The Difference Between Envy and Jealousy (and Why it Matters)
Wrong. Envy and jealousy are different things, and it actually matters a great deal.
The difference is stated simply. Jealousy is the desire to keep for yourself what rightfully belongs to you. Envy is the desire to have for yourself what rightfully belongs to another. Envy is when a husband wants to sleep with somebody else’s wife. Jealousy is when he doesn’t want his wife to sleep with somebody else’s husband.
Both, of course, can cause enormous damage. “Wrath is cruel, anger is overwhelming, but who can stand before jealousy?” (Prov 27:4). “A tranquil heart gives life to the flesh, but envy rots the bones” (Prov 14:30). Yet while envy is always sinful—you shall not covet your neighbour’s house, or car, or personality, or ability, or well-behaved children—the same is not true of jealousy. In some circumstances, and marital infidelity is an obvious example, jealousy is both entirely natural and entirely appropriate, as much as it needs to be handled very carefully.
And this is why the difference matters: God himself is said to be jealous, in numerous occasions in the Scriptures. “You shall not bow down to [idols] or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God” (Ex 20:5). “You shall worship no other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God” (Ex 34:14). “For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God” (Deut 4:24). For the Bible to say that God is envious would be bizarre; it would imply that there is something he wants that he does not have. To say that he is jealous, on the other hand, is to say that there is something he has—Israel—that he does not want to lose. And that, not to put too fine a point on it, is the storyline of the entire Old Testament.
Envy and jealousy are different things. And yes, it matters.