Envy and Covetousness PDF Print E-mail


The sin of envy is not much talked about in our day. Actually, it is so ignored that one feels this sin doesn’t even exist and as a result, we have allowed this vice to thrive in our midst. The feeling of envy is thought to be as natural as feeling hungry and by failing to check its growth it has put down strong roots in our society and what we find, is that we are now in the clutches of a devouring monster. What is envy? It is a feeling of resentment towards those who have what you do not have. Anyone who is more favoured than yourself (whether it be economically or in some other way), is hated and this hatred produces the desire to see them deprived of these things. Envy is not only grieving about the advantages that another has, but in its mature stage includes wanting to destroy that person and his advantages, i.e., hating his success. Usually when the envious destroy those they hate, there is no chance that they will benefit personally from it—what motivates them is not the desire for personal gain, but merely to see the destruction of that person who, in some way, is better off than themselves.

Proverbs 27:4 says, “Who is able to stand before envy?” The clear implication is that no one can, for while envy might include wrath and anger, its actual outworking is worse than these. At the very centre of Satan’s being exists this vile corruption of envy. There is nothing more opposed to love and justice, than envy: it is the characteristic that is furthest removed from the character of God and thus utterly destroys the possibility of having fellowship with Him. We not only see this illustrated, but are made aware of the destructive consequences of envy in a number of different places in Scripture.

Moses was envied by his brethren in Egypt before the Exodus. He had been raised up and sent by God to deliver Israel from Egyptian bondage, however, the reception he received from those he was sent to deliver was resentment, i.e., envy. Pharaoh, the king of Egypt had set his heart on tyrannising the Israelites, thus God sent Moses to their aid, yet the Israelites sought to destroy Moses (Acts 7:23-29). There is no rational explanation for the way the Jews reacted towards Moses. They hated him because they envied him and the envious will use whatever means they can to destroy the privileged positions of those whom they envy. Moses, a high ranking official in Pharaoh’s household, clearly and unashamedly identified himself as the slaves’ helper. When he killed the Egyptian it was proof that he had turned his back upon the privileges of Egypt (Heb.11:24-27), yet the slaves saw this as an opportunity to destroy him. There was nothing that they would personally gain if Moses was brought down. Actually, in any way you look at it, by destroying Moses, they could only hope to add to their own misery. Moses was the only person on the Jews’ side, who was in a position within the state to realistically ease the harsh policies towards them. He was a very powerful man politically and it was quite possible that he would have been the next Pharaoh. Here we see the ripe fruit of envy: there was nothing for the Jews to gain by destroying Moses, but due to envy (because he was better off than they were), they wanted to destroy him, even if that meant increasing their own suffering.

Why did Joseph’s brothers want to destroy him? They hated him because they perceived his position in life would be greater than theirs (Gen.37:11,18). His position was not something that they could have taken for themselves, yet they desired to kill him. The secret wish of the envious person is murder, because this is the most sure way, they think, that they can prevent someone from being better than themselves.

Christ too was murdered by those who envied Him (Mk.15:10,13). There was no way those who envied Christ were going to attain the following or position that He had. Their hatred for Him and their desire to kill Him was because He had something that they didn’t and couldn’t have.

Envy is possibly the most dangerous of all sins. It’s a cancer dwelling in the depths of our being that will devour everything that is good. The seed of envy (each envious thought is a sin), which starts small, has one objective—maturity and when allowed to mature in someone’s life, they will desire destruction for those who are perceived to be better off than they are.

Envy tries to camouflage itself with terms like ‘equality’, but this is merely envy in fancy dress. We allow vile sins in our days by decorating them, so they appear “modern” and acceptable, but to tolerate envy in your heart is like allowing a malignant cancer to dwell in your most vital organs—it means certain death. That is why we are told to keep our heart with all diligence for out of it are the issues of life (Prov.4:23). To tolerate envy in your own heart and think you can control its growth, is madness—you cannot, because envy is a master and a destroyer. It attacks the conscience and will eventually rot it completely: envy is the “rottenness of the bones” (Prov.14:30), rotting from the inside to the outside till all is putrefied.

When envious people hate the virtues or upright principles manifested in someone’s life, they are not wanting to be virtuous and upright themselves. They are not trying to imitate those good qualities, but are wanting to remove the very idea of integrity and uprightness. Why? They want to rid themselves of the virtuous example because it exposes their own lack. The coward wants the courageous person to be destroyed; the sluggard wants the diligent hard worker to be crushed; the dishonest person wants the honest person to be defiled; etc.

When envy dominates a community where the people have comparable incomes, then it is extremely difficult for someone from within that community to lift themselves out of that community economically. The envious community will not allow “one of their kind” to rise to a position (whether in income or stature) that is higher than theirs. Someone once confessed, “Whenever a friend succeeds, a little something in me dies”. This is envy—it’s resentment and it’s death.

