Holy Jealousy

By JJ Spurling

Editor’s Note: The following is an adaptation of a recent prayer letter by JJ Spurling, who serves with The Alliance in Paraguay.

A friend and I were talking, and he told me he was struggling again with “holy jealousy” (envidia santa). When you hear something new in a new language, it takes some time to process what has been said. While he continued to explain his struggle, I was thinking: “‘Envidia’ means jealousy, and ‘santa’ means holy. I must not have heard him correctly because these two things do not go together.”

“Excuse me,” I said, “but did you say ‘envidia santa’?”

“Yes,” he replied.

“You will have to explain this one to me because this is the first time I’m hearing of it.”

My friend told me that holy jealousy is a term that he believes to be popular throughout Latin America and is not unlike a white lie. “Many people believe that white lies are acceptable, even though you and I know that they are not,” he explained. And apparently, “holy jealousy” is viewed similarly. He continued by relating an example:

“Let’s say that someone has a spiritual gifting that I desire, such as the ability to lead worship. When I question the Lord as to why I don’t have that gift and even resent my sister because she has it and I don’t, this is holy jealousy.”

The struggle my friend is having reminded me of a conversation that I had in our youth group one evening when discussing Romans 12. In verse 15, Paul writes the following: “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” The group told me that it is easy to mourn with those who mourn, but it is difficult to rejoice with those who are rejoicing. Because this perspective is the opposite of my experience, I asked them to explain.

One of the young people shared an example of a friend receiving a new bicycle. Although the friend is rejoicing because of his great fortune, it would be difficult for the young person to rejoice because he does not have a bicycle.

This discussion has provoked a lot of thought over the past several months. Why can I rejoice so easily over the good fortune of others? And why is it not as natural for me to mourn with others?

I believe that I rejoice over the successes and blessings of others because my cultural context has programmed me to believe that I, too, can be successful and blessed if I work hard for it. For example, my boss here in Paraguay is receiving a new Mac laptop today, and I am genuinely excited for him. I want one too, but I’m not jealous. To be completely honest, in the back of my mind I’m thinking, “I’m going to get me one of those when I get back to the States.”

The Paraguayan does not have the same opportunity. I have learned that the blessings we have in the States are not the reality everywhere. There is not always a reward for hard work. At the end of a hard day’s work, it is possible (I almost want to say probable for those of a lower economic station) that you will not receive the reward that is due and oftentimes promised. Would I struggle with jealousy if I grew up in a culture like that?

The Paraguayan has been formed in a culture of hard knocks. Most have experienced great disappointments. And I believe that because of this, they are a compassionate and empathetic culture. They don’t find it hard to mourn with others. I will mourn with others, but it is definitely more uncomfortable than rejoicing.

Which culture is better?

It’s not a question of either/or-it’s both/and. What can I take away from my Paraguayan experience? What can I learn, and how can I grow? I hope that part of it is a greater compassion and sensitivity for those around me. Hopefully, one thing I will have instilled in the Paraguayans is a joy for the successes of their brothers and sisters in Christ, because God is the giver of all that is good.

The Holy Spirit is using my cross-cultural experience to further form me. My prayer is that I will rejoice because God is the source of all that is good in my life and I will mourn because He has given me His perfect love. My contentment or sorrow is not dependent upon how hard I can work or how much I’ve been disappointed in the past. I am now programmed by a new culture: Kingdom culture.

I prayed with my friend about his struggle and explained the interdependent plan that God has for the church-how the gifting of every believer will help us accomplish the good works that the Lord has given us as a unified whole.

Learn More

Check out our Alliance work in Paraguay.

 What You Can Do

Join JJ Spurling in praising God as the source of all goodness. Pray that Alliance missionaries in Paraguay and around the world will convey Christ’s love and compassion for those who mourn.

Donate now to Alliance Great Commission Ministries to support God’s work around the world.


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