The child of God is to have a lifestyle of contentment without covetousness. This is a great treasure. It protects from many dangers and pitfalls. We think of Achan who destroyed himself and his family because of covetousness (Jos. 7:10-26). We think of Lot who lost his family in Sodom because of covetousness (Ge. 19).
Note the connection between adultery in verse 4 and covetousness in verse 5. It is common that these sins go together. The Ten Commandments say, “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife ... nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s” (Ex. 20:17). The same heart that covets another man’s goods can easily covet another man’s wife. “The love of filthy lust and the love of filthy lucre follow one another as closely akin, both alienating the heart from the Creator to the creature” (Jamieson, Fausset, Brown).
In this passage, we see the definition of covetousness. It is to love and pursue money and wealth instead of being content with the basic needs of life and loving and pursuing God and His will.
The word “covetousness” is the Greek aphilarguros, which is a combination of a (not), philo (love), and arguros (silver), or not a lover of silver, not a lover of money. Covetousness is a heart issue. It is a heart that loves money and possessions. It is the “will to be rich” and “the love of money” (1 Ti. 6:9-10). Money and riches are not wrong if obtained legitimately in God’s perfect will and if used for the glory of God. What is wrong is to set one’s affection upon such things. Covetousness is “an over eager desire of the wealth of this world, envying those who have more than we” (Matthew Henry).
Covetousness is a lack of contentment with one’s lot. This is emphasized in Heb. 12:5. The opposite of covetousness is to “be content with such things as ye have.” Covetousness is to be dissatisfied, greedy. “Contentment is a gracious disposition of mind, whereby the Christian rests satisfied with that portion of the good things of this life which the wisdom of God assigns him, without complaining of the little which God gives to him, or envying the much which God bestows on others” (William Burkitt).
Covetousness is to set one’s heart upon money and the things of this world rather than upon the Lord and His will. This, too, is emphasized in Heb. 13:5-6.
Consider other Bible definitions of covetousness: (1) Covetousness is to desire that which is not mine or that which is forbidden (Ex. 20:17; De. 5:21; Jos. 7:21). (2) Covetousness is to make possessions the focus of one’s life (Lu. 12:15). (3) Covetousness is to live for self-pleasure instead of living for God’s pleasure (Lu. 12:16-34). (4) Covetousness is to live in such a manner that I am rich toward myself instead of “rich toward God” (Lu. 12:21). (5) Covetousness is to enrich oneself at the expense of others; it is to rob, oppress, and abuse others for one’s own selfish ends (Pr. 28:16).
A prominent example of living without covetousness is the apostle Paul, who lived according to the rule of contentment (Php. 4:11-13).
This does not mean that the believer should not work and should merely “trust the Lord” for his livelihood. To the contrary, every believer is enjoined to work hard, and the Bible says that those who do not work should not eat (Ac. 20:35; Ro. 12:11; Eph. 4:28; 1 Th. 4:11-12; 2 Th. 3:7-12).
This does not mean that one cannot aspire to have more and cannot work to advance one’s financial situation. Covetousness is a matter of the heart’s motives and intents. One can work hard and seek to prosper without having the heart set upon wealth and while having one’s trust and confidence in the Lord. Covetousness is to will to be rich (1 Ti. 6:9), meaning that wealth is the objective and heart’s desire.
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