What constitutes covetousness?

Q. In bible class yesterday the question was brought up as to what is covetous. The answer was when you want something that belonged to someone else.  I made the statement “It does not become covetous until you act on the want. There must me an act before iit becomes covetous. Would you please talk about this was I correct or wrong?

Here are a few verses to remember:

Romans 7:7

“What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, “YOU SHALL NOT COVET.”

Romans 13:9

“For this, “YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY, YOU SHALL NOT MURDER, YOU SHALL NOT STEAL, YOU SHALL NOT COVET,” and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.”

2 Cor. 9:5

“So I thought it necessary to urge the brethren that they would go on ahead to you and arrange beforehand your previously promised bountiful gift, so that the same would be ready as a

bountiful gift and not affected by covetousness.”

Covetousness is closely related to greed, avarice, excessive desire for money, or the desire for another’s possessions.  I think one of the key words to remember here is the word “desire.”  To overcome covetousness one must control desire.  Desire is a function of the mind, or heart.  What the heart dwells upon becomes desire and will lead to actions and emotions.  I believe it is possible to allow emotions to direct our thoughts without acting upon what we want.

Consider these facts.  Jesus warned about the power of possessions:

Luke 12:15-21

15 Then He said to them, “Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions.”

16 And He told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man was very productive.

17 “And he began reasoning to himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no place to store my crops?’

18 “Then he said, ‘This is what I will do: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods.

19 ‘And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry.”’

20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?’

21 “So is the man who stores up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”

Here we have an example of one who only “planned” to be greedy, but was judged negatively.

Matt. 6:19-24

19 ¶ “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.

20 “But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal;

21 for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

22 “The eye is the lamp of the body; so then if your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light.

23 “But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!

24 “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.

I believe verse  21 above is very instructive, “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  You may treasure something in your heart, and therefore cause your whole course of life to be “full of darkness” (verse 23).

We also have a case in Jesus teaching that illustrates this point:

Matthew 19:16-22

16 ¶ And someone came to Him and said, “Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life?”

17 And He said to him, “Why are you asking Me about what is good? There is only One who is good; but if you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.”

18 Then he *said to Him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER; YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY; YOU SHALL NOT STEAL; YOU

SHALL NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS;

19 HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER; and YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.”

20 The young man *said to Him, “All these things I have kept; what am I still lacking?”

21 Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”

22 But when the young man heard this statement, he went away grieving; for he was one who owned much property.

This rich young man was worthy of admiration on many levels.  “Honor” in the context above indicates that he was using his material wealth to assist his parents in a financial way, but his

problem was still covetousness in his heart.

The reason is that greed or covetousness is essentially idolatry.  Consider Col. 3:5

Col. 3:5 

“Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry.”

The desire for possessions can easily become all consuming and therefore takes control of a human life in a way that only God should.  This is why covetousness is so destructive.  It’s not

ONLY the act that seeks to get more, it is the thought process which takes control of our lives and leads us away from our devotion to God.

I hope these thoughts help you in your study of God’s precious Word.

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