A tree is known by its fruits, and in this passage (Galatians 5:19-23) Paul lists the works of the flesh contrasted to the fruits of the Spirit. Paul here lists sins of sensuality, idolatry and of personal relations. Of the later, he names eight sins, of which our word "jealousy" or "emulation" (KJV) is a part.
Jealousy is from the Greek word zelos, which literally means "to boil." It should be noted that each of the works of the flesh has a proper and improper usage in the Christian life. So it is with our word. One can be jealous in a legitimate way or illegitimate way. The word has good uses as in Exodus 20:5 (God is a jealous God), and 2 Corinthians 11:2-3, while negative uses such as in our passage, and in 2 Corinthians 12:20, "For I fear lest, when I come, I shall not find you such as I wish, and [that] I shall be found by you such as you do not wish; lest [there] [be] contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, backbitings, whisperings, conceits, tumults." Notice that this is a listing of sins similar to that of Galatians 5.
If the "zelos" moves one in their ambition toward goodness, then we might say this was a work of the spirit. But, if to bitterness, resentment, etc., then of the flesh. It is this way in which our word is here used. Here in Galatians 5, it is clearly used in the later sense, seeing that "those who practice such shall not inherit the kingdom of God" (5:21).
The English word "jealous" and its cognates occur 41 times in the NKJV, with 8 of those being in the New Testament, although the word is translated differently and used in countless other passages, being rendered as envy, zeal, etc.
Strong defines our word as:
How does jealousy then differ from the envy of vs 21? William Barclay offers this distinction between jealousy and envy (vs 21): "Zelos" is the envy which casts grudging looks whereas "phthonos" is the envy which has arrived at hostile deeds. We might also add this distinction: "zelos" is less serious, less bitter, less malignant than "phthonos" But "zelos", left unchecked, can result in "phthonos." Whereas "zelos" has both a good and bad sense, "phthonos" is always bad. The distinction has been blurred however by many modern translations which have rendered the word "envy" as "jealous."
In our materialistic world, jealousy is a common place attribute. It spans the spectrum from the poor to the rich indiscriminately. It can be said of sinners in the world as well as members of the church. But have we really thought about just how soul damning jealousy really is? Look at the list of sins this one is sandwiched between! God places it in the same list as murder, adultery, idolatry, etc. In fact, jealousy can be the first step towards these other sins which we typically think of as "big sins!". One of the tragic features about "the works of the flesh" is that they seldom appear singly in the heart. One who is infected with the virus of carnality often develops a variety of symptoms, not all of which are external and readily visible. This can be seen in the fact that strife and jealousies are often mentioned together, Romans 13:13; 1 Corinthians 3:3; 2 Corinthians 12:20.
It has been observed that a powerful test of one's character is his reaction to the greatness and success of others. Jealousy never allows one to "rejoice with those who rejoice" (Romans 12:15), but rather makes them miserable while others rejoice. This will lead invariably to envy, and Paul plainly said in 1 Corinthians 13:4 that "love does not envy." We may find ourselves not only unable to rejoice with someone who has reason to rejoice, but end up actually speaking evil of that person and despising him! All because they were blessed!
The wise man said in Proverbs 14:30, "A sound heart is life to the body, But envy is rottenness to the bones." Not only will jealousy and envy make one bitter and rotten in their own spirit, but they can easily rob the one who has reason for rejoicing from their deserved happiness as well.
One preacher related this story:
"I heard one sad example from a brother who went to visit some old college friends (also Christians) whose business had blossomed and brought them great financial gain. When he visited in their expansive house (bought with that financial gain), he commented how he was happy for them in their success. The wife broke down and cried, asking him if he really meant it! Why? Because no one had ever said that to them - not even their own brethren where they worshipped!"
To this end of being happy with the fortunes and blessings of others, someone has well said:
Even when it is not mine
And though it never mine can be
Yet it delights and gladdens me
We must be careful in receiving blessings as well, that we don't provoke others to jealousy. Just as we should rejoice in the blessings of others, we should be humble in our own, lest we stir a spirit of jealousy in others.
Though this certainly is a damnable sin, some have been falsely accused in regards to this. That is, we may try to show someone that they are guilty of some sin or error. The one confronted may turn around and say we are "just jealous." And true, we must make certain we are not. We may try to warn someone that their mate or "steady" is cheating on them, only to be told we are "just jealous." This accusation then has been used as a form of denial and a refusal to deal with real problems. The one making such an accusation (that we are "just jealous") may not realize it, but they have actually accused us of sin, seeing that jealousy is here named as such.
This has also become a scapegoat for error in preaching. By this I mean I have been told numerous times, when I would warn of some other preacher (whether it be doctrinal or moral error in their lives), "You are just jealous of him." True, these may have numerous conversions ... hold lots of meetings ... have more hair on their head than I do, or whatever. BUT, if they are preaching false doctrine, or more often, holding up the hands of others who do, then perhaps it is not a sinful jealousy here that moves me, but rather a "godly jealousy" that we may be able to present a pure bride to Christ.
As Paul said:
"Oh, that you would bear with me in a little folly--and indeed you do bear with me. For I am jealous for you with godly jealousy. For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present [you] [as] a chaste virgin to Christ. But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. For if he who comes preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or [if] you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted--you may well put up with it!" (2 Corinthians 11:1-4).
The answer to this problem is putting to death the flesh, Galatians 2:20, "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me." If we are jealous, we are still alive to self and to sin, for a dead man can be jealous of nothing.
Second, we must realize we are all members of the same body, 1 Corinthians 12:26. "And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with [it]; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it." The eye is not jealous of the hand, nor should I as a member of Christ's body, the church, be jealous of a gift or talent or blessing that someone else possesses that perhaps I do not. It could be that they applied themselves to receive it more than I, and if I were to so apply myself, I might as well.
Third, we must learn to be content with what we have. The Bible teaches us to count our blessings, and not other people's blessings, 1 Thessalonians 5:18, "In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you." Jealousy comes in part from ingratitude, another sin...thus putting one's soul in double jeopardy. The jealous heart considers everyone else's blessing a curse to himself. On the other hand, Paul said, "giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ," Ephesians 5:20. Some forgotten poet has worded the danger of counting our bruises rather than our blessings in this :
It is filled with sorrows and woes
He hasn't thought how content he could be
By counting the blessings God bestows
With all of this in mind, it is certainly no wonder the Bible declares that "jealousy [is] as cruel as the grave." Song of Solomon 8:6; and that "jealousy is the rage of man", Proverbs 6:34. Let us strive to be humbly grateful for the gifts which God has so richly blessed us with, rather then being grumbly hateful over what he has not (yet). Paul said in Hebrews 13:5, "Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, 'I will never leave you nor forsake you.'"