Covetousness
with thanks to Raymond Kelcy

By Paul Robison

“Recently, a man laid a small circle of poison around a hill of stinging ants.  Thinking the tiny granules of poison were food, the ants began to pick them up and carry them throughout the colony.  He returned later to see how well the poison was working.  Hundreds of the stinging ants were carrying the poison down into their hill.  Then he noticed a gap in the circle of poison.  Some of the poison was moving in the opposite way—away from the hill.  Some smaller, non-stinging ants had found this 'food' and were stealing it from their ant neighbors.  Thinking they were getting the other ants' treasure, they unwittingly poisoned themselves.  When we see someone with more than we have, we must beware.  The hunger to beg, to borrow, or steal our way into what is theirs may poison us spiritually (Bob James bible.org).  Someone has observed that there are only two kinds of people: ‘Men shall be lovers of money’ (2 Timothy 3:2) or they will be ‘men of truth, hating covetousness’ (Exodus 18:21).  Paul warned in 1 Timothy 6:10: ‘For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.’  Scriptures assign a great importance to the sin of covetousness or being greedy.  Listen to this command from God: ‘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).  Yes, the prohibition against covetousness was one of the Ten Commandments.  This fact alone speaks for its importance. When we come to Jesus' teachings, we see that He also stressed the importance of this sin.  He had so much to say about the futility of seeking for riches and warned strongly against loving and trusting the god of mammon or financial wealth.  [Jesus warns us in the parable of the soils where He explained in Luke 8:14: “Now the ones that fell among thorns are those who, when they have heard, go out and are choked with cares, riches, and pleasure of life, and bring no fruit to maturity.”  Listen to this clear warning in Luke 12:15: “Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.”]  We must also assign covetousness a place of importance because of the catalogs of sin in which it is repeatedly found: '... unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness, full of envy, murder, strife …' (Romans 1:29); '… with the sexually immoral people of the world, or with covetous, or extortioners, or idolaters …' (1 Corinthians 5:9-10); 'Do not be deceived.  Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9-10).'  In these passages, we see covetousness is linked with sins of gross impurity.  If it be true that we can judge a thing by the company it keeps, then we must bring a heavy indictment against covetousness for it is repeatedly coupled with sins of the flesh.  Its companions are indeed [vile] ones. … This sin is often camouflaged, is not easily recognized, and is often left unconfessed” (Kelcy).  How often does a person pray: “God, forgive me, for I know I am greedy and covetous.”?  There are three aspects about covetousness that this sermon will cover: the meaning of covetousness, its fruits or results, and the conquering or cure for covetousness.
 
What is the meaning of covetousness?  “Scholars [of biblical languages] tell us that the Hebrew word means 'a strong controlling desire.'  [So] the tenth commandment forbade one to have a strong controlling desire for anything that was seen to be in another's possession” (Kelcy).  [One Hebrew dictionary says the concept has a bad sense, and it is an “inordinate, ungoverned, and selfish desire” (BDB, 326)].  Another resource tells us this: ‘The Hebrews visualized the soul as full of vigorous desires which urged it to extend its influence over other persons and things.  There was [the] desire [for] a neighbor's possessions, the desire for dishonest gain, and selfish desire.  These are all rendered in [the KJV] by 'covetousness'.  [Recall how Achan was] stoned for his crime of covetousness in Josh. 7:16-26” (NBD, 238).  Concerning the Greeks' view on covetousness, one source tells us they thought “covetousness damages the self as well as others, since it is a grasping for more than is ordained for us” (TDNT, abridged, 865).  A Greek dictionary defines the concept in this way: “eagerness to have more, especially what belongs to others” or “to gain or take advantage of another, to overreach” (Thayer, 516). Another source states: “In the various Greek words used in the New Testament, we see these meanings: 'To fix the heart on; the greedy desire to have more; the love of money; avarice.'  It carries the idea of [unrestrained] desire, of eagerly longing and craving, … the craving which becomes engrossing and absorbing. …  Covetousness, therefore, is a condition of the heart, an inner rottenness of the … soul.  The command goes deep and forbids a certain state of mind.  'For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, theft, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a man.'  These are Jesus' words in Mark 7:21-23.  From these definitions of covetousness, we can see that it is possible for this sin to exist without anyone's knowledge except God and the one who is guilty. … We need to search our own hearts and ask for divine assistance [to see ourselves as we really are]” (Kelcy).
 
