This is the tenth part in the Beyond Today Bible study series: The Ten Commandments. Just what does it mean to covet? We will explore the emotional and mental process of coveting and see why this “undercover sin” is so destructive to our mental well-being. This is the last study in our series on The Ten Commandments.
[Gary Petty] Thank you for coming out for the tenth Bible study in our series of the Ten Commandments. So this’ll conclude this series. We’ve already been talking about today about the next series we want to do and some ideas to continue on through the summer, so we’re hoping that you’re getting a benefit out of this. If you’ll please just bow your heads, we’ll ask God’s blessing on the study.
Great Father and King, we come before You as a small group of people, plus the people that are online and participating with us, and asking You to please help us to understand Your Word. This is Your Book. This contains what You want us to know. So we ask You to please help us and guide us through it, that we can understand, we can grow by it and we can apply it, Father, because these Ten Commandments really form the foundation of the concepts of morality. And this is what we build on as we begin to try to live moral lives that please You and what You want in us as our character. So please help us now to understand, to grow by it, guide us and direct us as we go through the Scripture, and we praise You, and we ask all this in the name of Your Son, who died for our sins because, Father, none of us do the commandments exactly the way we’re supposed to. And so He died for us, so that we could come before You now and ask for Your help and receive Your Spirit. So we thank You and ask all these things in His Name. Amen.
It was the most exclusive club in the world. If you could have seen the registry, the names were Vanderbilt, J.P. Morgan—now some of you know, these were the great bankers and industrialists of the Victorian Age—Pulitzer, Macy… It was all the names… Carnegie, and this was their club, and it was an island. And they went to that island to get away from everything else. And on that island, they built cottages for the summer. And those cottages were anywhere from 15 to 30 rooms, because they had to have room for their servants and everything else.
It was Jekyll Island, off the coast of Georgia. How many here have ever been to Jekyll Island? Okay. It’s hard to believe today, what that was then, but you could not get on that island unless you were invited, and there were armed guards to make sure you did not get on there.
I’m gonna read just a little bit from the Jekyll Island Historical Heritage’s book on the history of the island. “Possibly nowhere in the world, and certainly nowhere in America, was there an island kept so quiet, secluded and private. It was the social island of the country. It is said that no unwanted or uninvited person ever visited the island for 56 years. Shares or memberships were sold to a very select group. The members of the Jekyll Island Club and their guests came to the island between Christmas and Easter (the rest of the time, it was just basically some caretakers) for over 50 years. The island soon began to take on the look of a well-established colony. A clubhouse was completed in 1888. It had room to accommodate 100 guests. The large hotel-like structure was the center of the island’s activities.” Oh, there were all kinds of activities, tennis. They brought in a man every summer just to teach people how to ride bicycles because bicycles were a fairly new thing. They had hunting, they had fishing, they had swimming, they had everything you would want to do to just while away the hours, take a vacation.
“There was (in this hotel) parlor rooms, dining hall, many cottage owners had their evening meals in the elegant dining room.” I’ve eaten in the dining room. It’s not quite the same as it was then. “The clubhouse then served 10 courses that lasted 3 hours. In addition, they had hunting,” and they would stock this island. In fact, in 1901, we know that Dean Hoffman, from New York, a very wealthy man, had the following score for the season that he was there: 21 quail, 93 pheasant, 3 wild turkey, 1 alligator, 130 duck, 90 marsh hens and 80 dove. That’s what he took out one summer.
People looked at these people at that time, the Rockefellers, who had a cottage there, and others, and people looked up to them, they envied them. They wanted to be like them. They wanted to have the things that they had. And along with all that money came all kinds of notoriety, fame and you could have whatever you wanted. These people lived in a way that only kings and queens had lived throughout history. You never had this large a group of extremely wealthy people. And people became obsessed with what they had: to be like them, to have their money, to have their things, to have their houses, their cottages. I’ve been to Vanderbilt’s home and others up in New England. Those places made… You could see why, when they went to Jekyll Island with 25 rooms, they were slumming it, because of what they had.
The Bible doesn’t say that having wealth is wrong. It doesn’t say that being poor is wrong, but there is a lot in the Bible about what we do with what we have and with what we want, and that brings us to, of course, the last of the Ten Commandments. Let’s go to Exodus 20:17 Exodus 20:17You shall not covet your neighbor’s house, you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is your neighbor’s.
American King James Version×. I read an atheist once that said this commandment was the one that turned him off the most, because this means that some being was trying to control his mind and nobody had the right to control his mind. Then I thought, “How sad.” It’s one of the great secrets, by the way, to happiness.
“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s.” Unlike many of the other sins, this is the hidden sin. You can covet and nobody will know. Well, eventually it could come out in your actions, but it’s actually easier to hide coveting than any of the other sins, because it all goes on inside your mind until it produces an action.
Now people can covet for years and years and years, and no one knows. They don’t see an action. Although, it does have a profound effect on our emotional state. So what does it actually mean to covet? Well first of all, let’s look at how serious this is by what Jesus said. Let’s go to Mark 7. Mark 7. Here, Jesus Christ is giving a stern… giving His stern instructions on what morality is. And in verse 20 of Mark 7, He says, “What comes out of a man, that defiles the man.” Now what He says—and then He starts to list the things that defile us—the things that make us, or that are sins that make us unclean before God. “For from within,” in other words, from within your mind, within your heart, comes certain things. “Out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, and evil eye blasphemy, pride and foolishness.” All these evil things come from within and defile a man.
