Envy and Jealousy

Envy and jealousy are often used interchangeably, but strictly speaking, the words denote two different emotions. Jealousy is the fear of losing someone or something to whom or to which a person is attached. Envy is a feeling of discontent and hatred of another person because of his advantages, possessions, etc.

In Psalm 73:2-3, Asaph stated, “But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled; My steps had nearly slipped. For I was envious of the boastful, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.” Asaph admitted he envied the wicked in their prosperity, their strength in death, even their pride and cursing. It has been said that “malice rejoices at another’s and jealousy begrudge another’s success.” Solomon said, “envy is rottenness to the bones”  (Prov. 14:30). W.E. Vine defines envy as “the feeling of displeasure produced by witnessing or hearing of the advantage or prosperity of others.”  

In Genesis 37, we read of the envy and jealousy of the brothers of Joseph, which turned into hatred, causing them to sell their brother into slavery. Envy and jealousy are each listed as a “work of the flesh” in Galatians 5:20-21.  And “those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God”  (v. 21).  

The writer of Psalm 73 was envious of the wicked “until” he went into the sanctuary of God and then understood their end (v. 17). He came to realize that it only takes a “moment” for God to bring them low (v. 19). He learned that God is contemptuous of the wicked (v. 20).   With this knowledge, Asaph reviews his past and expressed it in verse 22:  “I was so foolish and ignorant; I was like a beast before You.”

The Apostle Paul said that “love does not envy”  (1 Cor. 13:4). Love and envy or jealousy cannot abide in the same heart. If we are Christians, then envy and jealousy must be put away! Paul gave instructions to “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others”  (Phil. 2:3-4).  When we have a genuine concern and interest in others, there will be no room left in our hearts for envy and jealousy.

Have we been envious or jealous of the prosperity and worldly success of the wicked and foolish? If so, may we gain strength to overcome these sins from the example of Asaph. “Do not let your heart envy sinners, But in the fear of the Lord continue all day long” (Prov. 23:17).