Do You "Cov"?
I was sitting in the cart from Target, surrounded by shopping bags, but my mind was still with the beautiful plush toy we'd left behind in the store. My four-year-old face wrinkled in regret and I started to sniffle. "Mama! I cuv. I cuvved, Mama." She was confused—what was "cuv"? It was strange that she didn't know, since she was the one who'd told me about it. "Thou shalt not cuv it."
Unfortunately, my childhood sensitivity to that sin passed a long time ago. Here's the thing: I'm not a big shopper, and I don't typically find myself craving money or nice things other people have. So up until recently, I thought that meant I didn't struggle with coveting. Ironically, turns out that covetousness is one of my most serious and common sins.
The full command in Exodus 20:17 reads, "You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor's."
In our mental application for this passage, I think many of us subconsciously substitute "car, furniture, clothes, or computer" for "ox" and swap "boyfriend" for "your neighbor's wife." Still, even with the substitutes, I typically skim right on to the next verse without conviction.
But what if covetousness goes far deeper than a surface desire for flashy, expensive things in a store? What if covetousness is the root of anger, fighting, bitterness, and all unkind speech as well?
This passage of Scripture turned my thoughts about coveting inside out. Take a look at James 4:1–5:
What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel... You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, "He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us"?
James is asking the believers here to think about what makes them angry. Why do we get upset and lash out at each other ("murdering" with the tongue)? Because we "covet and cannot obtain."
I was taken off guard by James' conclusion, so I decided to test the link. I mentally put myself back in all sorts of different situations where I'd sinned with anger. (As a side note, let's stop using "annoyed" and "irritated" as synonyms for quiet anger—let's just call the sin what it is.) It was a quick reel of painful moments—responding rudely to my sister when she hurt me; cutting someone down in my mind; those quick retorts I'd designed to make someone else feel guilty and miserable.
James' diagnosis checked out. In every case, I was angry because I wasn't getting something I wanted and felt I deserved. Respect. Affection. Time. Approval.
We'll always find out what it is that our hearts really yearn for, really seek, and really prioritize when that object is taken away or withheld. Respect and affection may be intangible things, but they're still things—things that can be desired sinfully.
Does this mean the desire to be loved or respected by your family and friends is a sin? Is it wrong to want things to go a certain way and to experience disappointment when they don't? I don't think there's any biblical reason to go that far. The desire for something we don't have becomes sinfully covetous only when it exceeds our desire to obey God by being grateful in all circumstances and by loving others. Then the longing has become an idol (see Colossians 3:5). John Calvin nailed it when he commented that "the evil in our desires typically does not lie in what we want, but that we want it too much."
So lately, I've started interrogating myself when I start to feel upset. What am I sinfully craving more than I crave to obey God? Once I've identified the source, it becomes a little clearer how I can begin uprooting the sin and putting on the fruit of the Spirit.
What situations tend to bring out your anger? What are you coveting in those situations?
Once you've identified the source of your sin, what can you do to start putting it to death?
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