I am giving this message the title: “Coals of Fire.” You might think this theme comes from a relatively familiar phrase which I didn’t read from Proverbs. Romans 12:20 exhorts the Christian saying, “If thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head.” “Coals” in the Greek is the word from which we get “anthrax,” which is an extremely dangerous bacteria – IF it can get into the body. But the fact is: anthrax is very common in ordinary soil, and doesn’t attack us very easily. However it has been weaponized by terrorists; it has been used to attack and poison people. Paul was saying that when we show kindness to those who hate us – when we weaponize kindness, love and hospitality, and by them we may thoroughly stir up our victim.

The two scriptures which I have taken from Proverbs, use the phrase “coals of fire” to speak of another subject. Tonight’s theme is envy or jealousy. In this I am reiterating a theme we touched on a few weeks ago. And of course, this is another in our series on “The sins of the saints.” And in that regard, I hope you realize that I am taking my cue for these messages from my own heart. As I’ve said before, I’m not surveying the congregation, looking for your sins, so that from my lofty tower I can attack you. The expression of these sins may differ between each of us, but they are found in me, just as much as anyone else.

But in this case, jealous may be considered to be one of those innocuous sins. Something “innocuous” is considered to be “harmless.” Envy and jealous are harmless sins. Nope. I looked up that word “innocuous,” just to be sure I was using it correctly. Dictionaries are not only helpful, but they can be insightful and sometimes just plain fun.) I learned that the word “innocuous” comes from a pair of Latin words which mean “not hurtful.” Okay. That was no surprise to me. That was what I expected. Webster reiterated the definition I already knew. But then he surprised me by saying, “Innocuous applies only to things; NOT to humans.” Does that mean that Daniel Webster thought that people are never innocuous – never harmless? That certainly agrees with the Bible, but doesn’t that contradict what society says about the innate goodness of all our neighbors? All it takes is a little observation to see that there is a great deal in every one of us that is not harmless.

People sometimes think that jealousy is one of those personal sins which doesn’t harm anyone until it joins forces with some other kind of sin. To envy is fine, until someone decides to steal what that person has which made them envious. Many people are jealous of others, thinking only the jealous person is aware of it. No harm done. No foul. But wait, the Bible says that jealousy is not harmless; not painless, not kind, nor even invisible. It is rotten to the bone and rottenness to the bones. It is as dangerous as murder, and it has many times killed both the object and the agent. If, as our Lord has told us: anger is counted as murder in His sight, and lust is equivalent to adultery, isn’t jealousy recognized by God as theft?

With that in the background, ask yourself: how much jealousy is hiding in my heart? How much of what I think – is tainted by envy? How many of my opinions about others has been corrupted by envious resentment toward them? How many of the things I do are influenced by jealousy? How often am I overcome by that green-eyed monster? It appears that Shakespeare coined the phrase “green-eyed monster.” He used those words in “Othello.” Iago said to Roderigo: “Beware my Lord of jealousy; it is a green-eyed monster which mocks the meat it feeds upon.” The idea is that of the cat with his green eyes, who wants the mouse so badly, but when he catches it, he plays with it before eating it. Jealous is a blend of love and hatred which tears up its host, turning him into a demented animal – something which some people believe all cats are.

I have authority to preach on this subject, because the Bible has a lot to say about it – A LOT!!!

There is Ecclesiastes 4:4-6 – “Again, I considered all travail, and every right work, that for this a man is envied of his neighbour. This is also vanity and vexation of spirit. (That) fool foldeth his hands together, and eateth his own flesh.” The meaning here is that jealousy is a slave driver; it tortures people. It drives them through life, through school, and into jobs they may hate. The scripture reminds us that jealousy, like other sins, is ruthless and mean. “Wrath is cruel, and anger is outrageous; but who is able to stand before envy?” Does this verse suggest that envy is more dangerous than wrath and anger? Song of Solomon 8:6 – “Set me as a seal upon thine heart, as a seal upon thine arm: for love is strong as death; jealousy is cruel as the grave: the coals thereof are coals of fire, which hath a most vehement flame.”

Look into your heart to see if you can see any jealousy lurking there. You might have to look hard. Jealousy is not the kind of sin that likes the limelight – it’s not the sort of sin in which people often boast. The drunkard may brag to his buddies of his wife-beating, his cheating, maybe even murder – but rarely does he brag about his jealousy. And when we are redeemed, there are sins which give us pain with every step that we take. Like a sprained ankle, every deeply rooted curse word stabs into our hearts after they are spoken. And like a canker sore, every lie soon echos and reverberates throughout our mouths – and souls. But usually jealousy is not one of those sins. It hates to be seen or felt, so it folds up and crawls into its shell. But it is still there. It sends out a poisonous chemistry that can influence our whole lives – even destroy our lives. But the source of the poison usually stays hidden.

