Covetousness is not only a sin that God warns us against, it’s also one that can have a profound affect on our finances.
Covetousness is an obsessive desire that drives us to chase and acquire things that aren’t good for us, or that we really can’t afford.
The Tenth Commandment
God considered covetousness so significant that He built an entire commandment around it:
“Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s.” ~ Exodus 20:17
As human beings, most of us may not give a whole lot of weight to this commandment. We may think one of the following:
- Covetousness is waaayyyy down at number ten – it must be the least important commandment, otherwise why would God put it last?
- Covetousness seems less like a sin and more like a heavy temptation.
- We all covet, don’t we? How bad can it be?
- Covetousness seems like a minor league offense compared to murder and worshipping false gods; God won’t be too sore if I break this one.
- How can covetousness be a sin if I’m not even sure what it is?
What is Covetousness?
I think the last point (#5) may be something of a legitimate issue – do we even know what covetousness is?
Dictionary.com defines it as 1. inordinately or wrongly desirous of wealth or possessions; greedy. 2. eagerly desirous. Synonyms include words like grasping, rapacious and avaricious. The definition makes the point that covetousness is a wicked thing.
We all want things that we don’t have – a house of our own, a car to drive, a retirement plan to rely on in old age – is it wrong to want them? Probably not. A certain amount of financial stability can even make us better witnesses of the Gospel.
But covetousness goes beyond simply wanting better for ourselves and doing what’s necessary to get there. Covetousness can turn the pursuit of even noble goals into an obsession, and idol. People end up deep in debt, or chasing a lifestyle they can’t afford. At the extreme, it can play out through deception and theft. At any of those points we’ve crossed a line in which we’ve moved from the desire to have or to accomplish something healthy into an outright sin.
It’s a fine line. Charles Stanley preached an excellent sermon on the topic a few years back, using your neighbor’s wife as an example. Admiring the wife from afar isn’t covetousness, it’s a temptation. Purposing to put yourself in places and situations where you’ll cross paths is a sin.
Unholy desire + action = covetousness.
Covetousness – the Media’s Favorite Vice
One thing we have today that didn’t exist in Biblical times is the media. You know, ads, TV programs, ads, web content and more ads. We already want what we don’t have, and don’t need. Slick advertisements take us right where our flesh wants to go. That’s really good for the vendors behind the ads, and really bad for us.
It feeds our covetousness.
The mass media make covetousness look and feel good, or at least normal. This is bad because it makes sin seem like it isn’t really sin.
Humans Tend to Conform
Most people conform to their peers, which means we want what everyone else has. In fact, we come to believe that what everyone else has is what is normal to have. We deserve at least as much.
Little thought goes into whether we need these things or not. We might, for example, buy a house just because it’s what others do. We might buy a new car every five years, not because we need to, but because that’s what every one else seems to be doing.
We may even come to believe it’s our “right” to have certain possessions, at which point the possessions become idols.
During the 1990s and early 2000s, millions of people bought houses using “liar loans” – so called because you declared a certain income level that was never actually verified by the lender. Millions lost those houses because they could not afford them.
Dare to be Different
One of the best ways to overcome covetousness in a society saturated by media messages and mass conformity is to be different. As Christians, we’re called to come out from among them and be different (2 Corinthians 6:14-17).
That’s a major part of our witness to the world.
It takes confidence, courage, and strength in our convictions to be different. It also takes a willingness to step out of the herd, recognize unbiblical messages, and reject them.
That’s why so few ever do it. But that’s also why it’s such a powerful witness.
Did I mention it’s a less expensive way to live?
Freeing up Money for Giving and Investing
One of the biggest problems with covetousness are its opportunity costs. While we’re out chasing after wants (posing as needs) we spend time, attention and money to get them. That means resources are squandered on immediate desires meant to make us look good in the eyes of others.
If we stop chasing after vanity, we have more time, energy and money for worthy pursuits – the kind that honor our Father in Heaven rather than men.
The more we’re able to avoid the sin of covetousness, the more money we’ll have available for giving, saving, and investing. We’ll also free ourselves from want and pave a path of financial independence that can help us live a life of higher purpose.
Have you ever thought about the true depth of the sin of covetousness and its effect on our lives?
photo credit: Brett Jordan
Great post! This is definitley something that’s been on my mind lately. My wife and I are planning to move this coming summer and we’re trying to decide if we want to rent or buy. We both think we’d really like to buy, but we’re not certain if our desire to buy is Spirit led or if it is covetousness that is swaying us towards buying. The good thing is that we have some time to work through this and to ask the Lord to show us the path He wants us to take.
Have I considered the true depth of the sin of covetousness? I would have to say yes, I have, but I think it would do be good to consider it much more often than I presently do because the only way I can combat the constant bombardment of advertisements is to keep God’s TRUTH fresh in my mind.
Kevin Mercadante says
Hi Thomas–I don’t think that buying a house is inherently coveteous. It’s probably more about how much house you buy. Do you buy only as big a house as you need, or do you pursue something bigger? And if so, what is the true purpose?
I’d pray long and hard about it. If you plan to do a good bit of mission work you may find that renting works better. If you have or plan to have a family, a house will probably work better.
I rented for years because I did not want the responsibility of owning a home for a long time. Then, I remarried, and since we had two incomes and two people to share the work, it seemed like a good time to buy a home. I bought my home in 2005 while the market prices of homes were still inflated. The market crashed in 2008 and the value of my home was affected to the point where on paper it is now worth about half of what I still owe on it. Then, my husband decided he wanted to divorce; because of the economy his job went to Florida and we did not even live together because I stayed in Michigan because of the house and our pets. All I am saying is that in this day and age, buying a home is a very risky business because of the economic climate and the instability of our country’s economic structure. I am now upside down on my mortgage and struggling to make ends meet and I have all the work of maintaining my home on my shoulders. Buying a home is definitely not as sure of an investment as it used to be! Please do pray long and hard about it!
Kevin Mercadante says
This is a topic I’ve written on in the past, that owning a house is no longer a “no brainer”. First, we have to consider that fact that fewer careers will provide the type of long term employment that is required by a 15 or 30 year mortgage. Additonally because houses now fluctuate in value, are harder to sell and the fact that households are less likely to stay intact than in the past.
The potential for getting stuck with a house are enormous right now.
It’s not that buying a house is a bad thing, only that it’s no longer right for everyone and requires a lot more thought than in the past.