I’ve often thought about how the Israelites - especially the Pharisees - tried their best to follow God’s Law, particularly the Ten Commandments. We give the Pharisees a hard time today, but in all honesty: how could you blame them for their zeal to do what was right?
They had seen their nation fall into the same cycle over and again for centuries: idolatry and sin, then God pleading with them to stop, they ignore Him, then to get their attention, God allows a foreign nation to come and wipe them out, then they finally come to their senses and repent, then God rescues them, they make promises of their fidelity and commitment, they keep the promises for awhile, then they fall into sin again. Over and over and over.
I can hear the Pharisees now: “That will NEVER happen again, not on our watch! We’ll follow every law meticulously! We’ll even go above and beyond what was written!”
Of course, that got ugly. The heart that God desired was replaced with a strict moralism that was devoid of relationship and filled with self-justification. Although it started with good intentions, it turned into a cold, harsh, self-validating list of Do’s and Don'ts.
Which takes us to the Ten Commandments. The Pharisees were meticulous about them:
1- They worshipped no other gods, only the One True God.
2- Never carved an image - not after the Golden Calf incident!
3- They never took the Lord’s name in vain - never said it at all!
4- They kept the Sabbath - didn’t even take too many STEPS.
5- They honored Mom and Dad.
6- Of course, they didn’t kill anyone.
7- Of course, they didn’t commit adultery.
8- They didn’t steal.
9- They didn’t bear false witness.
All of these commands can be outwardly proven - at least, in claim. The first nine Commandments can be outwardly justified, to a large degree.
But that last one? Not so much: “You shall not covet.”
Yikes. That one is not as easily proven. Coveting is INTERNAL. Envy takes place on the inside, where no one can see it. Murder, adultery, even honoring your parents: all of those can be seen outwardly, but covetousness takes place in your heart. How can you prove that to anyone?
It’s flat-out brilliant that God made this the last of the Ten. Right when everyone thought they were in the clear, God hits them with the Tenth Commandment, one that runs inescapably deep into our hearts, and reveals how deep ALL the Commandments run. God nailed us with the Commandment not to covet, which is still relevant to this day.
Coveting and envy are based on the myth that you have to have more to be happy. Envy causes us to celebrate in our minds when others fail, causes us to constantly size people up, causes us to think that a little more will do the trick. But the “little more” never delivers, does it?
All of us deal with this, right? It’s impossible not to. So what do we do? What’s the answer?
The antidote to covetousness and envy is GRATITUDE.
Envy looks at others and says “Why them? Why do they deserve that? That should be me!”
Gratitude says “Why me? Why did God give me this? I’m blessed because I don’t deserve what I have!”
I love The Message translation of 1 Corinthians 4:7-8 - “Isn’t everything you have and everything you are sheer gifts from God? So what’s the point of all this comparing and competing? You already have all you need.”
Lord, I want my life to be lived in constant gratitude for the undeserved blessing you’ve given me. Forgive me for my covetous heart, and help me to combat any envy with the antidote of gratitude. You’ve already given me more than I could ever need, practically and spiritually!