There was nice family many years ago – a Mom, Dad and two sons. The parents were well known Christians; their boys were religious and well taught in the things of God. Nevertheless, one of those sons thought that the Word of the Lord was only for reference purposes. He believed in free-will, apparently thinking that God was open to different opinions and different service. Those were days when God took direct and obvious action in people’s lives. As each member of the family brought their sacrifices God, Jehovah would personally respond and approve. The eldest boy wanted the Lord’s approval as much anyone else in the family. But he wanted to make his own rules – and God doesn’t play that game. So “the Lord had respect unto Abel’s offering but not unto Cain’s.“ And Cain was swallowed up by the green-eyed monster of jealousy. The Lord counseled with him – He provided the means to draw out the poisonous anthrax – but to no avail. And eventually, Abel was murdered by his jealous brother Cain. The first murder in human history was motivated by jealousy. And in that murder we can see the despotic power of jealousy.

Have you ever really grasped the ruthlessness of which we are capable when in clutches of envy? Those brothers lived in an almost sin-free society, and were relatively religious. But one of them fell to the arrow of envy. We cannot afford to under estimate the power of this sin.

A few weeks ago, in another context I used that illustration, and I used another as well. In the history of Joseph and his brothers there is another example of the insanity of envy. Joseph had a couple of dreams about supremacy, and he shared them with his brothers. Added to those dreams, Joseph’s father loved his boy and showed favoritism toward him, showering him with attention and gifts. Genesis 37:11 says that his brethren envied him, and they eventually plotted to kill him because of that envy.

Then there is another story of a young man who went about doing good to his neighbors and for his country. He was handsome, very intelligent, a great musician; he was spiritual and blessed of the Lord. Over time, it seemed that the whole nation was in love with him – all except for the nation’s king. Saul became very angry at David, because people ascribed to him great victories, while to the king they attributed only mediocrity. Actually, the popular assessment was correct. Saul, plagued by the green-eyed monster, ate up the rest of his life by jealously hating David.

Alright, what are some of the kinds of jealousy in and about us today?

There is jealousy among men – they are very susceptible in various ways. Many little boys are taught – from the cradle – that they should expect to have power, position and title. Nothing can stop them from being football superstars or highly paid basketball players. Nothing – except for the fact that some of them are 5′ 6″ and with coordination of half-dead road kill. “Those people over there have a new car, but I’m a better person, so perhaps I should have a new car too.” We live in a performance-oriented society. We must be winners, we are told. And so we envy the men whom we perceive to be winners. How often are people’s desires for more possessions due to envy?

For ladies there are some of the same jealousies, but perhaps others as well. The story of Rachel and Leah in Genesis 30 shows a special female kind of jealousy. These two sisters were miserably and shamefully locked in battle for family acceptance. If one had a bouquet of flowers the other wanted more flowers and a bigger vase to put them in. And of course there was the battle of the babies. Leah cried out lustily, “Blessed am I, for women will call be blessed,” because she had given birth. But, is that the true definition of “blessed” Leah – when other women make that determination? Then in contrast to Leah, Rachel whimpered, “With mighty wrestlings have I wrestled with my sister.”

Another jealousy among ladies is that of health and beauty. Women are cruelly preyed upon by the advertising world; “You must be thin and beautiful.” And then those women prey upon themselves like some demented animal. Like the coyote caught in the leg-hold trap, she chews off her own leg to be free. “I MUST loose 15 pounds, I MUST cover this grey hear, I MUST fill in this wrinkle.” It isn’t true of any of our ladies, but sometime the arguments for such things boil down to pride and jealousy.

I saw a truth on the internet Friday. (Yes, there is a bit of truth on the internet, once in a while.) There were four cartoonish pictures. In the first, a man driving an old car says, “I wish I had that new car over there.” In the second, a man on a bike sees the first man and says, “I wish I had a car – any car.” In the third picture, a pedestrian sees the man on the bike and says, “I wish I had one of those.” And then in the last, a man in a wheel chair, looks at the pedestrian and says, “I wish I had my legs back, I then could go anywhere.” The point is, there is always something about which we could be envious, while at the same time others may be envious of us.