The only way to account for envy is to see it as God does: a result of sin and corruption that rots the very core of a person’s being. It is out of this rotting mess that the envious plan how to relate to and deal with the people they envy. To tolerate envy is to sell your soul to the devil himself, for in time, the person who entertains it (in whatever form) will sink ever deeper into its festering pool whereby they will believe, say and do what is utterly perverse. They will stand against every thing that is virtuous and that they previously said was virtuous. The envious have rational “justifications” for their feelings of displeasure and hatred towards those they envy and explain why such people ought to be despised and destroyed. Envy removes a people’s commitment towards real justice because when you delight in the misfortunes of others, you don’t care if this comes about through state organised injustice. No matter how small the manifestation of envy is in your own life, you must confess it as a despicable and dangerous sin (gossip also fits in here because it can destroy a person’s reputation). We are not to find pleasure in the misfortunes of others, or tolerate feelings of resentment towards them merely because they are better off in some way than we are. If we do not deal ruthlessly with this sin in our own lives, it will mature to the place where we hate people because of their happiness and success. Love, on the other hand, seeks to advance the success and reputation of one’s neighbour, friend or employer, for the glory of God.

Distinct from, though closely related to the sin of envy, is the sin of covetousness. While the focus of envy is not upon the envious person enriching themselves in some way, the covetous person has his own personal advancement as the primary motivating drive for all that he does. The covetous person has one supreme desire towards which his whole life is directed and that is the accumulation of wealth. This consumes his mind, affections and energy, but one has to ask, “How much is enough?” (Prov.27:20; 30:15; Eccl.5:10). Where is satisfaction found in this life? Only by resting in the goodness of God (Jer.31:14; 1 Tim.6:6)—certainly not in the abundance of wealth and the increase of possessions. The covetous person will do anything to satisfy his inordinate lusting after goods and wealth, even being prepared to do what is evil in his futile attempt to satisfy what cannot be satisfied. To give your heart and life to wealth in this way is nothing but idolatry (Col.3:5) —a great pollution of the spirit. You might be wealthy in worldly terms and say you have all you desire, but if wealth is your god, there will be real leanness in your soul (Ps.106:15). The covetous person boasts about what he has, feeling nothing about adding to it by devising ever more corrupt means, but the God who observes it all, is forever the God of justice (Ps.10). While covetousness eventually leads to perverse actions, it begins in the heart (Exodus 20:17). When people tolerate wrong feelings towards that which belongs to others, they are on the path to acquiring that property in an unlawful way. Covetousness is likened to idolatry because it makes something other than the true God the ultimate focus in life. This “other thing” is usually the individual himself, because covetousness is ultimately an expression of dissatisfaction with God’s provision and order in this world, saying instead, that whatever we lust for we ought to have and it makes no difference how we get it. When Ahab coveted Naboth’s vineyard, nothing could restrain him from taking what he wanted—even if it meant perverting justice and murdering Naboth (1 Kings 21). Violence is a close ally of covetousness (Jer.22:17; Micah 2:2; Hab.2:9,10). Thus, a fundamental requirement for national leaders is that they hate covetousness (Ex.18:21)—we have neglected this requirement to our own peril! When people reject God’s Word, they are not only without wisdom, but will be consumed with covetousness and thus prepared to be false in their dealings, i.e., fraudulent (Jer.8:9,10). It was covetousness that destroyed Achan and his household (Joshua 7:21).

The way to deal with covetousness in one’s own life is to trust God’s Fatherly provision and care for us and to live by every Word that proceeds from His mouth. This means when we wish to advance ourselves, it must be done in accordance with His Word and for the primary purpose of serving His Kingdom. If these are not fundamentals in our thinking and living, then we will be setting ourselves upon the path of entertaining inordinate affections towards possessions and wealth. If we want something just because we want it or because we believe we deserve it, that is idolatry. Remember, we exist for only one reason—God’s glory and pleasure, thus to put our own pleasure or glory above that, is idolatry. We are not to covet because one of the foundations in God’s world is respecting the property of others. When this is not ingrained into the thinking of a society, then that society will act in a way that encourages covetousness and violent theft. If we are not dealing with covetousness in the lives of our children then we will be raising a generation that will think nothing of using violence and fraud to take other people’s possessions. Later generations will act out the sins that the previous generation tolerated in their thoughts. Fearing God, being self-governed, seeking true justice and working hard, are the only things that will give a future to any society. When a society allows the covetous to lead them, it is because they are themselves covetous and when they tolerate envy they are a society that is already decomposing. Without Christ we will never be able to deal with these deep sins of the heart. Only He can deliver us from self-destruction. The longer our nation hates God and His righteousness, the closer we get to annihilating ourselves—for all they who hate God, love death (Prov.8:36). The disintegration we see around us is from our lusting after dishonest gain and perverting everything that is righteous, just and sane—this is suicide! We cannot despise God and His eternal law and hope to survive. Proof that a society is full of rottenness is seen when they not only think they can despise God and survive, but think they can despise God and thrive. This is delusion and death and the only solution is to embrace Christ as Lord and Saviour, seek His forgiveness for our rebellion and then live by every Word from His mouth. It must all start in our own lives, by us dealing ruthlessly with our own envy and covetousness. May the Lord have mercy upon us and our nation.

Think about these things!

Derek Carlsen

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