The Ten Commandments: The Tenth
In Anthony and Cleopatra (3:2) Shakespeare described it as the “green sickeness”. In Othello, he called it the “green eyed monster”.
Immanuel Kant described it thus: “inherent in the nature of man, and only its manifestation makes of it an abominable vice, a passion not only distressing and tormenting to the subject, but intent on the destruction of the happiness of others and one that is opposed to man’s duty towards himself as towards other people.”
It is listed as the fourth of the “Seven Deadly Sins”…
Perhaps, if you look honestly and deeply into your own heart, you will discover that you too are in fact “green” with it. What is it that you will find?
Is envy a peccadillo, or is it something more serious?
Dorothy Sayer, a believer in Christ, wrote: “Envy is the great leveler: If it cannot level things up, it will level them down…At its best, envy is a climber and a snob’ at its worst it is a destroyer-rather than have anyone happier than itself, it will see us all miserable together.” The Scriptures are replete with accounts of the destructive, even deadly impact of those who actions were based on envy. Just consider these familiar stories:
Joseph was envied by his brothers. You know what that cost Joseph…
In Thessalonica the Jews were “jealous” of Paul and Silas. They formed a mob, set the city into an uproar, and attacked the house of Jason.[i]
Pilate knew that the Jews had delivered Jesus to him out of envy.[ii]
It is arguable that the fall itself involved envy… The serpent said: For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."[iii] Can you hear the thinking? “Eve! God is holding out on you! He has something you don’t: the ability and the authority to determine (to know) what is good and evil. You want that don’t you? You deserve that don’t you?”
What then is the root of envy? Is it not pride? The belief that you are more important, more deserving than another? Or, simply that you, because you are so good, so important, deserve something? There-fore, when you see another’s success or good fortune you believe that you should have it and they shouldn’t. You might try to hide it by saying you are “dissatisfied” or that you “wish” things were different, but no matter what euphemisms you use, you are putting lipstick on a pig! You are bluntly: Envious!
Jealousy is used narrowly to refer to matters of the heart. Envy is used more broadly of a resentful contemplation of someone else’s good fortune. Both are forbidden by the 10th Commandment:
"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 is your neighbor's."[iv]
Coveting is wanting something that doesn’t belong to you. It is “an inordinate, ungoverned, selfish desire”.[v]
The Scriptures don’t treat envy as a peccadillo. It is a serious sin, with devastating consequences. The Apostle James describes it this way:
You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. And you are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask.[vi]
Jesus, when talking about sins that come from within, or out of the heart of man, and subsequently defile a man, lists “envy”. The Greek that lies behind the translation “envy” is actually “evil eye”.[vii] Envy is covetousness. Covetousness is forbidden in the 10th commandment. Jesus calls it having an “evil eye”. Apparently, God takes envy quite seriously!
So, what do we do? How does the believer fight the lusts of his/her own heart? Let me suggest several things:
- Consciously cultivate thankfulness. At the beginning of the horrible description of the downward spiral of sin in Romans 1:18-32 we find the failure to give thanks to God.[viii] Thankfulness requires humility: “You gave me something I could not do myself or that I did not deserve – Thank you!” Humility is the antithesis of thinking that you “deserve” something!
- Count it all joy when you meet trials of various kinds. James tell us that it is the testing of our faith the brings us to our “telos” or goal – that we might be perfect lacking in nothing.[ix]
- Recognize that contentment is a process. Paul wrote: “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.”[x] It is the hard times, the lean times, the times of suffering, that teach us to be content. It is a process. God is sanctifying you. This is why we are called view our live circumstances differently. The most important thing is being conformed to the image of Christ NOT getting what “we want”.
- Preach the gospel to yourself. You have all things that pertain to life and godliness.[xi] He will never leave you nor forsake you, therefore you can be content with what you have, what He has already given you.[xii]
Envy will consume you. Repent of it. Seek God’s help. Reckon yourself dead to sin and alive to Christ. Recognize that all you need is Christ. If your are His you find yourself in Psalm 65:4: Blessed is the one you choose and bring near, to dwell in your courts! We shall be satisfied with the goodness of your house, the holiness of your temple!
Martin B. Blocki has served since 2003 as the Associate Pastor of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North Hills in Pittsburgh, PA since 2002. He is a counselor at the Biblical Counseling Institute in Pittsburgh. Rev. Blocki graduated from Indiana University, Bloomington (BME), Arizona State University (MM), and the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary (MDiv). Martin and his wife, Kathy, have two married sons, one daughter, and four grandchildren.
[i] Acts 17:5
[ii] Matthew 27:17-18
[iii] Gen 3:4-5
[iv] Exodus 20:17
[v] Bibleworks: Brown Driver Briggs Hebrew Lexicon.
[vi] James 4:2
[vii] Mark 7:22
[viii] Romans 1:21
[ix] James 1:2-4
[x] Philippians 4:11
[xi] 2 Peter 1:3
[xii] Hebrews 13:5