The Evil Twins: Jealousy and Envy

The Evil Twins: Jealousy and Envy

There is a distinction between jealousy and envy. To envy is to desire something which belongs to another person. It could be their physical appearance, their job, their success, anything. Envy motivates us to try to achieve or out-perform our neighbor.

Ecclesiastes 4:4 And I saw that all labor and all achievement spring from man's envy of his neighbor. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind. 

In contrast, jealousy is the fear that something which we possess will be taken away by another person. Jealousy is hidden at the root of other motives, influencing our thoughts and actions. Although jealousy can apply to our jobs, our possessions, or our reputations, the word more often refers to anxiety which comes when we are afraid that the affections of a loved one might be lost to a rival. This is why God is described as jealous. He does not want to lose our affection to His rival, Satan, or to any other thing.

Exodus 34:14 (for you shall worship no other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God)

While God’s jealousy towards us is righteous, our envy and jealousy towards God is unrighteous, evidenced by our refusal to give Him credit for what He alone has done. We withhold from Him our worship and consider ourselves worthy of all He has given us. Thanksgiving, joy, and praise are stifled by jealousy and envy, unless the life of Jesus, the Holy Spirit, is being lived through us on a daily basis. Our jealousy is totally ruthless and uncaring. It is all about self. It is a common motive for murder and cruelty, as displayed by Cain.

Proverbs 27:4 Anger is cruel and fury overwhelming, but who can stand before jealousy? 

As Christians we quickly deal with areas of obvious sin, but jealousy can lurk in our heart for years as the deepest motive for an apparently noble conduct (be #1). Only the Spirit of God can discern for us the root of our own motivation. For example, God warned Cain of this sin:

Genesis 4:3-8 In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the LORD. But Abel brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The LORD looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast. Then the LORD said to Cain, "Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it." Now Cain said to his brother Abel, "Let's go out to the field." And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.

These brothers lived in a comparatively sin free world as part of the first family. Do you think they had affection for each other? Of course they did, but one murdered the other because of jealousy. Men are frequently tempted by the lust for honor and recognition. Abel was honored by God, Cain was not. However, his loving heavenly Father counseled Cain in the midst of his jealousy, but Cain still chose to destroy his brother to satisfy the passion of his soul.

Never underestimate the power of this sin if unrestrained in your own heart. We may not murder, but we assassinate the character of others with innuendos, gossip, bad reports, and accusations. It happens every day at home, in the work place, at school, and even in the church.

We compare ourselves instinctively without thinking about it. We compare ourselves, our status, our possessions, our reputation, our position relative to that person, to that institution, or to that object. A man’s desire for possessions often has more to do with the prestige he hopes to gain, rather than either the love of an object or the desire for security.

On the other hand, envy and jealousy among women is often based on a desire for security. The story of Rachel and Leah in Genesis 30 reveals to us some of the particular temptations that affect women. Two sisters are miserably locked into a contest for love and security, and for the object the other has, whether it be a child, their husband’s attention, or a handful of flowers.

Another obvious vulnerability among women is the status associated with health and beauty. Beautiful women are often envied and despised by other women. This happens because comparing ourselves to one another breeds envy and jealousy by producing a distorted picture of self. The presence of an attractive person makes us think of ourselves as unattractive, and we despise them for that and fear they make take attention away from us.

We live in a performance oriented world that presses us into its mold of conformity. We must compete with others through our position, appearance, and possessions, or we face rejection.

However, Jesus’ Kingdom is not like that. Do you know how really beautiful and valuable you are to Jesus? The basis of our value and our beauty is really our uniqueness. We were "fearfully and wonderfully made" and never need to envy another. We are an original creation. There has never been a person like you before and there never will be again. Rejoice in your uniqueness, secure in God’s love. Only you can fulfill your particular destiny and ministry.

Psalm 106:16 In the camp they grew envious of Moses and of Aaron, who was consecrated to the LORD. 

Do you hear people speak against their boss, school teacher, police, government officials, or church leaders? We are so quick to resent the privileges and power given to those in leadership, but we fail to see the price that has been paid in many years of apprenticeship under God. Moses began to pay that price as a newborn baby. He was set in a basket and floated down the Nile. Those who raged against him did not begin their lives in such danger, and they were envious of his position and relationship with God.

Envy is why the religious leaders murdered Jesus.  The people were flocking to Jesus to hear a Word from God. Jesus was backing up His authority with miracles. Pontius Pilate had a hunch concerning the Jewish leader’s motivation for having Jesus arrested. To expose it, he let them choose which prisoner to set free—Jesus or Barabbas.  Barabbas stood for everything they had previously condemned. Jesus stood for everything they were supposed to uphold.

Matt. 27:15-18 Now it was the governor's custom at the Feast to release a prisoner chosen by the crowd. At that time they had a notorious prisoner, called Barabbas. So when the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them, "Which one do you want me to release to you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?" For he knew it was out of envy that they had handed Jesus over to him.

They chose to set Barabbas free. Consequently, mankind killed God’s Son. Our next breath should be drawn with gratitude to God for His mercy. We must deal with the envy in our soul.

