The very real danger of coveting

The very real danger of coveting

“Do not covet” is one of the ten commandments (Ex 20:17). That word, to covet, is not a word that we tend to use much anymore. It means to want something that is not yours. In Exodus 20, we are given the examples of a range of things that belong to your neighbour: his wife (or her husband, if you are female), his servants, his animals, or anything else he owns. We are not to desire the things that belong to someone else.

Sure, this is in the ten commandments. But when we compare it to the other things on the list, it doesn’t seem so bad, does it? After all, wanting something that is not ours doesn’t seem to be in the same category as murder, theft and adultery. Yet God put it on the summary of the law.

King Ahab gives us a great illustration of where coveting can lead to in 1 Kings 21. Here is a man who has so much. We know Ahab built several cities including the capital, Samaria. 1 Kings 21 sees Ahab in his second palace in Jezreel, a man with such wealth and power. Yet he wants more. There is a field next to his second palace that he would like to use as a vegetable garden, yet it is owned by a man named Naboth. He offers to purchase the land from Naboth (v2) but is rebuffed as land was not a commodity to buy and sell in Israel. It was ancestral land, given by God, and was not to be sold except in extreme measures and for a short time period. Naboth was right to refuse.

This shouldn’t have mattered so much, really. It is one field compared to all Ahab already owns. But Ahab sulks. He recasts the situation as one where he is the victim for not getting what he wants (v6). The desire for this field consumes him. He cannot eat or sleep. And, in the end, his wife Jezebel goes to extreme measures to obtain the land for Ahab. In a terrible account of injustice, we read of unfair charges, the killing of an innocent man, and unlawful possession of the land. And all of this leads to judgement from God delivered by Elijah (v17-24).

The desire for Naboth’s field led to murder, theft, false testimony and more. Break the tenth commandment and you will be prepared to break the other ones to get what you want.

Maybe this passage reminds you of a more famous one. King David desired Bathsheba, and that led to murder, false testimony, sin upon sin. It was the beginning of the end of the reign of David; from there, it all went downhill.

Don’t excuse coveting in your heart. Our whole economy is based on it. Advertisers and social media people are working hard to make you covet things you do not have. And the danger is that these things capture your heart. You lie awake at night thinking of how much better that new phone is compared to the one you have. You visit the nice home of a friend and then dream of having such a nice kitchen or furniture yourself. It is only a small jump to deciding that you need these things. That these things will make you happy.

Christians should know better than this. Things can never make us happy. Our joy is found in Jesus and what he has done for us, something bought for us with blood and not money. We can so easily replace the joy we have in Jesus and the contentment that we are right with God with anxiety that the next purchase will make us happy. That’s a bad swap. Being stuck on the treadmill of wanting more things or more experiences will never satisfy us; it will make us more anxious, less content, and focussed on things rather than on God.

Part of the solution is not exposing ourselves to needless advertising that feeds our covetous hearts. Unsubscribe from those mailing lists that bombard your inbox with special offers and new products. Stop scrolling through online stores when you are bored, and be aware that social media is cleverly targeting you to feed your desire for things. Don’t visit the shops for recreation and window shopping. If we stop feeding our covetous heart, that will give us space to enjoy God and life and the good things we already have.

Remember the good news of the gospel. We have been purchased at a price. We have all we need for life and godliness. This truth is for all who trust in Jesus as their Saviour and Lord, whether they are rich or poor. Having more things won’t make you happy. In fact, riches are often warned against in the Bible as a huge danger to your faith. Thank God for what you already have, and not just material things either. Thank him for salvation, forgiveness of sins, adoption as sons, a certain hope, the Holy Spirit who is working in you, and the gift of a church family. All these things were purchased for you already and cannot be taken away.

Don’t spend your life and mental energy chasing things you don’t have. Thank God for the things you do have.