Guard Against Coveting
DO YOU want to live long and enjoy a life of happiness? Then one of the things you must do is to guard against coveting the possessions of other people.
There are many things that it is lawful for you to desire to possess, such as a mate, an automobile, or a home. But you should never desire these things if they belong to another; you may not covet another’s possessions. Thus it is also right to seek to improve, to seek advancement, but not by forcing someone else out of his position.—1 Tim. 3:1.
To covet has been defined as “to long inordinately for something which belongs to another; as to covet a neighbor’s piece of property because of its fine view.” Covetousness is a form of greed that is especially reprehensible in that a covetous person not only wants things for himself, but he sets his heart on things that rightfully belong to another. Covetousness is bound to breed trouble. Not without good reason did Jesus Christ warn: “Guard against every sort of covetousness.”—Luke 12:15.
The Bible not only warns against covetousness but also contains examples showing the harm that results from coveting. In the time of Joshua, the successor to Moses, Achan, together with his entire family, came to a bitter end because of his coveting some of the riches of the city of Jericho that were devoted to Jehovah God. (Josh. 7:16-26) Centuries later, wicked King Ahab sealed his doom by reason of his coveting the vineyard belonging to Naboth. Naboth had refused to sell it and so Ahab’s wife Jezebel procured it for him by having Naboth falsely accused and slain.—1 Ki. 21:4-16.
Fully aware of how deeply ingrained in the heart of fallen man covetousness is and the harm it can cause, the Creator, Jehovah God, forbade it in the tenth of the Ten Commandments: “Neither must you desire your fellow man’s wife. Neither must you selfishly crave your fellow man’s house, his field or . . . anything that belongs to your fellow man.” (Deut. 5:21) It might be said that this very commandment of itself stamps the Decalogue or Ten Commandments as containing far more than human wisdom. How so? For what human lawmakers would ever have thought of making such a law which, though entirely unenforceable by man, forbids wrong thinking and gets at the root of so many of mankind’s problems? It makes each man his own moral policeman, as it were, putting him on guard against this basic selfish tendency.
How ingrained coveting is in human nature, that is, fallen, sinful human nature, can be seen from the fact that a child seems to be instinctively covetous. Any desirable thing he sees he immediately wants to grasp. He must be trained, disciplined, so as to appreciate that there is such a thing as private ownership. He must be taught to respect the rights and possessions of others.—Prov. 22:15.
The apostle Paul warned that ‘covetousness is idolatry.’ In what way can it be said that coveting another’s possessions makes one an idolater? In that he makes an idol of himself. He is like those whose “god is their belly.” He makes his selfish cravings the uppermost thing in his life.—Col. 3:5; Phil. 3:19.
In these days it appears that covetousness has run wild in such lands as the United States, as can be seen by the looting associated with the rioting that took place right after Dr. King’s assassination. Thus it is reported that in Washington, D.C., the riots there were marked by an “eerie carnival atmosphere” as jolly looters “dashed in and out of shattered shopwindows carrying their booty away in plain sight of the law.” One of the looters said, “Man, we’re getting what we want.” It is not as though these looters were needy persons, for a check of Detroit looters last year showed that, of 115 arrested by the police, 105 had good jobs and late-model autos. Nor could the looting be termed solely a racial protest, because among the looters were white persons, and stores owned by Negroes were also looted by Negroes.
Since the inclination of the heart of man is toward covetousness from his youth up, how can we guard against it? First of all, by reminding ourselves continually that all covetousness is displeasing to our Maker, Jehovah God, and incurs his wrath. Fearing to displease him will help us to avoid what is bad.—Gen. 8:21; Prov. 8:13.
Secondly, we will be helped to guard against covetousness by taking to heart the Scriptural counsel: “You must love your neighbor as yourself,” and, “Just as you want men to do to you, do the same way to them.” You would not want another to covet your marriage partner, or any of your possessions, would you? Then do not covet his or hers. Coveting leads to trouble with your fellowman, even as noted by the disciple James: “From what source are there wars and from what source are there fights among you? . . . You desire, and yet you do not have. You go on murdering and coveting.” Yes, coveting makes you the enemy of the one whose possessions you covet, and for this enmity some have paid dearly.—Mark 12:31; Luke 6:31; Jas. 4:1, 2.
Further, learning the lesson of contentment will help us to guard against coveting. Wisely the Bible counsels that godly devotion along with contentment is great gain, and that, having food and shelter, we should be content with these things. Appreciation of the simple fact that with added possessions go added burdens and greater fear of loss can do much to help us to be content.—Eccl. 5:11, 12; 1 Tim. 6:6-8.
The apostle Paul set a good example for all Christians in this matter. He wrote that at no time had he coveted others’ possessions. Instead, he sacrificed himself for his fellowmen. No doubt one reason he was able to do this was that he had learned to be content in whatever state he found himself. Happy are all those who seek to imitate him in this!—Phil. 4:12; 1 Thess. 2:5-12.