Let’s turn together in our Bibles to Exodus 20:17. If you’re visiting with us, we’ve been doing a series of studies on the 10 commandments that God spoke from heaven to the nation of Israel at Mt. Sinai. And this morning we’ve come to #10.
A kid’s Sunday school class was studying the Ten Commandments. And they were ready to discuss the last one, and the teacher asked if anyone could tell her what 10th commandment was. And little Susie raised her hand, stood tall, and quoted, “Thou shall not take the covers off the neighbor’s wife.” Well, that’s close, but not quite. Let’s look at it. Exodus 20:17 the voice of God proclaimed to Israel, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife or his male servant or his female servant or his ox or his donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”
Covet and covetousness are not words we use very often. We use other words in their place. Instead of saying “I covet that…” We say “If only I had that, then I would be happy.” Or “I want that so bad.” Covetousness is simply an inordinate desire for something, an earnest wanting of something. Another word for it is greed.
Now, we all want or desire things to a degree. We all want to be healthy. We’re going to want lunch here in a little bit. We want friends, don’t we? If the boss at work offered you a raise you wouldn’t say, “Ah, no thanks, I don’t want any more money.” We all want things to a degree, and that doesn’t make us greedy or covetous. Covetousness is an inordinate desire. It is to so want something that you’d be willing to do something wrong or you’d neglect to do something right in order to obtain it or to keep it if you already have it. It’s when having something becomes more important to you than obeying the will of God or the best interest of other people.
And let’s notice again here the things that God told the ancient Israelites that they we’re not to so want. He said to them, “You shall not covet your neighbors house…” Well, that’s definitely relevant to us. How often do you drive around and think, “If only I could live in a house like that. Life would be good in a house like that.” Then secondly God said, “you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife” Do you ever compare your spouse with the spouse of others or some wife or husband they show you on TV and think “I kind of wish I could trade”? Then God told them you shall not covet his male servant or his female servant… Perhaps we could make a parallel to looking at someone who has a staff, someone who is in a position of prestige and they have people who are under them. And we might think, “I’d like to sit in that chair and be able to just snap my fingers and have all these people moving around. I’d like to be that guy.” And then God goes on, “or his ox or his donkey“. We may never say, “If only I could have that donkey…” But we may say the modern equivelent, “If only I could have that car or that pickup… If only I could have that tractor or those tools…” A donkey and ox back then meant transportation, power, the ability to get work done, the ability to pull heavy things. And then finally God summed it up saying, “or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” His or her career, friendships, appearance, prestige. His or her life circumstances.
This commandment is really, when think about it, just the flip side of the first one. Remember the first one, “You shall have no other gods besides me.” And in the Bible in multiple places we find that the object of your love and devotion is called your god. Your god is whatever it is, whether a being the spirit realm or some earthly thing, that your heart clings to and that’s most important to you and controls your decisions. And so to covet some earthly thing, to love it and be devoted to having it, is to have another god besides God, it is to violate the first commandment. And that’s why the apostle Paul says twice, in Ephesians 5:5 and Colossians 3:5, he says in both those passages that greed or covetousness amounts to idolatry, because it is in essence putting something else in God’s rightful place in your heart.
God’s word would have us to know at least 4 things about coveting that we’re going talk about this morning – the cause, the clues, the consequences and the cure.
Let’s notice first the…
I. Cause of Covetousness
Usually a main factor in covetousness arising in a heart is seeing what others have that you don’t, or learning about what you don’t have. You bring your kid to an ice cream shop and get him a vanilla ice cream cone, and he’s thrilled to get an ice cream cone and he’s perfectly contented with it… until he walks past a kid holding a chocolate dipped cone covered with sprinkles. Now all the sudden a perfectly good vanilla ice cream cone doesn’t look as good, doesn’t taste as good, and he’s saying, “I don’t like this vanilla one anymore.” There was no chemical change in the ice cream. He just saw what he didn’t have. When you’re a kid and dad says “You can have this much of an allowance,” you’re thrilled. You think it’s great.. until Monday on the bus with your friend, you say, “Hey guess what? My dad gave me an allowance.” And he says , “Oh, how much?” And you say, “A dollar,” and he says, “Well, my dad give me $2.” And now you’re no longer content with a dollar because your friend gets 2. There’s a Dennis the Menace cartoon strip that shows Dennis looking through a Christmas Toy catalogue saying, “This catalog’s got a lot of toys I didn’t even know I wanted.” How come none of us coveted an i-Phone 10 years ago? Because we’d never seen one. But now that we’ve seen it, we want it.
