The jealous and the zealous are related. Our English word jealous comes down to us from a Greek word, ζῆλος (zealos, meaning strong desire or zeal. Middle English and French chewed this Greek word and gave us a pair. We usually clothe jealousy with dark colors, referring to someone with a strong desire for what someone else has. It describes a man who is envious of his brother’s good fortune or suspicious of his resources. The jealous want another’s possessions or position or popularity.
James wrote, “if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth” (James 3:14). There are visible consequences to this sort of zeal: “where jealousy and selfish ambition exist there will be disorder and every vile practice” (verse 16). He describes jealousy as “earthy, unspiritual, demonic” (verse 15). It quickly leads to quarrels and fights and wars (4:1-2).
Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery because they were jealous (Acts 7:9). The High Priest and other Jewish leaders arrested the apostles because they were jealous (Acts 5:17-18). Solomon asked rhetorically, “Wrath is cruel, anger is overwhelming, but who can stand before jealousy” (Proverbs 27:4). In other words, who can surf Pinterest and not be drowned by the wave of envy?
That said, God also revealed that He is jealous for His name (Ezekiel 39:25); His very name is Jealous (Exodus 34:14). He is jealous for His people (Joel 2:18; Zechariah 1:14, 8:2). It’s appropriate for husbands to be jealous for their wives.
What makes jealousy either demonic or divine? Our hearts. What are we afraid to lose? Are we zealous for what is right or are we zealous to define what is right? Do we want what we want because we want to conform to reality or because we want to conform reality to our perceived rights? One is heavenly, the other hellish, and we need to confess any wrong we find before battle breaks out.