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“You shall not covet your neighbour’s house; you shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbour’s” (Exodus 20:17).
This commandment lets us know God judges our thoughts and motives (2 Corinthians 10:5). Even the Apostle Paul tells us he did not understand the implications of covetousness until God called him and he began to conduct his life according to God’s will (Romans 7:7).
Originally the English word “covet” simply meant desire, but the King James Version translates the Greek word for desire, zēloō, as “covet.” 1 Corinthians 12:31 and 1 Corinthians 14:39 are about a positive desire for spiritual gifts, but in modern English, covet usually refers to the worst kinds of lust i.e. lust for what belongs to someone else.
In our materialistic and affluent society, we are dazzled by a seemingly endless variety of products and we convince ourselves we need many of them. We unwisely “compare ourselves” and envy others (2 Corinthians 10:12).
Psalms 23:1 (KJV) is translated as: “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” The popular meaning of “want” has changed since 1611 when the KJV was published. The New Living Translation makes the meaning of this verse clearer: “The Lord is my shepherd; I have all that I need.”
It’s not wrong to be dissatisfied with your present situation when you have the opportunity to improve it in an ethical manner, but God wants us to have godly goals, and to choose godly ways of striving for those goals.
Paul endured much suffering and wrote his epistle to the Philippians while in prison. Nevertheless he explains, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want” (Philippians 4:11-12).
In Philippians 4:4-14 Paul also mentions the virtues that promote contentment: “Rejoice in the Lord always” (Philippians 4:4). “Do not be anxious about anything” (Philippians 4:6). “Prayer” (vs. 6). “Thanksgiving” (vs. 6). Think about pure and noble things (Philippians 4:8). Contentment focuses gratefully on what one has rather than what one does not have.
Being wealthy is not evil, but being infatuated with money or lusting for riches can lead to transgression. The Apostle Paul warned Timothy: “Those who want to get rich fall into ... many foolish and harmful desires.... For the love of money [covetousness!] is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs” (1 Timothy 6:9-10). It is important to practise the way of give versus the way of get (Acts 20:35).
Paul also equates covetousness with idolatry (Ephesians 5:5; Colossians 3:5), which is a violation of the First Commandment. Being obsessed with possessing something is idolizing it, and breaking the Tenth Commandment can also lead to breaking the First. God commands us to look to Him as our primary Provider (1 Timothy 6:17) and exhorts Christians: “Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’” (Hebrews 13:5).