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There is a story that, in the 1920s, a reporter asked the fabulously wealthy John D. Rockefeller, “How much is enough?” Rockefeller’s reply, after a moment’s thought, is said to have been, “Just a little bit more!” Now, the story may or may not be true. It does, however, illustrate a characteristic of human nature. People are never quite satisfied with what  they have now.

When we look back over recorded human history, so much of it is dominated by wars and struggles over land, wealth and power. One group of people desires what they do not already possess, and they are willing to go to any lengths to achieve their ends, including fighting and taking it by force. God inspired James to remark on this trait. James wrote, “Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war” (James 4:1-2).

James uses a word here that bears some examination.  There are several Greek and Hebrew words that are translated “covet,” but all carry the meaning of an extraordinary desire to have something. Often, the word “covet” is used to refer to wanting something that belongs to someone else. A clear example of this is found in Exodus 20, where the tenth commandment forbids coveting: “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” (Exodus 20:17).

The commandment is itself interesting, as it follows nine other commandments that, by and large, have to do with actions. This command has to do, not with actions but, with what we think. It has to do with wanting more than what we have; wanting more than we have been given. When we covet, what we have seems inadequate. We can see this principle in action at the very beginning of the Bible, when the serpent skillfully deceived Eve. Eve lived in a beautiful, perfect world, free of sin, worry, and trouble. What more could she want? Satan tempted her with the same thing he wanted. He wanted to be like God. His message to Eve was that no matter how good she had it right now, she was inadequate. Eve needed just a little bit more to be happy. God, he said, had something that she should have. “…God knows that in the day you eat of it, your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5).

Eve, seeing that the fruit looked okay physically, allowed herself to covet what was God’s alone to have. That covetousness moved her to sin against the word of God. Her eyes were opened, but this did not bring her happiness, any more than winning the lottery or becoming a dictator today is a recipe for happiness. All of the examples in the Bible and in the world, however, are not enough to keep us from always wanting what we don’t have.

We know that advertising plays on this craving of human nature. The commercials tell us that the clothing we have is not nice enough, the car we have is not new enough, and the cable television service we have does not give us enough options. We are told that our neighbors have more than we do, that celebrities have bodies we should envy and try to achieve, and that we would be so much happier if we just bought this or did that or had this job. All of this could be ours with just a little bit of money per month.

When we start to look at all these things that our neighbors and friends have—the things we do not have—we begin to feel inadequate. We then start to feel cheated. They are no better than us. Why should they have what we do not? Life starts to feel unfair. Coveting begins. Little by little, it is too easy for us to get distracted from the things we are supposed to be focusing on. The apostle Paul wrote, “…seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth” (Colossians 3:1-2).

When we are focused on the things on earth, life begins to be about the competition for resources. We have to amass what we can to please ourselves, because there isn’t enough for everyone. But when we focus on the things which are above—on Christ as our Savior and coming King—we remember what James wrote in James 1:12-17. “Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.  Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.”

There is no shame in wanting to better ourselves and to provide well for our family. We must be careful, though, to remember that all of our possessions and talents—even our very life—are gifts from God. We need to not despise them as inadequate. When we have the proper perspective, we can actually look at our family and its physical needs clearly, without being swayed by what someone else has. When we remember God as the giver of all gifts, we remove the need for competition. As Christ reminded His followers in Matthew 6:32-33, God knows what we need. He will provide—as long as we put first His Kingdom and righteousness. In the end, “enough” isn’t “just a little bit more.” “Enough” will be the reward that God gives those who trust in Him.

For more information on what coveting is, and how to escape its pull, read the free Bible study guide The Ten Commandments.