Envy vs. Jealousy

Two things I enjoy studying are people and words. When I can study them in connection with each other, it’s even better. I like to think about how people use words – what they are actually saying and what they really mean. For example – in our language these days, people tend to use the words “envious” and “jealous” interchangeably.

This is one of my pet peeves.

Because, the truth is, these words are not the same. Sure, they have some similarities. But they are not identical. Language (and the proper use of it) is important to me, and I don’t want someone to say something he doesn’t mean simply because he doesn’t know what the true meaning of the word is. And I hate for that to happen to me, too.

(Sometimes people don’t understand my passion for words…but that’s a story for a different time.)

People who are jealous are concerned mainly with those things they have or perceive as belonging to them. A jealous person is careful to protect what he has and wary of anyone he believes to be a rival. In relationships, someone who is jealous will not tolerate any disloyalty.

Envy pertains more to the way we look at other people. If someone else has something I want, I can grow envious of that person. An individual who is envious perceives that someone else has something good and instead of being happy for that person, begrudges that he doesn’t have that same good thing (or something better).

Rarely do I hear anyone use the word “envy” – usually people are talking about envy but use the word “jealousy.” Over and over in the Bible, envy is portrayed as a bad thing, something Christians are to stay away from, something that causes major problems. We should not be focused so much on what other people have. God is looking out for us and giving us what is best for us. It isn’t necessarily wrong to wish for something, but envy is stronger than wishing – it is malice toward an person. This is never a healthy or good thing.

Jealousy usually carries a negative connotation when people talk about it today. However, as you can see from the definition, jealousy isn’t a bad thing in and of itself. In fact, the Bible says in many places God is a jealous God. God does not sin, so jealousy is not a sin.


Just as with anything else, how we deal with our thoughts and our emotions will reveal our hearts. If I am jealous of something (meaning I have it and don’t want to lose it), I must be careful not to let that become consuming. I can be protective of something I own without allowing it to take precedence in my life and become an idol, something I place above God in importance. That IS a sin.

I readily admit I am a jealous person when it comes to people. I am jealous of my friends – I don’t want them to leave and especially don’t want someone else to steal them away. There isn’t anything wrong with that. But when this jealousy affects my trust in God and causes me to become controlling and put my friends in a place of higher importance than God, that is a major problem and something I must guard against.

What are your thoughts? Are you a jealous person? An envious person?

(I used the definitions from Mirriam-Webster.com.)