“Thou Shalt Not Covet”

Categories: Christian life, content, covetousness, greed, law

Have you ever heard of a church disciplining a covetous man? Paul exposes this sin in 1 Corinthians 5.1: “It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife!” Paul told the church to “deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord” (1 Cor. 5.5). Continuing his instruction, he listed example sins which they should watch out for and said “not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty” of these things:

  1. Guilty of Sexual immorality / Fornication
  2. Guilty of Covetousness / Greed
  3. An Idolater
  4. A Reviler
  5. A Drunkard
  6. A Swindler / Extortioner

He ends with: “Remove the wicked man from among yourselves,” quoting passages in Deuteronomy such as, “Then all the men of the city shall stone him to death with stones. So you shall purge the evil from your midst, and all Israel shall hear, and fear” (Deut. 21.21).

Obviously, in the church we are to put no one to death. In fact, the discipline exacted by the assembly is intended, in part, to bring the man back to Christ and to repentance.

But Paul ranks covetousness second on his list right after fornication!

How can you know a man is covetousness? The target of his greed walks past him, and he smiles cordially, nods, shakes hands. Do his eyes glow green? Does his face grow dark? What are the tell-tale signs? According to Paul, we should be able to identify a covetous (greedy) person.

Jesus did say a man who looks upon a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. However, the church does not discipline a man for adultery because he looked at pornography. We might discipline an unashamed and unrepentant porn user for unfaithfulness and lust, though, because lust is a form covetousness, and Paul writes in Colossians 3.5 that covetousness is idolatry.

The point is, however, we must see some external effects of a man’s covetousness before we can mark him, since we cannot read his heart. What signs might we see?

Covetous people tend to talk overly much about other people’s stuff. If someone constantly expresses discontent, wishing he had more money like his neighbor or a better car like his boss or a bigger house like his brother, he is throwing red flags.

Unchecked covetousness leads to ungodly behaviors. In pursuit of stuff, people sacrifice honor and integrity and make risky choices which often puzzle the rest of us. Why would a farmer kill his younger brother and hide his body in the field? Why would a king sleep with the wife of one of his best warriors? Why would a man sell out his teacher for 30 pieces of silver? Why would a man and his wife conspire to lie about how much their property sold for?

Paul equates covetousness and idolatry because greedy people put other things ahead of God. Other things become their gods. Instead of seeking joy, pleasure, and value from their Creator, they seek them in material things or in the accolades of other men. You can even covet other people’s envy! There’s a vicious cycle.

Your true value comes from your Father’s love. True joy comes from God’s kindness. Lasting pleasure is only found in storing up your treasures in heaven. Don’t follow the hollow, fleeting, broken promises of this world. Listen to the Creator of all things and find your contentment in Him. Thou shalt not covet.