"Don't be jealous of your neighbor's house, don't lust after your neighbor's wife, or his male or female servants, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything else that belongs to your neighbor." - Exodus 20:17.
This rule strictly prohibits greed in general, saying "Thou shalt not covet." It specifically mentions not to desire things that belong to others, like "Your neighbor's house, your neighbor's wife, etc."
This text is essentially warning against greed. It's saying, "You shall not covet." It's perfectly fine to use the world's resources and to desire enough to keep us from falling into poverty. As it says in Proverbs 30:8 & 9, "Give me not poverty, lest I steal, and take the name of my God in vain." It's also okay to want enough to be able to honor God through acts of kindness. As Proverbs 3:9 says, "Honor the Lord with your wealth."
The problem arises when material possessions start to consume your heart. It's like a ship sailing on water - the water is necessary for the ship to move, but if the water gets into the ship, it becomes a problem. Similarly, it's a problem when worldly possessions start to take over your heart. So remember, "You shall not covet."
What does it mean to covet?
There are two Greek words that describe the concept of greed. The first one is Pleonexia, which means 'an insatiable desire to acquire worldly possessions.' Greed is like a never-ending thirst. Augustine described greed as Plus velle quam sat est, which means 'to desire more than enough.' It's like constantly striving for a larger fortune, similar to the horse-leech's daughter who is always crying, 'Give, give,' as mentioned in Proverbs 30:15. Or like the behemoth who believes he can gulp down the entire Jordan river, as stated in Job 40:23.
The second Greek word is Philarguria, which means 'an excessive love for worldly possessions.' The world becomes the idol: it's loved so much that a person wouldn't give it up for anything worthwhile. A person can be considered greedy not only if they acquire worldly possessions unethically, but also if they love these possessions excessively.
To give you a more comprehensive response to the question, 'What does it mean to covet?' I'll explain in six specific points when a person can be considered as being driven by greed:
1. When his mind is entirely consumed by worldly matters. A virtuous person's thoughts are focused on heaven; they're contemplating Christ's love and the promise of eternal life. 'When I wake up, I'm still with you,' meaning, they're engaged in divine contemplation, as stated in Psalm 139:18. On the other hand, a greedy person's thoughts are rooted in the world; their mind is completely absorbed by it; they can't think of anything beyond their business or land. Their imagination is like a mint, and most of the thoughts in a greedy person's mint are worldly. They're constantly scheming and planning about the aspects of this life; similar to a young woman whose thoughts are entirely focused on her significant other.
2. You could say a man is obsessed with greed when he works harder to accumulate wealth than he does to attain spiritual enlightenment. He'll leave no stone unturned, lose sleep, and exhaust himself for worldly gains, but won't put in the same effort for spiritual growth or heaven. Just like the ancient Gauls of France, who, after tasting the delicious Italian wine, couldn't rest until they reached its source; a greedy man, once he gets a taste of worldly pleasures, relentlessly chases them, never stopping until he has it all. Yet, he neglects eternal matters. He'd be happy if salvation were as easy as a ripe fig falling into his mouth (Nahum 3:12), but he's unwilling to sweat or struggle to find Christ or salvation. He actively pursues worldly possessions, but only passively hopes for heaven.
3. You can tell if a man is greedy if all he ever talks about is worldly matters. As it says in John 3:31, 'He that is of the earth, speaks of the earth.' It's a sign of a godly person to always be talking about heaven, to speak as if they're already familiar with the language of the promised land. 'The words of a wise man’s mouth are gracious;' it's as if he's already been to heaven (Ecclesiastes 10:12). So, if a man is always talking about worldly things, like his goods and merchandise, it's a sign that he's greedy. The words of a greedy man, like those of a dying man, reek of earthliness. Just as it was said to Peter, 'Your speech gives you away,' so too does a greedy man's speech reveal his true nature (Matthew 26:73). He's like the fish in the Bible that had a coin in its mouth (Matthew 17:27). As Bernard said, 'Words are the mirror of the mind.' They reveal what's inside. From the abundance of the heart...
4. A person is considered greedy when they're so focused on material possessions that they're willing to give up spiritual treasures for them. They'd rather have a 'chunk of gold' than the 'priceless pearl.' When Christ told the young man in the gospel, 'Sell everything and follow me,' the man left feeling sad (Matt 19:22). He'd rather lose Christ than his earthly belongings. Cardinal Bourbon once said he'd give up his place in heaven if he could keep his position in Paris. When people reach a point where they have to choose between their wealth or Christ, and they choose their wealth over Christ and a clear conscience, it's obvious they're consumed by greed.
