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Humanity has long been afflicted by the curse of covetousness. Jesus Christ warned: "Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses" (Luke 12:15).
Our English word covet means to intensely or obsessively desire. It frequently refers to lusting after something (or someone) belonging to someone else. The Hebrew chamad, which is used in the Tenth Commandment, means "to greatly delight in" and can refer to a legitimate desire or immoral greed. Greek words translated "covetousness" in the New Testament convey "greed," "setting the heart upon," "longing" or "lusting for."
In Colossians 3:5 the Apostle Paul directs us to "put to death" our fleshly desires, including "covetousness, which is idolatry," or, as one translation puts it, coveting is equivalent to "the worship of strange gods" (Bible in Basic English).
Taking great delight in something certainly is not always wrong. God tells us in 1 Corinthians 12:31 that we should "covet" (King James Version), or "earnestly desire" (New King James Version), spiritual gifts. Desire is not inherently evil, but the channeling of our longings toward what cannot be rightfully ours and putting that before obedience to God is the sin of covetousness.
Our tendency to covet can lead us to idolize, to actually worship, the physical as our source of contentment. Jesus Christ reminds us of our priorities: "But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you." (Matthew 6:33).
The Bible provides three keys to resisting covetousness.
The first key is found in the commandment against idolatry. After God speaks out against idolatry, He states that He shows "mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments" (Exodus 20:6). Compare this to what we are told regarding the last days, that many in the end time will be "lovers of themselves” and “covetous" (2 Timothy 3:2). God tells us that, if we love Him first and foremost, we will not be guilty of idolatry through covetousness.
Ephesians 5:5 warns no "covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God." Hebrews 11:1 defines faith in God as “...the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." An idolater longs for what he sees (or hears or feels) and pays no attention to the unseen spiritual aspects of life. When we are tempted to seek fulfillment by substituting the pursuit of material things for the spiritual, ask God for the faith to trust in Him who pledges to supply your spiritual needs (Philippians 4:19).
Another key to conquering covetousness is to help others. Spending time with widows, the ill, elderly and incapacitated does wonders to focus our minds on serving rather than seeking to fulfill our own desires (James 1:27). We find that we grow happier by giving than by receiving (Acts 20:35).
The fruits of covetousness may seem to bring us happiness, but it is only temporary. Covetousness is contrary to God's own nature and can keep us from the real joy of eternal life in the Kingdom of God.
The Good News magazine (Jul-Aug 1997)