Coveting: A Serious Sin?
By: Natalie Wiesen
August 29, 2016
Lately my 4 year old son has been saying “I’m jealous” as his emotional word of choice. When he doesn’t get his way, when he is upset about something, or when he has to be patient for something, he adamantly declares, “I’m jealous!” I believe this ironically started after he learned the 10 commandments at church a few weeks ago, the last of which is “do not covet.” For him, I guess learning this commandment simply gave him a new vocabulary term to proclaim his jealousy (or anger and impatience) rather than repent from it…but at least he’s honest!
I recently heard a powerful and convicting sermon by Francis Chan. During the sermon, he told a simple story of how he walked by the first class seats on a 14 hour flight to India and thought, “Gosh I wish I had a first class seat!” As he continued on to his seat, he was suddenly struck by conviction: “I just coveted,” he realized. This realization led to a profound awareness of how often he covets without even thinking twice about it. Funny enough, as he continued to ponder this conviction about coveting, he was called up to an empty seat in first class! As he lounged on the spacious, outstretched seat, he opened up to Colossians 3:1-6
“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming…“
Wow, coveting is serious business! On account of our coveting, (among other sins remaining in our sinful nature), the wrath of God is coming!? I love how the Bible doesn’t sugar coat things;) I guess this is why it is “sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart,” (Hebrews 4:12, ESV).
Along with Francis Chan, I have been astounded by how much coveting I see in myself. I have never really taken serious notice of it or felt convicted about it. But suddenly, I am aware of the fountain of it in my heart. Not even five minutes before he gave this sermon, I was looking through a new friend’s Instagram account overtly coveting her beautiful hair. The day after the sermon, I was coveting beautiful pictures of homes that I saw on my computer and phone.
Coveting is awakened when we have our minds and our hearts set on earthly things, not on eternal and heavenly things–namely God and our billions of years with Him and His people after this brief life. And this is why I so desperately need to be in the Word every day. How else can I fix my mind and heart on God? From the moment I wake up, my mind and heart are bombarded with the temporal and earthly, and my default operation is “in the flesh.” If I don’t proactively set my mind and heart on God by being in His Word and prayer, I have no chance of succeeding at this.
Thankfulness is also a necessary practice to combat coveting. Discontentment and ingratitude are definitely the precursors for coveting in my heart. It’s funny because I always tell my kids things like, “don’t focus on what your sister has, just be thankful for what you have,” or “life isn’t always fair,” and yet I often fail to take my own exhortations to heart (which is one of many reasons why parenting is so sanctifying. It holds a mirror up to our own sinful hearts).
Whatever I find myself coveting is a clear indicator of what the idols of my heart are. I once heard Tim Keller say that the only way to truly overcome idolatry is to have an “overmastering, positive passion.” We can’t just stop coveting unless we have something better and more beautiful to turn our mind and heart towards. The allure of the world is strong and powerful. But God is better! So much better that it’s amazing we ever even struggle to see him as more beautiful than ourselves and the things of this world. How weak and foolish we truly are apart from God.
Coveting is built on a lie: “if only I had this or that, then I would be whole or happy.” Idols never have and never will deliver how we think they will. The enemy dangles dazzling carrots before us and leads us into a place of slavery with them. We soon find those carrots don’t fill and satisfy, and we are still hungry for more. If anything, they leave us with a nagging sense of an “ever increasing desire for an ever diminishing pleasure,” (CS Lewis). In God, however, there is fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:11).
I pray today that you would be convicted of coveting and even filled with the fear of God over it. I pray you would confess it to Him and cry out for mercy, fully trusting in His finished work on the cross for you. You will covet and covet and covet again, but keep seeking to repent and be purified of it. Ask Him to reveal Himself in such a way that He is our overmastering positive passion and treasure. Amen.