There is a difference between envy and jealousy. Jealousy has to do with holding on to what you already have because you are afraid someone else is going to take it away. It requires three parties. Envy involves wanting what someone else has and is limited to two parties.
Envy began in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve. Jealousy quickly followed with their sons, Cain and Abel. God provided a paradise for Adam and Eve. Everything they needed was in Eden and they had dominion over their environment.
“And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” Genesis 2:16-17 (NKJV)
Enter the serpent! Genesis 3:1 defines the snake as, “more cunning than any beast of the field” and it planted the seed of discontent in Eve’s heart. This is not to downplay her sin, as she had the free will to ignore this creature and obey God’s command to not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
“Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.”
James 4:7 (NKJV)
Instead, Eve (and Adam) was envious of God. Their Maker could partake of this tree but they could not. They wanted what God had. They wanted to be like God. Adam and Eve resented God for placing restrictions on their existence. Their feeling of discontent and ill will grew into resentment because God had something they desired.
“Then the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’” Genesis 3:4-5 (NKJV)
God drove man out of paradise after this first sin. Yet, He continued to fellowship with them and eventually blessed Eve with her first two sons. Cain was the firstborn and “a tiller of the ground” while Abel was “a keeper of sheep.”
“And in the process of time, it came to pass that Cain brought an offering of the fruit of the ground to the Lord. Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat. And the Lord respected Abel and his offering, but He did not respect Cain and his offering. And Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell.” Genesis 4:3-5 (NKJV)
It appears that Cain’s offering was not the best of his harvest while Abel offered the firstborn or first fruit of his flock to honor God. God noticed the difference in their offerings and favored Abel’s sacrifice. This led to Cain’s anger and jealousy. He saw how God favored Abel and was jealous.
Jealousy is that unpleasant emotion you feel when you think someone is trying to take what is yours. Both Cain and Abel had a relationship with God. However, Cain feared he would lose this relationship with God and blamed Abel for this possibility. Jealousy involves wanting to hold on to what you already have, particularly a relationship. It indicates a feeling of resentment toward the person “advancing” and generally describes a sort of emotional rivalry between people.
God saw how Cain’s “countenance fell” and tried to reassure him of His love.
“So the Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it.’” Genesis 4:6 (NKJV)
Unfortunately, Cain did not heed God’s warning that sin was at his door and did not rule over it. Instead, he gave in to his jealousy and anger and allowed his feelings to rule over his heart.
“Now Cain talked with Abel his brother; and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him.” Genesis 4:8 (NKJV)
Sin has a downward spiral and Cain spun out fast! Jealousy, murder, and then lies were the acts of Eve’s firstborn. His sin caused the break in his relationship with God, not his brother’s offering.
“Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Where is Abel your brother?’ He said, ‘I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?’” Genesis 4:9 (NKJV)
We should learn from Cain. Jealousy will lead to more sin if it is not nipped in the bud.
“Wrath is cruel and anger a torrent, but who is able to stand before jealousy?” Proverbs 27:4 (NKJV)
We tend to list sin in degrees of offensiveness, thinking murder is far worse than jealousy, envy or lust. In the Old Testament, God applied different penalties to different sins, suggesting variations in the seriousness of some sins. But we forget the most important fact. Sin separates us from fellowship with God! Whether our sins are relatively small or great, they will still place us in hell apart from God’s grace.
If you struggle with envy or jealousy I suggest you follow the advice given in Philippians 4:8 and count your personal blessings. “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.”
Philippians 4:8 (NKJV)
Casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.”
2 Corinthians 10:15 (NKJV)