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My neighbor has nice things and I want nice things too--is that coveting?
By Keith Rawlinson
Volunteer Budget Counselor
Thou shalt not covet.
think that just about every adult American has heard of the ten
commandments found in the book of Exodus in the Holy Bible.
Exodus 20:17 says that we shall not covet. From time to
time, I deal with people in counseling who misunderstand this verse.
Many people seem to think that this commandment means that it is
wrong to want things that people around you have. Well, its not
necessarily true. It is all right to want things that people around you have--it is not
all right to covet. That takes us to the core of the issue: what
does it mean to covet? Please keep in mind that this discussion
is my own opinion on the matter, but scripture and life in general seem
to support me.
What coveting does not mean.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary gives us two definitions for the word covet:
1 : to wish for earnestly.
2 : to desire what belongs to another inordinately or culpably.
first definition, to wish for earnestly, is where most people get off
track. Earnestly means: strongly or with great emotion.
Thus, many people think that if you see something that belongs to
your neighbor, or anyone else for that matter, and you want the same
for yourself very, very badly, you are then coveting. Can this
really be what God had in mind? If you see a couple with a
strong, loving marriage and you want that with your spouse, is that
coveting? If you know someone who has worked hard and become
successful, and you want to do the same, is that coveting? Here's
a good one: if an unsaved person sees a Christian who has peace
in his life from a close relationship with Christ,
is it coveting if the unsaved person wants the same for himself?
Of course not! All of the situations I just presented are
good things; therefore, that first definition of covet can't be what
God had in mind.
What coveting does mean.
position on the issue of coveting falls within the second definition of
the word covet: to desire what belongs to another inordinately or
culpably. The word "inordinately" means more than what is usual,
normal or acceptable. Culpably, means in a manner worthy of blame
or condemnation. The meanings of these two words are what bring
this second definition into alignment with God's intent.
want something inordinately, then you want it too much. That is,
after all, what inordinately means. If you want something
too much, then in some way, it will detract from you life. It may
damage relationships, it may cause you to act with greed, it may cause
you to make bad decisions, it may even harm your relationship
with God. If you want something culpably, that means you can be
blamed or condemned for wanting it. Therein lies the answer to
the question of what coveting actually is.
The coveting test.
Put simply, the way to decide whether or not you are coveting is to ask yourself one question: do I want something like what the other person has, or do I want what
the other person has? In other words, do you want something
similar to what they have, or do you want the very one they have?
If someone owns a nice car or a nice house, and I want to save up money so that I can afford to have a nice car or nice house too, then I am not coveting. I don't want their car or their
house--I just want one like it. That is to say, I have no desire
to take theirs away from them so I can have it. But, if I try to
destroy someone financially so that they will lose their house thus
giving me the opportunity to buy it, then I am most definitely
coveting. If I try to get someone fired so that I can get their job, then I am coveting. If I want to destroy someone's marriage so that I can have their
spouse, then I am coveting. That's the crux of the matter--if I'm
not wanting to take something away from someone, then I am not
coveting. Be warned, though, that there is a second part to the
The second part of the coveting test is to
determine whether or not what you want is beneficial to your life and/or your
relationship with God. If you want something so
inordinately that it is adversely affecting your life or your
relationship with God, then it may very well be coveting. But
don't get coveting mixed up with greed. Greed is wanting
something too much, or wanting too much of it. Greed means that you want something so badly, that you are willing to
damage your life, or do things contrary to Christ's teachings, in order
to get it. Greed simply means that you want something so badly
that you are letting it become way more important in your life than it
should be. It is possible to want something too much, and still
not be coveting. Greed and coveting often do go together, but they can also be two
So, if your neighbor has nice things and that
makes you want to have nice things too, and if it is pursued in a
healthy, Christ-centered way, then that is not coveting.
If you want to take something away from someone else so that you can have it instead--that is coveting.
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This article copyright © 2009 by Keith C. Rawlinson
(Eclecticsite.com). All rights reserved.
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