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Pulling Together In A World Tearing Apart

Catching The Thief Called Jealousy

Erwin W. Lutzer | November 8, 1992

Selected highlights from this sermon

Jealousy crops up for all sorts of reasons. A sibling rivalry, competitive relationships, and broken families can all contribute. In the case of King Saul, it was the workplace. David became known throughout the land and Saul was overtaken with all the symptoms of jealousy—anger, suspicion, fear, and control. 

When a thief wants to break into your home, he knows what he wants. He’s probably not going to go for your old broken-down refrigerator. He wants money, artwork, jewelry, something that is valuable. Thieves are always after something that is valuable. But, my friend, today there are some thieves that cannot be caught by a burglar alarm system. There are some thieves that actually cannot be detected even by guards stationed at the door. 

There are thieves that gnaw on the soul, thieves that destroy us, rob us of everything that is beautiful, everything that is wholesome, and everything that is fulfilling. And one of those thieves is jealousy.

Jealousy is a feeling of rivalry. Jealousy is the feeling that we are hurt because someone else has more than we have. Jealousy is the feeling of anger and betrayal because somebody else makes us look bad and is more successful than we are. Jealousy, above all, is the flipside of rejection. If we feel rejected and unloved, we will feel as if life has not dealt us a complete set of cards, and we’ll be angry and resentful of other people who are successful.

Now, God is jealous. The Bible says the Lord is a jealous God. What that means is God Himself desires all the glory and all the praise, and He deserves it in that He is so different from us. We can be jealous, perhaps, in a proper sense if we talk about being jealous for someone else’s good and profit. But most of the time jealousy has to do with the internal struggles of our own souls, and when we become jealous, we actually become and take the place of God. That’s why jealousy is so destructive and so sinful.

One of my great problems in preaching this message today is the number of people to whom I shall preach who say, “This message does not apply to me.” The reason you say this is because this past week no one has made you look bad. You do not understand the power of rivalry, but if you were in a certain situation, it may be surprising to you how much jealousy comes to the surface, and the anger and the hostility that comes with it. We are all basically jealous people on the inside.

What is it that brings it to the surface? Well, the first, of course, is sibling rivalry. You’re brought up in a home with brothers and sisters who are better looking, have more talents, more abilities, and if your parents showed favoritism, and many parents do though they don’t know it— Almost in all homes there is a scapegoat who receives most of the blame, and the parents had it in for that child, and they don’t even see it. But if you are brought up in a home like that you grow up feeling unloved, unwelcomed, and as a result, rejected, and jealousy begins to grow in your heart. 

Remember Adam and Eve? They didn’t have the opportunity of taking a seminar in basic youth conflicts unfortunately, and as a result, they raised Cain. [laughter] Specifically, their two sons, Cain and Abel, got into it. Abel offered his sacrifice to God, and God received it. Cain offered his and God rejected his, and Cain became very angry, and God tried to talk him out of it. God said, “Cain, do you not know that if you offer a sacrifice to God, He will accept you if you are righteous, if you come in humility and receive His forgiveness?” But God says, “If you don’t, sin like an animal is crouching at the door waiting to devour you, and you must master it or it will master you.” And master him it did. Cain killed Abel, and that has been the history of the human race. So, sibling rivalry.

Secondly, peer relationships, competitiveness. Some of you know that in business. You don’t want somebody next door who is doing better than you are. Particularly somebody who moves in and shows you up to be inadequate or less than he or she is. What is it that makes one mother kill another simply because both of them have daughters who are involved in cheerleading? And one mother wants to even the score with another because her daughter beat her daughter out of cheerleading practice. Rivalry among peers.

Why was Jesus crucified? Was it because of theology? Was it because people said, “Oh, He said that He as the Son of God?” Those were the excuses. Pilate—who had an excellent understanding of human nature—said in the 27th chapter of Matthew he knew it was because of envy they delivered Him. Envy, a cousin of jealousy. And that’s why Jesus died; it’s because He made the religious leaders look bad. The crowds were talking about Jesus. They weren’t talking about the Pharisees. The crowds loved Jesus and they didn’t love the Pharisees, and the Pharisees said, “We can’t take this. Kill Him.” That’s why jealousy and murder are always so closely tied together.

