The Subtlety of Jealousy

Evangelist Dwight L. Moody told the fable of an eagle that was jealous of another that could out-fly him. One day he saw a sportsman and said, “I wish you would bring that eagle down.” The sportsman replied he would only if he had some feathers to put into his arrow. So the eagle pulled one out of his wing. The arrow was shot, but didn’t quite reach the rival eagle because it was flying too high. The envious eagle kept pulling out more feathers until he lost so many he couldn’t fly. Then the sportsman turned around and killed him. Moody concluded, “My friend, if you are jealous, the only man you can hurt is yourself.”

Jealousy isn’t hard to camouflage because most people fight the battle with it internally. The Bible, however, is quite clear that it is a sin, no matter where the battle is fought, and it should be avoided at all costs.

While envy is the desire to have what someone else has, jealousy is the selfish desire to keep what I have to myself. The cause of jealousy has often been whittled down to insecurity, lack of confidence or low self-esteem. However, it has a more subtle side. Jealousy is often masked in the need that makes us want to be, look, or perform better than anyone else. If I can be the person with the unique talent, then I can stand out and be noticed. If no one else can do it, have it, or become it, then the spotlight—and the attention—is all mine.

I knew a woman who was very skilled in making a unique and extremely beautiful craft. Her displays always evoked “oohs” and “aahs” from onlookers. When she was asked to teach a class and share with others how to make the craft, she declined. Later she confessed she wanted to guard her talent jealously because it set her apart from everyone else. If others learned what she could do, she would lose her significance.

The Apostle Paul admonished, “Honor one another above yourselves” (Romans 12:10). In order to do that, we will have to let them fly higher than we can. When we do, the internal struggle with jealousy will cease. Instead, we can enjoy inner peace knowing we inspired someone else. In the end, we will all soar.