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Apr 23, 2023

The Cancer of Covetousness

Passage: Deuteronomy 5:21

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: Deuteronomy

Keywords: heart, greed, attitude, covet, covetousness, action


This message looks at the 10th Commandment and how it relates to the 1st and 8th specifically. We examine what covetousness is, how it manifests in our lives and what God's remedy is for it.


The Cancer of Covetousness

Commandment #10

Deuteronomy 5:21

Well, we’ve arrived at the 10th Commandment today.  Some of you are thinking, “Yay!  Finally.  Now I can finally stop being reminded every Sunday what a flawed sinner I am.”  Well…first, we actually have 1 more Sunday in the 10 Commandments.  I’m jumping sort of combining # 8 & 10 today. 

But more importantly, I think we may need to refine our attitude about conviction of sin.  If we view it as something to be avoided because conviction is humbling, we will either consciously or subconsciously limit one of the most important ministries of the Holy Spirit in our lives.  But, if we’re anxious for the fullest work possible of the Holy Spirit in us, we’ll be actively and regularly asking Him to convict us of sin.

Conviction of sin = spiritual breathing (getting rid of the spiritual toxins that our flesh naturally produces).  Anybody here see breathing as a negative thing to be avoided?  Of course not.  It’s the best thing for us.  Just as breathing takes place multiple times a day, so should our desire to want to be free of any toxins of sin in our souls. The more this becomes a regular part of our days, the better we will feel (just like higher O2 levels).    

            So here is Commandment #10 as stated in Deut. 5:21—"You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife. You shall not set your desire on your neighbor’s house or land, his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”

            This commandment is the last one that deals with our relationships with one another.  But, as we will see, it has everything to do with the very 1st Commandment and our relationship to God. 

            So, here is how I want to tackle this command today.  I want to us to be able to answer 3 questions about coveting:

  1. What is covetousness?
  2. How does it manifest in our lives?
  3. What are the safeguards/remedies/protections/antidotes against covetousness? How do we eliminate it from our lives?


Webster: to covet = to desire (what belongs to another) inordinately or culpably.

Covetousness = marked by inordinate desire for wealth or possessions or for another's possessions.

Those definitions work for the three biblical terms (1 in Hebrew; 2 in Greek) for the forbidden notion of coveting.  But all three words have a positive usage for those terms as well.  The difference seems to be the kind of desire as well as the object of the desire. 

EX:  O.T. word חָמַד (khaw-med) positively can be used to talk about taking pleasure in something/someone; delighting in or finding something delicious or beautiful

  • 2:9—God made trees grow that are “pleasant to the sight and good for food.”
  • Psalm 19:10—God’s commands are more to be desired than gold.
  • In Daniel it is used of Daniel being “greatly loved” by God and of “delicious food” (Dan. 9:23, 10:11,19; 10:3).

Negatively: in the 10th Commandment found here in Deut. 5 and Exodus 20:17 (as well as other places—Josh. 7:21; Prov. 12:12).

EX:  N.T. words

  1. πλεονεξία (pleonexia)—always used negatively and translated “greed” or “covetousness”.  It’s often in a list of other vices or sins.
  2. ἐπιθυμέω (epithymeō)----used positively and negatively. Negatively:  for this Command (Rm. 7:7), desires of the flesh (Gal. 5:17), lust for a woman (Mt. 5:28), coveting that leads to murder (James 4:12), wanting to have what someone else owns (Ac. 20:33).  Used positively it refers to angels “longing to look into” our amazing salvation (1 Pt. 1:12); O.T. prophets and people longing to see the Messiah (Mt. 13:17); the prodigal son longing to eat the pig food (Lk. 15:16); Jesus earnestly desiring to eat the Passover with his disciples (Luke 22:15); someone’s proper desire to serve as an Elder in the church (1 Tim. 3:1).  It’s the context of the passage that will determine whether it is to be understood negatively or positively. 

Our focus today is on the negative aspect of all three of these terms.  So, just what is “greed” or “coveting”?  Here’s a quick definition that encompasses all the necessary elements for covetousness or greed. 

Greed/Covetousness is a strong desire for anything that is not yours and currently unattainable because it belongs to someone else or lies outside your ability to acquire ethically.

We are allowed to desire to have something LIKE what others have but what is prohibited is the desire to have what belongs to another and/or obtaining it in an ungodly way (i.e., by violating any of the other nine commandments).

