The Sin Nobody Talks About – Covetousness
Covetousness (The Causes, Cautions and Consequences of Covetousness)
Luke 12:15 – Jesus said, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”
Power, position and possessions are perilous poisons for any person. Those who seek to have them know not what they seek. They lead into many temptations. They are likely to fill the heart with pride and to chain our affections to the things of this world rather than the things of God (Col. 3:1-3). Let’s consider a very common sin that few talk about: the sin of covetousness.
Why do we hear so little about this sin?
Two primary reasons: 1.) We are so deceived by this sin that we do not even know that we are sinning; and 2.) We know that we are covetous and don’t want to be reminded of our sin. One almost never hears the old-fashioned bible words “covet” or “covetousness” any more. Because we have so many things in our nation, I suspect that the problem of covetousness is more prevalent today than it has ever been before in history.
The commandment against covetousness deals with the thoughts and intentions of the heart. It has been called “the mother of sin” because the desire to sin first arises in the heart before it finds expression in the act. Covetousness may not appear as bad as some other more outward sins but in fact it is one of the worst sins because it spawns so many others. It may look innocent and appear to do little harm but in fact it poisons the very wellspring of life and taints every action. How many people do you know who think that money is not everything, but whatever is in second place is sure far behind? Such people are deceived.
We are warned not to envy the rich. But how many of us are tempted to do just that? The very wealth which we admire may be gradually sinking its possessors down into hell. And so Jesus warns us in our text today, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” Rather we should learn to be content with what we have (Heb. 13:5).
I am here to say today that it is a great sin to be covetous, worldly and proud; but it is no sin to be poor. What matters is:
- Is God pleased with us?
- Do we know Jesus as Lord and Savior? and
- Is our name written in the Lamb’s Book of Life?
Have you are wondered: What is the difference between envy, jealousy and covetousness?
- Envy is what you feel towards someone when he has something that you want.
- Jealousy is what you feel when you have something you really like and don’t want to share.
- Covetousness is what you feel about the thing you want that that other person has. This sinful feeling is the result of having the wrong attitude toward material things.
What is covetousness?
It results from an excessive desire and greed for material gain. It involves a strong desire after the possession of worldly things. It’s most extreme form is avarice, which is marked by cold-hearted worldliness. It is a serious enough sin to be listed as the 10th commandment (Ex. 20:17). It is a sin that besets many of us (Heb. 12:1). God’s Word teaches that “the covetous cannot enter the Kingdom of God” (1 Cor. 6:10; Eph. 5:5).
Covetousness is a sin that greatly angers God and Paul said that “covetousness is idolatry” (Col. 3:5-6) because it takes the place in our hearts that belongs to God alone (1 Tim. 6:10). It is a form of lust or evil desire (1 Tim. 6:9; Jas. 4:1-3) originating in the heart (Mk 7:21-33).
Why is covetousness so dangerous?
The warning that Jesus gives us concerning covetousness in Luke 12:15 implies the subtlety of its hold on us. We’re commanded to put it to death (Col. 3:5). There are three sins that the New Testament specifically exhorts us to flee:
- Idolatry (1 Cor. 10:14; Col. 3:5-6)
- Fornication (1 Cor. 6:18; 2 Tim. 2:22)
- Covetousness (1 Tim. 6:10-11)
“The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil” (1 Tim. 6:10). Greed for gain is the motivation behind much spiritual wickedness (i.e. pornography; Acts 19:24, 27). It’s the cause of much social unrest and trouble. It can serve as the motivation for such acts as murder, robbery, kidnapping, rioting, bribery, perjury, violence, prostitution, extortion and fighting.
Covetousness is the cause of many spiritual and personal conflicts, for it greatly
affects one’s character in a negative way. It’s associated with pride, conceit, unfruitfulness, lust, backsliding or forsaking God, rejecting God’s will, guilt, insensitivity to the needs of others, missing God’s best for our lives and failing to enter into the Kingdom of God.
Covetousness should have no place in the body of Christ (Eph. 5:3,5). The Scriptures exhort us to cut off fellowship with such persons (1 Tim. 6:5). It should have no place in the hearts of those in spiritual leadership (1 Thess. 2:5; 1 Tim. 3:3; Titus 1:7). The reason for this is that covetousness tends to corrupt the ministry if we are motivated by money (1 Pet. 5:2).
It’s critical that all Christians have the proper attitude toward money and possessions. We’re to be content with what we have (1 Tim. 6:6, 8), we should not seek financial prosperity as our primary goal (Mt. 6:19) and we should not trust in uncertain riches (1 Tim. 6:17). If we are rich, we should give to the poor (1 Tim. 6:17-19). We’re called to set our affection on things above, not on things on the earth (Col. 3:1-3).
One of the reasons that the sin of covetousness is so dangerous is that it is God’s number one competitor and Jesus was very clear that you cannot serve God and money (Matt. 6:24)!
