Jealousy on the Mission Field

Things missionaries/pastors say to one another:

  • “That is great, brother!”
  • “I am so glad to hear that your church doubled in size the last year.”
  • “Oh, that is wonderful that you are see such great results to your evangelism efforts.”

What they really mean:

  • “Wow, I feel like such a loser.”
  • “Man, some people have it so good.”
  • “I sure wish God would let good stuff happen to me!”

The green-eyed monster of jealously devours many victims many of which are leaders including people in positions of Christian leadership such as pastors and missionaries. We who are in Christian leadership may cloak our jealousy with Godly sounding platitudes, but we often wrestle with incredibly fierce bouts of discontentment, envy, and jealousy.

No man in the Bible showed the destructiveness of jealousy more than King Saul. He was an incredibly gifted and privileged man, but his pride and jealousy robbed him of joy and eventually lost him the kingdom.

From the life of Saul, we can see the downward spiral of jealousy, the characteristics of a jealous person, and the cure for jealousy.

The downward spiral of jealousy (1 Samuel 18)

Saul was a natural-born leadership who was chosen by God to be the first king. He enjoyed the respect and the admiration of his people, but unfortunately this all made him prideful rather than humble.

When David came on the scene in 1 Samuel 17 and killed Goliath, Saul was relieved but quickly became envious of David, his talents, and the respect the people gave him. In many ways David was everything that Saul wasn’t – spiritual, humble, courageous, dedicated to God.

As David came back with the head of Goliath, he gained the admiration of all the people including his own son Jonathan (1 Samuel 17:54-18:7). The people sang a song about Saul killing his thousands (not bad) and David his ten thousands! Saul heard the song and couldn’t appreciate that they loved and respected him; all he focused on was the competition.

From that moment, he kept his eye continually on David (18:8). No longer could Saul enjoy being around David or how God was blessing both of them. No longer could he see David’s successes as his own successes. Everything was a competition. They both could not win; someone had to lose. Sadly, the more Saul tried to win over David, the more he lost.

Saul grew to hate David and wanted to kill him (18:10-11). Because he did not deal with his pride and jealousy, it grew into a monster of hate that drove him to attempt murder numerous times. Jealousy that is not dealt with property will lead to worse things; it will lash out in pain and anger.

Saul became afraid of David (18:12-16). Instead of learning from David and letting his walk with God motivate him to positively seek the Lord, Saul reacted and drove David away. Because of his pride, he could not enjoy being around him. To Saul’s increased frustration, David just continued to “behave himself wisely.” The problem here was not with David but Saul. Saul’s own prideful heart would not let him rejoice in another man’s success.

Saul was desperate to trip David up (18:17-27). He tried to use the promise of marriage to his daughter to trap David and to cause him to be killed. His jealousy caused him to want only one thing – David to lose out and to suffer. Jealousy will eventually only crave the total downfall of the other person. To Saul’s chagrin, God protected David, and he continue to grow in power.

Saul grew even more afraid of David (18:18-30). He became painfully aware that the Lord was with David and now even his own daughter loved and respected him. Though David had no ill feelings toward Saul, Saul became David’s enemy continually. He became obsessed with what David was doing and how he could destroy him. The issue here was not so much David’s success, but Saul’s own shortcomings. Jealousy is a result not of what others do but a result of our own insecurities, pride, and discontentment. Jealousy is a monster that will consume us, devour and ruin us.

The characteristics of a jealous person

  • Unable to rejoice in the successes of another person (18:8). Saul could not be happy when David was doing well and being praised.
  • Personal insecurity (18:8). Though the people had no intention of getting another king, Saul began to feel like they did not want him anymore.
  • Unable to trust (18:9). David was loyal and completely trustworthy, but because Saul was a grasping, insecure, unspiritual person he thought everyone else was like him.
  • Unsettled (18:10). Because Saul was filled with jealousy and not with the Spirit of God, he became very unsettled, worried, and uncertain. He had not accepted how God made him and the lot in life that God gave him, so he had no peace. Psalm 37:1 says, “Fret not thyself because of evildoers, neither be thou envious against the workers of iniquity.”
  • Hateful (18:11). Jealousy will not stay jealousy; it will turn to hatred. The rest of the book of 1 Samuel, will be Saul pursuing and hating a man who only wanted to help him and had no intention of hurting him. Jealousy has been described as, “..a tiger that tears not only its prey but also its own raging heart”. Proverbs 27:4 says, “Wrath is cruel, and anger is outrageous; but who is able to stand before envy?” Other examples of murder being motivated by murder are: Joseph and his brothers, Jesus and the chief priests (Matthew 27:18).
  • Fearful (18:12,15,29). Jealousy is a coping mechanism. Because we are afraid that we are going to lose something to someone else, we lash out. This kind of response to our fears is a totally devoid of faith in God. Saul should have trusted that God put him on the throne and would keep him there until He was done with him (Daniel 2:21).