Then of course, there’s something else that brings it to the surface, and that is ruptured family relationships. If you were brought up in a home where there was a lot of abuse, a lot of physical abuse, sexual abuse perhaps— All the favoritism we talked about. If you were brought up in that kind of an environment, and you felt unloved, you will become so possessive of relationships when you begin to date and when you get married. You are going to want to control and to be possessive because your heart is so filled with fear of betrayal. And as a result, you are going to find yourself a very jealous person. So jealous in fact, that people are going to find it difficult to live with you, and yet you will not see a single thing wrong with your life because remember jealous people also live in denial.

What we’re going to do today is to do a little analysis. It is going to be a psychological perhaps analysis of someone who is jealous, found on the pages of the Bible, and what an interesting person this is. 1 Samuel, chapter 13. The anatomy here—analysis of jealousy. 

1 Samuel 10, remember that Saul was the first king of Israel. God says, “Saul, I have chosen you to be king, and you are going to reign over the people.” And Saul was so humble that on the day of his inauguration they couldn’t even find him. They couldn’t find him because he was hiding. He was tall the Bible says. He was taller than everyone else. You know tall people have a certain amount of charisma that comes to them naturally, and this was Saul.

But one day, Saul, who was very conscious of public opinion, by the way, decided to disobey God, and this is what Samuel said to him in 1 Samuel 15:23. Samuel is speaking: “For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and in subordination is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the Word of the Lord, He also has rejected you from being king.” Notice that clearly God said through Samuel, “Saul, you’re finished. You’re no longer going to be king.” Now, notice it says in verse 28, “Samuel said to him a second time, ‘The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today and has given it to your neighbor who is better than you.” 

What does Saul do with news like that? Does he say, “Oh God, you are the owner of all the kingdoms of the earth. I yield myself to you. I have disobeyed you and you have every right to wrest me from the throne. I will submit to your Word?” Oh, no, no, no, no. Oh, he repents. Saul repented five times. It says in verse 30 here— Notice, 1 Samuel 15:30. He says, “I have sinned.” That really sounds good, doesn’t it? “But please honor me now before the elders of my people and before Israel and go back with me.” He says, “I have sinned, but oh I will not let this kingdom go. It is mine. I will hang on to it.”

Now, there’s something that happened in Saul’s life that brought all of the jealousy to the surface, and that was a boy by the name of David. There was a giant by the name of Goliath, and one day David said, “I’ll take Goliath on.” You know the whole story. When David killed Goliath, David was front-page news. He was admired throughout the land.

Turn to 1 Samuel 18, and we’ll pick it up at verse 6. The giant is dead, and it says, “It happened as they were coming when David returned from killing the Philistine that the women came out of all the cities of Israel, singing and dancing to meet King Saul with tambourines, with joy and with musical instruments. And the women sang as they played, and said, ‘Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands.’” And of course, Saul was very glad and said, “Oh praise God that David is mightier than I.” [chuckles

Verse 8, “Then Saul became very angry for this saying displeased him, and he said, ‘They have ascribed to David ten-thousands but to me they have ascribed thousands. Now what more can he have but the kingdom?’ And Saul looked at David with suspicion from that day on. Now it came about on the next day that an evil spirit from God came mightily upon Saul, and he raved in the midst of the house while David was playing the harp with his hand as usual, and a spear was in Saul’s hand, and Saul hurled the spear, for he thought, ‘I will pin David to the wall.’ But David escaped from his presence twice. Now Saul was afraid of David, for the Lord was with him but had departed from Saul. Therefore, Saul removed him from his presence, and appointed him as commander of a thousand, and he went out and came in before the people. And David was prospering in all his ways for the Lord was with him. When Saul saw that he was prospering greatly he dreaded him.” 

Seven characteristics of jealousy, and remember they apply to you and to me.

Number one, anger, very angry. I won’t say anything about that because I preached on anger last week. If you weren’t here, you’ll have to get the cassette tape on it because this is part of a series that hangs together. But anger, very angry.

