Signs of Coveting


What is the tenth commandment that God gave Moses? Here it is:

Exodus 20:17 "You shall not covet your neighbor's house. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor."(NIV)

When we look at the Ten Commandments, we quickly dismiss the tenth because it doesn’t seem to apply to us. First of all, we aren’t sure what covet means. We don’t hear the word much, so it must not be a major issue. We may like our neighbor’s house, but we don’t want his mortgage that goes with it. We are glad we don’t have to live with his difficult wife. He doesn’t have any servants, nor an ox or donkey. No, our neighbor has nearly the same stuff as we do, and we can borrow from him if needed. Therefore, we must be obeying this commandment. Right?

We are in great danger if this is the depth of our understanding about covetousness. So, with the advent of Thanksgiving, we will look at signs of coveting, the danger of coveting, and how to overcome coveting during the next few weeks.

To “covet” is to strongly desire something that does not belong to you. Be careful now—covetousness isn’t a mere matter of wanting more stuff. Eugene Peterson writes, “To covet is to fantasize a life other than what God has given me.” This is what makes pornography a sin. It is fantasizing and coveting something God has not given.

In contrast, Paul writes in Philippians 4:11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.

In other words, covetousness is also the desire to be somewhere else, with someone else, doing something else. It is the opposite of contentment. The covetous heart is worldly, selfish, sinful, and lacking the Holy Spirit.

Jesus said in Mark 7:21-22 (KJV), “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: All these evil things come from within, and defile the man.”

The tenth commandment is important because every other sin can be linked to covetousness. If we don’t obey the tenth commandment, we will end up breaking all of the commandments, as illustrated by King Ahab.

1Kings 21:1-19 Some time later there was an incident involving a vineyard belonging to Naboth the Jezreelite. The vineyard was in Jezreel, close to the palace of Ahab king of Samaria. Ahab said to Naboth, “Let me have your vineyard to use for a vegetable garden, since it is close to my palace. In exchange I will give you a better vineyard or, if you prefer, I will pay you whatever it is worth.” But Naboth replied, “The LORD forbid that I should give you the inheritance of my fathers.”

So Ahab went home, sullen and angry because Naboth the Jezreelite had said, “I will not give you the inheritance of my fathers.” He lay on his bed sulking and refused to eat. His wife Jezebel came in and asked him, “Why are you so sullen? Why won’t you eat?”

He answered her, “Because I said to Naboth the Jezreelite, ‘Sell me your vineyard; or if you prefer, I will give you another vineyard in its place.’ But he said, ‘I will not give you my vineyard.’”

Jezebel his wife said, “Is this how you act as king over Israel? Get up and eat! Cheer up. I’ll get you the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite.” So she wrote letters in Ahab’s name, placed his seal on them, and sent them to the elders and nobles who lived in Naboth’s city with him. In those letters she wrote: “Proclaim a day of fasting and seat Naboth in a prominent place among the people. But seat two scoundrels opposite him and have them testify that he has cursed both God and the king. Then take him out and stone him to death.”

So the elders and nobles who lived in Naboth’s city did as Jezebel directed in the letters she had written to them. They proclaimed a fast and seated Naboth in a prominent place among the people. Then two scoundrels came and sat opposite him and brought charges against Naboth before the people, saying, “Naboth has cursed both God and the king.” So they took him outside the city and stoned him to death. Then they sent word to Jezebel: “Naboth has been stoned and is dead.”

As soon as Jezebel heard that Naboth had been stoned to death, she said to Ahab, “Get up and take possession of the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite that he refused to sell you. He is no longer alive, but dead.” When Ahab heard that Naboth was dead, he got up and went down to take possession of Naboth’s vineyard.

Then the word of the LORD came to Elijah the Tishbite: “Go down to meet Ahab king of Israel, who rules in Samaria. He is now in Naboth’s vineyard, where he has gone to take possession of it. 19 Say to him, ‘This is what the LORD says: Have you not murdered a man and seized his property?’ Then say to him, ‘This is what the LORD says: In the place where dogs licked up Naboth’s blood, dogs will lick up your blood—yes, yours!’” (NIV)

Ahab, the king of Israel, coveted Naboth’s vineyard. He approached Naboth about selling it. Because it was an inheritance, the Law of Moses stipulated it could not be sold. Naboth explained to Ahab why he couldn’t sell it. It had to stay in the family. But that didn’t satisfy Ahab.

Instead of respecting the Law, Ahab pouted and sulked until Jezebel, his wicked queen, schemed to have Naboth killed. The moment Naboth was dead, Ahab rose up and took possession of Naboth’s vineyard. His covetousness led to lying, stealing, and murder.

Similarly, millions are ruining the lives of their family and friends as they covet more things, a different spouse, sex outside of marriage, power, and a fancier lifestyle.

James 4:1-3 What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don't they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don't get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. (NIV)

Those who covet are corrupt with selfishness, but they rationalize and justify their corruption. They have an intense desire, a craving or lust that will not leave. This desire usually becomes consuming to the point that it demands fulfillment. So, they tell themselves that it is their life and their right to fulfill their desires.

