Genesis 37:3-11

Concluding the series “Summer Baggage: Weighed Down by What We Carry”

Our summer baggage theme today focuses on jealousy and envy. These are bags we want to set at Jesus’ feet and leave there. They are good themes to close our series with, because they can interconnect with, be caused by and/or lead to some of the other emotional baggage we’ve considered in this series over the past few weeks. Anger, bitterness, and unforgiveness, pride, fear, jealousy, and envy can all feed off one another.

Jealousy and envy can be experienced in any stage of life – certainly in childhood. Can you remember which lunch box you wanted in elementary school? Everyone had the Superman or Wonder Woman lunch box, and you needed one too! I think one that I always wanted was a Spiderman lunchbox, but I don’t remember ever having it. Then it was the style of prom dress or first car that needed to be like everyone else’s. Or you were jealous when that so-called friend seemed to get more attention from your girlfriend or boyfriend than you did. In adulthood, jealousy is no less a struggle. We watch people line up for hours before a new iPhone is released, go in debt to purchase the latest car, or spend fortunes on maintaining the perfect lawn. Americans soothe jealousy’s sting by accumulating material goods, often going into debt to prove their worth.  The desire to be as good as the next guy, or better than all the others, is a very heavy piece of baggage that Christ offers to carry for us, exchanging it for his perfect peace.

The reality is that many – maybe even most – of us have struggled or are struggling with jealousy and envy but are unwilling to admit it, even to ourselves. We don’t like to think about being “that” kind of person, so we deny it and go on living with jealousy and envy in our lives.

We often use the words “jealousy” and “envy” interchangeably. In fact, however, they are two similar yet distinct emotions, and neither is considered desirable or flattering.

Envy is described as a feeling of discontentment or resentment toward another person because of something that person has that you don’t. It could be a material possession, relationship, status, reputation, or even an attribute that is desired. You have something I don’t have but want to have. I resent that you have it, and I might even wish you didn’t have it. In the Bible, envy is always labeled a sin.[i]

The story of brothers Cain and Abel from Genesis 4 is a prime example of envy. Cain tilled the soil and Abel raised sheep. Both offered sacrifices to the Lord, and we’re told that God approved of Abel’s sacrifice but not Cain’s. Cain envied Abel’s favor with God – he didn’t have it, and he didn’t like that his brother had it. Cain’s envy led to anger, and anger led Cain to murder his brother.

Envy is when you want what someone else has, but jealousy is when you are afraid or suspicious that someone is trying to take what you have. Jealousy describes the feeling of protectiveness or insecurity one has over a rivalry or being replaced. Jealousy often involves a vengeful feeling toward the rival. This can happen in a significant or important relationship, as in, “He was jealous that his coworker was having too many friendly conversations with his boss, afraid she was trying to take his position.”

In the New Testament gospels, the chief priests are jealous of Jesus for his popularity and his ability to win arguments with them. They want to have the attention and admiration of the people, but Jesus comes on the scene and takes it from them. So, in their jealousy, they hatch a plot to have his betrayed, arrested, tried and convicted. They lie and secure a death sentence from the Roman governor who can find no guilt in Jesus, and Jesus is crucified on a cross.

Jealousy and envy can infect our personal relationships, but much of our society is built on them. Advertising, social media, traditional media, politics, and more – these pit neighbor against neighbor, group against group to keep us tuned in and scrolling on our computers and phones. All so we will see the ads that keep us buying more and more. It becomes a vicious cycle and trap.

Our scripture today from Genesis 37 tells a story in which jealousy and envy cause things to get totally out of control. The Bible often tells us what we should do, and it also includes examples of what not to do. Yet even when people mess up, God does not abandon them.

It is the beginning of the story of envy and jealousy born of pride, unforgiveness, and fear between the sons of a man named Jacob. It starts when Jacob plays favorites among his children in an obvious way. He loved Joseph, one of his 12 sons, more than the others and gave him a coat of many colors, or with long sleeves, depending on your translation of the Bible. This coat was distinct from the work garments his brothers would have worn. Its construction, style, and color made it a garment that spoke not of hard work but of nobility and privilege. Joseph’s brothers hated him.

If that wasn’t enough, Joseph had some vivid dreams in which Joseph was elevated over his brothers and even his parents. I imagine his brothers thought Joseph was being quite the jerk about it – dreaming about being superior to them all and then having the gall to tell them about the dreams!

