Why Jealousy Made the Bible’s Top Ten

I’ve often wondered why “thou shalt not covet” is on that list of ten commandments. It seems so much less important than actions like killing, lying, and the like. Why is coveting, wanting what someone else has, being jealous, even on that list? I mean, if we were to make a list of ten things we really, really didn’t want people to do, would we include jealousy, or replace it with something else?

Jealousy is no big deal, right? No one even knows that I’m jealous—I hide it well behind my “I’m so happy for you” words and smile. Though I may think about it darkly when I’m alone, get angry at God for not blessing me in the same way, or distance myself a little so I can recover emotionally, it doesn’t hurt anyone, right?

Wrong. Really wrong. It does hurt.

In fact, I’ve begun to think that jealousy is a most insidious, divisive thing, perhaps precisely because of its subtle, hidden nature. We only think no one knows. . .

Around the Mediterranean, everyone wears a little blue to ward off the “evil eye.” The “evil eye” is a nasty glance, usually of jealousy, and it’s thought to have a destructive affect on the person. Somehow I think they’re onto something there, unfortunately. 

It’s not all that hard to share the bad that occurs in my life. If I’ve been wronged or cheated, or if I’m “going through something,” everyone wants to pray for me. It’s true empathy; they care. Paul tells us to mourn with those who mourn. No one ever wants my bad.

When something good happens in my life, however, I have to be careful about with whom I share. Though Paul calls us to rejoice with those who rejoice, often we smile, while inwardly wondering why we’re not receiving a similar blessing. In order to “protect” others (and ourselves) from jealousy, we silence our good fortune. Others may want my good.

And so, a separation occurs. While we can be unified against the bad, we tend not to be unified for the good, unless we’re each getting it in “equal measure.” So, I can’t share my true joy with you, and the unity is broken. Hidden jealousy is an insidious, divisive thing.

We're unified against the bad, but not unified for the good, unless we’re blessed equally. Click To Tweet

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus points to the heart of several commands, stating that anger is the same as murder, lust is the same as adultery. Jesus uncovers the hidden sin that’s behind the physical actions.

So, what’s the sin behind the action of jealousy? I’m only jealous of others when I’m dissatisfied with my own life. And my dissatisfaction with my own life means I’m telling God that whatever I’m receiving isn’t enough. I’m telling God to do a better job—I decide what I have isn’t good. I’m not trusting.

I'm only jealous of others when I'm dissatisfied with my own life. Click To Tweet

And when we don’t trust God for ourselves, we don’t trust others and we bring division through our jealousy.

I’m guilty. Are you?

The question is, what do we do about it?

It seems wise to start at the root, choosing to trust God and be satisfied with our own lives. I know that’s not as simple as it sounds, but Sheryl Crow was onto something when she sang, “It’s not having what you want, It’s wanting what you’ve got.”

Can the first step be choosing to want what we have? Yes, a daily choice. A daily choice for ourselves, but also for unity with others.

Let’s move on, step by step. And destroy divisive jealousy.

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