Coveting Day 1: Understanding Coveting
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.” (Luke 12:15, ESV)
But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. (Romans 13:14, ESV)
Sometimes it’s helpful to start a blog post with a super thought-provoking question, but I don’t really think I need to ask if you’ve ever wanted something that wasn’t yours—we all have. Whether we want to admit it or not, coveting is something we all do. And, not surprisingly, it’s also something the Bible talks about a lot. With a preliminary look, though, you’ll find that the word used for coveting in the Bible doesn’t necessarily have a negative meaning in and of itself; its definition is “to desire.” But just as with anything that involves humans, our desires are tainted by sin. While at first we may only “innocently” desire something, we can quickly become jealous and filled with bitterness. And sometimes we even let ungratefulness and discontentment take root in our hearts.
This is probably why God commanded to not covet when He gave Moses the law on stone tablets (aka: “The Ten Commandments”). Before we look at what God said, though, it’s important to understand the basis for why He commanded to not covet. Coveting so often leads to other sin in our hearts, but more than that, it’s about loving or desiring something else above God. God laid out a pattern for us regarding Himself: He alone is enough for us, and He is a jealous God. These are the words He spoke to Moses: “You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God” (Exodus 20:3-5).
These first two commandments God gave clearly show His desire for us to worship only Him. And while the word “jealous” may have a negative connotation for us, the word used in that verse is one that is only used about God. His jealousy is His protectiveness over us. God, the one who loves us with a steadfast, inexplicable love, caringly desires that we not be pulled toward any rivals. His jealousy doesn’t give way to bitterness and hatred but displays His immense love for us.
And it’s with that understanding that the LORD gave Moses the remaining commandments—one of which is the command to not covet. “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 neighbor’s” (Exodus 20:17).
There’s no question about what God meant; He doesn’t want us to desire things that aren’t ours. That’s probably why the topic of coveting isn’t one God addressed only to the Israelites under the Old Covenant, but one that was emphasized in the New Testament too.
Here are a few verses that also warn us about coveting: “Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,’ and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (Romans 13:8-9). “Let’s behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and debauchery, not in strife and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh to regard its lusts” (Romans 13:13-14, NASB). “For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice” (James 3:16).
Jesus also spoke the words written at the beginning of this post: “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’” (Luke 12:15).
As the verses make clear, we weren’t left with only warnings against coveting. We were left with the greatest enablement to obey: love—the love that is ours in Jesus. When our hearts are fixed on Him and we are seeking to be more like Him, we find that the antidote for coveting is loving Him and loving others out of an understanding that He loved us first. We won’t gratify our flesh and its desires, as Paul described; we will get rid of what draws our hearts to desire anything but Jesus. I pray that, as we continue to look at what the Bible says about coveting, our hearts will be transformed.