You shall not covet… Exodus 20:17
Do you ever covet things? I think that, in this very materialistic world in which we live, you would be extremely unusual if you didn’t.
To covet is to wish for things which we have no right to, especially things belonging to other people. There’s no end to the list of possibilities – their money, their health, their looks, their wife/husband, their marriage, their talents, their possessions, their success, their brains … you could go on for ever. I think that the whole advertising industry is designed to stir up covetousness within us. “You deserve it…” the adverts coo at us. And, fools that we are, we believe them.
Why exactly is it wrong to covet? Here are a few suggestions…
First, it’s essentially selfish, elevating what I want to the top of the list of priorities. It puts me and my needs before generosity, kindness and compassion. It’s all about getting rather than giving – and didn’t Jesus say that there is more joy in giving than receiving (Acts 20)?
Second, it suggests a failure to trust in God for his provision. God promises to look after those who trust themselves to him, so if we covet we are, in effect, saying to God, “Your provision isn’t good enough for me – I’m not really sure you will look after me”.
Third, it destroys peace of mind. The more focussed you are on other people and what they have, the more chewed up you will be inside because you don’t have them. Covetous people are rarely happy people; they’re driven, frowny, self-centred.
Fourth, it can lead to seriously damaging consequences. Some of the Old Testament’s most powerful stories are about covetousness – and in each case havoc results.
Eve coveted the fruit God said she and Adam shouldn’t touch (Genesis 3). Achan coveted the treasures of the Canaanites (Joshua 7). King David coveted another man’s wife (2 Samuel 11). King Ahab coveted Naboth’s vineyard (1 Kings 21). Why not re-read these stories – and see the carnage and pain that resulted in each case?
Summing it all up, covetousness is, in the end, a form of idolatry – putting something or someone in the place that only God should occupy.
By the same token, the person who has learned not to covet (and the learning process can be hard and painful – let’s face up to that) experiences real liberation.
Paul tells Timothy, “We brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that” (1 Timothy 6:8). If we have reached the point where we can go along with Paul then we can shrug our shoulders at the world around us and just get on with the business of living a Christlike life. We’re free! And if somebody has something that we would like, something “better” than what we have – well, good for them! and may God bless them!
Other Christian leaders have expressed the same kind of thought. Here is Martin Luther: “Too many Christians envy the sinners their pleasure and the saints their joy, because they don’t have either”.
And, nearer to our own day, Billy Graham: “Envy takes the joy, happiness and contentment out of living”.
“Contentment” is a key word. It doesn’t mean we can’t be ambitious in a good sense – no, not at all, we should work hard to fulfil our God-given potential – but it does mean that we’re happy to leave our lot in this life in the hands of a God who is our heavenly Father, and who loves us more than we can know.
Dear Father, I am sorry that I sometimes allow the poison of discontent to corrode my soul. I promise now that, with your help, I will entrust myself wholeheartedly to you and let you lead me wherever you want me to go, and to give me whatever you want me to have. Amen.