So seeing stuff is part of the cause. But it’s not just seeing stuff, because there are some people who can see stuff that they don’t have and not covet. It’s interesting that in Bible when it says that someone has an “evil eye” it’s not talking about that look that your wife gives you when you track mud in the house. If someone was said to have an evil eye it meant that they greedy or covetous. And if someone was said to have a good eye it meant they were the opposite; they were content with what they had and generous.
Let’s turn to the Proverbs and notice a couple examples. Proverbs 22:9 in my version reads, “He who is generous will be blessed, for he gives some of his food to the poor.” If you have a foot note for the phrase “He who is generous,” it will tell you that literally that reads ‘He who has a good eye’. Having a good eye was synonymous with being generous. Proverbs 28:22, “A man with an evil eye hastens after wealth and does not know that want will come upon him.” So why do we covet? Well, it has to do with whether we have a good eye or a bad eye when we see what others have.
But it’s really not the condition of our physical eyes, is it? The issue is really the condition of the eyes of our heart. It’s what we see inside when our physical eyes catch a glimpse of stuff that we don’t have. It’s what goes on in our minds and what we believe about things and how we think about things. And that’s an eye condition that we can change. We can work on how we see things inside and what we believe and how we think. That’s why God holds us accountable for covetousness, because it’s a matter of our free will and choice that He gave us how well the eyes of our heart work. So that will help us when we get down to the cure of covetousness. We need, with God’s help, to fix the eyes of our heart and work on seeing things better.
But let’s move on to the…
II. Clues of Covetousness
(Evidences that should alert us that there may be covetousness in our hearts.) And let’s turn over to Luke ch12 for this. I find in this chapter 4 clues of covetousness.
In Luke 12 Jesus is teaching His disciples in the hearing of a crowd of thousands. And at v15 Jesus all the sudden changes subjects in His teaching to talk about greed / covetousness. v13-14 tells us what happened that prompted the change of subjects. Someone in the crowd interrupted Jesus or waited for a pause in His teaching to say, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” Those of you who have ever done much for teaching, whether it was Bible class or in a secular school or in other capacities, you’ve probably experienced interruptions when you’re in the midst of conveying important information to the class. You’re trying your best to instill within the hearts of those listening to you vital information, and then somebody raises their hand and asks a question that is just completely unrelated to what you were talking about, and you wander if the person has even been conscious this whole time that you’ve been teaching. That’s this guy. Jesus is in the middle of trying to convey vitals truths to our relationship with God, out of the blue this guy brings a squabble that he has with his brother over inheritance money and property and asks Jesus to rule in his favor. And Jesus first says “That’s not my job. There are other people who are set up to settle disputes like this and I’m not one of them. That’s not why I came.” And then Jesus begins to teach about covetousness. Why? I think because He could detect covetousness in this man’s heart, because apparently his mind was not on the great spiritual truths that Jesus was teaching; his mind was preoccupied with money and property and how he could get his fair share. Well, I think there’s a clue of covetousness. What’s been on your mind this morning as we’ve been singing these songs and praying to our God and sharing in the Lord’s Supper together and looking at the word of God? How about throughout the week when you’re not having to concentrate on your job or the necessary tasks of life, when your mind is free to think about other things, what do you usually think about? Do you think much about God and His will for your life and how you can please Him in your life and help others to know Him, or is your mind usually preoccupied with certain earthly things that you desire? What takes precedence in our minds is a clue to what’s most important to us, to what we love and desire most.
