The word “jealousy” has mostly negative connotations when used in the English language today. When someone is said to be jealous of another person, people generally understand that the description is a character flaw. Is this what the Bible teaches?
According to the Bible, jealousy can be sinful or righteous depending on the relationship and circumstances involved. Unholy jealousy results in envy, slander, and hate. Holy jealousy is protective, responsible, and faithful to God. Exodus 34:15 even teaches that one of God’s names is Jealous.
When is jealousy wrong according to the Bible? When is jealousy right according to the Bible? What verses support this teaching? Keep reading to learn the answers to these questions and others.
Also see Is the Law of Attraction Sinful? to learn more about the Bible’s teaching.
When is jealousy wrong according to the Bible?
The primary definition of jealousy in modern English describes its negative expression: “Feeling or showing envy of someone or their achievements and advantages” (Oxford Languages).
An example of this type of jealousy is often found among youth when one friend is said to be jealous of a peer because they are giving some or all of their attention to someone else.
Why is jealousy among friends sinful? Jealousy in friendships is often the result of self-centeredness. It occurs when one person desires the undivided attention of another.
When the other person’s attention is split, or given to someone else entirely, it can make someone feel hurt, lonely, and even betrayed. Insecurities also play a role in jealousy, as the person who has lost someone’s attention wonders, “What is wrong with me? What did I do?”
Where does unholy jealousy lead? Jealousy in friendships sometimes leads to other sins like envy, slander, gossip, and even hatred. These characteristics don’t honor God or obey his commandment to love other people. Unholy jealousy can also occur within a family among siblings, at work among co-workers, and at church among fellow Christians.
Is trying to make another person jealous a sin? Yes. Deliberately ignoring someone is unloving. Trying to cause another person to sin is sinful. If there are problems in a relationship, both parties need to address them in a manner that honors God. Seeking wisdom from a third party is often helpful in these situations.
What should a person do if they are feeling jealous? If a believer senses that they are experiencing unholy jealousy, they should confess their wrongdoing to God (1 John 1:9). They should then consider whether they did or said something wrong to change the relationships.
While this may not necessarily be the case, sometimes relationships change because one person did or said something hurtful or offensive, and seeking forgiveness can mend the rupture.
If nothing was said or done to cause distance in a relationship, then a person must work to find their sufficiency and identity in God. Christians must find their value and worth in their relationship with God, not in who they know, what they have achieved, or what they possess.
Also see Is Suicide A Sin? to learn more about the Bible’s teaching.
Bible verses about unholy jealousy
- Genesis 30:1, “When Rachel saw that she bore Jacob no children, she envied her sister. She said to Jacob, ‘Give me children, or I shall die!'”
- James 3:16, “For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.”
- 1 Corinthians 13:4, “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant”
- Galatians 5:19-21, “Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”
- 1 Corinthians 3:13, “For you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way?”
Jealousy: The Greek and Hebrew words for jealousy “refer to an exclusive single-mindedness of emotion which may be morally blameworthy or praiseworthy depending on whether the object of the jealousy is the self or some cause beyond the self” (New Bible Dictionary, p. 544)
Also see What Is the Sin of Sloth? to learn more about the Bible’s teaching.
When is jealousy right according to the Bible?
Jealousy has a positive expression, according to the Bible. In certain contexts, jealousy is holy, righteous, and the absence of it may be sinful. Exodus 34:14 teaches that one of God’s names is Jealous: “For you shall worship no other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.”
Why is Jealous one of God’s names? The name Jealous describes God’s single-minded devotion to his will, his plan, and his people.
God forbids people from chasing after other gods and devoting themselves to idols because he wants and deserves people’s undivided allegiance. When people mimic God’s holy jealousy they are choosing holiness and righteousness.
God’s “jealousy does not rise from fear or weakness but from a holy indignation at having His honor and power and mercy scorned by the faithlessness of a fickle spouse.” ~ Pastor John Piper
What is the context of holy jealousy in the Bible? Holy jealousy describes God’s faithful commitment to his people. In the context of human relationships, holy jealousy is often applied to marriage. A husband should expect single-minded devotion from their wife, and a wife should expect the same.
Single-minded devotion doesn’t mean that spouses don’t have any friends outside of marriage, yet holy matrimony implies an intimate, private, and exclusive relationship.
Pastor Sam Storms writes, “What would we think of a man or woman who does not experience jealous feelings when another person approaches his or her spouse and threatens to win his or her affection? We would regard such a person as deficient in moral character and lacking in true love.” (Pleasures Evermore: The Life-Changing Power of Knowing God, p. 302)
Also see Did Jesus Sin? to learn more about the Bible’s teaching.
Bible verses about holy jealousy
- 2 Corinthians 11:2, “For I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ.”
- 1 Kings 19:10, “He said, “I have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.”
- Exodus 20:5, “You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me”
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