By Jessica Van Roekel, Crosswalk.com
“Ugh. I ran into her again at the supermarket. Why does she have to be so perfect?”
“Oh, no. That new pastor in town is going to take my congregants. What can I do to keep them?”
“What? That person made the front-page news, again? Wait and see, pride goes before the fall.”
These thoughts run the gamut across our minds when we experience envy or jealousy. It’s a universal problem spanning the world since creation. It’s destructive in its nature. We see what it did in the relationships between Cain and Abel, Joseph and his brothers, and Saul and David. Envy and jealousy become dominant and invasive emotions if left unchecked. Understanding the definitions is one step to combatting it. Learning to recognize it is another step in not allowing them to boss us around. Then taking steps to replace it with behavior that honors God helps us grow into maturity.
What Is Envy vs. Jealousy?
Envy is the desire to have another person’s talents, position, or achievements. Envy involves two people, the envier and the one being envied. Envy can hide from plain sight. It is the pain we experience when we observe what another has that we do not. Envy leads to sadness because of the comparison the envier does about others.
Jealousy is the strong feeling of possessiveness toward what one has. It is also the intolerance toward a rival. Jealousy involves three people—the person feeling jealous about someone else because of a rival. Jealousy occurs in up to four settings: sibling rivalry, peer relationships, romance, and paranoia. False judgments, illogical deductions, and misinterpreted trivia feed it.
Is There Any Difference Between Envy and Jealousy?
Jealousy and envy are similar, yet, they have slight differences. Envy is outward-focused because it wants what another person has. This leads to discontent and resentment because of the lack of oneself. Jealousy is inward-focused and desires to protect one’s items or relationships. Jealousy fears losing what it has, and envy sorrows over seeing what another has.
In certain contexts, they can be interchangeable because both relate to covetousness. Envy and jealousy are enemies of contentment. They can blind us to believe that God is holding out on us. Our hearts can harden when we desire what God has not given us. Envy can lead us to walk away from God, and jealousy can result in bitterness. Unchecked envy and jealousy impact our fruitfulness in God’s kingdom.
In the Bible, envy is not presented as positive. We find it in the list of vices to remove from our life. Yet, in specific contexts, the Greek word for jealousy means “zealous vigilance.” Paul used this Greek word to describe his desire for the Corinthian church to stay true to its faith in Christ. We also read about God’s jealous zeal for his children. Since jealousy involves three parties—this makes sense. We are God’s treasured possession, and there is a rival vying for our love, attention, and worship.
Envy and jealousy share a similar root. Both bring to the surface feelings of inadequacy and insecurity. We question our abilities, qualities, skills, and self-image. Jealousy is afraid someone’s going to take something away from us. We feel envious because we find dissatisfaction in ourselves. Fear drives both. The Bible speaks to both traits and their core issues.
How Can We Avoid Temptation to Sin in These Areas?
Envy and jealousy turn our eyes to what we don’t have. We can stop envy and jealousy by turning our heart’s eyes to seek the Lord. “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:33-34)
Jealousy worries that someone will take something away from us. Envy worries that we won’t ever gain what we long to have. We overcome worry when we shift from focusing on our lack to thinking about God’s abundance. His kingdom holds treasures for us when we seek God with our whole heart. There is little room for envy and jealousy when we seek to live according to God’s standards. Let us seek God’s kingdom and his righteousness so much that our minds and hearts have no room for envy and jealousy.
Another step in avoiding envy and jealousy is denial. We can deny our minds and heart the rabbit trail of temptation by focusing on living our day-to-day lives for Christ. In Luke 9:23-24, Jesus tells his listeners that to come after him means denying oneself and taking up his cross daily and following him. Living life for Jesus isn’t done like a radio station tuned to static. It’s dynamic with music, weather reports, advertisements, and talk shows. When we don’t deny our tendencies toward “self,” our lives sound like static to the world. But when we do the inner work of denying the temptation to hold onto envy and jealousy, our outer behaviors change. We carry our cross, surrender to the burden, but walk in God’s strength as he guides us ever nearer his heart.
The Power of Humility
As we deny ourselves daily, pick up our cross, and follow him, we learn the power of humility. Humility helps us avoid the temptation of envy and jealousy. “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4). Selfish ambition and vain conceit are mortal enemies to unity in the church—envy and jealousy feed disunity. But we can wrestle against them by remembering the power of humility. Humility means we remember our weaknesses and struggles. Humility prompts us to serve and sacrifice without thought to our personal gain. While humility guides our hearts away from envy and jealousy, love binds us together in unity. As followers of Christ, it is our privilege and duty to put off the parts of our nature that prevent us from growing in unity in Christ. “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience. Bear with one another and forgive whatever grievances you may have against another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues, put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity” (Colossians 3:12-14). As we focus on each of these attributes, we become aware of the hidden pockets of envy and jealousy. We repent and ask God to help us grow into our new self in Christ Jesus.
Another way to avoid the temptation of envy and jealousy is to learn to rejoice with others. This can be the hardest thing to do. Especially when someone has or gains something we crave. Inside, our heart throws darts at the other person while we paste on a happy smile. But learning to rejoice with others teaches our hearts about contentment. Contentment isn’t about settling for less; it’s owning the truth that God has good for us. He doesn’t leave or forsake us. He gives us his presence to guide us, to comfort us, to grow us so we can do the impossible and rejoice. “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near” (Philippians 4:4-5). Could it be that rejoicing, practicing humility, seeking God’s kingdom, denying ourselves, and practicing living life from the newness of self help us avoid the temptation of envy and jealousy?
God Changes Our Hearts
Giving God the freedom to change our hearts helps us navigate life with its temptations. Envy doesn’t pave the way to a changed heart. But God can use our struggles with envy to help us grow. We become dependent on him. We trust him to grow in us the character traits that reflect his attributes to our world. We learn to live life with an open hand as we trust him with what we’re afraid to lose.
We can transform envy and jealousy into gratitude as we learn to thank the Lord for how he made us. He made us on purpose for his good purposes, which include our strengths and weaknesses. We walk in step with the Lord by seeking him first, denying ourselves, choosing humility, and learning to rejoice with others. As the feelings of envy and jealousy arise, we can commit our ways to the Lord and trust him to help us grow away from two similar yet different problems.
Photo credit: ©GettyImages/JGI/Jamie Grill
Jessica Van Roekel is a worship leader, speaker, and writer who writes at www.welcomegrace.com sharing hope-filled inspiration addressing internal hurts in the light of God’s transforming grace. She believes that through Christ our personal histories don’t have to define our present or determine our future. Jessica lives in rural Iowa with her husband and family. You can connect with her on Instagram and Facebook.