Secondly, suspicion. Notice it says Saul looked at David with suspicion from that time onward. You see, a jealous person doesn’t trust anybody. He can’t trust his girlfriend. He can’t trust his wife. He’s the kind of person who leaves home in the morning and checks the speedometer in the car, and then sees how many miles his wife has driven. She had better give an account to him for every single mile because he doesn’t trust her even though he has no reason to not trust her. Destroys a relationship.

A jealous person says, “I can trust nobody,” because of the insecurity. The greater the insecurity, the greater the suspicion. Even acts of love are interpreted suspiciously, so obviously he can’t receive love because everybody’s out to get him. Number two is suspicion.

Number three easily slighted. Easily slighted. You know, I think it was a little unwise for these women to make up a song with these words. Now I don’t really think they were trying to say, “Saul, David is ten times better than you are.” They were just being very truthful because David was more courageous than Saul. But you see, Saul was so slighted. David hadn’t done anything to get the kingdom for sure, but Saul sees in David this rival. There are hidden meanings in everything David does, he eyes him with the suspicion. You know, if the person is jealous, he will be quarrelsome with his neighbors. Nobody will want to get along with him, and he is obsessed with fairness. Absolutely obsessed with fairness, absolutely obsessed with honesty. Why? Because he thinks everybody is out there ready to rip him off. Therefore, you see, he hides behind a vail of honesty. He will use any cover he possibly can, but his heart is being eaten out because he fears there is somebody out there who is making him look bad. As a result of this basic distrust, he becomes so hard to live with he cannot accept any insults. Where the average person can accept insults and brush them off and say, “That’s part of living.” Oh, not someone who is jealous because these insults sink into his soul. What is worse, he will take comments that aren’t insults, and interpret them as insults.

Remember the heart of a jealous person is it’s me against the world. He likes to belong to organizations that are against something because within his heart he thinks he has to stand up for his own rights, and there’s nobody else out there who’s going to do anything or stand up for him.

Number four, filled with fear. You heard it twice in the text. It says Saul was afraid of David in 1 Samuel 18:12, and the last verse I read, verse 15, he dreaded him. What was he afraid of? That David was going to come and kill Saul? Absolutely not. David had the opportunity to do that and would not touch the Lord’s anointed. What’s all this fear? It is fear of the trail, the fear he cannot trust anybody, the fear there’s no way he can love anybody, and he can’t love anybody back. A jealous person finds it so hard to say he is sorry. It just kills him to say he is sorry, but also, he cannot receive it when someone else says they are sorry. He does not believe them because he projects his own insecurities and hatreds upon them, and thinks to himself, “Nobody can be trusted.” So, he’s filled with fear.

What else? He rejoices in the failure of his rivals. He rejoices in the failure of his rivals. If we read the rest of the chapter, we’d find out Saul is so angry he actually tries to set David up so that David will be killed by the Philistines. It’s an intriguing story, but what Saul does is he manipulates because he says there’s only one way to get rid of this guy. “I missed him when I threw a spear at him, so I’ll have somebody else throw a spear, and he’ll be dead and out of my way.” To Saul that was the only logical solution to the jealousy that raged within his heart.

Let me ask you something. Have you ever had a smug sense of satisfaction because one of your rivals failed? Have you ever had the experience where if you were honest you would say to yourself “The failure of So-and-So is really what would would make my day?” Jealousy. Sin.

Let’s hurry on. Sixth, difficulty in keeping promises. You see, Jonathan, who is Saul’s son, talks to his dad, and says in effect, “Dad, please don’t do all these things to David. David doesn’t want to get back at you. David is not going to kill you to get the kingdom.” And so Saul changes his mind, and it says in 1 Samuel 19:6, that Saul vowed, “As the Lord lives he shall not be put to death.” And yet in the very same passage we read in verse 10, “And Saul tried to pin David to the wall with his spear, but he slipped out of Saul’s presence so that he struck the spear into the wall and David fled and escaped that night.”

