A Covetous Heart

What does it mean to covet (Exodus 20:17) and how can we relate this to our lives?

Many of us like to collect things or enjoy the feeling of acquiring something new. Is this covetousness? Generally, no. To covet something means to allow the desire for that item to govern one’s emotions in such a way that it negatively affects our relationships with one another.

In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warned that it is not just in keeping our external actions in check, but also our inward desires of the heart (Matthew 5:21-30). The sin of covetousness, born in the heart, produces a lustful desire for something or someone else. The damage caused by such an emotion results in a loss of contentment (see Philippians 4:11-12 and 1 Timothy 6:6-8 for an understanding of God’s desire for our contentment) and ultimately shifts our focus from our eternal reward to those of temporal pleasure (Matthew 6:20-21, 33). Paul further equates these actions to a form of idolatry (Colossians 3:5).

The Christian music group Casting Crowns has a song called, “Slow Fade” which contain the following lyrics:

“Be careful little eyes what you see,

It's the second glance that ties your hands

As darkness pulls the strings”

King David provides an excellent example of these lyrics. It was David’s second glance at Bathsheba that incited covetousness in his heart, which led to adultery and ultimately to murder. In his choices, we see how the sin of covetousness can easily lead to other detrimental actions, which creates a downward spiral filled with hopelessness and despair. David’s response to his sins in Psalm 51 provides a glimpse of a life anguished over being separated from God.

Thus, when we covet we not only hurt the relationships we have with others (James 4:1-3), but we are also hurting our relationship with God (Psalm 51:10-12).

Unfortunately, falling into covetousness is easier today than it ever has been thanks to social media. Instead of being content with our own lives, we scan through our Facebook feeds and see lives of other people doing things, going places, possessing material things that we wish we could. We are then drawn to compare our lives with what we see in these posts and instantly feel insecure about ourselves and how our lives cannot compare. There is little doubt about the validity of research conducted that has shown a correlation in depression and time spent on Facebook.

If we have love abiding in us, then we should rejoice with the happiness of others, just as we mourn with those who are mourning (Romans 12:15). We should celebrate God’s blessings on others, even the unbelievers as this is part of God’s common grace to everyone (Luke 6:35). We should not only be content for what we have been given, but be grateful.

Go back and re-read that apostle Paul’s statement in Philippians 4:11-12. Here was a man who has been beaten countless times, currently writing this epistle in prison, and yet he is content. Why? Because the grace of God sustains him. Paul is looking beyond what this world can offer and is instead focused on Christ.

Let that be your example and you can win the battle over the desire to covet.

Additional Scriptural Cross References: Deuteronomy 5:21; Proverbs 6:29; Micah 2:2; Matthew 5:28; Luke 12:15; Romans 13:9; Hebrews 13:5