3 Essential Components of Covetousness/Greed:

  1. Covetousness always has an object—something/someone that another person owns or has.
  2. Always has a value attached to it—something/someone we value—for pleasure, beauty, power, wealth, something. ILL: when was the last time you coveted your neighbor’s garbage?  Their annoying, ugly, dirty and mangy dog?  We don’t covet things we don’t place value on.
  3. Covetousness/greed is an attitude or desire that, unchecked, will often move to That is where the 8th Commandment comes in:  thou shalt not stealTheft is simply covetousness-in-action:  the illicit taking of something you want but belongs to someone else.

So, what’s the difference between just admiring something or even wanting something and covetousness

ILL:  Is it covetousness to want a newer car than the beater you have?

Is it greed to want a house when family outgrows the apartment?

It depends.

  • On WHAT is provoking the desire.
    • Were you content driving your 20-year-old Toyota until your best friend got a 5-year-old Honda?
    • Were you happy with your apartment until someone had you over to dinner at theirs?
    • In essence, did the fact that someone else (which could be your neighbor… or the neighboring Costco) has something you would like to have move you to begin to think about, long for and decide you had to have?

This relates very closely with another “it depends” criteria:  It depends on…

  • WHAT one is looking to that acquisition to DO for us. This is sort of a sub-set of the first point. 
    • Am I looking to getting a particular something or someone to fill a hole in my soul? Do I want that new dress because I think it makes me more beautiful, more desirable, more important or valuable?  Do I want that car because I want people to admire me, envy me or think I’m successful?  Do I want that job because I think it will show I’m better than others or more successful or more valuable OR do I want it because it will provide for my needs, use my gifts and abilities for something meaningful and give me a platform from which to positively impact others and serve God? 
  • On HOW one plans to acquire
    • Play the lottery with your paycheck to get better housing?
    • Embezzle from your employer to fund a better car?
    • Become a home-wrecker to get that coworker or neighbor’s spouse?
    • Rob God by not tithing so you can buy something you want.
    • OR save up, work hard, find a bargain, build it, wait to inherit it, pray about it.

Recap:  “Greed/Covetousness is a strong desire for anything that is not yours and currently unattainable because it belongs to someone else or lies outside your ability to get ethically.

So, let’s move on to the second question.

Question #2:  How does greed/ covetousness MANIFEST in our lives?

Here is where this 10th Commandment bookends the 1st Commandment (no other gods before Me).  Covetousness and greed is essentially a violation of the 1st Commandment.  Whenever we look to the illicit acquisition of something or someone, we have chosen another god before the Living God. 


  • Adam & Eve—chose the knowledge of good and evil above God.
  • Satan himself—chose to serve his desire for God’s glory rather than God.
  • King David—his covetousness of Bathsheba led to not only breaking the 10th, 6th and 7th Commandments; it actually revealed that he had made an idol of this woman and put her ahead of his love for God. Psalm 51:4—David confesses that all the other sins of murder, adultery and covetousness were really symptoms of the worst sin of failing to keep God as God.  Against you, you only, have I sinned
        and done what is evil in your sight.

His root sin was sin against God that cascaded down into sin against people. 

  • Rich young ruler, Matthew 19:16-22. When this man asked Jesus what he needed to do to have eternal life, Jesus cited Commandments 5-9 and then replaced #10 with “love your neighbor as yourself.”  The man claimed to have fulfilled all of them from his childhood.  But the reality was, he didn’t love his neighbor as himself because he would not part with his  wealth to bless his neighbors as he sought to bless himself. Jesus was apparently showing him that his love of wealth was a revelation of his covetousness.  Had he seen wealth for what it is—a tool by which to love others—he would not have ‘taken’ from them what God wanted him to use to love others. Though he may not have stolen anything from anyone in his young life, he wanted to hang onto what God had given him to love his neighbors.  In essence he was stealing from God.  His idolatry of money, the breaking of the 1st Commandment, had led him into a breaking of the 10th.  He obviously believed that more life was to be found in holding onto his wealth than in taking hold of God.  He put wealth before God and looked to it to give what only God could in his soul. 
  • Covetousness manifests itself in every failure to love God as God. Every time we put something or someone before God, we reveal that we have chosen to take something that is not rightfully ours…from God.

            But what are other manifestations of covetousness in our lives today?

  1. Lack of Generosity: 2 Cor. 9:5 (NASV)-- So I thought it necessary to urge the brethren that they would go on ahead to you and arrange beforehand your previously promised 

bountiful gift, so that the same would be ready as a bountiful gift and not affected by covetousness.  Failure to give to the offering being collected for other believers in Jerusalem who were in need was an indication of covetousness.  Wow!  This shines a light on a whole lot more covetousness in my heart than I naturally want to admit. 

