You are a Poor Spiritual Friend, If You are Jealous
We are living at a particular time in history. It is not, that we have never been here before, as a larger picture of humanity; it is that many of us as individuals, might not have been here before. We are living in a time in which it is more likely to hear our disagreements and divisions with our friends and family emphasized than our common connections. At this point in history, we are more fixated on what separates us, than what unites us.
- We see more in red and blue, than unity in the common purpose.
- We see more jots and tittles, than the commonalities of a shared language.
- We see more in theological divisions, than unity in the body of Christ.
This was also the backdrop to the time where Paul wrote to the church. In Corinth, they saw their divisions, instead of their connections. They fixated over the differences in who baptized and brought them into the faith, instead of their common faith in Jesus. They obsessed over the presence or absence of circumcision, instead of the mutual commitment to God’s ways.
So, this is not just the result of the most recent election in our nation. It is the attitude of the larger world in which we imagine ourselves not as all children of God, but rather as first connected with the nation-state where we live. It is an attitude in which personal preferences and objectives come ahead of the basic needs of others.
In this season of division and pain, I have watched the way our nation and our community has treated one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. Today, I begin the first of three sermons reflecting on how we might be strong and healthy spiritual friends across our divisions and disagreements. On the strength of the humor and the insight that came from Jeff Foxworthy, I offer “You might be a poor spiritual friend, if…”. The scriptures give us great wisdom on how we ought to relate to one other. Throughout the whole Bible, we are told how to treat strangers and slaves, future spouses, and errant children. We are also told how to treat friends – those in whom we see the image of God.
Friends and neighbors who we love and sometimes love to hate. Friends and neighbors who we see shoveling their snow, and loading up for vacation. Those who we call when we are in a pinch, and respond in a heartbeat when we hear they are in need. Friends who voted the same as us and differently. Friends who come to church with us and those who go somewhere else, maybe even nowhere at all. Friends, who we find ourselves drawn to and jealous of in the same impulse. Friends who inspire us to be our best selves and sometimes, we find ourselves jealous of.
Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung, professor from Calvin College defined jealousy this way: Feeling bitter when others have it better. She goes on suggest that jealousy has offspring and relatives: bitterness, detraction, grumbling, joy at another’s misfortunate. Historically, we have taken this quite seriously. It was Pope Gregory the Great in the 6th century who first developed the now familiar rubric of the seven deadly sins. It was he who began to imagine that all of humanity’s foibles and divisions from God could be articulated in the seven sin, which he described as deadly. His understanding of deadly was in opposition to abundant life.
Today, we have not seen jealousy and envy as a problem. We casually joke about wanting what someone else has, even in our children’s books. Marketing has capitalized on envy no longer being objectionable. Television and print ads call to be the envy of all your friends. If you think this is merely a modern phenomenon, take a look at an advertisement for Palmolive soap, circa 1921.
Even in the 1950s, part of selling televisions included the invitation to be the object of jealousy and envy.
All around us and within us, we want what others have. Jealousy was aptly named the green-eyed monster. From Shakespeare’s Othello, Iago counsels Othello to beware of the green-eyed monster of monster who will lead to his undoing. We also watch jealousy in the natural world around us. Jane Goodall recorded the jealousies found in bluebirds and primates. Jealousy has plenty of sightings in the natural world. While we often think of jealousy in terms of romantic relationships; it is by no means limited to that arena. Jealousy can have many motivations. Think of Nancy Kerrigan knee attack by Tonya Harding’s bodyguards ahead of the 1994 Olympics.
Jealousy drives us to act rashly and divides us. We hear that in first Corinthians. Paul’s letters to Corinth were bases on his time spent there in approximate 51 CE. The correspondence includes at least four letters, most scholars conclude, including the two in our canon. The ongoing conflicts in the Corinthian congregations were exacerbated by the jealousies among the members. Paul’s instructions captured in today’s readings loudly sound of a turn from the jealousies and rivalries that divide the church. Jealousy festers in secrecy and stews long. Jealousy is sin. Sin is not just a few wrong actions, it is anything that holds us captive and turns us inward obsessive focus on ourselves
All of the New Testament lists of prohibitions include envy or jealousy, covetousness, or its German word form – Schadenfreude (malicious glee). This is being happy when misfortune comes to your rival or enemy. For good reason was jealousy and envy listed among the moral prohibitions in the New Testament, included in the deadly sins of the early church. Jealousy eats away at your stomach and your soul. Jealousy corrodes your self-regard and spiritual understanding of yourself as made in the image of God and complete as God’s creation. Jealousy lures you down the winding trail into the weeds of desperation until you find that your dark night of the soul leads you to react, respond, recoil with venomous words and actions.
