Covetousness Topical Study

<p><strong><span class="heading-lg">Covetousness in Scripture</span></strong></p><ul><li><span class="body-copy"><a href="https://preachingandworship.org/search/Genesis%203%3A5">Genesis 3:5</a>, the serpant tempts Adam and Eve with omniscience like God has</span></li><li><span class="body-copy"><a href="https://preachingandworship.org/search/Exodus%2020%3A17">Exodus 20:17</a>, do not covet</span></li><li><span class="body-copy"><a href="https://preachingandworship.org/search/Deuteronomy%207%3A25">Deuteronomy 7:25</a>, do not covet the silver or gold which the idols were made of</span></li><li><span class="body-copy"><a href="https://preachingandworship.org/search/Proverbs%2030%3A8-9">Proverbs 30:8-9</a>, what we need</span></li><li><span class="body-copy"><a href="https://preachingandworship.org/search/Colossians%203%3A5">Colossians 3:5</a>, &quot;Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly&quot;</span></li><li><span class="body-copy"><a href="https://preachingandworship.org/search/1%20Timothy%206%3A6-10">1 Timothy 6:6-10</a>, we brought nothing into this world and take nothing with us</span></li><li><span class="body-copy"><a href="https://preachingandworship.org/search/Hebrews%2013%3A5">Hebrews 13:5</a>, keep your lives free from money and be content</span></li><li><span class="body-copy"><a href="https://preachingandworship.org/search/James%201%3A14-15">James 1:14-15</a>, one is tempted by one&#39;s own desire</span></li></ul><p><strong><span class="heading-lg">Reflections about Covetousness</span></strong></p><p><strong><span class="heading-sm">Belongings</span></strong></p><p><span style="font-size: 13.008px;"><span class="body-copy">The concept of covetousness depends on the concept of &quot;belongings.&quot; The idea is that others may have things or persons that belong to them or with them &mdash; a house, a husband, a piece of land &mdash; or, as we say, a piece of &quot;property.&quot; Others may have belongings that are properly theirs. So to want to remove what&#39;s theirs and have it for oneself counts not merely as innocent desire, but as mental theft.</span> </span></p><p><strong><span class="heading-sm">Innocent Desire</span></strong></p><p><span style="font-size: 13.008px;"><span class="body-copy">Of course there are plenty of cases of innocent desire. Suppose someone else is honest and accomplished in restorative justice. Is it OK to &quot;covet&quot; these things? Absolutely. Imitation of others&#39; virtues and goods is often natural and healthy, as when the young imitate parents, teachers, or other role models. Here the &quot;coveter&quot; does not hope to steal from the coveted, but just to emulate him or her.</span> </span></p><p><strong><span class="heading-sm">Coveting Omniscience</span></strong></p><p><span style="font-size: 13.008px;"><span class="body-copy">From the beginning, what the Bible prohibits is desiring what you have no right to have. So, along with unbelief and pride, covetousness is part of the original sin in the story of Adam and Eve. The tempter promises that if they eat of the forbidden fruit they will &quot;be like God, knowing good and evil.&quot; &quot;Good and evil&quot; here is what&#39;s called a &quot;merismus&quot; &mdash; an expression in which two major parts of something are used to denote the whole. So &quot;heaven and earth&quot; means the whole universe. The knowledge of &quot;good and evil&quot; means the knowledge of everything. So to covet the knowledge of good and evil would be to covet omniscience &mdash; a trait belonging only to God.</span> </span></p><p><strong><span class="heading-sm">A Gateway Sin</span></strong></p><p><span style="font-size: 13.008px;"><span class="body-copy">The Bible frowns on coveting in part because it is a gateway sin: Mental theft is often prelude to actual theft. Theologian Lewis Smedes has written that &quot;to covet something is to put your finger on the trigger of your will, or to crouch like an animal poised to pounce . . . [W]hen you covet a thing you are already `putting your hooks out for it&#39;&quot; <span class="body-copy-sm">(Lewis Smedes, <em>Mere Morality: What God Expects from Ordinary People</em>, Eerdmans, 1983, p. 184).</span> In truly serious cases, coveting may lead to adultery, as in the case of David with Bathsheba, or to murder, as in the case of Ahab and Jezebel&#39;s murder of Naboth, who merely possessed a vineyard King Ahab coveted.</span> </span></p><p><strong><span class="heading-sm">Envy vs. Covetousness</span></strong></p><p><span style="font-size: 13.008px;"><span class="body-copy">Sinful covetousness is not the same thing as innocent emulation, as already explained. Neither is it quite the same thing as sinful envy. Envy is a nastier sin than covetousness. What an envier wants is not, first of all, what another has; what an envier wants is for another not to have it. Hence an eighteen-year-old will lobby against a liberal curfew for his sixteen-year-old brother even though the eighteen-year-old can gain nothing positive by winning his campaign. He simply resents an advantage he had once lacked. Or put matters like this: To covet is to want someone else&#39;s goods so strongly that one is tempted to steal them. To envy is to resent someone else&#39;s goods so much that one is tempted to destroy them. The coveter has empty hands and wants to fill them with someone else&#39;s goods. The envier has empty hands and therefore wants to empty the hands of the envied. Of course an envier may begin his career as a coveter. He may begin by hankering for someone else&#39;s goods. But failed covetousness is likely to curdle into envy: The envier is often a disgruntled coveter. (&quot;If I can&#39;t have her, then I&#39;ll see to it that he can&#39;t have her either.&quot;)</span></span></p>