Now, if we keep going in Luke 12 and notice the parable that Jesus tells beginning at v16 I think we find another clue, another indicator. It has to do with what our plans for the future are like. “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.” That’s one of the scariest stories I’ve ever read, because doesn’t this man just look like a typical hard working American? He looks like a lot of people I’ve sat next to in church. In fact, he kind of looks like how I used to be and am still tempted to be sometimes. A typical American, if you could get them to tell you their plans for the future, they’d say something like, “Well, I’m going to work for x number more years and then I should have the house and cars and stuff paid off and a decent retirement package, and then I’m going to retire.” Sounds a lot like “I’m going build bigger barns and store up a bunch that will carry me through for many years.” And you say, “Oh okay. And then what are you going to do?” “Well, the wife and I would like to see Europe and Australia. And there’s some other places we’d like to see. And we’re going to get a house by the golf course. And we’re going to golf and fish and bowl and play cards and go to shows and do a lot of relaxing.” Isn’t that what this guy said, “I’m going to take my ease, eat, drink and be merry.” When your plans for the future have nothing to do with serving the Lord and nothing to do with helping others; when they have nothing to do with anyone but yourself, it reveals a covetous heart. It seems to me covetousness is an epidemic in America and most people don’t even know that they’re infected. What’s the priority in your plans? Amassing the material for self? Or is it ways that you might with your abilities and resources be useful to the good others and to the furthering of God’s kingdom in the world?
Then in v22-32 Jesus talks with His disciples about worry and explains why we don’t need to be worried about money and material stuff such as what we’re going to eat and what we’re going to drink and what we’re going to wear for clothing. It’s another clue of covetousness, a sign that maybe money and stuff has too much importance in our minds. Are you worried about money and possessions? It’s not that we’re not to be concerned about money at all to where we don’t even try to get a job and support our families. But do you have fearful uneasy troubling thoughts about money? Are you stressed out about money? Do you almost have panic attacks over money? Do you have trouble sleeping at night because you’re so worried about your investments or some money matter? Jesus says if you put God first in your life, you’re going to have all you need and you’re going to be alright. God feeds the birds and He clothes the lilies of the field. You are worth far more than birds and lilies to God. Follow His will in your life and He’s going to take care of you.
Let’s notice one more clue in v33-34. In v33 Jesus tells his disciples to do the opposite of the rich man in the parable. “Sell your possessions and give to charity; make yourselves money belts which do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near nor moth destroys.” Now, He doesn’t say sell every last one of your possessions and give them all away. But no question He is telling them to be very generous givers; that when they have more than they need and there are those who don’t, they’re to do what they can to meet the needs around them. And doing that Jesus says is storing up treasure in heaven. When you invest in the good of others and the furthering of God’s kingdom, when you give your time and money and energy to blessing others and leading them to know the Lord better, that’s storing up treasure in heaven. And then notice v34, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” What does He mean, “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also”? I’ve wrestled with that. But I think I see what He’s saying now, though it makes me a little uncomfortable. You know we say sometimes, “I gave my heart to Jesus. Jesus has my heart. God has my heart.” (II Chron 16:9) I hear Jesus saying, “Well, here’s a test to see if that’s true, to see if someone in heaven has your heart or things on earth have your heart. Where is your treasure?” Where have you been stockpiling? Where have you been investing? Have we been stockpiling primarily in our bank accounts and in our houses and in our driveways and our yards? Or have we primarily been stockpiling in heaven by investing our time and our money and our energy in service to others and the spread of the gospel? It’s a hard one to swallow, but I think that’s what Jesus is saying. It makes sense. Here’s an indication of where your heart is, of what or who you love and desire most – Where is your treasure? Where have you been stockpiling?
So clues of covetousness – What takes precedence in your mind? What are your plans for the future? What are you worried about? And where is your treasure?