5. A man becomes greedy when he overwhelms himself with worldly affairs. He has many things going on at once; in this sense, he's juggling multiple roles. He takes on so much work that he can't find time to devote to God; he barely has time to eat, let alone pray. When a man burdens himself with worldly matters, and like Martha, busies himself with numerous tasks to the point where he can't find time for his soul, he's succumbing to greed.
6. This person is consumed by greed, so focused on worldly possessions that they don't care about using illegal methods to acquire them. They're willing to do anything, whether it's right or wrong, to get what they want. They'll cheat and deceive others, building their wealth on the downfall of others. They're like Ephraim who said, 'Yet I am become rich' in Hosea 12: 7 & 8. They're so deceitful, they love to oppress others. It's like Pope Sylvester II who supposedly sold his soul to the devil just to become Pope.
Listen up, "Take heed and beware of covetousness." - Luke 12:15. It directly violates the tenth commandment. It's a moral flaw that can contaminate and corrupt your entire soul.
This is a tricky kind of wrongdoing, one that many people can't easily recognize in themselves. It's like having scurvy without even knowing it. This particular sin can disguise itself as a virtue. It's referred to as the 'cloak of greed' according to 1st Thessalonians 2:5. This sin is so crafty, it hides under the guise of being thrifty or a good provider. It has more justifications and excuses than any other sin, like providing for one's family. The sneakier the sin, the harder it is to spot.
Greed is a dangerous vice, as it stifles all that is good. It's a threat to grace; it dampens good intentions, like how earth extinguishes fire. In the fable, the hedgehog came to the rabbit's burrow during a storm, asking for shelter. But once it was welcomed in, it raised its spines and didn't stop until it had driven the poor rabbits from their home. Similarly, greed, under the guise of good intentions, worms its way into your heart. But once you let it in, it won't stop until it has suffocated all good intentions and driven all faith from your heart.
Greed hinders the effectiveness of the preached word. In the parable, the thorns, which Christ explained to be the worries of this life, choked the good seed (Matthew 13:22). Many sermons fall on deaf ears and are forgotten in materialistic hearts. We preach to people to set their hearts on heaven, but when greed takes over, it chains them to the earth, making them like the woman whom Satan had crippled, so she couldn't stand up straight (Luke 13:11). You might as well ask an elephant to fly as ask a greedy person to live by faith.
We preach to people to generously give to the poor, but greed makes them like the man in the gospel who had 'a withered hand' (Mark 3:1). They have a withered hand, unable to reach out to the poor. It's impossible to be both materialistic and charitable. Greed blocks the effectiveness of the word, making it ineffective. Those whose hearts are rooted in the earth will not only fail to benefit from the word, but they may even mock it. The Pharisees, who were greedy, 'scoffed at him' (Luke 16:14).
Greed is a major sin, a fundamental vice. "The love of money is the root of all evil," as stated in 1st Timothy 6:10. Virgil once wrote, "O accursed lust for gold! What crimes do you not urge upon the human heart!" If someone has an insatiable desire for worldly possessions, they carry the root of all sin within them. Greed is a major sin. I'm going to show you how greed violates all ten commandments.
It breaks the first commandment, "You shall have no other gods before me." The greedy person worships more than one god; money is their god. They worship the god of gold, which is why they're called idolaters, as per Colossians 3:5.
Greed also breaks the second commandment, "You shall not make for yourself an idol or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath." A greedy person might not bow down to a carved image in a church, but they certainly bow down to the image on their coins.
Greed violates the third commandment, "You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God." Absalom, for example, wanted his father's crown out of greed, but he spoke of fulfilling his 'vow to God,' which was a misuse of God's name.
Greed also breaks the fourth commandment, "Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy." A greedy person doesn't keep the Sabbath holy; they might even go to markets on a Sabbath. Instead of reading the Bible, they're busy with their accounts.
Greed violates the fifth commandment, "Honor your father and your mother." A greedy person doesn't honor their father if they don't support him financially. In fact, they might even convince their father to transfer his estate to them during his lifetime, making the father dependent on the son.
Greed breaks the sixth commandment, "You shall not murder." Ahab, driven by greed, killed Naboth to take his vineyard, as told in 1st Kings 21:13. How many people have gained power through bloodshed?
Greed also violates the seventh commandment, "You shall not commit adultery." It leads to impurity; you've heard of the 'wages of a prostitute' in Deuteronomy 23:18. A woman might sell her conscience and chastity for money.