Now what’s interesting to go through that list and study the mental and emotional process that causes that. I mean, you see a murder—what caused the person to murder? So what we went through, as we go through these commandments, we’ll be going through the spirit of the Law too. What motivates people to do these things? Well, the covetousness, He says, before that becomes an action, you have to deal with that because it is an evil in your mind. It is an evil within our minds.
So what is exactly covetousness? Covetous… To put it into simplest terms, to covet something is to have a passionate and obsessive desire for something. And I say passionate and obsessive desire. To have a passionate desire of itself isn’t wrong. To want something isn’t wrong. To want a new car is not wrong. To want a new house, a new job, to want to get married, to want something, in itself, is not wrong. To want something physical isn’t wrong, but this is a passionate and obsessive desire that shows up in two ways. One is it is a passionate and obsessive desire for something that is unlawful. That’s why He said, or what God said, if you have a passionate, obsessive desire for your neighbor’s wife, you’re wrong. Eventually, it’s gonna either motivate you to try to get your neighbor’s wife, or to do something bad against your neighbor, or maybe to treat your own mate very poorly. So it will come out in some wrong way.
The other way is to have a passionate or obsessive desire for something that is lawful, but it becomes such an obsession that it becomes a motivating force in your life. Now, here’s where the fine line is in this. You say, “Well you know what? I’d like a new car. So I’m gonna have to take a second job to get that car, and it’s gonna take me three months, but I’m gonna have to do it to get this new car; my car’s falling apart.” Now you have a desire. You actually have a need, maybe, for this car. So you take a second job. And you work an extra 20 hours a week, for 3 months, to go buy this car, which was a need. Now at that point, that is actually not covetousness. You see a need, you analyze the need and you go. It’s not an unlawful need. It’s not unlawful to own a car. And so you go take care of it.
The problem is, the fine line is, is when we become obsessed. And we become obsessed, we begin to make immoral decisions, like, “I know my kids need new shoes, but I really want that new fishing rod.” And so you make a decision to buy a fishing rod while your children suffer. You begin to set wrong priorities.
Look what it says in Ephesians 5. Let’s see what apostle Paul says about this. Ephesians 5. Because this helps us understand. Remember, when we first talk about coveting, and in the letter of the Law, it’s you want something that’s not yours, you can’t have it. It’s unlawful, but we can actually covet for something that is lawful, that, of itself, isn’t wrong for you to have, but it still can become coveting. How do we know when we’ve gone beyond the boundary of, “Oh, this is something I desire. I want it. I’m gonna work for it. When I get it, it’ll serve me. It’s something I want, something I need,” and know this is passed over into coveting?
Ephesians 5. Here, Paul says, verse 1, “Therefore, be imitators of God, as dear children, and walk in love as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for sweet-smelling aroma. But fornication…” So he says, “Okay. Dedicate your life to God. Become an imitator of God because we know that the price that Christ paid for us…” He says, now let’s make sure these things aren’t in our lives, “but fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let not it even be named among you as fitting to saints, neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting.”
Look where he places covetousness, right there with sexual sins, filthy talking, things that shouldn’t even be named among us. In another place, we’ll get to that in a minute, he calls it idolatry. Covetousness is the same as idolatry, and this is when we know we’ve begun to pass, go over the line, in our desire for something, when you put anything between you and God. And it’s very interesting because now the Tenth Commandment loops back around. It connects to the First and the Second Commandments. Anything we put between us and God is coveting, and therefore it is idolatry. It’s connecting those two things together that’s very important for us to understand because you might say, “Well, I know. I’m not coveting my neighbor’s car. I’m not coveting my neighbor’s wife.” But are you coveting another woman that might be lawful for you to marry? But you’re coveting her. So how would I could be covet a woman that’s lawful for me to marry? Have you now made her or him more important than God in your life?
See, coveting isn’t just a thing—it’s a person, it’s a position, it’s a place. We can covet virtually anything. We can covet almost anything. Now any time we say, “This is more important than obeying God or being faithful to God or spending time with God,” we’ve actually crossed the line into coveting. So it’s very obvious to see the first way we covet, right? I can’t covet my neighbor’s house. It’s not my house. But if I covet… If I want this house, which of itself isn’t unlawful, but I am willing to work on the Sabbath to get this house, I’m willing to cheat a little bit to get this house, you’re coveting. You see it in the actions. It produces actions. Coveting is a motivation.
And so we have to always look at our motivations to understand, are we coveting or not? So the first… The letter of the Law is pretty easy for us. I can’t covet something that somebody else has. It’s the second way, the spirit of the Law, that this gets difficult. I can covet something that’s lawful because I become obsessed. The big thing about coveting, it is an obsession. It’s an absolute obsession. It’s stuck in your mind. You can’t get rid of it. You meditate on it, you think about it, you desire it, to the point that you will actually do immoral things to get it. So it’s the motivation. You say, “How could that person get to the place where they just stab their best friend in the back to get his job?” It’s because they coveted the job. It was the motivation for the actions that they took.