III. Consequences of Covetousness
Let’s turn to the book of James and notice a few. Let’s turn to James ch4. I notice here that one consequence is that it will destroy relationships in your life. James 4:1-2, “What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? 2 You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious [or some versions say “You covet”] and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel.” Why is there so much violence and tension and discord in the world? Why so many divorces? Why so many fractured families and friendships? Why so much strife and disunity in churches? Covetousness, greed. People want things and other people are in their way to get it. Or (it doesn’t make sense to do this but we do) we start despising a person who has what we want. Young David and King Saul were once good friends. David was a skillful player of the harp. And when Saul was having a rough day being terrorized by an evil spirit, it says, he would send for young David to come and play for him and the evil spirit would leave and the music would sooth him. And it says that Saul loved young David. And he made David his armor bearer. Things were good between the two. Until that occasion when David killed Goliath and sent the Philistines running and there was a great slaughter of the Philistines that day, and after that war when they were coming home the women of Israel were singing “Saul has slain his thousands and David his ten thousands.” From that day on Saul despised David and tried to kill him several times, because he coveted the higher praise that David was receiving. It happens all the time, a couple of childhood friends, are the best of friends through high school and they go to college together and they do equally well in college and still the best of friends, but then after college one of them rises quickly in financial success and the other takes the slow track and struggles financially. The slower track guy can’t stand the success of his friend. He hates seeing his new cars and his fancy clothes and his lush apartment. And so he no longer calls as often and starts to despise him, because he’s covetous. It happens between brothers and sisters in a family. It happens in churches. It happens between preachers, when one preacher gets more money or recognition than the other.
Let’s look at ch3 of James and notice another consequence of covetousness. James 3:16, “For where jealousy and selfish ambition [“coveting” in other words] exist, there is [#1] disorder [that’s what we were just talking about; turmoil, disunity, destroyed relationships.] and [#2] every evil thing [or “all types of evil”].” Coveting has been called the “mother of all sins,” because it is an inward sin that gives birth all manner of outward evil things. We know I Timothy 6:9-10, “But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” Coveting can be compelling enough to make us ignore the common sense God gave us. It can get us to the point where we no longer make good judgments. It makes us forget about the needs and feelings of people around us. It turns us into very ugly people. David was one the most admirable men in the Bible until that day on his roof top when he saw Bathsheba down below bathing and he coveted her. And that covetousness turned him into one of the most despicable characters for about a year of his life. He stole a poor man’s wife, who had only her in the whole world. He became a thief and adulterer. And then a liar and deceiver to cover his tracks when she became pregnant. And then even a murderer when arranged for the death of Bathsheba’s husband out on the battlefield.
Let’s notice another consequence of covetousness here in the book of James. Look at 4:4, “You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” Covetousness is in essence friendship with the world, love for the world or the things of the world. And you see a consequence of covetousness is it makes us an enemy of God. It’s being like an adulteress to Him, like He’s a good loving faithful husband and you are a wife that’s giving the love that’s due to Him to someone else. You know the purpose for which God created us… It was, for one, to express love. God is love. He made us to be objects of His love. But it was also to receive love in return. He wanted us to receive and reciprocate His love. And He wants to have this loving relationship with us for eternity. And He’s given us this short time on earth to decide if we want to be a part of that. If we just come to church and don’t kill anybody or sleep around or steal, but we still love stuff God made more than God, then we are not fulfilling the purpose for which we were made and our life is a waste unless we repent of that.
