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Envy and Covetousness

Hard times tend to bring out either the best or the worst in people.  Most of the great leaders and heroes of history emerged because of the difficult circumstances in which they lived.  Likewise, many villains were made because of their poor choices or downright wicked behavior during times of crisis.  On a more common level, ordinary people reveal their hearts when unfortunate events occur and hard decisions have to be made.  Such times bring to light those who love God and love their neighbors and those who merely love themselves.

Unfortunately, the current economic climate has uncovered some of the worst traits of mankind, namely, envy and covetousness.  Both of these terms are somewhat old-fashioned words whose concepts are more commonly known as jealousy and greed in our modern language.  However, the old terms carry distinct meanings that are still useful for our understanding of the behavior of men today.  In this time of high-unemployment, government bailouts, "stimulus” plans, inflation, entitlement programs, outsourcing of jobs, public outrage, near-riots, and general economic uncertainty, envy and covetousness have reared their ugly heads all across our nation.

Envy is one of the strangest passions of man, for it is completely irrational and yet abundantly common.  Envy can be defined as a bad feeling that is aroused by someone else’s good fortune.  It is a purely selfish and evil motivation that cannot bring blessings to its owner.  It leads to foolish and sinful behaviors, such as when Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery (Gen. 37:11, 18-36; Acts 7:9) or when the Jews delivered Jesus to Pilate (Matt. 27:18; Mark 15:10).  These examples demonstrate the worst effects of envy, for envy provokes men to hatred and sometimes causes them to do harm to others.  Obviously, envy has no place in the life of a Christian, for it belongs among those sins that have been put away by all disciples of Jesus (Rom. 1:29; Gal. 5:19-21; Tit. 3:3).

Covetousness is closely related to envy and often arises because of envy.  Covetousness is an inordinate, unlawful desire for something that belongs to another.  In a sense, covetousness is envy focused on an object.  When one man envies another man because of a possession, and he desires to obtain that possession for himself, he has become covetous.  God has strongly condemned covetousness, including the Tenth Commandment given to Israel, which states, "You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife or his male servant or his female servant or his ox or his donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor” (Ex. 20:17).  The Lord Jesus also warned of this insidious passion in Luke 12:15 – "Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.”  In our age when success is often measured in terms of possessions, Christians must be especially careful not to become covetous.  Like envy, covetousness should not even be named among the saints of God (Eph. 5:3).

Both envy and covetousness are destructive to anyone who possesses them.  The Scriptures describe envy as "rottenness to the bones” (Prov. 14:30 KJV, NKJV, ASV).  This gives the idea of complete corruption that reaches down to the deepest part of a person like a destructive cancer.  Likewise, covetousness has a profoundly harmful effect on the whole life of a person, for obsession with possessions becomes the purpose of his life and a virtual religion.  Indeed, Colossians 3:5 equates covetousness to idolatry, for possessions become as idols and the desire for them becomes as idolatry.  When a person becomes covetous, he loses his relationship with God, for "no one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other.  You cannot serve God and wealth” (Matt. 6:24).

Therefore, let us avoid envy and covetousness as the sinful and destructive motives that they are.  In our time, there are many temptations to become envious and covetous, so let us beware.  We must not allow the abundance and prosperity of others become stumbling blocks for us.  We must not use cries for "fairness” as cover and excuses for our own envy and covetousness.  Even when men gain by unjust means, we are not justified in being envious of them or coveting their possessions, for the Scriptures command us not to envy the wicked (Ps. 37:1; 73:3; Prov. 24:1, 19).  As politicians make campaign promises to give us everything we want and make someone else pay for it, we must not be deceived by their rhetoric.  Taking away the possessions of others because of envy, covetousness, or any other reason is stealing, and stealing is always wrong (Ex. 20:15; Eph. 4:28).  Those who are driven by envy and covetousness may succeed in gaining the objects of their desire, but in the end they will lose their souls forever.

Stacey E. Durham



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