Dealing with jealousy and envy

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Dr. Lin McLaughlin, professor of educational ministries and leadership from Dallas Seminary:

Definition of jealousy: Hostility toward a rival or one believed to enjoy an advantage.

Definition of envy: Painful or resentful awareness of an advantage enjoyed by another, joined with the desire to possess the same advantage.

I experience those emotions and/or sin, and behavior, and I have been a little disturbed to see how much it pervades my life. I am acknowledging this before you, not that I want this to be. The problem for me is that these emotions are very toxic. What that means is that they are also very likely to contaminate. It really starts to interfere with my relationships. The other problem with jealousy and envy, to the extent that I have it, or to the extent that I act on it is that it can be very wounding. It can wound other people. Sometimes I see it, sometimes I don’t. Maybe some of you can identify, either being on the sending or the receiving end of those wounds, because of jealousy and because of envy. This is problematic for me, this temptation, these emotions, because what I find I do amass them. I am very quick to rationalize and justify them as warranted criticism of others. That from my vast ministry experience, or on the basis of my credentials, or my expertise in a given area, or that because of my mastery in a certain subject area, or a particular kind of leadership in a church- my criticism is warranted.

But, that is not what is really going on, on a deeper level with me. And that’s my challenge to you: to examine and be self aware of what’s happening. Commensurate with the definitions that we’re given, one of the things I find going on with me, that’s a signal of a problem is that I start to see colleagues and peers, and maybe friends, as maybe rivals. And so, a kind of rivalry starts to set itself up in my mindset and my thinking. What’s really underlying that is a jealousy, a resentment for that person, toward that person because of recognition, because of achievement, and it’s particularly strong when I’m at my most insecure, or when I have, myself, experienced a failure in ministry and a failure in leadership. In an attempt to somehow band aid that hurt and that pain I elevate myself. In my own mind and my own thinking that’s what I’m doing. And that could even spill over in my conversation with others about that person, which of course is gossip. That’s the nature of the toxicity of these emotions, these struggles for me.

Of course, Scripture is really clear about this being a problem. I’ve got something to share with you from Paul from 1 Corinthians 3:2-3  And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able; for you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men?  AND 2 Corinthians 12:20 – For I am afraid that when I come I may not find you as I want you to be, and you may not find me as you want me to be. I fear that there may be discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, slander, gossip, arrogance and disorder. James 3:14-16 14 But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. 15 Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. 

It is real clear, that around jealousy and envy orbit this constellation of other destructive behaviors actions and emotions. And that’s one of the reasons that it’s so problematic for those of us who deal with it and for those others who are around us. Concerning envy, Proverbs 14:30 says this: A tranquil heart gives life to the flesh, but envy makes the bones rot.And it really, actually feels like that is happening at times when I’m in the throes of these emotions.

PRAYER – So, what do we do? How do we try to counter these? Well, honestly, the best one I found is prayer. I just have to go to the Lord and acknowledge (that) I’m just getting whipped by this, and I just don’t think I can gain the upper hand. And I really need for You, through the work of the Spirit to put to death these emotions. I’ve tried just about everything I know. I admit and acknowledge there’s no place for them in my life. And I need for You to take them out of the way, because this ends up interfering with my ability to love others, which is what we are principally called to do- and edify them, and support them.

SELF AWARENESS – Self awareness is another thing that can help us. That is just living the examined Christian life. But, being able to catch those indicating emotions and thoughts that signal to us, that queue us into the fact that really what’s at work here is our own problem with jealousy and envy. And that can help us, perhaps, reverse those tendencies or at minimum to pray about them. Because, you see, we are very much a puzzle to ourselves. And that puzzle about ourselves, and of ourselves can lead us to deny that this is actually happening or taking place. It can lead us to self justify and rationalize, as opposed to getting to the root of the problem.

Celebrate others – Finally, I would say this: Celebrate others. One of the things I’ve been trying to do is a counter to these emotions and the pull of them when I sense them coming on, and this happens especially when I see someone else getting recognition for their achievement, when I see them getting an accolade. Does that happen to you? I mean, do you think to yourself, „Why  isn’t that happening to me?” But, celebrate others. By that I mean, as I sense that happening, I ask myself,” Hold up, wait a minute, how can I enter into the joy of this person’s achievement and success?” I just try to work on my thinking. I try to say, „Lin, put this envy aside and just think about the joy of what this person is feeling and experiencing, and vicariously enter into that.  I shared with my class, earlier this week, we have a number of works, theologically, on the pleasure of God. The pleasure of His being and His person, rightly written. I don’t think we have enough on the pleasure of people. And as Christians, that’s what we are to enjoy. We often talk about what a pain people are, but I don’t think we talk often enough about the pleasure of people, the sheer joy of people.

In closing, I submit this thought to you: Most of the pleasure of this life, that we can experience is to be vicariously experienced. We We usually think about pleasure for us that which is directly experienced in our own life. But it could be that there is a vast amount of pleasure that’s waiting to be experienced vicariously as we enter into the pleasure of others and just celebrate them. Try to avoid the eye of envy and the eye of jealousy, and ask the Lord to help you overcome those things.

Dr. Lin McLaughlin, professor of educational ministries and leadership, talks from his own personal struggles about ways to combat jealousy and envy. VIDEO by dallasseminary. Jim McLaughlin from Dallas Seminary:

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