I am a crossword puzzle enthusiast—a cruciverbalist, but that is not the extent of the word games I enjoy. One of my favorites involves making as many words as possible out of one larger word—not anagrams exactly, which use every letter of the word and are small in number, but using the letters of the word only as many times as the original word uses them and making as many other words as possible, three letters or larger, not counting plurals, past tense, or other obvious derivatives.
For example, how many other words can you make out of the word “jealousy?” Sea, use, you, soul, say, aloes, lose, louse, yea, seal, joules, lea, sole, jay, lay, say, soy—and that’s just off the top of my head typing as fast as I can. But how about this one—joy? Seems a little ironic, doesn’t it, that you can make joy out of jealousy?
A lot of people get those two mixed up. In times where we should be “rejoicing with those who rejoice,” we find ourselves feeling just a tinge of jealousy. Why did he get that promotion and not me? Why is she being lauded from the pulpit and not me? Why do people run to them for advice when I am just as smart/experienced/knowledgeable/wise, etc.? And that green-eyed monster gradually takes over, turning us into its willing minion. We can easily think of reasons that other person does not deserve this and spread it to whomever will listen, causing us to ignore our own blessings, steeping ourselves in ingratitude that gradually becomes bitterness, not just against the other person, but at life in general.
Elizabeth is the best example I know of someone who got it right. She took what could have been a cause for jealousy and changed it into a cause for joy.
Zacharias and Elizabeth had made it to old age without having children. According to Lenski, Elizabeth was probably looked down on as someone who had somehow displeased God—that was the general attitude toward barren women. Finally, after years of waiting, probably with a multitude of prayers, Zacharias came home with the good news—albeit written down, since he could no longer speak: “We are going to be parents!” And not only that, but this child will be special—he will be the promised Elijah spoken of in Malachi.
Then lo and behold, six months later, along comes her teenage cousin with even better news. She too, is pregnant, and is blessed to bear the Messiah. What?! Elizabeth has been waiting for decades. She is older and wiser. She has been the faithful wife of a priest, and borne the ridicule of an ignorant culture, blaming her for her own misfortune. And she gets the Forerunner while this child who has scarcely lived long enough to even be considered faithful, who is fertile (in this culture the family would know her menstrual history) and will probably (and ultimately did) bare more than half a dozen children, this girl gets the Messiah? How fair is that?
But Elizabeth had the grateful attitude and the abiding Messianic hope of a faithful child of God. In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, and she entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth. And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? Luke 1:39-43.
Not only is she excited for Mary, she humbles herself before a younger woman, one with far less experience and far less service on her record—she simply hadn’t lived long enough to do much yet. And her joy? It was not a feigned, polite joy, but a joy so overwhelming that “the babe leaped in her womb for joy” v 44. I am told that “leap for joy” is one Greek word, the same one used in verse 40, quoted earlier. It is a sympathetic joy. In other words, Elizabeth was so moved with joy that it caused her unborn child to move within her. Every mother understands how her own emotions can affect her unborn baby, in the last trimester especially. Elizabeth’s joy for her young cousin was that deep and moving. Jealousy never entered her heart for a second.
How does that match with statements like, “He gets to lead singing more than my husband;” “My husband hasn’t been asked to teach in a long time;” “How can he be an elder when my husband is just as good as he is and no one has asked him”?
Oh yes, it happens. And it should not. If we are all members of the same body, then if one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. 1Cor 12:26.
Love “envies not” 1 Cor 13:4. When you do envy, you do not love as you are commanded to. Jealousy and envy are works of the flesh (Gal 5:20,21). Those who practice them “will not inherit the kingdom of God.” Check yourself on this. Are you playing games with your words? Has your speech given you away?
Too many of us get this backwards. We rejoice when bad things happen to others and weep when good things happen to them. How are you doing at this word game? Can you keep joy from becoming jealousy?
If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. Gal 5:25-26