Let me ask you something. When Saul made a vow and says, “David shall not die.” Was he sincere? Of course, he was sincere. People who have these kinds of torments within the soul are very sincere. The only problem is because they have not dealt with the core of their problem, they continue to repeat the same cycle of behavior. I’ve heard it a hundred times. Maybe that’s an exaggeration, but it’s close. An angry, vicious, jealous man beats up on his wife, and so she decides to leave. Then he begins to cry and he begins to beg, “Oh, please stay. I promise you this will never happen again. I promise you that I will change. I promise, I promise, I promise.” Does he mean it? Of course, he means it within the limitations of his own shriveled soul. Does he fulfill his promise? Of course not, because he has not dealt with the basic fundamental problem of who he is before God.

Number seven, irrational desire for control. If you were to read the next chapters what is Saul doing? Here he is. He’s the king of Israel. He’s got business to look after because his job was not just ceremonial. I mean he was running a country. [chuckles] What is he doing? He is spending ten years pursuing David, sometimes personally. Can you get this? The king running from cave to cave in the hills of Judah, trying to pursue David, trying to personally kill the guy. Irrational? Of course, it’s irrational. Possessiveness. He wants to control, manipulate, finagle. Somehow his will has to be done, and his rival has to be put out of the way.

So here you have a man who falls in love with a woman. By the way I usually am putting men in bad light in this series. I’ve gotten a letter or two saying, “What makes you think that all the problems are with the men and not with the women?” Well, when I use the word “he” you can just broaden that a little bit and recognize that sometimes it includes “she” also. Okay? 

But here’s a man who grew up in a home that lacked love, and so he is exceedingly jealous. He’s dating this woman and he doesn’t want her to talk with anybody else. Exclusively she is supposed to only talk and be friends with him. She thinks, “Oh, this man just loves me to death. [laughter] He just loves me.” Ha ha ha. So, they marry because they’re in love. After they are married, what does he do? “I don’t want you calling anybody on the phone unless I know about it. I don’t want you to be in contact with your mother and your father. I want you to cut off all your friendships.” Why? The man is terrorized. He fears betrayal. He fears something will be said about him that will be uncomplimentary. That people are hatching plots, and he can’t stand the insecurity. So, in order to make sure he has somebody to fill this huge vacuum of love—which nobody can, by the way—but to make sure he thinks it’s going to happen, he puts demands on his wife that no wife can ever fulfill. And she is trapped in a box of an angry, jealous, vicious man who thinks he’s a fine Christian.

I always have to add that because remember jealous people live in denial. Remember they rationalize it all. To them it’s a matter of honesty. It’s a matter of biblical truth, of submission. You have to understand human beings. They’re funny. This past week somebody said, “Aren’t people funny? They like to sit at the front of the bus, the back of the church, and drive in the middle of the road.” [laughter] Just get used to it. We’re strange.

What is the answer? 

Number one, the first issue that needs to be settled is the issue of control. I want you to notice it says in 1 Samuel 18:10, “Now it came about on the next day that an evil spirit from God came mightily upon Saul and he raved in the midst of the house while David was playing the harp with his hand as usual,” and he tries to kill David. 

What in the world is this evil spirit from God doing in the king’s palace terrorizing Saul, making him paranoid and a murderer? Answer: If you were going to live with jealousy in your heart, God will allow an evil spirit to so trouble you and so consume you that the jealousy will be all-encompassing. Why? Is it because God likes to make things difficult? Yes, sometimes He does. 

Psychiatrists are trying to make people feel good, and sometimes God is trying to get people to feel mighty bad. Because what He wants them to do is to be brought to absolute repentance because they cannot live with themselves any more. What Saul should have done in light of all of his terror is to simply say, “God, I give it up. I give you the kingdom. Let David rule. Let him have it because I am your subject, and your kingdom belongs to you. It’s part of the larger kingdom that rules the universe, God. I am your subject in the midst of it, and I surrender my right to rule to you, the living and the true God.” Then the evil spirit from the Lord would have had to cease His work.

Parenthetically, no extra charge, no second offering, think this through. Imagine Saul going to a contemporary, humanistic, secular psychiatrist. They’re trying to figure out the cause of the jealousy, and of course, they are finding it in Saul’s background, which may be true. All kinds of interesting things are coming to the surface in the midst of these long drawn-out sessions, but unfortunately missing is any understanding of the spirit world and the relationship of people to God and the relationship with people to demons. And so that’s why all of the attempts to resolve the matter are only temporary and fail because behind it is a tremendous spiritual battle.

