What is covetousness? Many know the 10th commandment, “Thou Shalt not covet” (Ex 20:17), but do we really know what covetousness is? It seem that today sins like drunkardness, homosexuality, unlawful divorce and the like get all the full brunt of pulpit bashing, and rightly so, but what about something as simple as covetousness, which is in the most basic instruction of law given to man, meant for man’s good. The funny thing is I am not quite sure how people would even define it, never mind avoid falling into it.
Covetousness can be simply defined as a sinful love of riches; what I mean by that is when riches are desired and sought more to just increase our satisfaction, or when we seek riches more then we seek our Salvation, it is really idolatry, because things have become more precious or desirable than Jesus Christ [(by that I mean we are more concerned with getting wealth than with pleasing God) Phil. 3:7-9; Jam. 1:10; Phil. 4:11; 1 Tim. 6:5; Prov. 23:4, “Labour not to be rich”]. We covet when we are not content, content with whatever; our daily bread, our car, our job etc.
It may be helpful to also show what covetousness is not, it is not:
1) Being rich- God gives to everyone what they have, God makes some wealthy and others poor (Luke 12:48;16:9-10; 2 Cor 8:14-15). If God has entrusted you with more than someone else, that is not sin unless, as Baxter puts it, you, “betray that trust”.
2) You are not covetousness necessarily if you don’t give charity to an idle yet able beggar, or if as parents you stop supporting the sin of a drunkard or violent child.
3) Some people are thought to be covetousness if they look like they are rich but they don’t give, support and help where they should if they were indeed rich. We must be careful to judge just on the appearance of people.
4) Other people are thought to be covetous if they work very hard, spend wisely and save, trying not to lose anything. But that is a Christians duty, if they didn’t then wastefulness and idleness would be their sin. Remember even Jesus asked that the fragments be gathered into the baskets after he fed the 4000. The real question is how they use all that they save and work hard for.
How do we fight it?
There are many ways to combat this sin, but perhaps a few to mention here.
1) Understand what true happiness is and how deceitful riches are.
It is a foolish thing to place your source of happiness in this world, like a new car or a new jacket will bring you true happiness. But we know if we consider the things we have been happy to receive in the past, they do not give us an ongoing and solid happiness. As Solomon says, “the eyes is never satisfied with seeing” (Eccle 1:8). We see this especially when we are going through times of distress and difficulty. True happiness comes from knowing God, they joy of the Lord!
2) Col 3:2 says that we are to set our affections on things above. This is a way to kill the sin of covetousness. This keeps our hearts from getting attached to earthly things. Remember Jesus said, “Where you treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt 6:21). At our church, we have some horses that run up along side of the hall where we meet, one thing I noticed, you will never see one of those horses leaving the fresh, thick, green grass to try and eat from the stony, sandy areas where the cars park; so it is with someone who is tasting and living off the sweetness of communion with God, they wouldn’t leave that for the dirt of the world, they would like Paul, consider the things of this world dung, compared with knowing Christ (Phil 3:8).
3) We must put our confidence in God and His provision. God’s treasures and God’s supply will never run out, men’s bank accounts can empty, but God’s can’t. I have felt the need of this lately in my own life, to be able to say with the same confidence of Abraham, “God will provide” (Gen 22:8). This idea of trusting in God’s provision is all over Scripture (Ps 1v22; 1 Peter 1v7; Matt 4:25-26). We can see how children depend on their parents provision, should we not much more trust in our Heavenly Father? We need to grasp this truth, because nothing makes someone misplace their confidence more than riches (Prov 10:15).
4) Our desire for riches must be balanced, we should pray the prayer of Proverbs 30:8, “Let me not be poor or rich, feed me with what I need”. This is the lesson Paul learned in Phil 4:11, when he said he is able to be content in whatever condition.
5) We must pray that God would root this sin out of our hearts, as He alone is able to change our hearts.