You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.
You shall not covet.
Put to death . . . covetousness, which is idolatry.
Whenever we give to a person, idea, or object the worship, devotion, and obedience that belong to God alone we make that person, idea, or object our functional god, our idol. We give our heart to a God-substitute. The Puritan Thomas Watson exposes the heart of idolatry: “To love any thing more than God, is to make it a god.”*
Covetousness is one of those idols (Colossians 3:5), an idol that is not carved from stone or wood but in our mind. Covetousness becomes our functional god when our great passion is to have what others have.
One of the sad byproducts of the ocean of advertising we live in is the discontentment it fuels. We never have enough. Frustrated with God, we judge his provision inadequate. And, if we refuse to repent quickly, we can find ourselves cutting ethical corners to get what we want. The path to adultery originates in dissatisfaction with the marriage partner God has given and coveting another’s spouse (Exodus 20:17). Bankruptcy often has its roots in craving cars, homes, vacations, and clothing that drive us to live beyond the income God has generously supplied. When I see white-collar criminals handcuffed and carted off to jail, I don’t suppose they began their careers intending to break the law. Covetousness blinds. If we don’t mortify it, we lose our sense of accountability to God and responsibility to others.
How can we detect our covetousness? Two ways.
First, we must listen to our words. Words are windows to the heart, and covetousness is frequently accompanied by complaining. So, we must listen to ourselves. Are we complaining?
Second, bitterness often travels with covetousness. In his 1828 dictionary, Noah Webster defines bitterness as “extreme enmity, grudge, hatred.” Bitterness is deadly because it bears a grudge against God. It is the conviction that he has withheld what we need.
Mercifully, covetousness has an antidote: contentment. “Godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Timothy 6:6). Contentment is satisfaction in the provision of our all-powerful King and loving heavenly Father, who supplies our every need in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:19). A contented heart has no room for complaining and bitterness. Instead, it is persuaded that “everything is necessary that [God] sends; nothing can be necessary that he withholds.”**
Covetousness is to be confessed and contentment pursued.
I have found this prayer helpful in shaping my own prayers for contentment:
“O great and everlasting God, Who dwells in unapproachable light, Who searches and knows the thoughts and intentions of the heart; we confess that we have not loved you with all our heart, nor with all our soul, nor with all our mind, nor with all our strength; nor our neighbors as ourselves. We have loved what we ought not to have loved; we have coveted what is not ours; we have not been content with Your provisions for us. We have complained in our hearts about our family, about our friends, about our health, about our occupations, about Your church, and about our trials. We have sought our security in those things which perish, rather than in You, the Everlasting God. Chasten, cleanse, and forgive us, through Jesus Christ, who is able for all time to save us who approach You through him, since he always lives to make intercession for us. Amen.”***
Yes, Lord, cleanse our hearts of covetousness.
* Thomas Watson, The Ten Commandments. 1692 (Banner of Truth, 2009), 57.
** I think John Newton wrote these words.
***T. David Gordon, “Confessions of Sin”