Therefore, we must continually guard our hearts against “the deceitfulness of riches.” Why are riches so deceitful? Because we think that money will do things that only God will do and we are seriously deceived about that. They may provide temporary pleasure but they don’t bring peace, purpose, love, loyalty, happiness, satisfaction, significance or security. According to the Bible, there’s no such thing as financial security. We’re deceived if we think otherwise. The rich die like everyone else and there has never been a U-Haul pulled behind a hearse. Why? Because you can’t take it with you (1 Tim. 6:7). Paul says that covetousness leads to many sorrows (1 Tim. 6:10) while only God can provide true, lasting satisfaction (Isa. 55:1-2) and a joy that can’t be taken away (John 16:22).
The Old Testament is full of examples and warnings about covetousness:
- In Joshua 7, a single act of covetousness on the part of one man was enough for the entire army of Israel to suffer a horrific defeat (Josh. 7). Do you remember his name? Achan.
- Seven centuries later the prophet Isaiah recorded God’s anger and corrective chastening of the covetousness that He saw in the heart of his people (see Isa. 57:15-21).
- What did King David do when he was watching Bathsheba bath herself? He was coveting his neighbor wife. And as we know this led to pregnancy, a murder to cover up the sin and severe repercussion for David, his entire family and the entire nation of Israel.
The New Testament also contains much teaching on the dangers of covetousness:
Jesus said that the origin of defiling sin is within the human heart. We often think that temptation comes from the outside world, but this is only because the lustful desires in our hearts are projected onto external things and persons (see Mark 7:18-23).
- Paul indicates that one deadly form of covetous is sexual lust (Eph. 5:1-6; Col. 3:1-8). It’s well known is our culture that what some people call love is really selfish sexual desire—lust.
- Paul’s personal testimony about covetousness in Romans 7 indicates that we don’t know ourselves very well, nor are we aware of the depths of the depravity of the human heart.
What does the 10th commandment teach us about ourselves?
It shows us that we are greedy, selfish, materialistic people, driven by ambition, lust and the deadly sin of covetousness. The word “covetousness” in Scripture is frequently linked with “idolatry”. In fact Paul says that “covetousness is idolatry” (Col. 3:5-6). He goes on to say that “covetousness” is one of the reasons that the wrath of God is coming.
What is the wrath of God? It is His just reaction to evil. We must not allow our lust for another person or thing to become so dominant in our thinking that they take the place of God in our lives.
Is there any Scriptural basis for the “Gospel of prosperity”?
While it’s true that prosperity and success are the blessing of God, the early church leaders didn’t seek financial success or abundance of material possessions (Acts 3:6; 20:33).
Jesus’ own disciples forsook all to follow Him. Few of Jesus disciples were rich and Jesus himself declared how difficult it was for rich people to enter the Kingdom (Mk. 10:23-25).
The early church members contributed their possessions to the church in order to help meet the basic needs of less fortunate members (Acts 2:4-45). The rich young ruler refused to follow Christ. Why? He was too attached to his worldly riches (Matt. 10:10).
The prosperity Gospel is a false gospel (1 Tim. 6:5)—a product of false ministry (2 Pet. 2:1-3). It is evidence of the times in which we live. Paul said in the last days people will be “lovers of their own selves, covetous…lovers of pleasure” (2 Tim. 3:2). God wants our security and trust to be in Him and in Him alone (Psalm 91:2), only then can He reveal to us true riches (Col. 2:3). He wants our treasure to be in Him (Matt. 6:20-21)—for His riches are eternal!
How would we know if we were covetous?
- Do we prefer material gain to God?
- Do we prefer to spend now rather than invest in eternity?
- Do we love things and use people or vice versa?
- Do we set our minds of earthly rather than heavenly things?
- Do we have an inordinate desire for money or material things?
- Do we rob God of His tithe in order to indulge ourselves?
- Do we talk more about things than the things of God?
- Do we trust in finances for security rather than God’s love?
- Do we reluctantly or generously seek to give to others?
- Do we use money to pamper the flesh or invest in God’s mission?
- Do we go shopping or go to God when we feel bad?
- Do we think that more money will make us happy?
What do we need to consider in developing a proper attitude toward things?
- Consider the wisdom of storing up treasure in heaven
- Consider the brevity of this earthly life—only what’s done for Christ will last.
- Consider the fact that God has already given us everything we really need.
- Consider the fact that earthly riches become useless at death.
- Consider all the perils, dangers and warnings associated with riches.
- Consider that the more you have the more you have to account for.
- Consider the fact that “things” will never satisfy—only God can satisfy.
- Consider the example of Christ—the pursuit of things was not his primary goal.
- Consider the example of the early church—how generous they were in sharing.
- Consider God’s promises related to giving—remember, we can’t out give God.
Money and possessions in themselves aren’t evil (James 1:17) but when they take the place in the human heart that is reserved for God alone they become a stumbling block which, if not dealt with thoroughly and biblically, can result in spiritual destruction.
If we knew the seriousness, danger and peril of the sin of covetousness we would take bold, dramatic and decisive steps to deal with it. Did Jesus warn us in vain, “Watch out, be ware of covetousness”?
I leave you with this verse: Hebrews 13:5— “Keep your lives free from covetousness [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.’”
What is the biblical antidote for covetousness? Hint: read Philippians 4
This article was written for The John Ankerberg Show by Dr. Steven Riser; ©2005.