Greg Laurie is the author of 12 inspirational books, which are available online.
A Roman Catholic priest who had heard the confessions of thousands of people over the years said that he heard people confess most every kind of sin – including adultery and even murder – but never the sin of covetousness.
That is significant because this particular sin actually made “God’s Top 10,” the Ten Commandments. In fact, it is the final one the Lord warns us about:
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. (Ex 20:17)
While the other commandments to a large extent dealt with things we do outwardly, this one has to do with what we do inwardly; and while the other commandments deal with forbidden actions, this one deals with forbidden attitudes.
But what does it mean to “covet” something? To covet is to desire, wish, long, or crave something that isn’t your own. It means to “eagerly desire that which belongs to another, to set the heart on something.” In short, whenever you lust for something that rightfully belongs to another, you are coveting.
So how does coveting work?
- The EYES look at an object
- The MIND admires it
- The WILL goes over to it
- And the BODY moves in to possess it
Let’s not misunderstand something.
You may notice one day that your neighbor has a new car in his driveway. You love everything about the choice he made, from the color to the options he chose. So, you go down to the same car dealer and buy the exact same car. Now that is copying, but it is not coveting, and the last time I checked, copying something is not a sin, though it might irritate your neighbor a bit.
However, if you look at the car, admire it, and you strongly desire it, so much so that your body moves over to possess it by jumping into the driver’s seat, turning on the ignition, and driving off without the owner’s consent – well, that’s coveting. In this case, coveting is the heart attitude behind the act of stealing.
Likewise it’s not wrong to desire a wife, and that’s not coveting. However, if you look at a married woman, admire her beauty, and desire her to the point where you think about acting on your desire, you are coveting – the heart attitude behind adultery.
Coveting is a powerful and underestimated sin. It can cripple you spiritually and ultimately destroy you. It must not be underestimated or left unchecked.
Think of some of the people in the Bible who “threw it all away” because of greed and covetousness.
The Bible tells us the story of Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus. Judas was hand-picked to be one of Jesus personal friends and disciples. Yet Judas was so greedy, he sold his friend out for thirty pieces of silver.
And consider this. You don’t necessarily need to be a wealthy person to be a materialistic and covetous one. Sometimes, those who have very little may still be under the control of sin.
- They are always looking for the latest “get rich quick” scheme.
- They find themselves pining for more and more.
- They are never satisfied with what they presently have.
The Bible gives this warning about such an outlook on life:
For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some have coveted after they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. (1 Tim 6:10)
It’s not a sin to want to be successful in business and make a good living, but when you become obsessed with it and it becomes the most important thing in life to you, it has become idolatry. The Bible warns us of “covetousness, which is idolatry” (Col 3:5).
The Ten Commandments were not given to make us righteous, but to show us we need God’s help. They were given to “open our eyes” and shut our mouths! Because none of us can live according to these very high standards, we surely need a new heart that only God can give us.
Have you ever committed adultery, stolen, lied or coveted? You know you’ve done some of these things. If so, you need to repent and ask God to forgive you right now. He is gracious and compassionate to all who come to Him in honest confession of their sinful condition.
Sometimes the cure is painful, like going to the dentist when you have a toothache. If you want to stop the pain and not have it get even worse, you must submit to the prescribed treatment. In the same way, God convicts us of our sin – not to drive us to despair, but rather to send us into the open arms of Jesus.
And that’s really what the Ten Commandments are all about: to show us our need for Jesus.