So remember, you can covet anything—money, house, job, clothes, status, a person. People could covet a person. Now, let’s talk about some of the symptoms then and results of covetousness because if it’s a motivation, it’s gonna do something with us, because I want to go through that, and then I want to talk about the cycle of how it works in our brains, if you will. Because once again, the desire to have something, to work to get it and to have it, in some ways is very similar to coveting because coveting produces something totally different. So we have to know the difference. We have to question our motivations at times, when it’s becoming an obsession. I mean all of us.
Remember as a kid, and you wanted, I don’t know, a new baseball glove or you know, anything, and that’s all you could think about? You went to bed at night thinking about it. You wake up, it’s all you could think about. It’s what you wanted, right? You go and look at a catalog. Some of you are young enough, you don’t know what a catalog is. You go online, you look on eBay, okay? Some of you are young enough, you don’t know what that is. But you look, and you look, and you look, and you want. You go through the store. I can remember walking through the store and looking at something and saying, “Oh, I want that.” It’s what you think about, right? “If I could just get the money for that.”
And then there’s a fine line between, “I desire that,” and “I covet it.” So what would be the signs? What would be the fruit of having covetousness? Well first of all, I mean what’s obvious is it leads to overt sin. When you think of Achan, when the ancient Israelites were told to go into Jericho, destroy everything and not bring anything out, well, the next… They defeat the people of Jericho, they come out, they’re victorious, they go against the next town of Ai, and they get defeated. And Joshua goes to God, says, “Why?” He said, “Because someone took something out that they weren’t supposed to take.” Everybody’s appalled. “Surely nobody would have done that! God told us not to.” And then he whittled it down to one man who went in, and he brought out some clothes and some gold, and it was like, “I just… This stuff was… Wow. How could I leave it there to be destroyed?” Was it wrong for that man to desire nice clothes? Was it wrong for that man to look at those clothes and say, “Man, that’s nice clothes”? No, but the obsession caused him to commit an overt sin. He took it. He now stole from God, and now the entire nation was punished. And eventually, of course, he was stoned.
The second point, and this is important because most… It’s funny about covetousness. You can go, you can covet something for a lifetime and never do the overt sin, but coveting is like a cancer in what it does internally, the obsession to have this person, this thing, this place. I met people who wanted this… wanted to marry this man, but he married someone else and it’s five years later, and they’re still obsessed. “Oh, he should’ve married me.” You’re coveting him now.
And what’s it doing to the person? Because the second thing it does, it produces an obsession that then produces anxiety and unhappiness. Covetousness creates anxiety. Look what it says in Proverbs 21. Proverbs 21:25 Proverbs 21:25The desire of the slothful kills him; for his hands refuse to labor.
American King James Version×. “The desire of the lazy man kills him,” because he’s obsessed, filled with anxiety, but he won’t go work to get it, “For his hands refuse to labor. He covets greedily all day long, but the righteous gives, it does not spare.” He says righteous people are always concerned not only with what they have, but with being generous to others. That is a righteous act, to give and share and care for others.
Covetousness keeps us from sharing, because eventually we’re obsessed with getting. We become obsessed with getting. At this stage, people can actually begin to see people as two different classes of people—people who are gonna help me get what I want, and evil people who are keeping me from getting what I want. People have done horrible things to friends if they perceive, “You’re keeping me from getting what I want.” You know, in a workplace, you see that all the time. “I want this job, I want this promotion, I want this recognition, I want this extra pay, and you’re keeping me from it. And so I’ll do anything to get rid of you.” Oh, I may not shoot them, right? Say, “Well, I’m not sinning. I’m not committing some overt act of sin here,” but they are.
This creates anxiety and unhappiness. If you find yourself obsessed and unhappy over a thing, a person, a place that you want, you have to at least stop and ask, “Am I coveting?” It may be lawful, but you’re breaking the law. It may not be wrong or a sin for you to have that thing or place or position, but wanting it at that level is actually killing you, it’s hurting you.
Number three, it does corrupt our character, and it destroys our relationship with God. This is why the apostle Paul calls it idolatry. Covetousness is idolatry, because now we’ve put a barrier between us and God. That thing is something that we’ve actually set up and said, “This is between You and me, God, and I want this.” In fact, you could sometimes blame God.
I’ve actually had people tell me, “Oh, I don’t…” Have you asked God about this issue? “No.” Why not? “Because I’m afraid He’ll say, ‘No.’ I’m afraid He’ll say, ‘No.’” I understand that. Sometimes you say, “Well, God, what if He says, ‘No’? Maybe if I don’t ask Him, He won’t figure it out.” Now we’re walking right up to the edge of coveting aren’t we? Because if God says, “No,” I’ll still want it. At that point, we’re obsessive.
It perverts justice. That’s the fourth thing it does, it perverts justice. You’ll see all through the Scripture. In the Old Testament, both Israel and Judah were condemned for taking bribes, perverting justice because the rich people could get away with things because the judges coveted. And if you could find the soft spot and get them enough money or whatever it was that their soft spot was, you could get the ruling that you wanted.
