In today’s world, coveting isn’t given a second thought. We often covet without remorse, perhaps without even conscious thought. After all, coveting usually isn’t thought about. It has become such a common part of our daily lives that we don’t even notice it. We buy our cars and eat our expensive dinners, but we rarely stop long enough to think of what the Bible says about coveting. To many, coveting is like the disaster victims on the news: real, but distant. Oh, it exists, but nobody gives it a second thought. Coveting seems like the boring uncle found in every family. You know, the one that sleeps on the couch through thanksgiving and only wakes up for dinner. He’s there, but nobody really notices him.
So, what is coveting? We all know the classic “Thou shalt not covet” that we were taught in Sunday School, but do we really know what it means to covet? Exodus 20:17 says, “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 neighbors.”1 Simply put, coveting is the sinful desire of something that is not ours. Regardless of whether or not we act on our selfish desire, covetousness is the wicked craving for something we do not own. The wickedness in coveting is what makes it a sin. A man can walk into Target and look over some clothes, but if he does not sin in his shopping, he does not covet. However, if that man desires the pornographic magazine on Aisle 8, he covets and sins against His Lord.
Covetousness is not only found within sinful desire. Ephesians 5:5 goes so far as to pronounce it idolatry, saying that “everyone who is… covetous (that is, an idolater) has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.” When we sinfully lust after an object or person, we idolize them, propelling it into a position of importance above God. As we covet, we idolize, so that eventually we lose all focus and begin to worship the creation rather than the Creator. This frightening realization is a sobering reminder for many Christians, rich and poor alike.
Confronting the depth of our covetousness is one of the most difficult processes a believer can go through. Thanks to Adam’s screw-up, we are born in utter depravity, a package deal of sin that includes covetousness. Within an African context, we find all kinds of covetousness from all kinds of ages. As a three-year-old, we coveted a lollipop or a mandazi (doughnut). As a teenager, we coveted a football or a dress. As adults, we coveted (and continue to covet) that cow or beautiful plot of land. Coveting is such a deep part of our culture that most hardly even notice its existence. Yet, while anything can be coveted, God cannot be coveted. After all, covetousness is a sinful desire, and within God, there is no sin. If we desire God,
What does God say about coveting? Well, firstly, He tells us to stop coveting. That’s simple enough. “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” (1 John. 2.15) God tells us to reject the things of the World, lest we fall into the trap and become hardened of heart. If we love the World more than we love God, we lower Him below our common desires and lose sight of His sacrifice. We must tame our eyes and mind, refusing to allow the devil to gain a foothold through the covetousness in our daily lives. In doing this, we re-focus on God and ensure that He will remain the most important part of our lives.
Secondly, God tells us to include him in our desires. James 2:2 says, “You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask.” James tells us that we acquire the desires of our heart but often leave God out of the picture. When we, in our eternal pride, choose to ignore God and instead chase our passions, we fail to ask God for our simple desires and cannot appreciate His creation. Simply put, by singularly trying to obtain worldly possessions, we fail in our goals and are left feeling empty and broken. But, if we confess our covetousness to God, He will not only forgive us but will give us the gift of Him, which comes with the ability to receive actual happiness within His creation.
Finally, we are commanded to be transformed by the renewal of our minds (Romans. 12.2-3). We must allow God to remove the root of covetousness and refresh our minds, focusing only on Him. If we surrender completely, He will give us the ability to fight covetousness and greed. He will show us how to exercise wisdom in our daily lives, ensuring that we can understand what true covetousness is.
In a recent sermon, New Hoper Russel Cochran preached on 1st John 4: 13-21. He briefly gave a comparison quite relevant to the Bible’s commandment on covetousness. He said that the end of 1st John is comparable to someone taking a test. This person goes through the test, and as he answers question after question, he realizes that he has nailed the test. Every answer is easy, so he is finished within ten minutes. Finally, as he reaches the very end of the test, he’s sure that he has aced it. Then, he discovers that final essay question. This question is worth more points than the rest of the questions combined, and as soon as he reads the description, he knows that he has no idea how to answer. In other words, he has no clue how to answer the question. He came the entire way through the exam, thinking he had passed, only to find that at the end, he fell very short.
This story also comparable to the tenth commandment. Readers of the Bible begin to read the commandments, and as they go along, they feel pretty good. I’ve never murdered, and I’ve never missed a Sunday service. I don’t swear, and I don’t have any idols. Finally, they reach the end and realize that something is very wrong. All hopes of fulfilling the Ten Commandments are dashed.
Yet, there is joy found in the Gospel. God tells us that not all hope is lost. After all, He has died for all our sins, including coveting. Because of His sacrifice, we can rejoice and be glad, for His love covered the multitude of our sins. We don’t need to ace the test; we only need to pray for God’s forgiveness and guidance in removing the deep seed of covetousness from our hearts and to replace it with Himself. Praise God for His grace!
1 All Scripture quotations are taken from the English Standard Version.
I’d like to give my gratefulness to Russel Cochran, for the imagery he painted in his sermon yesterday, and to Tim Challies, who’s article 2 Reasons Why Coveting is a Serious Sin inspired this article.