Covetousness is mentioned in the Ten Commandments as a grave sin, as Exodus states "you shall not covet... anything that is your neighbor's." Learn more about the Bible's meaning of covetousness and its danger to Christians in the decadent culture of modern America.
"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)
“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)
According to Merriam-Webster, Covetousness is defined as being "marked by inordinate desire for wealth or possessions or for another's possessions; having a craving for possession."
Cambridge Dictionary defines being covetous as having "a strong wish to have something, especially something that belongs to someone else."
Bible Meaning of Covetousness
Easton's Bible Dictionary gives the following meaning for Covetousness in scripture, "a strong desire after the possession of worldly things. It assumes sometimes the more aggravated form of avarice, which is the mark of cold-hearted worldliness." These Bible verses are listed as biblical references to covetousness:
"For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God." (Ephesians 5:5)
"Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5)
"But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal." (Matthew 6:20)
Furthermore, Baker's Evangelical Dictionary describes "covetousness" as:
[A] strong desire to have that which belongs to another. It is considered to be a very grievous offense in Scripture. The tenth commandment forbids coveting anything that belongs to a neighbor, including his house, his wife, his servants, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to him (Exodus 20:17). Jesus listed covetousness or greed along with many of the sins from within, including adultery, theft, and murder, which make a person unclean (Mark 7:22). Paul reminded the Ephesians that greed or covetousness is equated with immorality and impurity, so that these must be put away. A covetous or greedy person is an idolator and covetousness is idolatry (Col 3:5). James warns that people kill and covet because they cannot have what they want.
Covetousness, therefore, is basic to the commandments against murder, adultery, stealing, and lying. Those who accept bribes are coveting, leading to murder (Ezekiel 22:12). Coveting a neighbor's wife is a form of adultery (Exodus 20:17). Achan admitted to coveting a robe and silver and gold, so he stole them, which was a sin against the Lord (Joshua 7:20-22). Gehazi, the servant of Elisha, coveted the property of Naaman so much that he lied to get what he wanted from Naaman the leper (2 Kings 5:19-25) and was struck with leprosy. Proverbs warns that a covetous person brings trouble to his family. Thus covetousness is the root of all kinds of sins, so that Jesus gave the warning, "Be on your guard against all kinds of greed" (Luke 12:15).
Covetousness's Importance for Christians
In his article "Do Not Covet", Fr. Stavros Akrotirianakis gives keen guidance on the dangers and solutions to covetousness in our modern age:
Today we get to the last of the Ten Commandments, the one that speaks about coveting. I would venture to guess that gossiping and coveting are the sins we commit the most. And coveting seems to happen more as our society has the “keeping up with the Joneses” attitude. We are obsessed with the latest gadgets and technology. In past generations, where technology wasn’t changing by the day, there wasn’t pressure to keep up, or as much jealousy over who has what new things...
...The antidote to jealousy is gratitude. Rather than always looking and thinking about the things we don’t have, gratitude focuses us on being thankful for the things we do have. The first sin committed by Adam and Eve was a combination of the first commandment—You shall have no other gods before me—and this commandment-You shall not covet. Adam and Eve wanted the tree they were forbidden to touch and they put that ahead of God. When we put God first, it is easier to be grateful. When we are grateful, it is easier to keep God first.
To covet worldly things or status not only brings us mental and emotional angst, perceiving a deficiency that wounds our ego but more importantly distracts and separates us from seeking first the Kingdom of God! How foolish are we to lust for temporal possessions and disregard eternal life in Jesus Christ? Let us be aware of the temptations of covetousness and humbly thank God for the ample blessings He has bestowed, namely salvation through His Son!
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