The fifth thing, and this is real important, covetousness leads to a life of never being satisfied. This is what Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes, where he had everything, and he found out having it all didn’t make him happy. “He who loves silver will not be satisfied with silver, nor he who loves abundance with increase. This also is vanity or worthlessness.” Now, he didn’t say it was wrong to have silver. He didn’t say it was wrong to have abundance. He said, “But to love it.” To love it… You know, I’ve seen people. You’ve seen people that love money more than people. They’ll never be satisfied with it. They’ll never be happy with it.
The sixth thing, when we covet, it changes your life’s priorities, and we move away from the priorities that God sets for us. So, once again, we may not be stealing, we may not be lying, we may be keeping the Sabbath, we’re not worshiping idols, we worship the only true God. See, I’m keeping the Ten Commandments. But this is going on inside your head. As it does, and we—this obsessive desire, passionate, obsessive desire to have this person, or place, or thing, or position, or whatever—it drives us to the point it changes our priorities. I already said it changes our character, because it puts a barrier between us and God. When you covet, you cannot have a proper relationship with God, which only creates more anxiety. When we covet, we put a barrier between us and God, because we’ve made an idol. Now think about it. If someone made a statue over here and said, “This is God,” and started worshiping it, you’d say, “Well, God’s not gonna interact with that person. It’s a sin.” Well, that’s what we do with that car or those clothes. We put a nice pile of clothes here and we get down and we covet it. It’s just like we’re getting down and worshiping it. Changes our character, changes our priorities.
Look what Jesus says in Luke 12. Luke 12. Let’s start at verse 13. “One of the people from the crowd said to Jesus, ‘Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.’” So he comes before Jesus, and he says, “Look, I have an issue here of the law. My father’s died. The inheritance should be shared, and my brother won’t do it.”
Now, Jesus’ response you’d think would be, “Well okay, let Me hear the case, and I’ll look at the law and make a decision,” but He sees something else here. There’s a motivation here. And He says… But He says to him, “Man, who may be a judge or an arbiter over you?” And He said to them… So He turns to everybody there and He says what? “Well let Me look at the law and decide”? He says, “Take heed of covetousness. Beware. Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.” [coughs] Excuse me. And then He tells them a parable.
And He spoke a parable to them, saying, “The ground is of a certain rich man yielded plentifully. And he thought within himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no room to store all that I have, all these goods, all these things, my crops?’ So he says, ‘I will do this. I will pull down my barns and build greater, and I will store all my crops and my goods.’ And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years, take your ease, eat, drink and be merry.’”
Now, let’s stop and think a minute. Was that sin? [coughs] Excuse me. Sorry, I went right into the mic with that one. Is it sin to build bigger barns? Is it sin to have good crops? Is it sin to be a good farmer? No. But remember how He starts this, “Beware of covetousness.” And then Jesus is gonna explain. He says it, and everybody says, “Well, that’s the way it should be. We should work hard. We should plan.” This is a good farmer, does his job right. He’s got to be the hero of the story. Why isn’t he the hero of the story?
Well, let’s look at verse 20. “But God said to him, ‘Fool. This night your soul will be required of you. Then whose will those things be which you have provided?’” Verse 21 is now the moral. “So is he who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich towards God.” This was a priority issue He’s dealing with. He said if you’re not gonna live God’s way, you’re not gonna follow God, you’re not gonna be obedient to God. If God isn’t gonna set the priorities in your life, and you’re just selfishly coveting and building and creating and getting, ignoring the poor, ignoring your tithes, ignoring teaching your children, ignoring praying, He says, “What happens when you die tonight? What good is all that stuff?”
So the point here is covetousness. And the point is, it creates wrong priorities. When we get down this road of covetousness where we begin to have wrong priorities, we don’t know it at that point. We’re in a very strange or dangerous area because it’s already changed our character. We’re already obsessed. And we’re not committing overt acts of sin. This guy didn’t seem to be making over… All his neighbors thought he was the greatest guy in the neighborhood. But his priorities were wrong. He couldn’t tell that. And at this point, it’s very difficult because covetous… The dealing with the fact that he’s coveting would take either correction from someone or a catastrophe in his life. There’s the problem when you covet. There reaches a point in its process where it gets real hard to recognize because you’re obsessed with it. And many times, it appears you’re producing good by it.
The seventh point, covetousness leads people to resentment towards others, because others seem to get what we don’t have. “I covet this, and this person got it.” I’ve always wanted a Mustang. I’ve never really coveted one, but I’ve had a strong desire for it. And I bought a used car recently, had to take it to the Ford dealer. And I’m standing outside and there’s three guys all about my age who were standing there. And there’s this long row of brand new Mustangs. And I said, “Wow.” So we had this long conversation. The one guy says, “Yeah, I’ve owned five of those in my lifetime.” And the other guy I forget how many he had had, and how this one had a good engine and this did this. And they’re just telling stories about all the Mustangs they own. You know, I’m just thinking, “Wow.”
