A friend sent a text to share with me about an amazing restaurant she went to. She described the wonderful meal she enjoyed and included a photo. I began to text back, “I’m so jealous!” but paused, then hit delete and changed it to “I’m so envious!” before hitting “Send.”
Jealousy vs. Envy
Jealousy and envy. They are two words that I’ve often used interchangeably. Whether I admired a friend’s new purchase from the mall, compared my rambunctious children to a friend’s well-behaved children, or wished my ministry was as successful as another’s, I’ve often considered my responses to be a form of jealousy. But they are not.
You might think, “What does it even matter?” Let me first say that I’m not part of the police squad for how we use the English language. This isn’t just a matter of semantics. There is a subtle, yet real difference between jealousy and envy and it’s a difference that matters to us spiritually. When we understand the difference, it helps us better identify and repent of the sin in our lives. But more importantly, knowing the difference helps us understand the love of Jesus who has saved us.
But first, let’s look at jealousy. In his book Respectable Sins, Jerry Bridges defines jealousy as “intolerance of rivalry” (149). A common reason for jealousy might be if someone were to try and win your spouse’s affections. This type of jealousy is right. A husband and wife ought to protect their marriage from intruders. An example of sinful jealousy is when Saul was jealous of David’s military success. If you remember, the women sang in the streets, “Saul has struck down his thousands, and David his ten thousands” (1 Samuel 18:7). Saul responded in angry jealousy because David’s popularity had grown in the eyes of the people. They honored David above Saul, making David a rival in Saul’s eyes.
Envy on the other hand occurs when we are resentful of an advantage someone else has. We look at the job, car, house, wealth, experience, or success of another and resent that they have something we don’t. When envy’s roots dig deep and are well nourished, it grows into covetousness. This is when we want and desire the advantage of another, such as a friend’s car, well-behaved kids, or success in ministry. Such covetousness is what God forbids in the tenth commandment (Deuteronomy 5:21).
But the biggest difference between jealousy and envy is this: God is often jealous but never envious.
A Jealous God Pursues Our Envious Hearts
Our God is a jealous God. “Thus says the Lord of hosts: I am jealous for Zion with great jealousy, and I am jealous for her with great wrath” (Zechariah 8:2). He is jealous for our affections. He is jealous for our love, our worship, and our heart. This is why the greatest commandment says we are to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. He wants all of us. When our hearts are turned to other things, looking to them to take the place of God, using them as substitute loves, God responds in a righteous and holy jealousy. Scripture actually calls God jealous by name in Scripture, “For you shall worship no other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God” (Exodus 34:14).
“God is jealous for our love, our worship, and our heart.”
In the Old Testament, Israel was often compared to a Bride and God as her husband. Over and over in the Old Testament, Israel wandered from God. She envied the lives of other nations. She envied their gods and their sinful ways. She flirted with the other nations and played the harlot with other gods. In his holy jealousy, God sent her away into captivity.
But God promised there would be a day when Israel would return as his bride. He promised to make her pure and radiant and restore her back to him as his bride. “And I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness. And you shall know the Lord” (Hosea 2:19–20).
God fulfilled his promise in Jesus. In his jealous love, Jesus pursued, redeemed, bled, died, and rose again for his Bride, the Church. He is now sanctifying her, making her holy and pure and readying her for her wedding day. And one day he will return and gather us all together, from the four corners of the earth to celebrate his grace in the Great Wedding Feast. “Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready” (Revelation 19:7).
Constant and Unwavering
When we are envious of what others have, when we desire something that doesn’t belong to us, it’s because our hearts have turned from our one true love. We think that if we just had the success, opportunities, experiences, or fortune of another, we’d be happy. In our envy, we are chasing after the inferior pleasures of his world instead of looking to Jesus. In effect, we’ve forgotten whose we are.
Only the righteous jealousy of Jesus can cleanse our envious hearts.
The only cure for our envy is the love and grace of our jealous Husband as found in the gospel. Only the righteous jealousy of Jesus, seen in the redeeming grace of the cross, can cleanse our envious hearts. Time and again, he forgives our wandering ways. No matter how far our hearts might go, his grace can go farther. While our love for him ebbs and flows and is often fickle, his love is constant and unwavering. When we find our heart wandering in envy, we need to remember and return to him, the One who is always jealous for his Bride.