James 3:14-16 But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such "wisdom" does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.

Is God always fair? Of course He is. Then why are we envious when somebody else receives a blessing? Why do we become depressed when that other woman gets married, or has a baby, or our co-worker gets promoted, or someone gets a new car, or that other family moves into a beautiful new home? Why are we encouraged, yet also strangely discouraged, when we hear reports of a great revival in another church? It stems from envy and jealousy. Subconsciously, we believe that the blessing of others is a sign of God’s greater love for them. We are like Cain. We are failing to see the mercy and love of God in our own lives.

Just like you, I have my struggles with envy and jealousy. My only hope is Jesus. His strength is perfected in me when I daily acknowledge my weakness.  Here are some signs of envy and jealousy to alert us so we can repent of these sins:

1. Withdrawal and depression –We often get depressed when we don’t get our way or what we want. “Life is unfair, I am not going to participate or try my best any more.”

2. Pessimistic attitude – those who envy tend to be negative about most things, for they are focused on what they don’t have rather than on what they do have. “I will never have what others have.” They find it easier to show sympathy and "weep with those who weep" than to exhibit joy and "rejoice with those who rejoice." They fail to count their blessings and see how much God has blessed them.

3. Fault-finding – they invent reasons for their lack and others gain in order to justify the emptiness of their own heart and life. “Others don’t deserve what they have. They have an unfair advantage.” Some politicians play on people’s envy and jealousy to gain votes for themselves by promising to make things fairer regardless of whether it is earned or not.

4. Self-pity – people who will tell you how miserable they are tend to be full of envy. They wish their lives were like others. They look for happiness in getting the “next” thing they think will finally satisfy them. They make unnecessary purchases, even incurring debt to get it. They go “binge” shopping to feel better.

5. Un-thankfulness –Even when they do get some things, it is never good enough or sufficient. Their attitude is, “Well, it’s about time I received something; however, others still have more than me.” In our culture, we are constantly bombarded with messages that say we MUST have more, the newest, or something we don’t already have. It is the cause for vast amounts of dissatisfaction among American Christians although we already have more than we need!

6. Gossiping and back-biting. Acts 13:42-52 As Paul and Barnabas were leaving the synagogue, the people invited them to speak further about these things on the next Sabbath. When the congregation was dismissed, many of the Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who talked with them and urged them to continue in the grace of God. On the next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and talked abusively against what Paul was saying. Then Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: "We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles. For this is what the Lord has commanded us: " 'I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.' " When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed. The word of the Lord spread through the whole region. But the Jews incited the God-fearing women of high standing and the leading men of the city. They stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their region. So they shook the dust from their feet in protest against them and went to Iconium. And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.

The Jews became infuriated with jealousy toward Paul and Barnabas when they preached that God’s blessings were now available to all Gentiles. Quickly, the Jews whipped up antagonistic opposition against Paul and Barnabas. Why were they jealous?

Whenever people become obsessed with jealousy or envy, they demonstrate a misperception of the truth. The Jews were careful to guard their own rights, privileges, and status as the only people of God. Resentful suspicion of the Gentiles and their new influence completely enraged the Jewish leaders by threatening their dominance. They did not want to welcome outsiders into their midst. They had grown comfortable with the status quo, the power and privilege.

Jealousy creates destructive behavior. “But the Jews incited the God-fearing women of high standing and the leading men of the city. They stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their region.” Do not be surprised if even the most respectable people in the church or community join in jealous persecution. Jealousy and envy come from an evil spirit, not the Holy Spirit. Ask the Lord to fill you with the Holy Spirit and His love.

1Cor. 13:4-6 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.

Avoid the companionship of jealous or envious people, but when you encounter them, bless those that curse you and speak the truth with love, gentleness, and kindness.  It is a worldly reaction to quarrel with jealous people.

1Cor. 3:3-4 You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men? For when one says, "I follow Paul," and another, "I follow Apollos," are you not mere men?

Recognize that jealousy is rooted in immature and selfish desires. It causes division in the Church, in families, and among people. Be careful not to fall into any trap of jealousy or you will lose your love of God and His perspective of the Truth.

Ask the Lord to help you replace any envious or jealous feelings with a trust in the Lord’s ability to do what is best in His own sovereign way. Don’t provoke jealousy by making innuendos, accusations, gossiping, or repeating unsubstantiated reports.

Realize that envious and jealous feelings do harm to oneself. Minister grace to others by declaring their value to you and your need of them. Find your contentment, satisfaction, and pleasure in the Lord, not by comparing yourself to others. Ask God to help you confess and repent of your tendency toward jealousy and envy so you can be cleansed, healed, and filled with the Holy Spirit.

Gal 5:16-26 So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law. The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.

We will never find contentment with the things of this world. But we can find contentment in Christ today. He is everything we need.

Give Jesus your life by believing in Him as Savior and Lord of all. Come to Him confessing your need for forgiveness and salvation. Repent of your sins and give your life to Him in baptism.  Then you will receive His Life of peace, joy, and contentment through the gift of the Holy Spirit.