It is also an echo of an O.T. command to generosity given in Deuteronomy 15:7-10-- “If there is a poor man with you, one of your brothers, in any of your towns in your land which the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart, nor close your hand from your poor brother; but you shall freely open your hand to him, and shall generously lend him sufficient for his need in whatever he lacks. Beware that there is no base thought in your heart, saying, ‘The seventh year, the year of remission, is near,’ and your eye is hostile toward your poor brother, and you give him nothing; then he may cry to the Lord against you, and it will be a sin in you. 10 You shall generously give to him, and your heart shall not be grieved when you give to him, because for this thing the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all your undertakings.

  1. Failing to Give to God what is His:  Micah 3:8-10—Will a mere mortal rob God? Yet you rob me.  “But you ask, ‘How are we robbing you?’  “In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse—your whole nation—because you are robbing me. 10 Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house.  Remember that stealing is simply the action associated with the sinful attitude of covetousness.  So for God to tell us that failing to give to Him in “tithes and offerings” is a robbing of God that affects our neighbor (i.e. it hurt the priests, the worship of God and thus the entire nation), God is looking at the sinful desires of our hearts that not only want what is rightfully our neighbors but want what is rightfully God’s.  Once again, covetousness reaches farther into our life than we’d like to admit. 
  2. A related form of this manifestation of covetousness can be giving to God because we want to get more. While God promises that “he who sows generously will reap generously” (2 Cor. 9:6), giving with the motivation that God will give me even more is covetousness and greed.  By the way, while I’ve never seen a generous child of God not be taken care of by God, this passage doesn’t mean that the way God will give a generous harvest will be materially.  In fact, the emphasis of much of the passage is on how generous believers will reap a generous harvest of righteousness and good deeds, not financial repayment. 
  3. Wanting, especially by illicit means, what belongs to others. We’ve already talked about how wanting to obtain what belongs to others is greed and covetousness. We’re also pretty creative as human beings when it comes to the different ways we excuse or engage in various forms of covetousness.  Let me suggest a few.
    1. Gambling: gambling is usually an expression of a desire to get wealth easily and quickly. One is not satisfied with the wealth they have by God-ordained means of work or charity by others.  So the desire for more leads one to risk the provision of what one has.  Remember, all the fancy casinos around were built by losers.  Gambling is the taking of money rightly gained through work (wages, retirement) or the generosity of others (benevolence, welfare) and using it to get wealth by means God says are not blessed.  Proverbs 10:4--Lazy hands make for poverty, but diligent hands bring wealth.
    2. Debt: in case you didn’t realize, our nation is drowning in debt.  Publicly held debt,e. what we owe to each other and other nations because we refuse to be content with what we actually have earned by honest labor, now stands at $31 trillion or $94,000/person ($376,000 for a family of 4).  Add to that personal debt of about $15 trillion and Americans spend about 10% of their disposable income servicing personal debt.  Debt is nothing new in the world.  It’s as old as lending is.  But most debt, both public and private in American, is not because we are starving; it is because we are covetous and greedy—not content with what we have and determined to live at a higher standard of living than our regular paycheck will afford. 
    3. Public Policy that penalizes work and rewards non- Unfortunately, the way our country has chosen to deal with social problems of poverty, homelessness, drug addiction, mental illness and the like has been to either increase debt that we just talked about and/or take from people who are earning money through work or industry and give it to millions of people who are not working.  God is all in favor of charity and giving of what He has blessed us with to those who are in genuine need.  But when we in this democratic republic vote in politicians who use their power to confiscate what one person has earned in order to give it to someone who has not earned it, we participate in greed and covetousness.  Voluntary generosity is very different from mandatory taxation.  Politicians have no more moral right to take from your pocket money you earned and put it in my pocket or their pocket than a thief has the right to do the same on the street.  Yes, we are to pay taxes.  But that does not mean that all taxation is free of greed by those doing the taxing or those receiving the benefits. 

So let’s now move to the SOLUTIONS to our natural, fleshly greed/covetousness.  As I mentioned to our men at the Men’s Retreat, if we’re going to overcome sin and embrace holiness of life, we must be convinced that what we are replacing sin with is something far better.  Even if something isn’t sin, if we are going to stop one pattern and start another, we must be convinced the new pattern is better for us than the old. 

