I often wondered what exactly was the difference between these two words.
They have been used interchangeably here in this country, but I somehow had the feeling they were not the same.
Several years ago I decided to do a study about this and was quite surprised with the results. What really started me pondering about it was how often I found the word “envy” mentioned in the scripture and how it was used in places where I thought the other word “jealousy” was the right term.
JEALOUSY: To be resentfully suspicious of “something belonging to you.” For example, your husband, wife, girlfriend, boyfriend, brother, sister, job or position and so on.
ENVY: A feeling of ill-will or mis-content over “something belonging to someone else.” In other words, they have it and you don’t and it makes you sick.
It’s likely that a certain amount of jealousy is very normal. If someone is flirting with your wife or husband it would be kinda normal to feel a tinge of jealousy.
It would actually be a bit less than normal not to do so. Jealousy can be common in sibling rivalry perhaps when one child thinks a parent or parents is showing more favor to another brother or sister.
A few soft words in either case can usually stop or prevent such feelings. However, left unattended, jealousy can grow into something much different.
The scripture says that “jealousy is as cruel as the grave,” and it is. This human emotion has perhaps destroyed more marriages, relationships and friendships than any other.
Sadly, those who are the targets of jealousy are almost always not guilty of the things they are accused of. This constant suspicion of everything they do takes its toll.
The jealous person will try to isolate their friend or mate from all other contacts with other people. Most often, a person who is jealous will not admit it.
The classic answer seems to be, “but I love them so much.” No one needs this kind of love. Jealousy can be overcome if the guilty party is willing to recognize it and work hard to eradicate it from their personality.
Otherwise, the end is never life but death of the spirit and soul of both people. Jealousy has even been known to lead to murder.
Then what about envy?
What makes this emotion so different than its counterpart. The scripture describes envy as a “rottenness of the bones.”
Now we can understand that old expression “green with envy.” It’s funny that someone who is very ill or nauseated may actually have a greenish looking complexion and expression that indicates they are very ill.
What I have observed about envious people is that quite often they are blessed with much; talent, family, education, possessions etc.
However, someone has something that they do not have or is more talented in some area than they are and they can’t stand it. They can actually wish the other person harm or failure or want to undermine their work because they feel what they have is less.
They are not jealous but envious. It’s one thing to covet the things of others but to get absolutely ill and wish that person harm because they have something you don’t is actually wicked.
The scripture says: “For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work.”
This is serious. Someone who is envious will strike out and may even seek to destroy the other person. When this happens in the Church, the result is catastrophic.
If there is a lot of confusion and pure devilment going on, you can just about be sure that envy is at work. It will stop the flow of the Spirit and hinder the growth of any work.
We have not been aware of how many times the scripture warns members of the body of Christ about this one little four letter word.
I couldn’t understand why the scripture said that Joseph’s brothers sold him away because of envy. I’m sure there was some jealousy because they knew their father had a special love for Joseph but why envy?
Joseph had gifts they did not have and it placed him on a different level than them. He could see and know things they could not, no matter how they tried.
Surely it wasn’t because of that beautiful coat, the one of many colors?
Then just why did scripture also say that Pilate knew the real reason the Church leadership of that day wanted Jesus killed was because of their envy?
It was not that they simply hated him for who he said he was, it was that Jesus could do things they could not do.
Even as the son of a carpenter, he had gifts they did not have. If they could have also healed people or raised someone from the dead they likely would not have gone to such extreme to get rid of him.
When Jesus preached, almost the entire city turned out to hear him and he could teach and expound scriptures with an understanding they did not have.
Can you imagine an evangelist coming to town in a place where you had labored for years with little yield and thousands turn out for him and mighty works and deeds are done?
It could make you look foolish if your heart is not in the right place. You could be jealous over your small flock but you might be envious over the thousands and the results you only wished for.
In the past few years, I have seen envy destroy a brand new work where the move of the Spirit had been incredible with the Church growing by leaps and bounds; leadership and saints eaten up with ill-will for one another, because some could outdo the others.
I watched another situation, sadly as a beautiful fellowship that had the potential for doing so much for others and ministering to wounded people, became completely fractured because of ill-will and mis-content among the leaders.
They weren’t jealous of one another, they were envious. Some were better speakers, or higher skilled musicians, or had more charisma, or were more successful in their cities.
The scripture was right. Knowing some of the things that were going on there, there is no doubt that envy was at work.
I heard an overseer in my district some years ago, when he turned to another official on the platform at an annual convention and declared tearfully and loudly that he felt some of our Churches were being eaten up with jealousy and envy.
It seems that most others blew it off as a rant of some kind and failed to hear the tearful words being expressed by someone who had much reason to know.
I had heard many years ago that the Music Department of the Church was sometimes called the War Department. The overseer seemed to imply that this was so and that people who were singing and playing instruments were making themselves and others sick, because they were envious that someone could do it better than they.
The reality he was trying to express was that this had become a binding force in many of our services. Haughtiness, arrogance and envy had caused absolute turmoil for many pastors and Church families.
I did not know until recently that Envy is listed as one of the “Seven Deadly Sins.” It makes a lot of sense to me today, just why there are so many scriptures about this deeply rooted problem.
The Bible seems to imply that we all have it at one time or another. It seems to be part of the human element.
The scriptures also give simply advice about it. It says to confess it and get it out of your heart. Allowed to remain, it becomes a driving force that will strike over and again.
Many on Facebook have already felt the heat of those who wish them less than love, because God chose to give others something He did not particularly give to them.
Understanding often comes from hard work and study, making full use of what God has given you, like taking the talent you have and expounding it.
The desire to give God all the glory and honor will also determine how successful we may be. Taking delight in others and rejoicing when good things come to them is the mark of someone who’s spirit is right.
I’m somehow reminded of the story that Nathan told King David about the wealthy land owner who had much cattle and sheep and the poor peasant that had only one pretty little lamb.
The wealthy one had everything he could ever want or need and so much more than the poor man and power and money enough to get anything he could ask for.
Yet, the man with so much was not satisfied with what he had. That one little lamb must have been some fine animal because it was the only one the big guy didn’t have.
So he took from the little guy and used it for his own desire even though it was all the poor man had. He was even willing to kill for it. This story is about many other things but somehow it seems to fit here.
Greed in the Church will destroy the person who has it and always hinder the work of The LORD. That’s really too bad, when all we had to do was repent and make it right, especially because it will hinder and prevent us from becoming all that God intended for us to be and prevent us from reaching the goals we so desired.
Being truly grateful for the things we have and making the most out of those special gifts
God has bestowed to us can cure the deepest ills. Everyone of us has a gift. It’s up to each of us to find out what that is and work it for all we’re worth.
First published: April 30, 2010.
~ Robert Blackburn