You say, “Well, was this true also of others that were jealous?” Oh, yes, yes, yes. Remember I told you Cain killed Abel, the story you know so well? What does it say? In 1 John, 3:12, it says, “Why did Cain kill Abel? It is because he was of that wicked one.” He was of the devil because the devil wants you to be jealous, and then the devil wants you to fight back, and preferably to kill if necessary to get that rival out of the way. The issue of control.

Do you realize today, my friend, God has every right to have somebody else bypass you on the promotional ladder, even those who know less than you do? Do you realize God has the right to help you to enable somebody else to be a success, and then, because of your hard work, that person gets the credit, and that person gets the commotion? The promotion? [laughter] What you wish he will get is commotion, but he gets the promotion.

Do you realize it’s perfectly okay for God to allow some of us to be born into homes where brothers and sisters were more gifted and talented and better looking than we are, and we become as it were, the unloved one of the family? Did you know that’s okay? Have you been willing to accept that kind of control?

One day I saw a kid in a stroller, a little boy, and he had this steering wheel, and he was just turning it in a frenzy. And do you know what? It didn’t affect the direction he was going at all because it wasn’t connected to anything that mattered. You know, there are people like that.

You know, you think about Saul here. What is Saul trying to do? He’s trying to manipulate to keep the kingdom. He’s saying, “I can’t let the kingdom go.” Listen, the kingdom is in God’s hands. Now mind you, sometimes there is the illusion of control. Sometimes the little boy in the stroller does go the same direction he steers. For ten long years God let Saul still be king, and gave him the illusion of control, but ultimately at God’s moment, David became the king.

Some of you are hanging on because you don’t want a rival. Some of you are unwilling to give up the control of your life to God as if you think your scheming, your manipulation, the things you do are going to accomplish what you want. Your control, your possessiveness, your whatever. Give it up Give it up. It’s like a molecule thinking it can control the universe. Just give it up.

There’s a second issue, and we’re looking now at the soul almost as an onion that needs to be peeled away to get to the core. The second issue is companionship. If the first one is control, the second is companionship. What you must be willing to do is to give other people and those relationships over to God. Stop blaming them for the way you feel. Stop blaming them for betraying you. You need to love even those that are your rivals. Find somebody whom you hate and learn to love them. That’s the Christian duty. That’s the Christian’s responsibility because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who is given unto us, and as we receive the Spirit in His fullness He will enable us to love people who are our rivals and decidedly unlovable.

Third is the issue of contentment. Are you content with who you are? Are you content with your relationship with God? Are you content with the way in which God put you together, where He has planted you, your circumstances, your role in life? Are you willing to so submit that to God and say, “I am going to be content? I’ve got your promises and I’ve got your love, and I can make it.”

Jesus said, “Are you envious because God is generous?” By the way, let me ask you that question, “Are you envious because God is generous?” Have you ever noticed God sometimes blesses some people more than He should? Oh, I see that all the time. I mean God blesses all kinds of people that I wouldn’t bless if I were God. [laughter] He is so generous. Is your eye envious because God is generous? Jesus said, “Cannot I do as will with those who are my own?” Do you realize in being jealous you are trying to play God in telling Him how to run His world? Give it up. Give your reputation to Him. Give your station in life to God, and simply say, “It is in your hands.” Saul didn’t. He ended up committing suicide because he said, “I would rather die of suicide than give up the kingdom.”

Let me tell you the story of a friend of mine who is a minister and because of immorality he had to resign from his church. But even worse than that he did some other things that made a reconciliation with his church and with his family basically impossible. I met with him this summer for a couple of hours, and this is essentially the way he told me his story, and I will reconstruct it as I remember it.

He said, “I want you to think of my life as being a shell, and in that shell is my soul.” He said, “All of my life who I was was totally determined by what other people thought of me.” Of course, he struggled with jealousy because anybody who is held hostage to the opinions of others has to be jealous because what if they begin to think better of somebody else and speak ill of you, and good about somebody else, you see?

