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Is Being Jealous Bad? (Part 1)

By sis Bernice Loh

Jealousy can refer to the state of being envious of someone’s possession, status or personal attributes. Theodore M. Bernstein (The Careful Writer, 1965) describes envy as a “discontented longing for someone else’s advantages”. Envy may lead us to feeling discontent, or even pained, at seeing what others have.

“But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth. This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish. For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work." – James 3:14-16

We may become envious to the point that:

  1. We become resentful We resent the success that the other person has, even if it benefits others, or the work of the church. E.g. When a fellow brother in Christ receives praise from the congregation for a good lesson taught, article written, song leading, evangelism effort, etc.

  2. We doubt God We start to question whether there is really a need to obey God when we see non-Christians or wicked people enjoying wealth and prosperity. E.g. We doubt whether God is really looking out for us when our non-Christian friends seem to always achieve what they desire, while we always seem to get the short end of the stick.

  3. We act out We create or seize opportunities to bring down or put down the other person, to the extent of committing sinful acts. E.g. When a high performing colleague makes a mistake, we publicise his mistake and try to compromise his reputation as much as we can.

Hence, being jealous, in the envious sense, is clearly bad.

Jealousy can also refer to worrying that someone will take away what we believe is ours. The Harper Dictionary of Contemporary Usage (2nd ed.), 1985, also describes this jealousy as a sense of being “possessive” or “protective”. Guarding something jealously means to “protect something very carefully because it is important to you”, per Cambridge Dictionary.

Let us ponder on the following questions and we can discuss these among brethren and family members as well:

  • In the past week, what are some envious thoughts we had that caused us to feel resentful, to doubt God, to or act out? What series of events led us to this situation?

  • Picking one situation, how could we have acted differently to prevent the “bitter envying and strife” in our hearts?

  • If we did not reach that point, what were the actions taken which have helped to keep our hearts in check?

  • What are some things we are “jealously possessive or protective” of because we feel they are important to us? What if our attitudes were different? How would this benefit others/the church?

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