Thursday, October 6, 2011
Definition of Covet
My article from this week's Algona Upper Des Moines about coveting:
Q: What does the word “covet” mean in the Ten Commandments? What is the difference between coveting and desiring success or a better life?
The Ninth Commandment says that we should not covet our neighbor’s house, and the Tenth Commandment forbids coveting our neighbors, wife, workers, or animals. To covet is to have a sinful desire for something that belongs to someone else.
Most often when we think of coveting, we think of coveting the possessions of another person. For example, one might covet their neighbor’s house or their brother’s car and seek to find a way to make it their own.
In explaining the Ninth Commandment, Martin Luther said that we should not scheme to get our neighbor’s possessions or obtain them in a way which only has the appearance of being right, but rather that we should help and be of service to our neighbor in keeping what is his.
When explaining the Tenth Commandment, he went on to say that we should not seek to entice away another person’s wife or workers, or turn them against him, but rather that we should encourage them to stay and do what is their duty toward him.
In the Tenth Commandment, we see that the object of the sin of coveting might also be a person. For example, one man might desire to be with a woman who has already been married to another man, or an employer might desire the services of an employee who is already contracted to work with another company. If they plot or attempt to lure the wife or the employee away and make them their own, they would be coveting.
Coveting differs from greed in that greed is simply the desire to trust possessions above God and the sinful desire to obtain them, even if through means that are otherwise lawful and moral, while coveting specifically refers to the possessions of another person.
If a person desires to improve their standing in life or to achieve greater success and compensation, this is not an act of coveting. In fact, it is a wise an noble aspiration if it is done righteously rather than by taking what belongs to another.
The simplest summary of the sin of coveting is as the desire to commit any of the other sins listed in the previous commandments. If a person covets another’s possessions, they would also be breaking the seventh commandment. If they covet another’s spouse, they would be sinning against the sixth commandment, and if they covet another person’s authority or reputation they would be sinning against the fourth or eighth commandments.
Ultimately, all of the commandments relate back to the First Commandment. So that when a person sins against any commandment of God, they are placing someone in a superior position to God, and therefore committing idolatry. To steal is to make money or a possession one’s idol. To commit adultery is to make another person or an act of intimacy your god, and likewise with the other commandments.
Instead of covetousness, God’s desire for humanity is contentment. This is reflected in verses like Philippians 4:11, where Paul says, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances,” and 1 Timothy 6:6, where he says, “Godliness with contentment is great gain.” Christians are called to recognize all things as God’s blessings and give thanks to Him for whatever He has given—whether it is great wealth, or the basic needs of life—rather than comparing their blessings to those of others or expressing discontent over the quantity of their blessings.