He said, “Everything that I was was determined by my vocation and the people who affirmed me.” He said, “I hated confrontation because that always meant that there might be somebody who doesn’t like me, and I found that very difficult to take.” Now he said, “I want you to visualize that because of what I did, instantly in the minds of all of the people whose opinion I depended on, in their minds I was now the scum of the earth.” Furthermore, he said, “All of the props that held me up were actually props that were not only kicked out from under me, but they became clubs by which I was clubbed by my family and by my friends.”

He said, “I was so filled with shame and so filled with guilt that when I woke up in the morning my question was, ‘How do I go about putting one foot ahead of the other and somehow make it through the day?’” He said, “If I had had the guts, I would have committed suicide.” He said, “You have to understand that when I began then to confess my sin and to get right with God and to read the Bible,” he said, “All I could offer God was my raw, unprotected soul. I had nothing else—no friends, no affirmation, nothing.” Unprotected soul, no longer hiding behind the opinions of others. That’s all it was. And he said, “There in my despair, God began to put me together, to assure me I’d been forgiven despite the terrible, terrible things I had done, to help me to understand I was accepted and even I was loved by God despite my terrible sin.” And he said, “In those awful days I had only God to cling to, and to look to Him alone for my reason to live, and for any value that I might still have.”

That is the heart, finally, of the wounded soul, to come to God and to say, “God, all of the rivalry that I so fear. All of the jealousy of those that are around me. All of the things that I’ve thought about you, the way you created me and my place in life, and the way I am, and I’m not successful, and I’m standing in the shadow of others who are better than I. Oh God, I give it to you. I am finished. I surrender the control of my life to you. I receive your love. I receive your forgiveness, and I’ll look to you for my reason to live.”

Do you know why God put David through ten years of running from Saul? It’s to take the Saul out of David’s heart. Because if David had just become king right after the Goliath experience, he’d have been another Saul because—pardon the poetry in me—“There’s a little bit of Saul in us all.” And God says, “I have to take the Saul out of your heart.” He has to take the Saul out of my heart. He has to take the Saul out of yours. He does it by putting us in circumstances and difficulties that keep making us look to Him for our value and our reason to live.

That’s why David could say, “The Lord is the strength of my life, of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalm 27:1) What he was saying was, “All the spear throwers (and some of you live with spear throwers), all of those spear throwers, I’ve committed them to God and I believe God will defend me.” That’s the issue of control.

David said the issue of companionship, he said in the same Psalm, “I will meditate, oh Lord, in thy temple and my thoughts shall be of thee.” And then, of course, comfort. At the end of the Psalm he says, “Though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will pick me up.” Did you know David was an unloved child? There is evidence in the Bible he unloved as the last-born. And that’s why he still struggles in his old age with his parents. That’s why he said in Psalm 27:10, “Though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will pick me up. Wait on the Lord,” he says, “and God will strengthen, God will heal your heart.” I say to you today, just give it up. 

Let’s pray.

Our Father, we pray that in all the struggles, and the jealousies, and the rivalries, and the dissatisfactions of our heart. Would you come and heal us today? Heal those who think they’ve gotten raw deals. Heal those who would rejoice in the failure of a rival. Come and heal us, Father. You have the right to put us in the kingdom where you want us to be, and to remove us when it’s time for us to go. So, we submit our own little kingdoms to you today. If the job lasts. If it doesn’t last. We submit that to you.

We think, Father, of those who were born in homes where there was so much strife and such a lack of love, and today they are possessive, and they are fearful of relationships because they know that it confronts all the pain of their childhood. Would you reach down, Father, and be merciful and just minister to them too?

Now, before I close this prayer, I want you to pray. If you’ve never received Christ as your Savior, let me make it clear that He loves you, He died for you, and right where you are seated you can say, “Jesus, I’m going to believe on you and receive you as my very own.”

If you are a Christian you can pray for the people next to you, but also what is there in your life that you’re hanging on to? Trying to control things that aren’t connected to anything that really matters? What is it, Lord? You talk to God.

Lord, we do pray that you will meet us in our need, and heal the souls of those who are wounded today, in Jesus’ name, Amen.

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