About that time, they drive up my Taurus. And I looked at them, and they looked at me, and I looked at the guy, he opened the door and, “Here, Mr. Petty,” because they just finished fixing it. I looked at them and said, “Well, I’m past the age when I get to buy a Mustang,” and they both said, “Yeah, me too.” [audience laughs] One guy said, “That’s okay, I’m driving a Fusion.” So, you know, and we all laughed and went on.
Yeah, it’d be nice to own one of those, but at this stage in life, it’s not even a consideration anymore. I want something that doesn’t drive as fast, but rides real nice, right? So mine, it doesn’t cost that much. But you can resent what other people have. “How come other people get more than me? How come they get the good jobs, they get the nice houses, they get the nice cars, they get the good wives, they get…” You know, and we just plug it in, whatever it is that they got. They get the good looks. They get the nice clothes. And we begin to have this resentment towards other people.
So, those are the symptoms and results of covetousness. I want to stop here, before I go any farther and say, any questions or comments about that… Those consequences, those results, if you will, so we can understand what covetousness looks like, because we say, “Well, covetousness is something that happens in your head.” Yeah, but it looks like something. You know it feels like something, and that’s the important thing. Covetousness feels like something. So, any comments or questions about that understanding? Okay, so I can give the test now. [audience laughs]
Sometimes it’s difficult when you’re dealing with something when we’re dealing with emotions. It’s a lot easier to deal with facts. But covetousness is an emotion. So we can do it and we don’t even know we’re doing it, because you know why? It feels right. “I deserve that. I really deserve that. I don’t deserve this. I don’t deserve what I have.” So it feels right. It feels very good. So we’re okay with that? Okay.
Now I’m going to talk a little bit about the cycle here, because the cycle of covetousness is very interesting because it parallels the normal cycle of human beings wanting something and getting it or not getting it, but its results are totally different. I mean let’s face it. You see something, you notice it. You’re walking by a store in the mall and you stop, and you look back, and you say, “Whoa, is that a nice…,” Now you fill in the blank. Now you haven’t coveted, right? “Boy, is that a nice chair.” You haven’t coveted. Now, you start to see the desirability of that.
I’ve always wanted a leather chair. My wife says they’re ugly. So recently we moved to Nashville. And for the first time in my life, I had enough money to buy a leather chair, because we got rid of most of our furniture. Said, “I would really like a leather chair.” She said, “Oh, they look so ugly. I’m not interested.” She had all these really nice chairs. You know? Am I coveting the leather chair? No I’m not, because I need it, but if I don’t get it, it’ll be okay.
So we looked at them. I said, “Come here. I want you to sit in this leather chair.” “Oh, Gary. It’s so big. I mean I want these really nice…” I said, “Just sit in it.” She sat in it, sat in it for a little bit longer. “I see why you want one of these.” I got a leather chair. I wasn’t sinning. If she said, “Gary, that really isn’t gonna fit the house,” I would have not got it for her sake. I mean I understand if she doesn’t want something in her living room. I mean she needs to design that, she needs to take care of that. She wasn’t coveting either. She tried out what I was talking about to see, “Well, maybe he has a point, I don’t know.” But after she sat in it, she said, “Okay, yeah.”
Now I go in every once in a while, and I say, “What are you doing sitting in my leather chair?” “It’s comfortable.” “Can I have it back?” “No.” And she sits in my leather chair, okay? So there’s an equilibrium here. She’s accepted there’s one piece of furniture in her living room that she didn’t pick, and I accept that she’s gonna sit in my leather chair sometimes, and we’re happy.
So you notice something, there’s a desirability to it. At this point, there’s nothing wrong because you go through a process. Can I afford that? You ever want something really… and now you find it desirable? Then you sit down and add up the numbers and say, “Oh, we can’t afford that.” Right? We’ve all done that. “Nah, that doesn’t make sense, really.” Now you might feel bad. It’s not wrong to feel bad, it was something you desired. There was a desirability to it. But the truth is, you’re able to use logic, intelligence and objectivity to work through this very subjective process. The feeling bad… The feeling isn’t wrong, as long as you don’t get obsessed with feeling wrong. Being unhappy for a short period of time isn’t wrong.
“Oh, I really would like to have that.” You know, you’re driving home from some place, “Oh, you know, I went to that flea market. I really wanted that copper statue,” this sort of monstrosity, whatever. And your mate said, “Oh, come on. That’s ugly.” And then you realize, “Well, man, look at the price tag. I don’t want to buy that.” And you’re going home saying, “You know, I really sort of liked that. I sort of feel bad I didn’t get it.” By the time you get home, you’ve forgotten, and you never think about it the rest of your life, right? So you haven’t coveted. You’ve gone through the normal process of being human, living in a physical world and dealing with physical things.
Okay, now, the parallel line here between what’s normal human behavior and process, and coveting is very, very close at this point, because say you go home and say, “You know what?” You both say, “I really like that strange copper monstrosity that our neighbors hate, but we’re gonna put it out in our front yard. But you know, we’re gonna have to make some money for it. Well, we’re gonna have to save. Okay, well we’d have to save some money every paycheck for the next four paychecks to get the money. Okay, let’s call the guy, have him put it away for us.” Okay, you’re making a strategy. That’s how we get anything. I mean if you just go buy on impulse, you’re probably in a real financial problem. So you have to have a strategy. The strategy isn’t wrong, but the problem is in the obsession.
