Strong desire to have that which belongs to another. It is considered to be a very grievous offense in Scripture. The tenth commandment forbids coveting anything that belongs to a neighbor, including his house, his wife, his servants, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to him ( Exod 20:17 ). Jesus listed covetousness or greed along with many of the sins from within, including adultery, theft, and murder, which make a person unclean ( Mr 7:22 ). Paul reminded the Ephesians that greed or covetousness is equated with immorality and impurity, so that these must be put away ( 5:3 ). A covetous or greedy person is an idolator ( 5:5 ) and covetousness is idolatry ( Col 3:5 ). James warns that people kill and covet because they cannot have what they want ( 4:2 ).
Covetousness, therefore, is basic to the commandments against murder, adultery, stealing, and lying. Those who accept bribes are coveting, leading to murder ( Eze 22:12 ). Coveting a neighbor's wife is a form of adultery ( Exod 20:17 ). Achan admitted to coveting a robe and silver and gold, so he stole them, which was a sin against the Lord ( Jos 7:20-22 ). Gehazi, the servant of Elisha, coveted the property of Naaman so much that he lied to get what he wanted from Naaman the leper ( 2 Ki 5:19-25 ) and was struck with leprosy. Proverbs warns that a covetous person brings trouble to his family ( 15:27 ). Thus covetousness is the root of all kinds of sins, so that Jesus gave the warning, "Be on your guard against all kinds of greed" ( Luke 12:15 ).
William J. Woodruff
See also Envy
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a strong desire after the possession of worldly things ( Colossians 3:5 ; Ephesians 5:5 ; Hebrews 13:5 ; 1 Timothy 6:9 1 Timothy 6:10 ; Matthew 6:20 ). It assumes sometimes the more aggravated form of avarice, which is the mark of cold-hearted worldliness.
Has a variety of shades of meaning determined largely by the nature of the particular word used, or the context, or both. Following are some of the uses:
Covetousness is a very grave sin; indeed, so heinous is it that the Scriptures class it among the very gravest and grossest crimes (Ephesians 5:3). In Colossians 3:5 it is "idolatry," while in 1 Corinthians 6:10 it is set forth as excluding a man from heaven. Its heinousness, doubtless, is accounted for by its being in a very real sense the root of so many other forms of sin, e.g. departure from the faith (1 Timothy 6:9,10); lying (2 Kings 5:22-25); theft (Joshua 7:21); domestic trouble (Proverbs 15:27); murder (Ezekiel 22:12); indeed, it leads to "many foolish and hurtful lusts" (1 Timothy 6:9). Covetousness has always been a very serious menace to mankind, whether in the Old Testament or New Testament period. It was one of the first sins that broke out after Israel had entered into the promised land (Achan, Jos 7); and also in the early Christian church immediately after its founding (Ananias and Sapphira, Ac 5); hence, so many warnings against it. A careful reading of the Old Testament will reveal the fact that a very great part of the Jewish law--such as its enactments and regulations regarding duties toward the poor, toward servants; concerning gleaning, usury, pledges, gold and silver taken during war--was introduced and intended to counteract the spirit of covetousness.
Eerdmans maintains (Expos, July, 1909) that the commandment, "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's house" (Exodus 20:17), meant to the Israelite that he should not take anything of his neighbor's possessions that were momentarily unprotected by their owner. Compare Exodus 34:23. Thus, it refers to a category of acts that is not covered by the commandment, "Thou shalt not steal." It is an oriental habit of mind from of old that when anyone sees abandoned goods which he thinks desirable, there is not the least objection to taking them, and Exodus 20:17 b is probably an explanation of what is to be understood by "house" in Exodus 20:17 a.
Examples of covetousness:
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