What are the fruits or results of covetousness?  “The greedy, grasping person … fixes his heart upon that for which he longs.  He looks upon it with such desire and longing that it comes to occupy the center of his thinking.  The love and homage of the heart, which God wants for Himself, are transferred to mammon or financial riches.  The material things of this earth become the god of the covetous person.  So covetousness is singled out as idolatry by the apostle Paul in several passages: 'Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry' (Colossians 3:5) and 'For this you know, that no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God’ (Ephesians 5:5).  Eve desired the forbidden fruit and the results promised by Satan more than she desired to please God. … Judas desired the 30 pieces of sliver and that desire became so controlling in his heart that he was willing to betray Jesus.  [Before we are too hard on Judas, would a certain amount of money turns our hearts from righteousness?]  The love of money so predominated the heart of the rich young ruler that he sorrowfully turned his back upon the Master and walked away.  People tend to worship that upon which they fix their hearts to obtain.  [So, covetousness becomes idolatry, and another result is that it leads to more wrongdoing.]  It can become so strong that the one coveting will do anything to obtain [the object coveted]. … How many times have people given false witnesses for the sake of a [payoff, the ninth commandment of the Ten].  Achan coveted precious metals and clothing and stole them, violating the eighth commandment.  David coveted Urriah's wife and took her, violating the seventh commandment, and then he had Urriah's killed, violating the sixth commandment.  Jesus accused certain ones of His day of withholding financial support from needy parents, and thus they broke the fifth commandment. … We have already seen how covetousness breaks the first … commandment of the Ten. … [Yes, covetousness, and especially the love of money, is a root of all kinds of evil, just as it has ever been.]  Covetousness, moreover, is a deadly vice even if it does not lead to cruel or aggressive acts against others.  It works its greatest injury to the one who does the coveting.  [Someone said that the greatest lesson he learned in life was that people who set their minds and hearts on money are equally disappointed whether they get it or whether they don't.  It binds alike the poor who crave it and the rich who make it their god (moreillustrations.com).  Other results?]  Covetousness hardens, deafens, and blinds.  A covetous person's heart shrinks and withers within.  Naturally, when the supreme ambition of a person is getting, the he or she will want to keep the obtained object.  It is indeed difficult for a covetous person to part with his or her money, wealth, or prosperity.
The cries of the orphans and widows are unheard by that person.  The poor man can lie suffering at his gate, and [that person] will not see him [That person] does not heart the cries of the lost in sin who so desperately need to hear the Gospel.  The covetous heart is centered upon accumulating for self [and self alone].  Listen to the words of the rich man in Luke 12:17-19: 'What shall I do, since I have no rooms to store my crops? … I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and goods.  And I will say to my soul: 'Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.'  Do you notice how many people are in this thoughts?  Only one: himself!  'Will a man rob God?' asked the prophet Malachi.  Yes, indeed, a covetous person will!  He will refuse to give as he has been prospered by God.  [Imagine for a moment an old hand-held balance scale: on one side is engraved the word “covetous” and on the other side is engraved the word “generous”.  Now which side of the scale would be weighed down when you think of your contribution and Jesus' standard of giving?  Remember, it's not the amount given that's important.  It's what you have sacrificed.  The poor widow gave less monetarily than all the others, but Jesus commended her because she had actually sacrificed ALL that she had.  You see, Jesus looks at what we have left after we give, and then asks: “Did you really make a sacrifice when you put your offering into the collection plate?”]  Another result of covetousness is that the covetous person becomes miserable, wretched, and discontented.  Such a person cannot possibly be happy.  For example, when King Ahab tried to buy the vineyard of Naboth and found that he could not, he became miserable, fretful, refused to eat!  Think of all the vineyards he had already!  But covetousness has a way of so magnifying that which one does not have that he fails to see all that is already his. He feels that at all costs he must obtain that which is not his!  Naboth was [actually] murdered in order that Ahab might have [that] vineyard. ... [A Russian writer] Tolstoy has a modern parable entitled: ‘How Much Land Does A Man Require?’  He tells of a greedy man who was offered all the land that he could walk around in one day.  Early in the morning, he threw his cap on the ground and started walking.  He had to be back before the sun disappeared over the horizon.  He covered much ground in the morning and pressed on for more land.  He suddenly realized that he would have to pick up speed if he was to get back to his cap on time.  So he begins to jog, and then to run.  Then he finally sprints toward his cap [as the sun disappears over the horizon].  From exhaustion, he falls down dead.  [Moral:] All the ground one really needs are the measurements of a grave-site.  Ever heard the old proverb: ‘The more you get, the more you want.’  The covetous person is always in want!  It's like Solomon said in Ecclesiastes 5:10: 'He who loves silver will not be satisfied with silver, nor he who loves abundance, with increase. This also is vanity'” (Kelcy). Idolatry, additional sins, spiritual insensitivity, and unhappiness and dissatisfaction are the fruits or results of covetousness.
 