And you could tell a little bit how obsessed you are and if you’re bordering on covetousness by how you look at other people who have things you don’t. Look at Psalm 10. The Psalms, of course, so much of the time deal with our human emotions. Covetousness is an emotion. It’s a thought process too, but it manifests itself in an emotional way, so that your emotions control your thoughts. One of our biggest problems in life is when we let our emotions control our thoughts. Our thoughts have to guide our emotions.
Here in Psalm 10, the psalmist writes, “Why do You stand afar off, O Lord? Why do You hide in times of trouble?” So here he says, why are You so far from me? Why are my times so bad? “The wicked in his pride persecutes the poor; let them be caught in the plots which they have devised.” You know, it’s amazing how many times people who are rich have no problem taking advantage of poor people. That’s because they covet. Sometimes the reason they’re rich is because they take advantage of people. What is their motivation? Coveting, and they can never have enough. Not all rich people are like that, are they? Some are. “For the wicked boasts of his heart’s desire.” The wicked boasts of all his desires. You know, I’m gonna buy a new house. My house only has 18 rooms, I’m gonna buy a 26-room house on the West Coast, so I can go back and forth between east coast and west coast. You say, “Wow. You boast about that?”
Now, is it wrong for a person to have two houses? No, if you can afford it. But see, it’s an obsession. I mean let’s face it. You go on a news site, some Internet news site, and what pops up? Some millionaire sells their home for $10 million. You go, “Oh, I got to look at that.” Well yeah, because I bought three houses, couldn’t afford all three of them. But for a long time, they boasted that they had three houses. This is all sides of people who covet.
“He blesses the greedy and renounces the Lord.” Oh, he pretends to do good deeds for the needy, but he actually renounces God. “The wicked, in his proud countenance, does not seek God. God is in none of his thoughts.” Covetousness is a thought and emotional process. “His ways are always prospering; Your judgments are far off, out of His sight,” God’s judgments. “As for all of his enemies, he sneers at them. He says in his heart, ‘I shall not be moved. I shall never be in adversity.’” No bad thing’s gonna happen with me. My life is good.
So let’s start to think about this. You notice an object. Okay, no sin involved here at this point. You desire the object. You plan for the object, you make a strategy, okay? Now this is how we accomplish almost anything, but this is also the same path—depending on the emotional process that’s going on here—this is the same path of covetousness. Now, of course, what you do is you take action. You carry out your plan, you save the money, you go buy it.
I just saved for five years because I didn’t want to have any more car payments. So I saved for five years, and I found a great deal on a used car, and I went and paid cash for it. Boy, did that feel good. I noticed, I desired, I planned, I took action. And it was great. Now, I didn’t have to mistreat anybody else to do it. I didn’t have to steal. And I tell you what, that car wasn’t the focal point of my life. I could have bought any number of cars. This just happened to be the model I wanted, the make that I wanted. I could have bought any number of cars. And if an emergency would have come up… Well, I couldn’t. My other car blew up. Not quite, but it broke the timing belt. You know, it wasn’t… With 210,000 miles, it wasn’t worth keeping.
So at this point, these are all normal human things, and I was able to walk in after five years of noticing, “This is the car I wanted five years ago.” I had a desire for it. I planned. I got it. Wow, this a great blessing. And I felt very good. You have an emotional reaction, okay? Now, I had a couple of emotional reactions. One was, “Oh, man. I love the new car smell.” I mean it was a used car, but they obviously sprayed some stuff in it. And I was like, “Oh, I love this.” Emotional. I guess there should be an “M”. You have an emotional action. Boy, I hope…
I also had a little bit of worry, like, “What if I bought a lemon?” You ever bought… Have you ever bought a lemon in your life? I have. I bought a car one time that was so bad that people would be waving at me, and you’d have to roll down the window, and they’d yell, “Your car’s on fire.” “No, no, it just smokes like this all the time, no.” And people thought it was on fire all the time.
So you notice, you desire, you plan. You have an emotional reaction. Now, what if you don’t get the car? You feel some disappointment. If you’re not coveting, you still feel some disappointment. That’s what I wanted, right? What if you don’t get a new couch, and you say, “Oh man, I’ve had the same couch for 20 years. It’s got some holes in it, it looks ratty, but, oh no, one of the kids needs braces.” If you’re not coveting, guess what? Kid gets the braces, right? Or you know, some emergency comes up.
If you’re coveting, you have a different emotional reaction. The joy of getting it is overwhelming. If you don’t get it, you’re depressed. So you have two different emotional reactions here, you know, depression if you don’t get it, and almost euphoria if you get it.
And now is where covetousness begins to go in a different direction—at this point, it’s all the same—because the next thing that happens is common to whether you’re coveting or not. The next thing that happens is, I’ve had my car now almost two months and it doesn’t smell as good anymore. It’s a little bit of disappointment, or maybe not so much disappointment, but you know, I found out, I looked at the tires, the tires were… there’re only 50,000-mile tires on the car, which means I’m gonna have to get new tires within the next 6 months. That’s a little disappointing.