For one more consequence of covetousness let’s turn to the book of Ecclesiastes, ch5. Solomon tries here to explain that if you are a covetous person you are never really going to be happy, not even here on earth. Ecclesiastes 5:10, “He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves abundance with its income.” If you’re the kind of person who is not going to be happy until you get this thing or that or until you make this amount of money, then you never going to be happy. You are never going to enjoy contentment. You will experience a brief thrill when you get what you’ve wanted for a long time, but the thrill won’t last long. Soon it will fade and you will be unhappy again until you get the next thing and the process will begin all over again. A newspaper reporter interviewed John D. Rockefeller one time and asked him, “How much money does it take to be happy?” And Rockefeller replied, “Just a little bit more.” Coveting is just an endless pursuit for joy that fades. Then look at 5:17, “Throughout his life [that is “throughout the life of the man who loves and pursues wealth”] he also eats in darkness with great vexation, sickness [or affliction] and anger.” I hear him saying that to live in covetousness is a frustrating stressful miserable life, because you never have enough. It never brings the lasting satisfaction you were hoping it would. Likely you feel shame over things you have done and loved-ones you’ve neglected to gain money. And deep down you know soon you’re leaving this world and you’re leaving it all behind, everything that you’ve striven so hard to acquire.
I came across this little description of Howard Hugh’s that certainly illustrates the truth of Ecclesiastes 5:10,17. “Billionaire Howard Hugh’s obsession in life was to have more. He wanted more money, so he parlayed inherited wealth into a billion dollar pile of assets. He wanted more fame, so he went to Hollywood and became a film maker and star. He wanted more sensual pleasures, so he paid handsome sums to indulge his every hedonistic urge. He wanted more thrills, so he designed, built and piloted the fastest aircraft in the world. He wanted more power, so he secretly dealt political favors so skillfully that two U. S. Presidents became his pawns. All he ever wanted was more. And yet this man ended his life emaciated; colorless; with a sunken chest. His fingernails resembled grotesque, corkscrews that were inches long. His teeth were black and rotten, and innumerable needle marks from his drug addiction covered his body. He walked around nearly naked most of the time with his beard and hair to his waist. He lived in darkness, wore rubber gloves, and sterilized everything in his junk-filled room. He spent most of his time watching old movies and drinking soup. He was so lonely that he talked on the phone for 10 to 15 hours a day. Howard Hughs died weighing 95 pounds still believing in the myth of more. His life shows the truth of that old Latin proverb: “He who covets is always poor.”
Real quick, what’s the…
IV. Cure for Covetousness
We’ve got to fix the eyes of our heart. We’ve got to start seeing better. And certainly we should ask God’s help with that. Ephesians 1:18 Paul said “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe.” Pray that God enlightens the eyes of our heart in a way that dispels our heart of covetousness. But don’t just pray about it. You also, with God’s help and with His word, work on putting things in the proper perspective.
What was that bigger barn guy seeing? He was seeing, “for many years to come, I can take my ease, eat, drink and be merry. For sure I have many years to come. For sure I’ve still got a long time on this earth.” That’s bad eyesight. The Bible says if you’re seeing things properly you’re seeing that your life here is just a vapor that appears for a little while and vanishes away. And you don’t know what your life will be like tomorrow or even if you have tomorrow. You need to see you’re leaving soon and you’re leaving any day now and you can’t bring any luggage with you where you’re going.
We need to see the consequences of covetousness, that it’s going to destroy relationships in your life, and cause lots of strife and heartache, and it’s going turn you into an ugly person, and it’s going to sever your relationship with God, and it’s going make even this life miserable for you.
And you need to see why you’re on this earth, why God made you, the ultimate goal God had in mind for people, to receive and reciprocate His love for eternity. And unless you align yourself with His purpose, your life is a waste.
And we’ve got to see what Psalm 34:8-10 tells us. (And we’ll end with this.) “O taste and see that the Lord is good; How blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him! 9 O fear the Lord, you His saints; For to those who fear Him there is no want. 10 The young lions do lack and suffer hunger; But they who seek the Lord shall not be in want of any good thing.” God is good! And He loves us so much, if we’ll but give Him the place in our hearts that He deserves as our creator and sustainer and savior, we will not be in want of any good thing. Do you believe God’s promise? Do you see that in the eyes of your heart? Because if you really see it, then everything else in the world becomes rather insignificant, and God becomes the desire and priority of our hearts.
– James Williams