Covetousness, despite it being incredibly common, is something Jesus said to BEWARE of (Luke 12:15), and something scripture says IS idolatry (Col. 3:5; cp. Eph. 5:3-5). Why? What is the problem with covetousness? In this blog post, we’ll explore that question.
What is Covetousness?
The noun covetousness is defined as the state of being covetous. The adjective covetous means given to, marked by, or arising from coveting. Let’s get to the root of the matter: the verb or action COVET. In Merriam Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary, the definition of covet is to wish for earnestly: crave possession or enjoyment of: long for; to desire (another’s possession or attribute) inordinately or culpably.
- Notice: It’s not just to desire, but to desire inordinately (excessively, unreasonably, extraordinarily). Inordinate means lacking order so in short, when you covet you lust for things that are out of order, desire things you’re not supposed to have ever (or at that time), or want things MORE than you should. Rather than being content, a covetous person becomes obsessed with obtaining things even if that means getting out of the will of God.
- Notice: The definition mentions not just desiring inordinately, but also desiring culpably. Culpably means in a manner or to a degree deserving blame or censure. A covetous person will often end up guilty and in trouble because they want something SO BADLY that they’ll do whatever it takes to get it, even if it means being guilty of disobeying the Word of God.
The Biblical words for covet, covetous, and covetousness relate not only to desire, lust, envy, and greed, but also to profit, (dishonest) gain, being fond of silver (loving money), plundering, reaching out after, extortion, and covetous practices. When Paul shared how he worked because it’s more blessed to give than to receive, He had the tight testimony, “I have coveted no man’s silver, or gold, or apparel” (Acts 20:33-35). The Greek word for covet in v. 33 (S:1937) is defined as, “to set the heart upon, i.e. long for (rightfully or otherwise).” Whether the desire is right or wrong, we find that covetousness is a poison that can get in your heart, confuse your priorities, and dangerously shape your actions.
Jesus’ Warning: BEWARE!
Once we understand what covetousness is, Jesus’ warning in Luke 12:15 makes so much sense. After a man asked Jesus to “speak to my brother, that he divide the inheritance with me” (Luke 12:13), Jesus told him a life lesson:
Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.
Take heed! Watch! Be on the lookout! Pay attention! Beware of covetousness! Be aware! Be on guard! Observe! Be cautious! Life is about much more than the natural things we have. If you continue reading the chapter, you find what’s far more important is that we have “treasure in the heavens that faileth not” (Luke 12:33) and that we be be “rich toward God” (Luke 12:21). Despite the heart’s desire, the soul’s lust, or the world’s example, covetousness is NOT something to play with. BEWARE!
Old Testament Examples
The words of Jesus here are consistent with the strong messages against (and reactions to) covetousness throughout scripture. In the Old Testament, we find:
- The 10 commandments included, “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” (Exo. 20:17).
- In Isaiah 57:17, God was wroth “for the iniquity of his covetousness” and smote the one who “went on frowardly in the way of his heart.”
- The LORD of hosts declared judgment in Jeremiah, saying, “I am full of the fury of the LORD; I am weary with holding in: I will pour it out upon the children abroad, and upon the assembly of young men together: for even the husband with the wife shall be taken, the aged with [him that is] full of days. 12 And their houses shall be turned unto others, [with their] fields and wives together: for I will stretch out my hand upon the inhabitants of the land, saith the LORD. 13 For from the least of them even unto the greatest of them every one [is] given to covetousness; and from the prophet even unto the priest every one dealeth falsely” (Jer. 6:11-13).
New Testament Teachings
The New Testament addresses it too:
- In the last days men shall be covetous (2 Tim. 3:2), but still covetousness should not be named ONCE among saints (Eph. 5:3).
- Though there are going to be covetous people in this world, if someone who is called a brother is covetous, we are not to keep company or eat with him (1 Cor. 5:10-11).
- The Bible tells us not to be deceived: the unrighteous including the covetous shall not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:9-10; Eph. 5:5).
- Unlike the Pharisees who were covetous (Luke 16:14) and the many false prophets who focus on money, gain, and stuff (2 Pet. 2:1-3; 1 Tim. 6:3-5), in the Bible a bishop cannot be covetous (1 Tim. 3:3).
- Hebrews 13:5 sums it up well: “[Let your] conversation [be] without covetousness; [and be] content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.”
There are so many other examples, but to put it succinctly: BEWARE OF COVETOUSNESS!
How is Covetousness Idolatry?
At its root, covetousness is such a problem because it is idolatry. Whoa! The word “idolatry” gives us pause because when we think of idolatry we think of a person bowing before a statue of a false god, yet the Bible rightly calls covetousness idolatry because it causes us to prioritize something we desire BEFORE God. An idol is the object of one’s worship, devotion, love, adoration, and service and too often we make things of this life our idols.
Covetous Man – Idolater
Ephesians 5:5 says, “this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.” The covetous man has made something other than GOD his focus so he is an idolater! It goes on to says, “Let no man deceive you with vain words: for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience. Be not ye therefore partakers with them” (Eph. 5:6-7). Don’t let anyone deceive you or anything draw you in as a participant! Even though the wicked bless the covetous (Psa. 10:3), the Word of God is letting you know, covetousness is not okay!
Covetousness – Idolatry
Colossians 3:5-7 tells us, “Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry: For which things’ sake the wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience: In the which ye also walked some time, when ye lived in them.” Though we may have in the past gotten off track, we cannot afford to be covetous now!
The Wrath of God
Did you notice in both verses (and in the Old Testament examples), God’s wrath is mentioned? God gets upset when we put anything before Him, letting “it” become our desire, our focus, and our motivation. With covetousness, I pick MY will over God’s will, MY desire above God’s desire, MY timing before His timing, what I WANT rather than His Word. We can’t afford the idol of covetousness! It’s a deadly distraction!
Beware of covetousness! No idol – not money, not a person, not a position, not a status, not a thing – will ever be acceptable to God. It’s time to go after God and put Him first, loving Him with all, pursuing His will, and obeying His Word. He’s been good and if we step back and thank Him for what we already have, we don’t have to obsess over what we may want. Say YES to God, and NO to covetousness.
What stood out to you from this blog post? What did you learn? How can you apply this to your life? Comment below!