You know what’s really funny? Because this has already happened. You get this new car. You’re so excited. I drove a… I mean, every day for a month, I would tell my wife, “I like my new car.” And she’d, very nicely, “I like it too, honey.” “I like my new car.” Everybody I tell… “How’s your car? Hey, I see you got a new car.” “I like my new car.” I mean that’s all I said to everybody. And then it got a scratch on it, and I became obsessed with the scratch, you know, wee little scratch. “My new car has a scratch.” Well, it had a few scratches when I bought it, but this was a new scratch. So I had to get over it, right? Oh okay, it’s got a little scratch in it.
When you are coveting, you can’t stand that new scratch. You are obsessed with that object, that person, that thing, and if it shows up flawed at all… You know what happens when a teenager or 15-year-old covets another 15-year-old? She’s in love. She notices, she desires, she plans, she takes action, she has emotional attachment. And then one day, he’s at school, and he throws up all over the place. “Ew!” She won’t have anything to do with him ever again. She won’t even talk to him ever again. When she’s 30, she says, “I sure feel bad for that boy. What was his name? I treated him so bad after he threw up in class that day.” Right? Don’t be too hard on kids. It’s hard for them to work all this out. It’s hard for us to work this out.
At this disappointment stage, if we’re coveting, we become obsessed. In other words, the obsession isn’t satisfied. I want a new car. I want a better car. I want this car fixed. You never are really happy. It’s only a short period of happiness. I’ll be happy with my car until it blows up. I’d feel happy with my car that’s sitting in my front… on my driveway, and I can’t drive it. I still go out every once in a while and say, “Man, that was a good car.” Right? I’ll scrap it for $200 here as soon as I can get somebody to buy it. And as they drive off with it, I’ll say, “Man, that was a good car.”
It’s the problem with covetousness. The obsession never goes away. You simply replace one obsession with another. Do you know what happens? Starts all over again. Now if you’re not coveting, you go through this normal process, and you’re basically happy, right? You work, you have some desires. You work a little bit. It’s tough at times, but you’re basically a happy person. If you’re coveting, you’re never happy. Remember what Solomon said, “They’re never satisfied.” At the core, covetousness is an obsession that you can never be satisfied.
So let’s just quickly, in the 10 minutes we have left… First of all, any questions or discussion of this? You understand this? Because this is actually a very complex… I take a very complex, emotional process and brought it down into something very simple. But you know what? If you’re really honest, you’re looking to say, “Yeah, I’ve done that. And I’ve ended up over here, in the bad part of this. I’ve obsessed over something, unhappy over something.”
Unhappiness, in itself, isn’t a… I mean if I go out and somebody’s hit my car—right?—my new car, I will be unhappy. It won’t ruin my life. Unhappiness of itself doesn’t mean you’re coveting, it’s a sense of loss. If you go home and your house has burned down, you’re gonna feel terrible. That’s not coveting, okay? Understand, coveting is an obsession. You can never be satisfied. You can never be happy, because once you get something, it’s never enough. It’s never enough, and you were willing to do something unethical to get it. You were willing to do something unethical to get it.
So let’s just wrap up with a few things you can do to combat coveting. The first one is, obviously, maintain your spiritual priorities. Remember one thing that we just read that Jesus said, that coveting does. It messes up your priorities. You think things are important that aren’t, and you take important things and you shove them way down in your life.
Look what Paul tells Timothy in 1 Timothy. 1 Timothy 6:6 1 Timothy 6:6But godliness with contentment is great gain.
American King James Version×. “Now godliness with contentment is great gain.” Simply being able to find yourself maintaining an equilibrium. He didn’t say “great joy”. Sometimes you feel great joy and sometimes you feel lousy. Contentment, an ability to say, “Today might not be a great day, but it’s okay, it’s good. I’m not gonna be obsessed with what I don’t have.” “For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain that we carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these, we shall be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare and into many foolish and harmful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.”
Notice what it’s doing. It messes up the priorities, that they move away from the faith, and they are unhappy. Now they may have lots of things, but they are unhappy. Now I think, at times in life, I’ve thought, “If I could just have this, I’d be happy,” and then you got it. And you know, there’s been times in my life, I’ve really wanted something and I didn’t get it till 10 years later, and I was so happy I got it 10 years later. If I would have got it when I really wanted it, and the desire was so great, it would have been obsessive. You get it 10 years later, and it’s all in sort of a priority. It’s nice to have, but it’s not the center of life. That thing isn’t the center of life. It’s nice to have. If you lose it, it was nice to have for a while.
So, you have to spiritually maintain your priorities. You have to stay on your knees before God. You have to read this Book, and you have to be accountable to others. If you’re feeling obsessive about things, you need to go talk to somebody. If having a thing or a person or a position is just eating away at you and driving you, you need to go talk to somebody with some wisdom that’ll sit you down and say, “Nah, you can’t go down this road.”
Secondly, you have to have faith that God is going to take care of you. I didn’t say God was gonna put you in a 25-mansion house. If you have that, that’s wonderful. Most of us will never have that. I will never have a Mustang. It’s okay. I don’t care. I don’t even think I want one now. Of course, if I don’t want one, God’ll probably give it to me.
