What is the difference between jealousy, covetousness, and envy? The Bible says that we are not to covet (Exodus 20:17; Psalms 119:36), but God is a jealous God (Exodus 20:5; Deuteronomy 4:24). Is there a different type of jealousy that is okay? And what about envy? Is envy different from covetousness?
Here is a brief definition of each before we get into a larger discussion of each.
- Jealousy – The fear of losing something that you feel already belongs to you.
- Covetousness – The desire for that which is not yours and currently unattainable as it belongs to someone else or lies outside your ability to get.
- Envy – The desire of that which is not yours and the begrudging of the person who actually possesses it.
People become jealous in a relationship when they feel that someone else is trying to destroy, steal, or take over that relationship. A woman will get jealous when she thinks her man is spending too much time with or around another woman. A man will get jealous when he sees another man flirting with his girlfriend or wife.
Jealousy is a natural defensive emotion that seeks to prevent the loss of something important to that person. This emotion, however, is very powerful. It has caused all sorts of irrational behavior ranging from a withdrawal into one’s self to outright violence.
The Bible teaches, in the book of Proverbs, that jealousy is the rage of a man. When a man or woman becomes jealous, they often become irrational and can become enraged toward the person they love.
The Bible tells us that God grows jealous when He sees His people being seduced by the religions of false gods. In fact, the Bible clearly states that God is a jealous God. Interestingly enough, there is not a single Bible reference that says that jealousy is wrong. Can it lead to things that are wrong? Absolutely.
In us, jealousy is a direct result of a strong emotional attachment for someone else translating into fear. If that emotional attachment didn’t exist, there would be no jealousy. You can see it as a sign that someone cares. But the rage that jealousy often produces, is often very dangerous and deadly.
Covetousness is the emotional desire for and attachment to something that is not yours and is currently unattainable. The Bible clearly forbids us to covet our neighbor’s wife. When we allow an emotional attachment and desire for someone who has reserved himself or herself to someone else, we are walking on a very treacherous ground.
In some ways, covetousness can provoke jealousy. When a husband begins to covet a life outside of his marriage, he is bound to provoke his wife to jealousy. When a woman begins to covet a man already married, she will provoke that man’s wife to jealousy.
Covetousness is a sign of discontent. If you are starting to look outside your marriage for a happy life, clearly you need to get help with your marriage. This discontent often provokes others to jealousy which only compounds the problem.
There are two ways to be happy. First, you can get everything that you want. This is a lousy way to get happy, because you’ll never get everything you want in life. Second, you can want what you already have. This is a much simpler and more profound means of attaining happiness. If you want your wife, if you want your husband, you aren’t going to be looking elsewhere.
Envy is perhaps the most dangerous of all three. Envy is a combination of covetousness and hatred for the person who has what you want. When you drive by a large, nice house and say, “That should be mine! They have no right to it!” That is envy. When you see the woman you wanted to marry or date with another man and say, “That jerk! She should be with me! He doesn’t deserve her.” That is envy.
Not only will you be discontent, but you will hold a grudge against the person you believe is standing in the way of getting what you want. I read on one of these internet forums a plea for help by a woman who had fallen in love with another woman’s husband. She wanted ideas on how to sabotage their marriage so she could have a chance at him. That is envy. She’s willing to injure or hurt the other woman–and possibly the man too–just to fulfill her own desires.
Envy is incredibly dangerous. It leads to bitterness and hatred towards other people. Avoid it at all cost.