Ah, the “green-eyed monster” of jealousy (and its cousin with hungry eyes, envy). The plots of books and movies have been based upon this. Someone sarcastically commenting on our skills may be accused of it. Many quotes (see https://www.brainyquote.com/topics/jealousy-quotes) have been made about it. Yet, when the Bible talks about this concept, it is not always a bad thing, devoid of purpose.
For as much as Paul seems to be talking to Jewish people in the book of Romans, the following section is specifically addressed to non-Jewish people.
I am talking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I take pride in my ministry in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them. For if their rejection brought reconciliation to the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? If the part of the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy; if the root is holy, so are the branches.
Romans 11:13-16 NIV
Maybe some of the Gentiles in Rome were feeling pretty good about themselves when they heard how certain Jewish people were following the wrong thing. Maybe they felt a little superior – a little arrogant or prideful – in having found God’s grace up front, while “those Jews” were still trying to reach God through a law that couldn’t save them.
Paul has some pointed words for any Gentile that might be getting a little boastful, though.
For one thing, Paul admits that at least part of his ministry to the Gentiles is actually meant for the salvation of his own people – the people of Israel. Despite his missionary work that reached out to many Gentiles, Paul wasn’t abandoning his own people. In fact, he was trying to reach them by showing how God was accepting people outside of the people of Israel, even if that was achieved through envy of what the Gentiles received when they followed Jesus.
Can you imagine a Jewish person in the first century looking at a Gentile who is living freely in justification before God? Looking back at failed attempts to find righteousness through the law, think how much this Jewish person would want what the Gentile had. Imagine how their envy would turn to joy when they learned that the same path to salvation (which the Gentiles were offered) was also available to them!
The blessings for those that we might call Messianic Jews today (i.e., Jews who follow Jesus Christ) are great, but they don’t take away from the gifts that Gentiles receive. Sure, the children might joke about getting presents for both Hanukkah and Christmas, but there’s more to finding salvation through the Messiah than just toys.
Envy in this passage isn’t meant to cause harm to the person experiencing it. In fact, it is meant to bring people to something even better. In the same way, we find multiple places in the Bible where God describes Himself as a jealous God (see Deuteronomy 4:23-24 for one example). Now, God doesn’t struggle with petty feelings of inadequacy (like many people do when they are jealous). God doesn’t need anything more than who He already is. However, as someone who loves people incredibly deeply, He doesn’t want them to follow anything that is inferior to Himself. He cares so much for us that He wants the best for us, and He knows – on a purely factual basis – that He is the best God, Savior, Father, and Friend that we can ever have.
If we, as Christians today, lived in the grace of God, talking openly about the blessings that we receive and living according to His will out of an overflowing abundance of gratitude, would that cause others to become envious, and want in on it, too? Perhaps the most compelling thing that followers of Jesus can do is to live fully and deeply in the abundant life that He provides for us. By experiencing the joy of His blessings, we must then be ready and willing to share with others (who should be envious of a fulfilled life of purpose that cannot be received any other way) how they can also receive this gift.
From Sunday School lesson prepared for March 20, 2022
- The Lookout, March 20, 2022, © 2022 Christian Standard Media.
- Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
- The College Press Commentary, Romans, Volume 2, by Jack Cottrell. College Press Publishing Company, © 1998.