“I (Paul) have coveted no one’s silver or gold or clothes….” Acts 20:33
Think back earlier today or even in the past few days. Did you visit with a friend or drive down the road and see something that caught your eye? Did you begin to think more and more about it? After tossing it around in your mind, did you begin to desire it so much that it almost consumed every waking moment? If you did, you may have entered into the realm of a biblical word we do not hear much about in the Church today – covetousness.
The Evangelical Dictionary of Theology defines covetousness as “a desire for anything which is inordinate in degree, or a desire for that which rightfully belongs to another, especially in the realm of material things.”
Covetousness is first mentioned in the Ten Commandments: ““You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” (Exodus 20:17) Clearly to place this idea as one of the ten commands God gives Moses to give His people means it is a very serious matter. It is a form of idolatry that separates man from God and from other people.
What harm can wanting what someone else has do to you and me?
One, it can harm others. When we desire something that belongs to another, we begin to place our needs above the needs of others. Our thoughts begin to be taken away from how I can bless that person.
Two, it can create fighting among married couples. James 4:2 says, “You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God.” How many times does this happen between a husband and a wife? The husband wants something he probably saw that someone else has and the wife does not think they need it. Or vice-versa. Instead, they should go together, in prayer, and ask God if this is something He wants them to have.
Three, covetousness creates discontentment. If I am so focused on wanting what someone else has already obtained, then I am communicating to God that I am not happy with what He has provided me.
Larry Burkett, the late co-founder of Crown Financial Ministries, had a very practical way of dealing with discontentment. He says if we desire to buy something, write it down and wait thirty days. In those thirty days pray about the purchase and even try to find a better price. Often the desire for that thing goes away. If it does not and you have honestly gone before the Lord wanting to do what He wants, then perhaps it is something He wants you to have.