Jealousy and Envy
Jealousy and envy differ. We often say that we are jealous when we are actually envious. Both jealousy and envy concern the possession of something — an object, a situation, a quality, a relationship with a person, etc. — and both can be selfish or unselfish. Even so, they come at possession from opposite directions. In general, jealousy concerns the loss of what one has, and envy concerns one's not having what one wants. Jealousy often arises in personal relationships, and it concerns whether I want to hold on to the "object" of jealousy either for my sake or for the sake of the "object." Envy ranges more widely than jealousy, because it concerns what one does not have. The object of my envy could be anything — material objects, status, a relationship, traits, etc.
Human jealousy and envy are typically selfish. Selfish jealousy is characterized, in progressive stages, by ingratitude, fear, mistrust, and anger. Selfish envy is characterized, in progressive stages, by ingratitude, resentment, anger, and the desire to take from another what is not one's own. Selfish jealousy and selfish envy are, like all selfishness, destructive to relationships. They are also painful when the Lord's Spirit convicts us of them.
Unselfish jealousy is free of the defects of selfish jealousy. An object or relationship must truly be yours in order for you to be unselfishly jealous about losing it. You must be also concerned about losing it for the sake of the (good of the) object or relationship. The unselfishly jealous God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Jesus meets these conditions (see Ex. 20:4-5, 34:13-14; Deut. 4:24, 5:9, 6:15; cf. 2 Cor. 11:2.) The Lord of heaven and earth is unselfish in His jealous love, anger, and judgment. We are properly His, and He does not want us to perish by rejecting Him. God does not try to hold on to us just for His sake; He does so for our own good. His jealous anger, stemming from His jealous love, does no harm to us. It seeks, out of unselfish love, to reclaim what is rightfully His for the sake of His creatures. God has done all He can to demonstrate His unselfishly jealous love for us. In obedient love for his Father, Jesus gave up his life for us to demonstrate his Father's love for us and thereby to invite us in to friendship with his Father (see Rom. 5:8-11).
Selfish jealousy, characterized by selfish fear, is an indicator of idolatrous attachment. Either I fear losing something that I should not properly consider "mine" in the first place, or I fear losing it for my own selfish sake, or both. In such attachment, I become more concerned about what I will lose than what is good for another. In committed sacred relationships, there is a sense in which I may consider my beloved "mine" but only as one who has been given to me as a gift from God. This claim to my beloved must never be understood to override the claim God has on him or her. It is only because my beloved has been given to me by God that he or she is mine at all. My beloved and our relationship are gifts from God, not something I have earned. Selfish jealousy misses this truth, and results in frantic efforts to "keep" a gift that one fears losing.
Unselfish envy identifies in others their God-given gifts and seeks also to receive them as gifts from God. It is not harmful or spiteful. It does not resent that others have what they do, but rather gives thanks for the gifts in others. Unselfish envy trusts that God gives according to His good and perfect will. There is no harm, for instance, in admiring the gifts given the apostle Paul and even hoping that God might use me similarly for His glory. In unselfish envy, however, I will leave it in God's hands what gifts He gives me and how they are to be used.
Selfish envy is concerned not with God's glory, but with my glory. I want gifts in order to benefit and to promote my own interests. I thus respond in grudging anger and resentment to others who have what I want. In selfish envy I want for myself what others have, and I am willing to put myself above them, at the expense of God's unselfish love. What I selfishly envy is thus a sign of idolatrous attachment. It suffocates gratitude. I cannot be properly grateful for what I do have while I am busy being resentful for what I do not. Ingratitude harms and even precludes our receiving God's offer of friendship. This freely given friendship is the greatest gift a person can be offered. There is, in the end, nothing else worth envying. With Paul as our example in Jesus, we should consider all of our own achievements as loss: "... whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ" (Phil. 3:7-8, NIV).
Receiving the friendship of God with trust and obedience is the remedy for selfish forms of jealousy and envy and for idolatry in general. This friendship alone makes idols pointless and even repulsive. I should unselfishly envy those who have received it, and I should unselfishly want it. Gratitude for what the Lord has already given me is the first step in receiving His friendship. I should not selfishly fear losing Him (Rom. 8:38-39) or anyone He has given me; nor should I resent not having what is not mine. In the end, all things are mine in receiving friendship with the Lord of heaven and earth (see Rom. 8:32; 1 Cor 3:21; 2 Cor 9:8).
I have nothing,
not even breath.
I have nothing.
I lack nothing,
not even breath.
I have everything.
Let me be Yours,