Envy vs Coveting
For he was aware that the chief priests had handed Him over because of envy. Mark 15:10
Jesus had just been delivered to Pilate. Pilate had examined Him, deemed Him innocent of any charges worthy of punishment of any kind, let alone crucifixion, and had tried to let Him go because he knew their "charge" was envy. When Pilate asked them what he should do with Him, they cried "Crucify Him!"
Envy. It cost Jesus His life, and drove them to brutality and torture bordering on insanity.
The Greek word translated here as "envy" is "phthoinos." The definition is "Envy, jealousy, pain felt and malignaty conceived at the sight of excellence or happiness. It is incapable of good and always is used with an evil meaning." Conversely, the Greek word translated in the New Testament as covet is defined as "to turn upon a thing, to have a desire for, long for, to desire, to lust after, covet, of those who seek things forbidden." The definition of the Hebrew word translated as "covet" in the Old Testament is "to desire, covet, take pleasure in, delight in, to desire, to be desirable, to delight greatly, desire greatly, desirableness, preciousness."
Note that with envy, you may or may not be talking about stuff. In our flagship verse, Pilate knew their envy was about who Jesus is, not about what He possesses. They envy His greatness, His peace, His joy, His obvious relationship with the Father. They had Him crucified because of what He possessed, all right, but not because of His possessions. Before Jesus came, they were the Top Dogs in the park. They now knew this was no longer the case. They envied His greatness. They envied His powers of healing and other miracles. They didn't deny them (see Matthew 27:41-42)- they envied them with evil intent.
When we covet, we want something "greatly." However, note that the word covet does not imply that you harbor any mal-intent toward your neighbor who has what you want. You don't wish him ill-will, and you don't wish he didn't have it. You just wish you did. Fairly benign, it would seem.
So if the word "envy" has evil intent and the word "covet" does not, why did God use the word "covet" in the Ten Commandments rather than the word "envy?"
I submit it is because the focus of the word "envy" is the other person. The focus of the word "covet," however, is God. To covet something says that God's provision for me and his decisions on my behalf are insufficient. His judgment is lacking, or He's not paying attention. To covet is to disagree with God about what you should have, and God cares more about your relationship with Him than He does your relationship with others. He wants you to trust Him
For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater (underline mine), has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Ephesians 5:5
So you're saying that if I want something badly that I don't have, I'm an idolater?? No, I'm not. Paul is. And therefore, God is. And you don't even have to harbor any ill-will toward those who have what you don't.
Idolatry. Hmm... So if I greatly want something I don't have, I'm actually disobeying two of the Ten Commandments? It would seem that way. But there's more...
...by what a man is overcome, by this he is enslaved. 2 Peter 2:19b
Paul refers to himself repeatedly as a "bond-servant of Christ." His focus on Jesus is absolute for a very good reason.
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. Matthew 6:24
Coveting says "What I have isn't good enough, and I want more, or I want something else." Getting stuff becomes increasingly important, and it never seems to be enough. Mammon was the name of the god of money, and coveting can become an act of Mammon worship. It can become an idol, slowly replacing God as the focus of your life, and you can't serve two masters. Mammon-worship replaces God-worship. A billionaire was asked "How much money will be enough?" He responded "Just a little more."
The examples God used in the Ten Commandments were all material or otherwise personal possessions, and that's the point. The fact that someone else has what I want is not the point. My wanting it is the point. How do I know that? Because the Hebrew and the Greek words selected by God say so.
For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things. Philippians 3:18-19
Other translations say "Their god is their stomach," or "Their god is their belly." In other words, their god is their lust for anything of this earth. Paul called it idolatry. What's your god? What do you greatly want that God hasn't provided?
But what's this all got to do with Mental Health?
..for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:18b
But godliness is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment. For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content. 1 Timothy 6:6-8
Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy. 1 Timothy 6:17
Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory. Colossians 3:2, 4
Eternity. Contentment. Joy. Hope. Godly riches. Glory in Christ.
If you had these things deep in your heart, do you think your mood would lift? Do you think you'd be happier? Whenever you covet, you rob yourself of these blessings from God. When you covet, you take your eyes off of things above, and put them on things of the earth. Envy then adds to coveting the destruction of relationships and internal pain that comes with evil intent. It gets worse and worse. God wants to relieve you from all of that discontentment, to nip it in the bud, and to protect you from the slippery slope into envy. Worship Him only, throw off the needs of this world, crave things eternal rather than things temporal, and the blessings of God will pour over you like a waterfall.
Love your neighbor. Love that he has what he has as his provision from God, and love what you have as yours, regardless of the apparent disparity. Stop wanting what they have. Stop wanting what you don't have. Stop disagreeing with God as to whether or not you should have it, and you'll finally understand the contentment that God is talking about in 1 Timothy 6.
Rest in the provision of God. Keep your eyes on things above. Love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength and the blessings of God (whether they be material, spiritual, in relationships, in ministry opportunities, in good health or a whole raft of others) will pour out of heaven as a flood-gate. If you feel yourself greatly desirous of something you don't have, remember that God is all you really need, and anything else He provides to you is a blessing and a gift to be honored as such, appreciated, and humbled by.
Revel in Him and Him alone, and you'll find your joy.
May all the blessings of God enrich your life.
Note: I have added a video to my website on this topic where I teach from the book of Numbers. Click here if you are interested in this recording.