COVETOUSNESS AND ENVY:
Wanting to Have Things that Belong to Others
“And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you: whose judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not.”
—2 Peter 2:3.
If God didn’t give it to you, it means you shouldn’t have it. If you insist to have it and find your own ways of getting it, you will be accused of possessing what was not yours.
The Boundary is Thin
Covetousness is one of the vices condemned in the Ten Commandments. On the surface, it may not look serious because it begins as a natural act of admiring or appreciating something. It needs a rare discipline not to begin to wish that the good thing we are beholding should be ours. And that defines the thinness of the boundary because not many people have that discipline. In a moment, as a matter of impulse, we may admire something, in the next moment, we begin to possess the thing in our heart. When we admire, chances are that we would also desire.
The other sins may be easier to manage because they are overt, and therefore, evident. The mere fact that somebody is seeing our sin is enough to stop us. On the contrary, covetousness is covert—we can burn with it in our heart without others readily noticing it. It comes out only when its fruits manifest by which time it would be too late. Covetousness can therefore be one of the most prevalent sins and the mother of the other ‘bigger’ sins.
We need a certain amount of discernment to notice covetousness in somebody’s life. It is therefore not common to sound an alarm for the covetous person. This means that every person must watch out his own heart to deal with covetousness so that it doesn’t take root.
It is possible to admire something that somebody has and from that we can go and get our own if that is possible. Personally, I have seen some good things with friends. I would then ask where they got them so that I can also go get them for myself. I maintain that there is no problem with this. Covetousness comes in when we desire to have something that we either can’t afford or is one of its kind and somebody else has it. For example, when a man covets his neighbour’s wife, there is only one of her and she is taken.
Covetousness: The Mother of Bigger Sins
There are many sins that have their root from covetousness. The following are some examples:
Adultery—“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). Of all the things counted here, there is none as easy to materialize as coveting someone’s wife. For example, it may not be easy taking someone’s house after coveting it, but it is easy seducing someone’s spouse ending up in adultery.
Stealing—Achan’s confessions tells how covetousness gives birth to stealing. “When I saw among the spoils a goodly Babylonish garment, and two hundred shekels of silver, and a wedge of gold of fifty shekels weight, then I coveted them, and took them; and, behold, they are hid in the earth in the midst of my tent, and the silver under it” (Joshuah 7:21). Stealing results because one covets what he doesn’t have and cannot afford (or don’t want to spend his own money on) to buy his own.
Extortion—According to 2 Peter 2:3 we saw above, there are so called believers that make merchandise of others because of covetousness. An extortionist is one who misuses his authority and influence to obtain money or other valuables from people.
Robbery with violence—“And they covet fields, and take them by violence; and houses, and take them away: so they oppress a man and his house, even a man and his heritage” (Micah 2:2). This is the same story with Ahab conspiring with his wife Jezebel to take Naboth’s vineyard (1 Kin. 21:1-15).
Greed and selfish materialism—“And he said unto them, take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth” (Luke 12:15).
Unfaithfulness in stewardship—“And if ye have not been faithful in that which is another man’s, who shall give you that which is your own?... And the Pharisees also, who were covetous, heard all these things: and they derided him” (Luke 16:12,14).
Idolatry—“For 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” (Ephesians 5:5). “... covetousness, which is idolatry” (Colossians 3:5). People usually idolize (worship) what they intensely and relentlessly covet. Ahab could not even eat when Naboth refused to let him have the vineyard.
Dictionary.reference.com says the following about covetousness in the Bible: “A strong desire after the possession of worldly things (Col. 3:5; Eph. 5:5; Heb. 13:5; 1 Tim. 6:9, 10; Matt. 6:20). It assumes sometimes the more aggravated form of avarice, which is the mark of cold-hearted worldliness.”
The strong desire after the possession of worldly things must be the engine and fuel of many other evils like corruption; unnecessary borrowing culture, etc. What manner of a steward can we expect of a covetous person? To give stewardship responsibilities to a covetous person is like giving a hyena the responsibility of herding the sheep.