The Cure for Envy
APRIL 17, 2015
“A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones.” Proverbs 14:30 (NIV)
Alone in my hotel room, I ended each day in tears, feeling inadequate and overwhelmed. I told myself I wasn’t envious. Simply, uh … discouraged.
Years passed, and doors began to swing open. Ribbons dangled from my name badge, and people smiled in my direction.
Soon I found myself dealing with a new set of feelings. How come she’s moving ahead faster than I am, Lord? Why did they honor her instead of me? I wasn’t jealous, of course. Merely, uh … competitive.
The awful truth revealed itself one rainy morning when I received an announcement from a colleague who’d been blessed with an opportunity I was convinced should have been mine. I tossed her letter across the room in an angry huff. “It’s not fair, Lord!”
His response was swift. “Have I called you to succeed or to surrender, Liz?”
Clearly, jealousy and envy were alive and well in my jade-green heart. When I reached out to my writing and speaking sisters – women who love and serve the Lord – I discovered they, too, wrestled with this issue. One said, “I understand competition in the secular marketplace. But I grieve over it in the body of Christ. What are we doing, setting one person’s work above another, if not absorbing the world’s way of doing things?”
Her words echo the Apostle Paul’s: ” … For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans?” (1 Corinthians 3:3b, NIV). Sadly, we are.
Today’s verse reminds us that envy takes a toll: “A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones” (Proverbs 14:30). For all of us who struggle, here’s the way out:
Confess. Healing begins when we acknowledge that envy is a sin: “But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth” (James 3:14, NIV). Humble admission is the single best antidote for prideful ambition.
Avoid comparison. Consider the words of Jesus, when Peter fretted over John’s place in Jesus’ ministry, and asked, “‘Lord, what about him?’ Jesus answered, ‘ … what is that to you? You must follow me'” (John 21:21b, 22b, NIV).
Rejoice. Feeling overlooked? Look up and celebrate with others. Send an email or text on the spot, and chase away those negative feelings. “Rejoice with those who rejoice” (Romans 12:15a, NIV).
Be patient. Many a career or ministry has collapsed under too much, too soon. Embrace the tasks you’ve been given, rather than longing for something bigger, better or faster. Success isn’t money or fame – it’s love for one another. By definition, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud” (1 Corinthians 13:4, NIV).
Befriend your rival. As one of our sisters explained, “A woman was brought in on a fast track executive management program at my corporation. At our first meeting, I thought, ‘Well, here’s my rival.’ Then I heard God say, ‘She is smart, energetic and sharp – just like you. You could become best buddies.'” And, they did.
Count the cost. Behind every successful woman is a host of sacrifices we never see.
The truth? We’re seldom jealous of all the work a person does – just the outcome. Whether building a tower or building a career, the Bible cautions us, ” … Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money” ? or time or energy ? “to complete it” (Luke 14:28b, NIV).
Lean on the Lord. He stands ready, willing and able to overcome our weaknesses through the power of His Spirit. “Look to the LORD and his strength; seek his face always” (1 Chronicles 16:11, NIV).
Heavenly Father, we know envy and jealousy are no match for Your mercy and grace. Forgive us when we grumble over how You bless others, and help us be grateful for all the ways You have kindly blessed us. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
Scripture Reading — 1 Samuel 18:1-9
A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones.
Proverbs 14:30 —
When you compare yourself to others and decide that you don’t measure up, you can easily fall into envy. And that can make you rotten inside.
Envy is not the same as jealousy, in which a person has no tolerance for rivalry or unfaithfulness. In fact, I can be rightly jealous for my wife’s love, just as God is rightly jealous for the faithfulness we owe him. But not all jealousy is right.
Envy comes in when we feel we have a right to something that someone else has—and we feel they shouldn’t have it at all. Envy has led people to steal or kill to make sure the thing they wanted was not enjoyed by someone else.
Saul was envious of David. David was more successful, and he received more praise. When that happened, Saul—who had his own successes—no longer heard the songs sung for him, but only the songs sung for David. And it made him rot on the inside.
I know some envious people. They have a hard time praising others and hearing praise for those they envy. In the end, it can hurt them more than anyone else, for it can rot the soul.
In contrast with envy, wisdom calls us to rejoice in the good that others do, and to praise God for the blessings and gifts he provides others.
Lord, sometimes I fall into envy when I make comparisons. Help me to be joyful about the gifts you give to others, and to appreciate all you have given me. Guide me to serve you faithfully. In Jesus’ name, Amen.