Why Is It a Sin to Covet?

Contributing Writer
Why Is It a Sin to Covet?

“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor” (Exodus 20:17).

With the tenth commandment God gave to Moses, he commanded us not to covet. By giving us this commandment, God was addressing something he knew would be disastrous if it took hold in our hearts.

To covet is an intense desire to have something that does not belong to you, and many times, you have no right to possess it. This sin poses a danger as it can conceal itself from others, live beneath the surface, and exist in the secret corners of your heart. Another part of the danger of coveting is people may fail to acknowledge its presence in their own hearts.

While some may even downplay coveting, it is important to know why this is a sin and why you should watch your heart to make sure this does not take root. Here are three reasons it is a sin to covet.

1. It Can Cause You to Lose Your Gratitude

“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

When you covet what other people have, you can easily forget all God has done for you. Instead of a grateful heart that gives thanks for all God’s blessings and provisions, you can become an ingrate. God’s will for us is to be thankful in every circumstance. This becomes challenging when you are eagerly desiring what other people have. 

One immediate question to consider is this: how can you identify a lack of gratitude and signs you are coveting? Maybe you are asking yourself questions like…

  • Why do they have a beautiful house and I don’t?
  • How come they are married and I’m not?
  • Why did they get the promotion and I didn’t?
  • Why is their relationship working, but mine is falling to pieces?
  • Why is their church growing while mine remains stagnant?

Asking these types of questions puts you on the coveting hamster wheel because these are questions of comparison. This can lay the groundwork for coveting. If you continue to ask these types of questions, you may find yourself less thankful for what God has provided for you. Once you are on that wheel, it never gets you anywhere, and you may find it difficult to get off. 

2. It Can Lead to Fights and Quarrels

“What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures” (James 4:1-3).

Whenever I read these verses, I must remind myself that James is talking to fellow Christians, because it almost seems like it is a scene from a bar fight. This is the effect of coveting. Imagine Christians fighting and quarreling simply because they cannot get what they want. Someone else has something you perceive to be better, and because you can’t have the same thing, war breaks out. This should never be. 

As you think about these verses, notice the source of these battles. The desires that war within you. Have you ever considered this? If you are fighting and quarreling with someone else, maybe it’s not a clash of personalities but a clash of covetous desires. Coveting can give birth to jealousy and envy, which can be the root of the division. That’s why it is so important to make sure you are constantly asking God to search your heart, because that is where those covetous desires live.

Remember this – God kicked Satan out of heaven because he had a covetous heart. He wanted to sit on God’s throne and be worshipped in the same manner. That did not end well for him, and when you allow coveting to live in your heart, it won’t end well for you either.

3. It Can Cause You to Lose Your Contentment

“I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want” (Philippians 4:11-12).

Another reason coveting is a sin is because it can lead you to a place where you are never content with anything. This contributes to you being ungrateful, unthankful, and almost always leads to grumbling and complaining. In the same book of Philippians, Paul encourages us to do everything without grumbling and complaining (Phil. 2:14). That becomes extremely difficult to do when you are coveting.  

When you lose your contentment, you miss the moments along the way because you are always chasing the next one. I know of a pastor who is trying to grow his church. However, he is constantly looking at bigger churches and has a secret desire (that’s not so secret) to be like those churches. These are churches that have bigger budgets, more congregants, more resources, and more influence. In his striving to be like those churches, he will even add more things to his website to make it appear there is more going on at his church than there really is. 

His coveting has caused him to buy into the lie of fake-it-until-you-make-it. Because of this, it has caused him to not find any satisfaction with his own church. His desire to be bigger overshadows any of the good or potential that is happening in his church. Because coveting has set in, nothing is ever good enough. The people aren’t good enough. The volunteers aren’t good enough. And there is never any contentment with where he is on the journey of his church. 

When you are not content because there is covetousness in your heart, then your desires will cause you to mistreat people. If things don’t move fast enough with the ones you have, then it’s time to replace them with people who can get you there faster. Sadly, with this mindset, even if you get to the place you want to get to, you will not enjoy the journey along the way.

Because of this lack of contentment, he never appreciates the people God has sent him. When you couple that with this intense desire to be like those other churches, he eventually burns out the people he has, and they leave. His covetous desires make him a poor leader who does not care for those whom God has entrusted him to lead. In the end, his desires harm the church, and play an enormous factor in why his church doesn’t grow. Sadly, his covetous desires blind him from this truth.

One Way to Overcome This Sin

I want to leave you with one thought about how to overcome this sin. The answer comes from Paul.

Learn to be content with what you have.

This does not mean you don’t strive to get better. It means trying to keep up with someone else is not the motivation for your striving. What we often miss when we are coveting is the price that person paid to get what they have. Though it may look good from a distance, as the old saying goes, the grass is not always greener on the other side.

Learn to be content in the place God has you. When you do, you will find more peace, more joy, and more satisfaction along the way.

“This is what I have observed to be good: that it is appropriate for a person to eat, to drink and to find satisfaction in their toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given them — for this is their lot” (Ecclesiastes 5:18).

Photo credit: ©Getty Images/Rana Faure

Clarence Haynes 1200x1200Clarence L. Haynes Jr. is a speaker, Bible teacher, and co-founder of The Bible Study Club.  He is the author of The Pursuit of Purpose which will help you understand how God leads you into his will. His most recent book is The Pursuit of Victory: How To Conquer Your Greatest Challenges and Win In Your Christian Life. This book will teach you how to put the pieces together so you can live a victorious Christian life and finally become the man or woman of God that you truly desire to be. Clarence is also committed to helping 10,000 people learn how to study the Bible and has just released his first Bible study course called Bible Study Basics. To learn more about his ministry please visit clarencehaynes.com