I confess that I must deal with religious or spiritual envy. I drive by churches, which are almost useless in their doctrine and their purpose, but their parking lots are full of cars sometimes even during off hours during the week. I see buildings that look like religious palaces or mansions, and I think of our little box of a building. Sometimes, forgetting that such things are in the hands of the Lord, my heart cries out, “Why can’t we be blessed like that?” Or once in a while I hear a really good sermon, and I get envious of the preacher’s ability to remember and quote scripture, and I become just a bit envious. Sometimes, I forget that God gives out His pounds and talents according to His sovereign will, and I should be delighted with the gifts He has given to me. I should not be envious of anyone, especially spiritually.

I also can see how easy it might be to be jealous over another person’s health. “There is no natural reason why that 74-year-old man should live without the pains and problems I have. Why can’t I have that person’s energy, ability or agility? Why can’t I be 6′ 10″ and under a multi-million dollar basketball contract? Why am I not satisfied to be 5′ 10” – but with two good knees and kidneys that still work well?”

We must learn not to compare ourselves to others – improperly. Do you wish to be swallowed up; eaten alive? Psalm 106:13-17 – Israel “soon forgat (God’s blessings); they waited not for his counsel: But lusted exceedingly in the wilderness, and tempted God in the desert. And (so) he gave them their request; but sent leanness into their soul.” Do you remember why Jesus was crucified? In addition to His preaching against sin? The priests also envied His popularity with the populous. “When they were gathered together, Pilate said unto them, Whom will ye that I release unto you? Barabbas, or Jesus which is called Christ? For he knew that for envy they had delivered him.” I hope you can remember the relationship between the Iranian named Haman, and the Jew, Mordicai. Haman was an early type of Hitler – He wanted to destroy the whole Israelite race. Why? Ezekiel 35:11 is good commentary on Haman. “Therefore, as I live, saith the Lord GOD, I will even do according to thine ANGER, and according to thine ENVY which thou hast used out of thy hatred against them; and I will make myself known among them, when I have judged thee.” Haman died on the gallows which his jealousy and hatred built for Mordicai. His jealousy brought about his own death.

How should I deal with my sin of jealousy?

Realize, first, that God is always fair and wise – even beyond your appreciation. He has His reason for giving beauty to Betty, genius to George and grace to Kelly. There are things we can change, but those things we can’t change, we must learn to accept. In Philippians 4:11, Paul could say, “Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.” Are you failing see God’s grace in your life because you refuse to admit to the Lord’s wisdom? We need to learn to let God to be and not try to strip Him of His sovereign power.

Second, without becoming obsessed with ourselves, we need to realize how beautiful and valuable we are to God. We live in a world trying to make everyone fit into one, society-designed mold. But the Lord wants us be to individuals, fit to do specific aspects of His multifaceted work. We need to rejoice in the fact that God loves us and can use us today as we are, if we’d just clean up a little bit and get rid of our envy. We don’t have to look like or be like someone else to glorify our Saviour.

And then third, be honest with yourself. “But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not and lie not against the truth” – James 3:14. Isn’t a lot of jealousy like this – “I am just as good as he is; I want what he has?” Sometimes the truth is – we aren’t like that other that fella in some areas, and we can’t afford what he has. Humble people have no time to be jealous – they are too busy counting Lord’s blessings. “Humble yourself, therefore, under the mighty hand of God that he may exalt you in due time…”

The fourth thing to do in fighting this sin, but perhaps the first thing in order, confess it to the Lord. Plead with the Lord for help. Recognize that it is a problem. You “can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth” you.

Believe it or not, there are probably people who are jealous of you.

That may be hard to accept, but the truth is we all have things which others wish they possessed. Maybe it is not your bank account or your hair. But it might be the fact that you have very few bills, and you have reasonable health for your age. Maybe it is the calm and quiet home life that you enjoy, or your coolness under pressure. It might be that your mother is still alive, and you can talk with her any time you like. Perhaps it is all the people who love you.

While enjoying these things, remember never to provoke jealousy by your words or actions. “Let us not be desirous of vain glory, provoking one another, (or) envying one another. And minister grace to others by declaring their value to you, as they are. We all need people, and when this is true tell those people and tell them why.

Then third, when necessary, withdraw from people who show themselves to be jealous of you. If there is a problem that can be fixed, then correct it. But if the problem is irreversible, then walk away. If there is a sin more deadly than envy, its being pleased that people are envious of us.

And finally, if you are having problems with sin of any kind – there is a solution available. The Lord Jesus gave His life on Calvary for the specific purpose of defeating and destroying sin. In His precious blood there is forgiveness. And in the power of His presence and His Spirit there is victory over sins like jealousy.