“How is the covetous spirit to be conquered or [cured]?  We cannot conquer it by merely closing our eyes.  We must get at the root.  We must go to the source.  The root of covetousness is selfishness.  This is one reason it is linked with other sins like fornication, uncleanness, and theft. They all involve self-seeking.  Covetousness has its home in the heart that makes self supreme.  Everything in life is regarded in its relationship to self.  'I' and 'my' are the important words.  'What is there in it for me?' and 'What will I get out of it?' are the questions uppermost in the mind of the covetous person.  The cure, therefore, is self-denial.  Jesus expressed it this way in Matthew 16:24-25: 'If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.  For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.'  To deny self means to renounce self.  It means getting self down from the throne and the centering of attention upon something other than self.  Taking up the cross refers to the voluntary assuming of Christian responsibilities.  It refers to the service which is rendered to others.  To serve God, we must serve other people.  Forgetting self and giving self in helping others will cause one to ask: 'What can I do [for them]?' instead of ‘What can I get out of it?'  Our request will be 'Make me' rather than 'Give me.'  Happiness will follow self-renunciation.  The one who denies self will realize that true greatness is not measured by what he has but by the amount of service he renders.  It's not how many servants you have, but how many people are you serving?  Happiness comes from doing good to others and not in accumulating more for self. Our Lord taught the great principle: 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.'  [Jesus Himself was not rich, materially speaking.  In fact, most here today have more goods than He ever had in a lifetime.]  As you think of people you have known, you are probably impressed that the happiest ones are not necessarily those who have the most wealth.  The happiest people you know are those who have something to live for other than self.  The covetous person is never contented, but is always restless and greedy for more.  Contentment is a reward of self-denial: '... I have learned in whatever state I am to be content' (Philippians 4:11). '... be content with such things as you have (Hebrews 13:5).' 'Now godliness with contentment is great gain.  For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.  And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content' (1 Timothy 6:6-8).  In a world of materialism, we see many who are feverish and discontented.  [These may be the only visible signs of covetousness.]  In view of the fact that covetousness is idolatry, we are made to wonder if God considers our nation one of the most idolatrous on earth today. ... Those who are content to live humble Christian lives, glorifying God and serving others, are getting from this earth that for which it was created.  They may not own the land, but in a real sense, they possess it.  In a very real sense, the meek inherit the earth in the here and now.  It is necessary that we deny self and cast out the spirit of covetousness from our lives to live contented, happy lives in this world.  And it is also necessary if we would be heirs of eternal life.  'For this you know, that no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God' (Ephesians 5:5).  'Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city.  But outside are the dogs and sorcerers and sexually immoral and murderers, idolaters, and whoever loves and practices a lie' (Revelation 22:14-15).  The covetous person, who is an idolater, will be left outside of the eternal city.  'Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you will appear with Him in glory.  Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.  Because of these things, the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience' (Colossians 3:2-6). 'Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. ... No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other.  You cannot serve God and mammon' (Matthew 6:19-21 & 24).  ['Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom.  Sell what you have and give alms, provide yourselves money bags which do not grow old, a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches or moth destroys' (Luke 12:32-33).] 'For what profit is it to man if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul?  Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?' (Matthew 16:26)” (Kelcy).
 
“A few years ago, a man in Detroit stepped out into his back yard, and looking up saw a speck in the sky.  It grew larger and larger.  Then he discovered it was something alive, a struggling, living mass of something slowly descending to earth.  What he had first seen as a speck, had now reveled itself to be two large bald eagles in deadly combat.  The huge birds were fighting in the sky over a fish.  The fish had dropped to the ground, but the birds had continued their struggle until they were bloody and exhausted.  With a last wild scream, each made a fatal plunge at the other, and both birds came tumbling down to earth—dead, falling side by side, within a few feet of the man who had been witnessing the fierce battle in the sky.  Greed had destroyed them both.  [Moral:] So it may be with a life.  Greed grows upon us.  The selfish man finally destroys himself.  Beginning as a speck, greed, if unchecked, will pull down from the highest and noblest life, just as it did those two birds from the sky. Unless we destroy greed, it will destroy us” (W.G.M. @ moreillustrations. com).  If covetousness is destroying you and your relationship to God and others, confess this sin today and determine to put it to death in your life with Jesus' help.  Don't be a lover of money; love truth, righteousness, and holiness!  We'd love to pray with you and for you.  Start conquering covetousness today!