His brothers became angrier, as they grew more and more jealous of Joseph’s position as the favorite and angrier toward him for his attitude about it. Then, one day when Jacob sent Joseph to find his brothers, the brothers had had enough and made a rash decision. They sold Joseph to slave traders and lied to their father, telling him that Joseph had been killed by a wild animal. They had tried to end the dream, but unknowingly helped it to continue.

Here’s a spoiler alert: Joseph ended up in Egypt and became a powerful leader there. Because he was there, he was able to save his entire family and move them to Egypt during a famine. God had taken something rash and evil and turned it around to bring about something good.

This story shows us what jealousy can set in motion. Hatred was born of jealousy. Jealousy and envy like that can start small, but they can be nurtured and grow. They can feel justified. I have the right to be jealous and to act the way I am because the situation is not fair. And in this story, it is not fair.

Look at it from Joseph’s situation as well. At the time, he was the youngest of the brothers and was the favorite chosen by his father for as long as he could remember through no fault of his own. He was likely already ostracized by his brothers long before today’s story. Maybe his attitude was due to his jealousy about being excluded from the relationship among the other brothers.

This story shows us some different causes of jealousy. There is dissatisfaction or disappointment with ourselves and where we are in our circumstances, relationships, and lives. Seeing someone where we’d like to be or where we hoped to be is difficult. It happens so easily in family situations between siblings and other relatives, but it can happen anywhere. It comes from comparing ourselves with others.

Social media prompts many to feel envious and jealous. People look at posts on Facebook or tweets on Twitter from all their “friends” and see how great their lives are. But we must remember that we’re only seeing glimpses:  their vacation pictures from the Grand Canyon, the beaches of Florida, or the mountains; their birthday parties and celebrations; their happy moments and accomplishments. We don’t usually see pictures of how they smashed their thumb with a hammer or tripped and fell down their stairs.

Comparison is futile because we are all different. Our circumstances are different. Our gifts, talents, and experiences are different. In our difference, though, we share something in common: We are all created in the image of God. And yet God has designed us each uniquely and specially for a purpose. Far too often we look at others on the outside and think they must have it all and have it all together – everything we wish we are or wish we had. But, in reality, we have no clue about what is going on behind the scenes.

Comparison doesn’t work because we have received different gifts from God. We’re meant to serve in different ways, and in coming together with all our gifts, we as the Church can serve Christ and the world most effectively.

But if jealousy and envy settle in, we start fussing and fighting, and that can creep into the church and into our spiritual lives, too. We argue about whose ministry is the best or most important and deserves priority; how the worship service we go to is better than the one someone else attends; that our church is better or holier or closer to God than that other church; why he gets to sing that solo when everyone knows I’m the better singer; that my relationship with Christ is more real than yours; and so on.

What do we do about jealousy and envy when they occur in our lives? First, stop comparing ourselves to others. As we’ve said, we’re all created uniquely and specially by God, different, yet all in the same image of God and beloved by God. Jesus loves you and gave himself for you. He offers you a life of walking in his presence and learning to be loved and to love others. If you don’t know that or haven’t accepted that offer, receive it today; talk to me, Pastor Cathy, or reach out to Pastor Becky. And be confident and secure in who you are created by God to be and who you are in Christ.

Next, cultivate an attitude of gratitude. Reflect on your life and the blessings you do have, rather than dwelling on what you think you’re missing that others have. Give God the praise and thanksgiving.

Then ask God to reveal any hidden jealousy or envy that might be in you. Only when we face the truth about ourselves can we give up the baggage of jealousy and envy to Jesus Christ.

Finally, pray for the wellbeing of the person you envy or are jealous of. It doesn’t matter if they have been wrong or unfair toward you. Pray for them and see what God will do in you or even through you.

Friends, we’ve only scratched the surface of the kinds of baggage we might be carrying in our lives. There are so many other topics we could address. I encourage you to talk with someone about those things you carry that weigh you down – perhaps one of our pastors or maybe a professional counselor can help you move from anger, pride, fear, jealousy, and envy into the life of freedom and joy God intends for you.

Let us pray: God who sees our hearts and knows our thoughts, reveal in us any jealousy and envy we might harbor toward another. Don’t let these emotions consume us, but grant us grace to turn them over to you. Remind us we are your unique and beloved children, and teach us to be confident in you. Focus us on Jesus alone, and renew us in his grace and love today. We trust you and pray in Christ. Amen.

[i] Margaret Minnicks, “Envy, Jealousy, or Covetousness: What is the Difference?”, Owlcation, 02/23/2019, https://owlcation.com/humanities/Whats-The-Difference-Between-Certain-Words. Accessed 07/30/2021.

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