Greed breaks the eighth commandment, "You shall not steal." It's the root of theft: Achan, driven by greed, stole a wedge of gold. Thieves and the greedy are often lumped together, as in 1st Corinthians 6:10.
Greed violates the ninth commandment, "You shall not give false testimony." What makes a person lie under oath if not greed? They're hoping for a reward.
And finally, greed clearly breaks the last commandment, "You shall not covet." The money-lover covets their neighbor's house and goods, and tries to get them for themselves.
So, you see how terrible a sin greed is; it's a major sin. It clearly violates each one of the ten commandments.
Greed is a sin that discredits religion. It's contradictory for people to claim their aspirations are heavenly, while their desires are worldly; to claim to be celestial beings, while they're obsessed with earthly pleasures. This is a disgrace to religion! It's like the lapwing bird, which has a crown-like crest on its head, but feeds on dung. This bird symbolizes those who claim to be godly kings and priests, yet are excessively indulged in worldly comforts.
"‘And are you seeking great things for yourself? Don't seek them.’" - Jeremiah 45:5. Really, Baruch? You, who have been spiritually reborn and hold a prestigious position as a Levite, are you pursuing worldly things, and now of all times? When everything is falling apart, are you focusing on trivial matters? Don't belittle yourself or tarnish your reputation! Are you seeking great things? Don't seek them. The more spiritually elevated Christians are, the less they should be attached to earthly matters; just like how the higher the sun is, the shorter the shadow it casts.
Greed makes us subject to God's disgust, as it says, 'The greedy, whom the Lord despises.' Psalm 10:3. Just like a king hates to see his statue disrespected, so does God hate to see humans, created in His image, behaving like animals. Who would want to live in a way that makes them despised by God? Those who God despises, He curses, and His curse brings destruction wherever it lands.
Greed can lead people to their downfall and prevent them from entering heaven. As it says in Ephesians 5:5, "This ye know, that no covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God." What would a greedy person even do in heaven? God couldn't connect with them any more than a king could have a conversation with a pig.
In 1st Timothy 6:9, it says, "They that will be rich fall into a snare, and many hurtful lusts, which drown men in perdition." A greedy person is like a bee that flies into a barrel of honey and ends up drowning. Just like a ferryman who takes on too many passengers to make more money and ends up sinking his boat, a greedy person can take in so much gold to grow their wealth that they end up drowning in their own destruction.
There's a story about some people who lived near Athens on a dry and barren island. They worked hard to divert a river to their island to irrigate it and make it fertile. But when they finally managed to bring the river to their island, the water broke in with such force that it flooded the land and drowned all the people. This is a metaphor for a greedy person who strives to accumulate wealth, but in the end, they amass so much that it overwhelms and destroys them.
Many people, in their quest to build wealth, end up destroying their own souls. So, steer clear of greed! Next, I'll suggest some ways to combat greed.
Next up, I'm going to tackle the question, 'What's the solution to this greed?'
1. Faith. "This is the victory that overcomes the world, even our faith." - 1st John 5:4. The underlying cause of greed is a lack of trust in God's provision. Faith, on the other hand, trusts that God will provide; it believes that the same God who feeds the birds will also feed his children, and the one who clothes the lilies will also clothe his lambs. In this way, faith triumphs over the world.
Faith is the antidote to worry. It not only purifies the heart, but also satisfies it. It makes God our portion, and with Him, we have all we need. "The Lord is the portion of my inheritance, the lines have fallen to me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful heritage." - Psalm 16: 5 & 6.
Faith, through a divine process, draws comfort from God. Even a little with God is sweet. Therefore, faith is a remedy against greed; it overcomes not just the fear of the world, but also the love of the world.
2. The second solution is to think wisely. Consider how insignificant the things we desire in this world are! They're far beneath the value of our souls, which bear the likeness and idea of God. The world is just God's creation, but our souls are his image. We desire things that won't even satisfy us. As the Bible says in Ecclesiastes 5:10, 'Whoever loves money never has enough.' Solomon had examined all earthly things and concluded, 'Everything is meaningless.' Ecclesiastes 2:11. Greed is like an unquenchable thirst — the more a person has, the more they want. As the poet Ovid said, 'The more water is drunk, the more is craved.'
Worldly possessions can't ease a troubled mind. When King Saul was tormented by guilt, his crown jewels couldn't comfort him (1st Samuel 28:15). Earthly things can no more soothe a troubled spirit than a gold cap can cure a headache.
