - but very common - vice, but I do have some things for us to consider.
1 - Realize the potential destruction
The price of envy/jealousy is scandalously high. Scripture relates to us results of murder (Cain and Abel) , and slavery (Joseph and his brothers). On smaller scales all around us we see the fruits of jealousy in gossip, destructive criticism, assaults on the character and/or careers of others. Lives have been permanently altered as a result of someone else's jealousy. And not just in the movies.
It is also significant to realize that the destructive fallout from jealousy is not all external. When we allow the jealousy to take root in our hearts and inflict damage on others, it changes us. Not for the better. It makes us bitter and insecure and hateful. And even though we might convince ourselves otherwise, we deceive no one but ourselves. The green-eyed monster within us is apparent to everyone watching.
My husband often explained jealousy and resulting attacks on others this way to our children - all the trees in the forest want to be tall. If a tree isn't tall but it wants to look tall, it has two choices: either grow tall itself or cut down all the other trees in the forest so it can at least look tall.
Step #1 - realize the potential destruction that jealousy will inevitably bring. Let it sober us up and scare us into doing something about it.
2 - Recognize personal weakness
When is the last time you heard a sermon on jealousy? Or when was this the "struggle" shared in your small group? Uhhhhh, if you're like most of us, probably never. Envy/jealousy are hardly ever discussed and consequently we are not likely to recognize how susceptible we are to its onslaught. More than likely, this is the most common "struggle" of all for all of us.
In some cases, (as with Joseph's brothers!), it is understandable. But we must not ever accept that it's ok to feel this way. Even if our circumstances are not "fair", we must realize the potential for destruction that jealousy holds (see #1!) , recognize that we are wired to fall prey to it, and resolve not to allow it to take root in our lives.
Allowing ourselves to remain in the place of jealousy is to rob ourselves of the gift of contentment. It is actually placing ourselves in the place of God, deciding what we "deserve" and determining what is best for us. The level of danger this puts us in cannot be overstated.
Recognize our personal susceptibility to it and resolve not to let it remain.
So, how to get rid of it?
3- Report it.
Yep, report it. Maybe not "to the authorities" (who are the "envy police", anyway??) but to THE Authority. Confess to The One who can help you, The Only One who can do something about the problem. (Not that He doesn't already know what's lurking in our hearts - He doesn't "need to be told"; rather we need to tell it! ) Reporting this offense to our Merciful Judge releases its grip on our souls. What might have happened if Joseph's brothers had prayed about their jealous hearts, instead of discussing among themselves their resentment towards the favored one? The Bible doesn't tell us if they did so the implication is that they did not. And look what happened - they were left to themselves to solve the problem...and wretched, long-lasting heartache occurred. For everyone involved, including themselves.
Reporting our sin to our Father is critical, but there is another part of reporting that is equally powerful in loosening our hearts from the grip of the green-eyed monster. Report it to others.
Am I saying to rat on ourselves?
Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed, James tells us. Powerful potential unleashed in humbling ourselves to confess to a friend - or even the one we are jealous of! When we do that, God pours out His grace upon us. Grace to uproot the jealous vine strangling the heart. Grace to press in to the goodness of the Lord and trust in His plan. Grace to cultivate contentment and gratitude and generosity.
Instead of sharing criticisms - cutting down the other trees, if you will - what might have happened in Joseph's life if his brothers had humbled themselves and approached their dad (or even Joseph!) with their insecurities? We might have recorded in Scripture a glorious victory instead of years of estrangement and heartache.
Realize the potential for destruction that jealousy brings. Recognize our own personal weakness for it. Report this to our Father and our spiritual family.
4- Let God Redeem it
Redemption. That beautiful, miraculous, incredible story of how our great God takes the broken, useless, even toxic pieces and so change them by His grace into beauty, glory, and value.
Redemption. That is His theme. Redemption. He wants all the parts of our lives to be part of His story of Redemption.
If we let Him, if we trust Him, He will remove the ugly of jealousy and create instead the beauty of contentment.
How does He do that?
If you're the victim of jealousy, remain faithful. Trust Him to redeem even the hard and unfair things of life. Forgive, and do not retaliate. Be a Joseph - submit yourself to the loving sovereignty of God - Gen 50:20 - at the end of the story, he told his brothers "You meant evil towards me, but God meant it for good." Because Joseph trusted God in the unfair, hard, and hurtful places, God blessed not only him, not only his family, but an entire nation.
Joseph let God redeem the results of jealousy.
if you're the perpetrator of jealousy, throw yourself on the mercy of God, confessing your sin, and trust Him to redeem. In the story of Joseph, we see his brothers admitting their guilt (Gen. 42:21) and God redeemed them, too. Because of their eventual trust in Him (and especially because of His prior promise to Abraham and Issac and Jacob!) God blessed even these once-jealous brothers. They let God redeem their story.
How do we let God do the redeeming?
Humble ourselves before Him. (see #3). Place our confidence in His love that is sovereign over all (see Genesis 50:20). Obey what He shows us to do, however big or small that may be. Don't wait for something "big" to obey - walk in obedience in the things we already know to do. Trust Him with the results. One very practical thing that has helped me gain victory over jealousy is to celebrate the person I am or am tempted to be jealous of. That's right. Celebrate their promotion or their new house or their new blessing - especially if it's something you long for yourself. This serves to not only neutralize the poison of jealousy but actually jumpstarts the redemption process in our lives! Because it is walking by faith, living out our trust in the goodness of God as He unfolds His plan, exercising contentment in what He purposes for us.
Redemption. God's choice over jealousy.
Next time that green-eyed monster hulks up inside your heart, remember to realize the potential for destruction. Recognize your weakness against it. Report the problem to The One who wants to Redeem it.