  • Any addict must be convinced that sobriety is better for them and holds greater blessing than active addiction.
  • As a single person, I had to come to the place where I believed deep down that life with Sandy was preferable to life without her.

With our desire for things that tends to run out of bounds, we must replace our sinful desires with godly desires.  Which brings us back to the 1st Commandment:  making God our ultimate treasure.

  1. Make God our Ultimate Treasure. When we actually believe and embrace the spiritual reality that God and a vital, vibrant relationship with Him is more fulfilling, more satisfying, more valuable and more enriching than any physical thing we can have, hold, touch and possess, then we will be able to walk away from greed and covetousness. 

Jesus told the parables of the Hidden Treasure and Pearl in Matthew 13:44-45 to illustrate this.  44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. 45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. 46 When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it. 

HOW do we do that? 

A.) We must experience the beauty, depth, joy, satisfaction, delight and goodness of God in a way that captures our souls.  (This is why genuine visitations of God’s Spirit on people in revival and awakening is so important.  People who have experienced that will rarely choose to go back to average, standard unrevived life in our outside the church.

ILL:  David Thomas’ testimony of the effect of the Asbury “visitation” of God recently—sin lost its charm and attraction to him and because repulsive because the presence of Holy Spirit was so manifest, evident, palpable and strong.  Students and people all over the world flocked to Asbury because when they were there, they experienced the presence of God in such a way that it met the deepest longings of their souls.  This is why we must have a life-altering visitation of God in the church.  Gen-Z will stop walking away and dropping out of church and start running TO church when they encounter the manifest presence of God among the people of God.  That’s why seeking God with all our hearts is essential if we want our children and grandchildren to experience God unmistakably in power.  

B.) We engage deeply in life with God and His family in such a way that we find that life superior to grasping for more material things, more addictive highs or buzzes, more self-focused relationships, more stuff.  Most of us who have truly met Christ in a transformational way can testify to this.  We know that what we were running after in life as a down-and-outer or up-and-outer was SO far inferior to this relationship we now have with God and His people that we don’t want to trade that for anything, especially stuff that gets rusty, grows old, wears out or falls apart.  And anyone who has walked with God knows that God cares and provides for the physical blessings our bodies need too.  So it isn’t even an either-or thing—either soul or body, either physical or spiritual.  It’s both when you walk with the living God.  Make God your ultimate treasure!

  1. Refocus and refine our affections:  This is really an outgrowth of making God our ultimate treasure.  When we do that, He will work in us to change our affections to that which eternally and ultimately satisfies most.  That will involve…

      Valuing, desiring and working for what is eternal and permanent more than what is temporal and transient. 

  • Colossians 3:1-4-- Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
  1. Practice Generosity: towards God and people. This is the antidote to covetousness.  People who freely give away what they have rarely struggle with greed and covetousness.  Why is that? 
  • People who give things away have usually discovered the true use of things. The best use of things is to bless others.  Things are only as useful as they allow us to bring blessing to others.  There is a deeper joy in using things for the good of others than for the pleasure of our own flesh.
  • EX: As nice as it is to live in a nice home or apartment, it is richer still to live in a place where you can love a spouse, raise children, enjoy fellowship with friends, provide refuge for housemates and live in relationship to neighbors. 
  • EX: As nice as it is to have a sweet car or truck, it is far more fulfilling have a vehicle that you use to help others get to church or medical appointments or children to school and recreation and vacations. 

Acts 20:35—Paul’s farewell speech to the Ephesian elders. “In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’  That’s why Paul worked as a tentmaker in many of the cities where he planted churches.  He sought to model that blessing comes to the one who is joyfully generous with what they have worked for.

Ill:  In The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, by English author J.R.R. Tolkien, nine rings of power were given to nine kings who took them without question, being blinded by greed. However, the rings were controlled by the evil Sauron (a type of Satan), with the result that the kings that had the rings were never satisfied with their ring but wanted the one most powerful ring – the ring of power – their Precious!. All the while, their ring was draining away their lives until they became the living dead.

What an excellent picture of covetousness – we never have enough, and all the while, our desire for more is stealing the joy that could be ours with contentment while draining our life away!


  • How content with what we have are we? Where are we discontent? 
  • How generous am I with what God has blessed me with?
  • Am I giving far more to others than I’m taking?
  • How am I using the things I have to love God and love people?
  • What am I doing to make God my ultimate treasure in life? To refocus and refine my affections towards eternity? 

Take 30 seconds to let God speak to you about covetousness and greed that He wants to free you from.