God asks us an interesting question: “Do ye think that the scripture saith in vain, The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy?” (Ja 4:5)
Albert Barnes says of this text, “Few passages of the New Testament have given expositors more perplexity than this. The difficulty has arisen from the fact that no such passage as that which seems here to be quoted is found in the Old Testament.”
This text is evidently a commentary on the verses prior, warning us of the dangers of covetousness and lust (Ja 4:1-3), and that alliance with the world means being God’s enemy. (Jas 4:4) This implies that those who are not of God tend to have unrighteous desires, and require that we join them in this unrighteousness to be allied with them.
Scripture affirms that the natural inclination of the human spirit is dissatisfaction, such that we’re insatiable (Ec 1:8), never satisfied (Pr 27:20), continually lusting, craving things we shouldn’t. (Ro 7:7b-8a) Our inability to satisfy our own lusts tends to foster envy (Ps 73:3): a feeling of discontented or resentful longing aroused by someone else’s possessions, qualities, or fortune, an ill will toward those who have more, and a desire that others be as dissatisfied and empty as we are. Envy is one of the most evil of all sins, very destructive to the soul. (Pr 14:30)
So, finding our spirits prone to lust, how do we combat this? The root cause of discontentment, lust and envy, the insatiable desire of our hearts, lies in our very design; we’re created to enjoy something vastly superior to ourselves, infinitely beautiful, infinitely majestic, infinitely good. Until we’re enjoying that, we’ll be constantly longing for it.
The most primal and basic of all lies is that God isn’t the answer to our longings. Satan began with this lie in the Garden* (Ge 3:5), and he relentlessly continues to reinforce it in the lives of all who’ll listen. (Jn 8:44) As we fall here we forsake the fountain of living waters (Je 2:13) in a dry and thirsty land, where no other water is. (Ps 63:1)
God Himself is the antidote to covetousness: He’s what we’re craving. (He 13:5) Contentment lies in enjoying God, in knowing Him, knowing that He’s enough, and being satisfied in Him. Once we realize that He’s all we’ll ever need, that He’s with us, and that He’ll never leave us nor forsake us, there’s nothing more to worry about, or to lust after.
Sometimes the scripture speaks indirectly, containing and conveying truth that’s implied from other truths. It’s still a way of saying something, and those who’re hearing and seeing what’s being said directly, meditating on this, taking it into their heart, asking and seeking (Mt 7:7-8), also find these precious, implied truths. (Mk 4:24)