Hebrews 13. Hebrews 13:5 Hebrews 13:5Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as you have: for he has said, I will never leave you, nor forsake you.
American King James Version×. This is very fascinating the way the writer of Hebrews put this. “Let your conduct…” This is verse 5, “Let your conduct be without covetousness.” Your conduct. How you act will show your covetousness. So, before it also talked about thoughts. We’ve looked at thoughts and feelings. Now, “let your conduct be without covetousness. Be content with such things as you have, for He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you or forsake you.’” What is the focal point here? Be content with what you have because God is going to be with you. “So we may boldly say, ‘The Lord is my helper, I will not fear. What can man do to me?’” Covetousness is combated by faith. It is combated by saying, “I have what God has given to me, and it’s enough.” And I am glad for what I have. You know what the opposite of covetousness is? Anybody? Think about it. This will be so obvious, but you really have to think through this. You know, some of the simplest things you have to think through… What would you say is the opposite of coveting? What is it?
[audience member] Gluttony?
[Gary Petty] No, the opposite, okay? That’s actually related to it. The opposite of it. So if I covet, what is the opposite emotional state? And if I am content, what am I doing? There’s something in my… If I am coveting, I’m obsessed with getting. If I am the opposite, what am I doing? Giving. And I am thankful.
So to combat it, through faith, you have to be thankful and you have to give, which means that you have to get on your knees and thank God. You have to make lists of things. You have to go around and thank people. You have to thank your husband for the work he did. “Oh, but my husband is…” No, no, no, go thank him. I’m gonna go thank my kids. “Oh, but if you knew my kids.” Are you glad you have them? “Yeah.” Then go tell them. Go be thankful, and go give to somebody. “Oh, well yeah, I know someone at the church that needs some food, but I won’t be able to get my new skis.” Go give to somebody. Change your priorities. Have faith that God will give you what you need, not always what you want.
And then I guess the third point here is, realize that there is a difference between physical happiness and the joy of God’s Spirit. Oh I got a thrill when I drove home that car. I still get a little bit of a thrill when I drive it around, after two months. And you know what’ll happen about a year from now? I’ll have to put about $500 in that car because it broke down, and I won’t have a thrill at all. I’ll think, “I’m gonna go get my gun and I’m gonna shoot that car. I’m gonna blow it up.” Right? It won’t have the same relationship with my car a year from now that I have now, well at least the first time it breaks down, right? But that’s okay, that’s part of life too. Frustration’s a part of life.
What we have to realize is that physical happiness is contingent in all kinds of things. The joy of God’s Spirit is contingent on our relationship with Him. And we can have joy even when something bad happens. I’m not saying it feels good. I’m not even saying you like it. I’m not saying you don’t feel frustrated or a sense of loss, but you do have a sense of stability because of God’s Spirit.
You know, there’s no millionaires left on Jekyll Island today. What’s interesting is, there were German submarines sinking ships at the beginning of World War II off the coast of Jekyll Island. You can see them burning out there. And the government realized something. In the middle of the summer, all the richest people of the United States were all huddled together in one place. If you really wanted to wipe out the economy, just send some commandos on and kill every… land them and kill everybody. And since at that point in the war, the Germans were doing all kind of commando raids, they actually got afraid it was gonna be raided. So the government came in and moved everybody out.
So during World War II, Jekyll Island basically was empty. And after the war, all the young people weren’t excited to go back. They wanted New York City. They wanted Chicago. They wanted excitement. They didn’t want to go hunting for hens and pheasants and just playing tennis by the beach, they wanted excitement. And basically, nobody came back. And so all these cottages and everything started to sort of fall in disrepair, so they sold it to the state of Georgia. If you go there today, there’s not a lot of these beautiful mansions left. There’s a few, you can take some tours of them. You can go to the old clubhouse, take a walk around it. I think there used to be a restaurant in it. Anybody know? Is there still a restaurant there in the clubhouse? Yes? Okay.
But if you’re ever on Jekyll Island, and I hope it’s still there, I haven’t been there for years. There are the ruins of a house you can miss, and obviously it was a big house. Out in front of it are two stone lions. Edwin Gould was a very wealthy man. Edwin Gould had everything that everybody coveted for. Everybody wanted his money, his status. He was invited to come to Jekyll Island with his family. And he was there one summer, and his son went out hunting and was in a hunting accident and got killed. Edwin Gould came back and burned his mansion to the ground in absolute grief over his son being killed. He burned everything, his furniture, everything. He just destroyed everything he had, left the island and never came back.
The next time you’re obsessed with some little thing that you have, that you want in life, I want you to think of that. I want you to think of the millionaire who had everything. Everybody coveted what he had. And I want you to think of those two lions—because I do this—two stone lions, standing guard over a bunch of ruins, because a man had it all, and it meant nothing when his son died a violent death. He burned it all to the ground. I’ve always thought there is no better monument in the world that states what Jesus said when He said, “Take time…” Or I’m sorry, when He said, “Take heed and beware of covetousness, for a man’s life consists not in the abundance of the things which he possesses.” So next time you suffer from covetousness, think of the two stone lions in front of a ruined mansion.