Moreover, the things of this world can't stay with you forever. They may offer a bit of sweetness, but they're fleeting. Either these things leave us, or we leave them. Considering all this, why would we desire such insignificant things?
The second point to consider is the structure and composition of the human body. God designed our faces to look upwards, towards the heavens. As Ovid said, "He gave man an uplifted face, with the order to gaze up to Heaven." Anatomists have noted that while other creatures have only four muscles in their eyes, humans have a fifth muscle that allows us to look up towards the sky. And when it comes to the heart, it's designed to be narrow and contracted at the bottom, but wide and expansive at the top.
Just as the human body is designed to look upwards, the soul, too, is meant to ascend. It's like a divine spark planted within us. Can we really believe that God gave us intellectual and immortal souls just to crave earthly things? Would a wise person use golden hooks to catch small fish? Did God give us these magnificent souls just to chase after worldly things? Surely, our souls are meant for something greater - to strive for the enjoyment of God's glory.
The third point to consider is the examples set by those who have rejected and scorned the world. Early Christians, as noted by Clemens Alexandrinus, distanced themselves from the world and focused entirely on their relationship with God. They lived in the world, but they weren't consumed by it. They were like birds of paradise, soaring high in the sky, rarely if ever touching the ground. Luther once said that he was never tempted by greed. Even though the saints of old lived in the world, their focus was on heavenly matters. As it says in Philippians 3:20, "Our conversation is in heaven." The Greek word used here implies our business, trade, or citizenship is in heaven. Enoch, as mentioned in Genesis 5:24, "walked with God." His affections were elevated, and his focus was on heaven every day. The righteous are compared to a palm tree in Psalm 92:12. Philo pointed out that unlike other trees that have their sap in their roots, the sap of the palm tree is towards the top. This serves as a symbol of saints, whose hearts are in heaven, where their treasure lies.
3. The third way to overcome greed is to desire spiritual things more. Desire grace, because it's the best blessing and it's God's gift to us, as mentioned in 1st John 3:9. Desire heaven, the place of ultimate happiness and joy. If we desire heaven more, we'll desire earthly things less.
Imagine standing on top of the Alps and looking down at the cities of Campania, they would seem like small villages. Similarly, if we focus more on the heavenly Jerusalem, all worldly things would seem insignificant.
There's a passage in Revelation 10:2 about an angel coming down from heaven and setting one foot on the sea and the other on the earth. If we had been in heaven and seen its incredible glory, we would look down on the earth and sea with a holy disdain.
So, desire heavenly things! There you'll find the tree of life, mountains of spices, rivers of pleasure, God's love flowing like honey, the joy of angels, and the blossoming flower of joy.
There, the air is pure; no sin pollutes it. The Sun of Righteousness continually illuminates the whole sky with his glorious light. Let your thoughts and joys be consumed by this city of pearls, God's paradise!
It's said that after Lazarus was raised from the dead, he never smiled or took pleasure in the world again. If our hearts were lifted by the Holy Spirit to heaven, we wouldn't be so captivated by earthly things.
4. The fourth solution is to pray for a spiritual mindset. Lord, let your Spirit act like a magnet, pulling my heart towards heaven. Lord, remove the worldly desires from my heart; teach me how to live in this world without being consumed by its love; how to keep it within my grasp, but prevent it from taking over my heart.
II. Now that we've talked about the command in a broad sense, let's dive into the specifics. 'You shall not covet your neighbor's house, you shall not covet your neighbor's wife,' and so on. Notice the purity and completeness of the law that forbids even the earliest stirrings of sin in the heart. 'You shall not covet.' Human laws deal with actions, but God's law goes a step further, it forbids not only actions, but desires. 'You shall not covet your neighbor's house.' It doesn't say, 'You shall not steal his house;' but 'You shall not covet it.' These cravings and desires for what's off-limits are sinful. The law has stated, 'You shall not covet.' - Romans 7:7. Even if the tree doesn't bear bad fruit, its roots may be rotten; so even if a person doesn't commit any major sin, they can't claim their heart is pure. There might be flaws at the root: there could be sinful cravings and desires in the soul.
Let's take a moment to feel humbled by the flaws in our nature, the emergence of harmful thoughts desiring things we shouldn't. Our nature is a breeding ground for wrongdoing; it's like a piece of charcoal that's always sparking, igniting feelings of pride, envy, and greed in our minds. This should really bring us down a notch! Even if we're not acting on these sinful desires, the fact that we're even coveting them is wrong. Let's ask for the grace to overcome these flaws, much like the water of jealousy, which can make the power of sin wither away.
