Summary: Covetousness is the spirit of greed and may bring about spiritual death apart from genuine repentance and faith in the forgiving grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The Seven Deadly Sins: Covetousness
Since 1991 Dr. Haddon W. Robinson has held the Harold John Ockenga Distinguished Professor of Preaching Chair at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Massachusetts. In a poll taken by Baylor University in 1996 he was named one of twelve most effective preachers in the English-speaking world. Writing in the periodical Leadership, vol. 9, no. 3, Dr. Robinson defines covetousness:
“Covetousness is simply craving more of what you have enough already.”
In contemporary translations of the Scriptures, particularly so in the New Testament, many times the term often rendered as covet or covetousness in the King James Bible is transliterated by the term greed. Covetousness is often defined as being “greed for riches.”
The last of the Ten Commandments as recorded in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5 is clear: “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to you neighbor.” Its root meaning is a “strong desire for wealth,” or again in one word “greed.”
Covetousness is basically the sin of materialism. Paul often refers to covetousness or greed as being idolatry as in Colossians 3:5 where he gives us the commandment: “Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed—or covetousness—(which is idolatry).”
Idolatry is letting someone or something else become your God instead of the Lord Jesus Christ. When we covet things and put them in the place of God, we are committing the sin of idolatry.
Covetousness is basically an inner motivation, an attitude of the heart.
The tenth commandment warns us that we are not to desire any possession that belongs to our neighbor—not his wife, his servants, his livestock, or “anything else that belongs to our neighbor.”
When Scripture warns us not to covet “anything that belongs to our neighbor” that can encompass a lot of territory. We might covet their status, position, power, or prestige! That has been the besetting sin of many people throughout history both in the secular and the sacred realms.
Aaron and Miriam, Moses’ older brother and sister, one day decided not to submit to the leadership of little brother any longer. They wanted to be his equals. Numbers 12:1-2 tells us: “While they were at Hazeroth, Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman whom he had married (for he had indeed married a Cushite woman); and they said, “Has the LORD spoken only through Moses? Has he not spoken through us also?” And the LORD heard it.”
Aaron and Miriam were angry with Moses for marrying a Cushite woman and declared they were on equal footing with him as a prophet and prophetess of the Lord and leaders of Israel. They coveted his leadership position and wanted to share power equally with him. The Lord became angry with Aaron and Miriam and struck her with leprosy for seven days. We can be just as guilty of coveting the position, power, or prestige of a neighbor as we can of coveting his wife or their riches.
Soon after Israel entered the Promised Land and early in the history of the Church, God’s people witnessed the destructive nature of the sin of covetousness. When Israel defeated Jericho, the Lord told them to destroy everything in the city because he declared Jericho an “accursed thing.” If they hoarded any of the material wealth of Jericho for themselves, the curse of Jericho would fall on them.
A man name Achan of the tribe of Judah coveted a “Babylonian garment, 200 shekels of silver, and a wedge of old” and hid them in his tent. His disobedience angered the Lord, and as a result when Israel first attacked the city of Ai, they were soundly defeated. The Lord showed Joshua that Achan was the guilty villain. Achan confessed: “It is true; I am the one who sinned against the LORD God of Israel. This is what I did: when I saw among the spoil a beautiful Babylonia mantel, and two hundred shekels of silver, and a bar of gold weighing fifty shekels, then I coveted them and took them. They now lie hidden in the ground inside my tent, with the silver underneath” [Joshua 7:20-21]. Coveting led Achan to steal material things God had commanded be destroyed. As a result, he suffered the death penalty, for “all Israel stoned him to death.”
In the early days of the Jerusalem Church everything was held in common by the believers. Acts 4:34-35 tells us: “There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.” An unscrupulous husband and wife by the names of Ananias and Sapphira sold some of their property, but because they coveted wealth, they “kept back some of the proceeds, and brought only a part and laid it at the apostles’ feet.” Coveting led to lying to the Apostles and in reality to God Himself. As a result, God struck them dead.