Coveting is not just something that happens to the poor, coveting is a problem for all of us. Take King Ahab for example. Though much richer than his neighbor Naboth, he covets Naboth’s vineyard. His coveting was so powerful that he couldn’t feel happy unless he got what he wanted. It didn’t matter that he already had enough vineyards or more than Naboth.

This is the nature of coveting. It is never satisfied, and it is the basis for breaking the other commandments. King Ahab approved of his wife’s tactics to bear false witness against Naboth, then kill him, steal his field, and dishonor God’s name.

The sin of coveting begins with a thought. If we don’t take that thought captive, we allow the spirit of discontentment to enter our soul (mind, will, and emotions). This evil spirit will lead us to commit all kinds of sins. Coveting ALWAYS corrupts our soul, it never satisfies it, even after we obtain the object we pursued! The “new” soon gets old.

In the end, coveting not only destroys others, but it destroys our own happiness as well.
Consider all the discontentment in our country today and the unhappiness it brings. People are not content with what they have or who they are. Not only do they want more, they want to be a different gender, they want power, they want others to take care of them, they don’t want any laws, and they don’t want any responsibility. They want everyone to meet their desires. If they don’t get what they want, they are offended and they will punish you. Covetousness and discontentment are threatening to destroy our country and pit us against one another.

Coveter’s are by nature selfish and callous people. All they care about is getting what they want. They are indifferent to other people’s feelings or needs. They are so focused on getting what they want that they ignore God’s commands and believe they will escape the consequences of disobedience. Consider all the adulteries in the news of people in sports, government, and even the Church. They do not consider the pain, disappointment, and influence they will bring upon others, let alone their own downfall.

Since the consequences of breaking this commandment are so serious, we need to be aware of the signs of coveting.

  1. Anger can be a sign. We often get angry and sullen when we don’t get our way or what we want. Remember King Ahab went home sullen and angry when Naboth refused to sell him the vineyard. He thought it was unfair that he couldn’t have what he wanted. Often those with coveting problems view others as being unfair to them.
  2. Withdrawal and pouting can be a sign. Remember, King Ahab threw himself upon his bed and refused to eat. “I am not relating to anyone nor doing anything until I get what I want.”
  3. A pessimistic attitude is often a sign. Those who covet tend to be negative about most things, for they are focused on what they don’t have rather than on what they do have. They see the glass as always half empty instead of half full. “I will never have what others have.”
  4. Fault-finding can be a sign. A covetous heart invents reasons for their lack and others gain in order to justify the emptiness of their own soul. “Others don’t deserve what they have. They have unfair advantages and privileges.”
  5. Self-pity can be a sign. People who whine, complain, and pity themselves tend to be full of coveting. They wish their lives were like others. They look for happiness in getting the “next” thing they think will finally satisfy them. They make unnecessary purchases, even incurring debt to get it. They go “binge” shopping to feel better.
  6. Unthankfulness is a sign. Even when they do get some things, covetous people are not satisfied. “Well, it’s about time I received something. But, others still have more than me.”

In our culture, we are constantly bombarded with messages that say we MUST have the newest thing or something we don’t really need. It is the cause for vast amounts of dissatisfaction and coveting. Coveting causes us to forget the blessing we already have!

We are just like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. They had everything they needed. Then Satan offered them something they didn’t possess, something they didn’t need, the knowledge of good and evil. Satan presented a deceptive, covetousness thought to them. “You can be like God!”

Genesis 3:4-6 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.

Can you see how deceptive and easy it is to commit this sin of coveting? It looks good and it seems like something we need at the time. Without the Holy Spirit’s control over our lives, coveting quickly leads us to disobey God and satisfy the desires of our flesh.

We must not take this tenth commandment lightly. We need to examine ourselves and repent whenever and wherever we find it in our lives.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who suffered much as a political prisoner in Communist Russia, says as few of us can, in The Prison Chronicle, "Don’t be afraid of misfortune and do not yearn after happiness. It is, after all, all the same. The bitter doesn’t last forever, and the sweet never fills the cup to overflowing. It is enough if you don’t freeze in the cold, and if hunger and thirst don’t claw at your sides. If your back isn’t broken, if your feet can walk, if both arms work, if both eyes can see, and if both ears can hear, then whom should you envy? And why? Our envy of others devours us most of all. Rub your eyes and purify your heart and prize above all else in the world those who love you and wish you well."

1 Timothy 6:8 But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.

There is also the story in Luke’s Gospel of two brothers who wanted Jesus to settle their argument over an inheritance. Jesus responded by pointing out the cause of their argument.

Luke 12:15-21 And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”

Are you rich toward God or do you have the signs of a covetous heart? Are there times when you covet, times when you fantasize about a life other than what God has given you?”

Hebrews 13:5 Keep your life free from love of money and be content with what you have, for He has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you."

God has made a commitment to meet our needs and always be with those who are in Christ Jesus. Have you made a commitment to Christ so you can receive this promise?

You will never find contentment with the things of this world. But you can find contentment in Christ today.

Give Jesus your life by believing in Him as Savior and Lord of all. Come to Him, confessing your need for forgiveness and salvation. Repent of your sins and give Him your life in baptism. Then you will receive His Life of peace, joy, and contentment through the gift of the Holy Spirit.