The cure for jealousy

  1. Repent. In order to deal with jealousy, we must acknowledge that it is sin. Jealous is essentially covetousness. One of the commandments is Exodus 20:17 which says, “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s. 1 Peter 2:1 says, “Wherefore laying aside all malice, and all guile, and hypocrisies, and envies, and all evil speakings.” This is the first step toward healing from jealousy. Confess your ugly, prideful, jealous, and discontent heart.
  2. Believe. Repentance is one side of the coin; faith is the other. Repentance is turning from our sin; faith is turning to Christ. Repentance without faith leaves a void. Faith is turning to Christ for salvation and for our day-to-day living. Faith is understanding that in Christ we are complete, that we have all we need, that we are accepted not based on what we do, what we accomplish, or how others view us, but because by what Christ did on the cross. Faith is believing that we are who God says we are in His Word and that as new creations we are no longer jealousy, envious, or hateful.
  3. Spirit-filled life. On our own, “the spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy” (James 4:5). Our flesh has a bent toward hatred, pride, and envy. But in Christ, we have a new power, the Holy Spirit, who indwells us and helps us to live out who we are in Christ. He produces the fruits of the Spirit which are love, joy, peace, and long-suffering rather than the works of the flesh of which one is envy (Galatians 5:17-23). We must let the Holy Spirit and the Word of God fill us and our minds with the promises of God’s Word every day, so we can live out who we are and show love to others. As we love others, we will want them to prosper and be blessed. Love will use us to seek not our own but the things of others. Love will rejoice in their success and hurt in their failures. Love is the key. Until you and I can get to the place in our lives that we accept fully who we are in Christ and live out that identity through loving others selflessly, we will continue to struggle with jealousy and envy.

Closing personal thoughts

I have often wrestled personally with jealousy and envy. I have often wished that I had what others had, been blessed with the result others get, and many other ungrateful, self-centred thoughts. I continue to struggle with envy and jealousy and need God’s help. And I am sure that you and I are not the only ones. So take comfort that what you are going through is something others experience and that God can help all of us.

In closing I just want to point out a few others things about the ministry, and in particular mission work, that I think causes jealousy to be a special challenge for those in Christian leadership:

  • Often success in the ministry is hard to gauge. Because we cannot see what God is doing in hearts and because we won’t really know whether we have been faithful until eternity, we allow a narrow number of external factors to define success. Though we should not shy away from counting and looking at the results, we cannot ultimately judged our ministry and faithfulness only by certain man-made numbers.
  • Often the need to look and sound “spiritual” keeps us from property confessing and dealing with sin. We put up a brave front, a good face to be “Godly” when what we need to do is humbly acknowledge our wicked sin of covetousness and pride. We need to be broken and own up to our sin.
  • Specifically relevant to missionaries is the need to file regular updates of what “God is doing.” In the spirit of having a good prayer letter, we often emphasis visible fruit. This causes us to focus too much on the product rather than the process that will produce the fruit in God’s time and God’s way.
  • Also relevant to missionaries is the tendency to get lifted up in pride. Travelling to various churches and having our names publicised through prayer cards, etc. can lead us to believe that we are truly “heroes” and not just “servants/slaves of Christ.” We begin to believe our own press-releases and the prideful heart is ripe ground for jealousy, envy, and hatred to flourish.

Let me know your thoughts, struggles, and victories in these area. May God help us all to live out who we are in Christ by His Spirit.

6 comments

  1. Thanks for the article! Obviously, we should not be jealous about someone else’s ministry. However, seeing what someone else has done can challenge us to attempt greater things for God. What is the balance? I may think that it might be easier to just tell myself I don’t want to think about what others have done so I won’t be jealous. But, do you think this is right way to approach it? Any thoughts would be appreciated.

  2. I don’t think that trying to ignore what others have done and are doing is the right approach. We are challenged in the Bible to assemble together so we can exhort and provoke one another to love and good works. Not being able to rejoice and learn from others success is a sign that we still have pride issues. I think that many missionaries/pastors take the approach you mention and it only leads to further insecurity and frustration, because you don’t learn, don’t grow, and as a result often end up accomplishing less. It would be better to just start with the premise that we are nothing and deserve nothing, that we are servants of Jesus who have been privileged to minister for Jesus, and that we are going to work as hard as we can and learn as much as we can for others, not so that we build a ministry for ourselves but so that we can better glorify Him. When we sense jealously in our life, take it as a warning from God that we still have pride to repent of and that we need to die to ourselves. Running away from the person who makes us jealous only deals with the symptom (jealousy), not the root (sinful pride).

  3. Thank you Travis,
    I find it easy to yes get jealous, but also look down on other Pastors/Missionaries. Jealous because they have more in their church, or they already have a church building. But because of the emphasis and way that we train men and disciple others, I find my self thinking a lot of thoughts about how everyone else is doing it wrong. It can be hard to have the right balance when it comes to how we see other missionaries and pastors. I appreciate the article and look forward to other good reads! Thanks!

    1. Yes, that is the other side of it, Jonathan. We envy the one who has more visible success than us and look down smugly on those who have less visible success than us! Thanks for sharing your struggles. I think awareness of these issues and knowing that we are not the only one is a good first step to growth. Pastor Gardner’s posts have been very helpful with these issues as well. God bless, and thanks for your comment!

  4. thank you for this challenge to remember the process, not the product. and how I need to rejoice when those around me have success.

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