Jealousy is as much a physical response as an emotional reaction. Hidehiko Takahashi is a neuroimaging researcher with the National Institute of Radiological Sciences in Japan led a study to identify the location in brain when experiencing jealousy. The Japanese study had students speak about rivals while having a MRI. The frontal lobe is active when students experience jealousy as well as when the researcher suggests misfortune. The reward reaction part of the brain, which standardly responses to personal fortune also lights up. We respond in our most central processing center when negative events befall others.
However, jealousy has no place in spiritual friendships or romances. Jealousy often leads to mistrust and control. Jealousy can lead to abusive relationships in which verbal and physical aggression are enacted to stop perceived outside entanglements. In fact, sexual jealousy is the primary motivation for relationship violence and homicide.
So, what do we do when we find jealousy arising in our hearts and minds, our stomachs, and our souls? First, we understand jealousy as a sin by which we need to repent to God and pray to be released from the captivity that jealousy that has held us. Today, you might need to pray for God to release you from your jealousy of your well performing coworker or your sister who has always had it put together. Jesus holds the keys to release from all that binds us.
Next, the antidote to jealousy is gratitude. When we have gratitude for our own gifts, we have not need of our friends’ gifts. When we are thankful for our home, we do not cultivate jealousy of our neighbor’s beautifully decorated home with all the projects on the to do list accomplished. For each time, we are jealous of our neighbor who takes vacations where we only dream of. We chose gratitude for moments of rest and respite in our daily round.
Finally, we chose humility in response to jealousy. Paul writes about this division in the church also to the congregation in Philippi. There he write, “Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:4) . As we look with tenderness to the needs of others, our own jealous and covetous desires are not fed, but rather replaced with try concern for others. Humility is not about being a doormat, but rather about caring for others.
Healing and resolving our jealousy is not just about saving our stomachs from ulcers, our hearts from attacks, and our brains from aneurisms. It is about restoration of God’s way in our world. In the fourth chapter of Genesis, Cain attacked and murdered Abel out of jealousy and envy. Ever since, acts of jealousy and envy have driven us from God’s perfect way of knowing one another as beloved children of God and spiritual friends, one to another. In this season of our common life, we need spiritual friends to care for one another in the midst of pain and division. We need Christians to model the way to life together in difference. We need to pull out of our jealousies and insecurities and lives into the life of peace and abundant life to which God had called each of us.
This countercultural way of going against the natural impulse is God’s good news, the gospel that we are not stuck where God finds us, but strengthened as God’s children. This is the gospel of our Lord, Jesus Christ, thanks be to God, Amen.
 Marcus Borg Speaking Christian. Definition of sin, paraphrased
 Throughout the sermon, I was shaped by the writing of Mary Louise Bringle in her book Exposing a secret sin: Envy.
Old Testament Lesson: Deuteronomy 30:15-20
See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.
New Testament Lesson: 1 Corinthians 2:14 – 3:3
Those who are unspiritual do not receive the gifts of God’s Spirit, for they are foolishness to them, and they are unable to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. Those who are spiritual discern all things, and they are themselves subject to no one else’s scrutiny.
“For who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?”
But we have the mind of Christ.
And so, brothers and sisters, I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but rather as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food. Even now you are still not ready, for you are still of the flesh. For as long as there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving according to human inclinations?
Meditations For Your Week
Sunday, February 12~ Saturday, February 18
Sunday: “Those who are unspiritual do not receive the gifts of God’s Spirit, for they are foolishness to them, and they are unable to understand them because they are discerned spiritually.” 1 Corinthians 2: 14. Through the Holy Spirit, we are gifted with the fruits of the Spirit. Draw near to God as you seek to live a life filled with love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
Monday: “Those who are spiritual discern all things, and they are themselves subject to no one else’s scrutiny. ‘For who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?’ But we have the mind of Christ.” 1 Corinthians 2:15-16. The mind of Christ in you is a gift as people react to you. The mind of Christ is a gift as the way forward seems unclear. Pray for the mind of Christ in you.
Tuesday: “And so, brothers and sisters, I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but rather as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food. Even now you are still not ready,” I Corinthians 3:1-2. Children must learn to suckle before chewing. Read the word of God and pray for wisdom.
Wednesday: “For you are still of the flesh. For as long as there is jealousy and quarrelling among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving according to human inclinations?” 1 Corinthians 3:3. Paul speaks of jealousy in Corinth. We know jealousy today. Prayerfully ask for God to replace the jealous tendencies with peace, self-control, and kindness.
Thursday: “See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess.” Deuteronomy 30: 15-16. God desires to bless and care for God’s people. Draw near to God.
Friday: “But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.” Deuteronomy 30: 17-18. Where are you seeking to turn towards God and listen to God’s ways?
Saturday: “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you, life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.” Deuteronomy 30: 19-20. Pray today for yourself and your family to love God and live according to God’s way.