Why is the house mentioned before the wife here? In Deuteronomy, the wife is mentioned first. 'You must not desire your neighbor's wife, and you must not covet your neighbor's house.' - Deuteronomy 5:21.
In the book of Deuteronomy, the wife is mentioned first, signifying her importance. If she's a good wife, she's considered more valuable than the house itself. As it's said in Proverbs 31:10, 'Her worth is far beyond rubies.' She's the heart of the home, and her value surpasses that of the house itself.
Take the example of Alexander defeating King Darius in battle. Darius didn't seem too upset about losing the battle, but when he found out his wife was taken prisoner, he broke down in tears. This shows that he valued his wife more than his own life.
However, in the book of Exodus, the house is mentioned before the wife. This is because the house needs to be built before the wife can live in it. It's like building a nest before the bird can live in it. The wife is highly valued, but the house needs to be provided first.
1. Then, "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house." Just look at how messed up people have become since the fall! They just can't seem to know their limits, always wanting more than what they have. Take Ahab, for example. You'd think he'd have enough, being a king and all. You'd assume his royal income would satisfy him, but no, he was still craving more. Naboth’s vineyard caught his eye, it was so close he could see it from his chimney, and he couldn't rest until he owned it. If people didn't covet so much, there wouldn't be so much bribery. One person takes another's house from them. It seems like only a prisoner can live in a place without worrying that someone will try to take it from him.
2. "You should not desire your neighbor's wife." This is a guideline to control excessive and animalistic desires. It was the devil who interfered in another man's affairs, as mentioned in Matthew 13:25. But isn't it shocking how this rule is being ignored in our times? There are many who do more than just desire their neighbors' wives - they actually take them. "May the person who sleeps with his father's wife be cursed; and all the people shall say, Amen" - Deuteronomy 27:20. If we were to announce, "May the person who sleeps with his neighbor's wife be cursed," and all the guilty ones were to say, "Amen," imagine how many would be cursing themselves!
3. "You shouldn't desire your neighbor's male or female servant." Servants, when they're loyal, are a real gem. Just look at the faithful servant Abraham had! He was like Abraham's right-hand man. He was so wise and loyal when it came to the task he was given, which was to find a wife for his master's son! Genesis 24: 9. Abraham would have been really upset if someone had lured his servant away from him. But this sin of desiring others' servants is pretty common. If someone has a great servant, others will try to tempt him away from his master. This is a violation of the tenth commandment. Luring away someone else's servant is just as bad as outright stealing.
4. "Don't covet your neighbor's ox, donkey, or anything else they own." If people didn't covet these things, there wouldn't be so much theft. First, people break the tenth commandment by coveting, and then they break the eighth commandment by stealing. Samuel made a great point when he asked the people, "Can any of you prove me guilty of taking someone else's ox or donkey, or of cheating anyone?" (1st Samuel 12:3). Paul also made a powerful statement when he said, "I haven't coveted anyone's silver, gold, or clothes." (Acts 20:33).
What strategies should we use to avoid desiring what belongs to our neighbor?
The best solution is to be content. If we're happy with what we have, we won't desire what belongs to someone else. Paul could say, 'I have never coveted anyone's gold or silver.' Why was this? It was because he was content. He said, 'I have learned to be content, no matter what my circumstances are.' Philippians 4:11. Being content is like saying, as Jacob did, 'I have enough.' Genesis 33:11. I have a promise of heaven and enough to get me there; I have enough. If you have enough, you won't desire what belongs to someone else.
So, be content. And the best way to be content is to:
1. Believe that the situation God has placed you in is the best for you. If He thought it was best for us to have more, we would have it. Maybe we couldn't handle a large fortune; it's tough to carry a full cup without spilling, and a large fortune without sinning. Large fortunes can be traps. A boat can capsize if it has too much sail. Believing that the situation God has placed us in is the best makes us content; and being content, we won't desire what belongs to someone else.
2. The way to be content with what we have and not desire what belongs to someone else is to remember that the less we have, the less we'll have to account for on judgment day. Everyone is a steward and must answer to God. Those with large fortunes have a bigger responsibility. God will ask, 'What good have you done with your fortunes? Have you honored me with your wealth? Where are the poor you have fed and clothed?' If you can't give a good answer, it will be sad. It should make us content with less to consider that the less wealth we have, the less we'll have to account for. This is the way to be content. There's no better way to avoid desiring what belongs to someone else than being content with what we have.