What Does Covet Mean in the Bible?
What does the Bible say about coveting? What does it mean to be covetous, and why should we avoid this sin? Is coveting harmless or something very serious?
Breaking the 10th Commandment could be characterized as the silent sin. No one else knows when we are coveting, and on the surface, it doesn’t appear to directly impact anyone else. Plus, it’s the last commandment anyway, so might that mean it’s the least important?
“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s” (Exodus 20:17).
To learn more about this commandment, read “10th Commandment: You Shall Not Covet.”
Is this law still applicable in the 21st century? What exactly is coveting? Should we really be worried about it?
A closer look at the 10th Commandment
The 10th Commandment focuses on things belonging to “your neighbor”—or other people. It comes down to having an unhealthy desire or craving for what’s theirs. Though the commandment gives examples that would have been especially pertinent in ancient times, coveting is not confined to real estate, marriages and livestock.
In today’s world, coveting could refer to a desire for someone’s financial well-being, job, career, car or boat. We may not covet anyone’s donkey, but we might really wish we had his or her Mercedes-Benz.
The examples listed in the 10th Commandment aren’t, by themselves, inappropriate to have. In Matthew 6:32 Jesus said that our Heavenly Father knows we have physical needs—and provides for them. But we should be cautious about developing an unhealthy desire for material things that displace God as our provider.
Of course, coveting can also include a craving or desire for things that are illicit or immoral.
Coveting in today’s affluent society
We should be cautious about developing an unhealthy desire for material things that displace God as our provider.Today’s affluent and image-based culture only adds fuel to the problem of covetousness. The smart device in our hand can open new avenues of desire that weren’t available even 20 years ago. Covetousness can be subtle and insidious, and therein lies the problem. The danger lies in slipping into the trap of thinking that what we have just isn’t good enough. In other words, our lives would be so much better if only we had what someone else has.
This thinking is dangerous and can lead to other sins.
Covetousness in context
To some, coveting may appear to be a small issue. But the apostle Paul inserted covetousness in lists alongside sexual immorality, uncleanness, passion and evil desire (Ephesians 5:3; Colossians 3:5). He even wrote that a covetous person cannot inherit God’s Kingdom. Coveting is a significant problem in God’s eyes!
Paul included a very important point in Colossians 3:5 that helps us understand why it is so serious. “Covetousness,” he wrote, “is idolatry.”
Covetousness is linked to idolatry because it leads us to prioritize our desire for stuff above God. Coveting things, no matter what they are, can lead us to put our desire for those things above our desire to please God and be in His Kingdom.
When we look at coveting through God’s eyes, it takes on a whole different nature. Coveting corrupts our genuine trust in God as our provider, elevating desire for those things above our reliance on God to provide for our physical necessities.
To learn more, read “Depending on God.”
How to avoid covetousness
People have always been tempted to covet, but the opportunities to fall into this trap have increased tremendously with the digital omnipresence of materialism in today’s world. We are inundated with a constant stream of objects to covet.
Dealing with it requires a mental awareness of the human weakness to covet as well as an ongoing diligence to combat it.
What steps can we take to avoid the sin of covetousness?
1. Overcome covetousness by being more thankful and patient
Ingratitude is a universal problem in society. Coveting is, in its essence, the result of an unthankful mind. This is simple in concept, but hard to execute when we are constantly bombarded by desire for things that we wish we could have, but don’t.
Good things take time, sacrifice and hard work. Patience allows us to defer gratification and be content. Developing the virtue of patience is one of the greatest keys to overcoming covetousness. Patience is a spiritual issue (Romans 2:7; 2 Timothy 2:24; James 5:8; 1 Peter 2:20) and is something we should regularly pray to God for more of.
If there is anything we should covet or desire, it is to be more patient!
Or we might express it another way: Be content.
Hebrews 13:5 shows that contentment is a necessary key to overcoming covetousness. “Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have.” The verse ends with an admonition to trust God: “For He Himself said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’”
Contentment is one of the keys to true happiness. To learn why, read “What Do You Need to Be Happy?”
2. Overcome covetousness by aligning our priorities with God’s
God is aware of our needs. He promises to provide for them! But He also asks us to prioritize our spiritual needs over our physical needs.
Matthew 6:33 shows that Christians must prioritize God’s Kingdom and the development of righteous character above all else. When we do that, God promises to provide for our needs (“and all these things shall be added to you”).
Covetousness flips our priorities so that we seek and covet things ahead of our personal relationship with God. Again, this is why Paul connected it with idolatry. Coveting may seem innocent to the human mind, but it can cause profound damage to our mental health and to our relationship with God.
To learn more about the spiritual priorities God wants us to have, read “What Is the Meaning of Matthew 6:33?”
3. Overcome covetousness by becoming balanced and productive
Balance is central to most of what we do. Avoiding the “ditches” on either side of the road requires discipline and focus. We will be more productive when we recognize our talents, as well as our limitations.
Hard work over a lifetime will allow us to enjoy material things along the way, while also providing financial stability in our older years. We should be wise enough to know that acquiring good things takes time. Spending time coveting what someone else possesses is a waste of time.
It’s essential that Christians take coveting seriously. It is a sin that breaks the 10th Commandment. It’s not harmless. Instead of coveting, we should strive for contentment and work hard for the things we need and want—while relying on God to provide for us.