Covetousness, envy, and jealousy are not interchangeable words, but how they vary from one another can be confusing. To put it simply: Covetousness means I want what the Joneses got; Envy means I don’t want the Joneses to have what they got; and Jealousy means I don’t want the Joneses to have what I got.
Covetousness was the sin of David when he wickedly desired Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah (2nd Samuel 11). It was the sin of Ahab in wanting the field of Naboth to be his own (1st Kings 21). The Tenth Commandment warned, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s” (Exodus 20:17). Covetousness is inconsistent with holiness (Ephesians 5:3-5).
Envy was the sin of Cain when he resented the approval Abel received from God (1st John 3:12; Genesis 4). It was the sin of the chief priests in pursuing the crucifixion of Christ (Mark 15:10) because His authority threatened the establishment (Mark 1:22). “Envy” is listed among the “works of the flesh” which prevent entrance into God’s kingdom (Galatians 5:19-21). Envy must be abandoned in the pursuit of spiritual growth (1st Peter 2:1-2).
Jealousy was the sin of the Jews when they resented the Gentiles obtaining favor with God in Christ (Romans 10:19; 11:11, 14). “Jealousy” is also listed among the “works of the flesh” which prevent entrance into God’s kingdom (Galatians 5:19-21).
Interestingly, jealousy is not always wrong. Jealousy was the response by God when His people Israel practiced idolatry (Deuteronomy 32:16). “Jehovah your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God” (Deuteronomy 4:24). So jealous is our God that he has appropriated the word to Himself for a name (Exodus 34:14). Because God is jealous, He approves those who are jealous on His behalf. Phinehas was commended for acting on godly jealousy (Numbers 25:11), and Paul did likewise (2nd Corinthians 11:2-4).
By Bryan Matthew Dockens
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