We don’t often use the word “Covet” in everyday conversation.
“Covet” to intensely desire something that belongs to someone else.
Sadly enough, these days our society encourages coveting, and I struggle to fight this pull like anyone else. In the United States alone the advertising industry spends over six billion dollars a day. The typical U.S. consumer is the recipient of 5,000 advertisements daily.
The general message in all this merchandising is that all of our problems can be solved immediately by the consumption of the proper product. Buying this will take care of everything from a bad budget to baldness! All these TV, Radio, computer, and mass media ads we receive cause far too many of us to live in a perpetual state of longing, wanting more and more and more. A “Dennis the Menace” cartoon strip, which showed Dennis looking through a Christmas Toy catalogue saying, “This catalog’s got a lot of toys I didn’t even know I wanted.”
“Whoever loves money never has money enough;” Ecclesiastes 5:10a
Coveting destroys budgets. We think the problem is I just don’t make enough money. No, it’s that we want too much. A lot of things we think are needs are really greeds. The average American puts $1300 on credit for every $1000 he makes. So because we want more we get further and further in debt. It always costs more to have more.
A pastor once dropped by to visit a family of the congregation in his church. When he got there, the mother of the house, wanting to make a good impression, said to her daughter, “Honey, who don’t you go and get that good book that we all love so much.” The daughter brought back the Sears’ catalog.
“Whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income. Ecclesiastes 5:10b
The famed poet Mick Jagger described our plight with these words:
“I can’t get no satisfaction, I can’t get no satisfaction ’Cause I try and I try and I try and I try …”
Coveting is built on the idea that if we get what we do not have, if we get what we desire, we’ll be happy. Things don’t give permanent happiness. Like a tire with a hole in it, it quickly loses its ability to bring us happiness. But we never seem to learn this lesson. When the thrill fades we just covet another THING, hoping that it will bring us lasting happiness and the process begins all over again. One example of this vicious cycle is seen every Christmas when we’re presented with those “must” items that we simply have to buy for our kids or ourselves. And every year the “Big Thing” to find under the tree is something new. Years ago the gift of choice was a Tickle Me Elmo. People stampeded through stores to get one. In past years there have also been Pet Rocks, Cabbage Patch Dolls, Beanie Babies, Furbies, and GameBoys to name a few. When our kids get these things they enjoy them for a few days or weeks but then those things that they wanted so bad, those toys that they absolutely had to have to be happy….lose their appeal. And then the next year the big thing to have is something else.
Tickle Me Elmo isn’t giggling anymore; he’s on the top shelf of the closet in most homes between a Salad Shooter and a Vega-Matic. Coveting is deceptive, it promises happiness but it always leaves us wanting more.
The abundance of a rich man permits him no sleep. Eccl 5:12
When we focus on things we always inevitably worry. The more you have, the more we have to worry about. How am I going to protect it? How am I going to save it? How am I going to invest it? How am I going to insure it? How am I going to avoid taxes on it? How am I going to keep from losing it? I read a study that said insomnia increases with income. Like a dog chasing its tail, people who covet never quite catch lasting joy.
“Do not wear yourself out to be rich; have the wisdom to show restraint.” Pr. 23:4
In our push to get more (and never in history have we been so pushed to get so much so quickly) we overwork and take on second jobs. Everybody in the family works. It’s the material rat-race and everybody’s tired.
“What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from the desires that battle with you?” James 4:1
Conflict comes when we’re always wanting more. The number one cause of divorce is financial tension; arguments over money and possessions.
People will sacrifice values, morals, integrity, all kinds of things in order to get more. They’ll even sacrifice relationships to get an additional dollar.
A true story: At the end of the Civil War. John Wilkes Boothe, the man who killed Abraham Lincoln in Ford’s Theater was the brother of one of America’s most famous actors, Edwin Booth. John Wilkes Booth was consumed with jealousy. He bitterly coveted the popularity of his brother. Now, he knew there was a growing dislike for Abraham Lincoln in certain areas of the United States. So he killed the President, thinking to become a national hero. The assassination of this beloved man started with one covetous thought.
How to Be Content?
- I shouldn’t compare myself to others. “We do not dare classify or compare ourselves … it is not wise.” 2 Cor. 10:12
In our society it seems the way we keep score is by possessions. We often look around and ask “How am I doing?” as if net worth and self-worth were the same thing. Our net worth has absolutely no relationship to our self-worth. This “Someone else is having a better life” is a myth.
- I should be thankful for what I have. “Always give thanks to God… for everything” Eph 5:20
We wouldn’t have anything if it weren’t for God. It’s all a gift from God. The happiest people are not those who have the most but those who are thankful for what they have. What am I waiting on to make me happy? When I get married then I’ll be happy. When I get out of this marriage then I’ll be happy. When I have kids then I’ll be happy. We are as happy as we want to be. We should forget the “When and Then Thinking.” Happiness is not getting whatever we want. Happiness is enjoying whatever we have.
- I should be generous.
“Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life. 1 Tim 6:17-19
As an American I am rich, wealthier than the vast majority of the world. Even if you’re on welfare; if you’re an American you’re in the top 1% of income of the world.
I’ll never forget reading the economist Robert Heilbroner’s walk-through of what it would take to transform the average American home into the typical dwelling of the majority of the world’s inhabitants. “We would have to begin by invading our house to strip it of its furniture. Everything goes: beds, chairs, tables, TV, lamps. All that can be left for the family is a few old blankets, a kitchen table, and a wooden chair. When it comes to clothing, each member of the family may keep his oldest suit or dress and one shirt or blouse. The head of the family gets a pair of shoes, but not the wife or children.
Then comes the kitchen. All the appliances would have to come out, and the cabinets would have to be emptied. All that can stay is a box of matches, a small bag of flour, and some sugar and salt. A few moldy potatoes, already in the garbage can, have to be taken back out, for they will provide much of that night’s meal. We can add a handful of onions and a dish of dried beans, but that’s all. Everything else goes: meat, fresh vegetables, canned goods, any crackers or candy. All gone.
But not only do we have to strip the house this way, but we also have to dismantle the bathroom, shut off the running water, and take out all electric wires. Next, we take away the house itself. The family must move into the tool shed. Everything related to communication goes too. No more newspapers, magazines, books – not that they are missed, since we must also take away the family’s literacy. Instead, all that can be left is one small radio. Then government services are removed. No more mail delivery, no more fire department. There is a school, but it is three miles away and consists of only two classrooms. There can’t be any hospitals or doctors nearby. The nearest clinic will be ten miles away and tended by no more than a midwife. It can be reached by bicycle, provided that the family has a bicycle, which is unlikely. Finally, we come to money.
The family can only be allowed a cash hoard of five dollars. That is only allowed to prevent the main breadwinner of the family from experiencing the tragedy that came upon one poor laborer who went blind because he could not raise the $3.94 that he mistakenly thought he needed to receive admission to a hospital where he could have been cured. James Emery White, You Can Experience an Authentic Life (Nashville: Word Publishing, 2000), 150-152
- I should shift my values to what will last.
Everything we see in the world is eventually going to decay or rust or wear out or fall apart. It will eventually not exist, because all possessions are temporary. The only things that really last for eternity are things we can’t see, our relationship to God and our relationship to others. Jesus reminds us:
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Matt 6:19-21
I think we need to do a periodic checkup and ask the tough questions: “What am I really living for? Is the primary goal of my life just to get more? Happiness does not come from possessions, it comes from knowing Jesus.