The lesson in our painting class was on portraits. Portraits are hard! One slightly wrong proportion can change an identity. One difference in angle can create an unintended expression. After an embarrassing failure some years ago, I thought I was ready to try again.
I can assure you that this painting does not look like the model. I didn’t throw it out though, because there was something about the expression that did look like the model’s. I changed details like hair, face shape, colouring, and clothing so she couldn’t be identified, but I kept the expression. The side glance and slight sneer reminded me of the look of jealousy. The painting sits on my dresser as a reminder that jealousy is not becoming to anyone, no matter how attractive they are physically.
I’ve often wondered why Jesus told people not to tell anyone about what he had done for them when he healed them. It would seem like a good P.R. move to advertise by featuring the familiar lame man’s new dance moves or the mute woman’s singing. In the early days of his ministry, Jesus emphatically did not want the kind of attention fame brings.
Fame can bring attention and revenue and influence, but just as often fame creates toxic atmospheres and attracts hatred. As Proverbs 27:4 says, “Wrath is cruel, anger is overwhelming, but who can stand before jealousy?”
A few moments spent reading the comments section of almost any popular publication will reveal that. I am convinced that a great deal of nasty criticism and slander aimed at popular Christian speakers and writers is not motivated by the belief that they are irredeemable charlatans, rather it is propelled by jealousy toward the target that success and attention has painted on their backs.
People may insist that they are merely “rightly dividing the word of truth” or “just being Bereans” or “declaring the whole counsel of God” when they walk away from the bullet-point ridden body left bleeding in the dirt, but jealousy, envy, or covetousness lingers in the eyes and on the lip. It tells you there was no love in this exchange, no desire to create a relationship that encourages change or growth or rewards indications of acts of greater goodness. The jealous want the object of their envy to be hauled away and never heard from again.
We’ve seen it before amongst people who want to maintain control. When Paul and Barnabas spoke in Pisidian Antioch, the religious people in charge there “were filled with jealousy. They began to contradict what Paul was saying and heaped abuse on him.” (Acts 13:45)
Acts 7:9 tells us the patriarchs were jealous of Joseph and sold him as a slave to rid themselves of their young brother whose favour with their father annoyed them to the point of violence.
The story of Jesus’ crucifixion contains this important piece of information about Pilate’s politically-motivated choice to release Barabbas, the career criminal, instead of Jesus: “For he [Pilate] knew that it was out of envy that they [the religious leaders] had delivered him up.” (Matthew 27:18)
God’s jealousy for us is a passionate loving zeal that we would not be seduced and pulled away by the evil one. Human jealousy is uncontrolled passionate hate that would harm and destroy. It is the result of already being under the influence of the evil one who said, “Oh, you’re worried that there is not enough love to go around. I can help you with that.”
The moment we become aware of that voice we have a choice to make. We can turn and run to God and ask him to heal our wounded hearts with his abundant grace and fill our empty places with his relentless love, or we can submit to a power that destroys not only the object of jealousy but our own souls.
I guess that’s why I keep this painting. It’s a reminder that every day I have the choice to bless or curse and how easy it is to make the wrong choice. I can bless because I am blessed. I don’t have to curse. I don’t work for that boss anymore. I am not authorized to listen to his voice. Jesus freed me. He is enough.