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Is Covetousness Really Such a Big Deal?

July 05, 2011

Nothing is essential but God. Nothing material can ever take His place. Covetousness is allowing your heart to desire something as essential—and then expending your best energy getting it. Be careful God doesn’t give you what you covet and make your soul like a wilderness. When coveting rules the human heart, God sends leanness into the soul—in time you will come to the place where you hate the very thing that you had to have.

This is what happened to the children of Israel. God had freed them from slavery and poverty, but as they moved toward the promised land they missed the meat of Egypt, and their desire to have it began to consume them. First pleading then bitterly begging, they provoked God through their covetous hearts, “Therefore the Lord will give you meat and you shall eat. You shall eat, not one day…but a whole month, until it comes out of your nostrils and becomes loathsome to you” (Numbers 11:18-20).  Describing this devastating consequence of covetousness Psalm 106:15 says, “He gave them their request, but sent leanness into their soul.” OUCH!

The North American Church has leanness in its soul. By world standards, the church in North America is incredibly wealthy in financial things, but weak and malnourished in the “joy and manifest presence of the Lord.” More than 80% of churches in North America are either in a plateau mode or in steady decline. Multiplied thousands of church leaders have rejected 2 Timothy 4:2 and its exhortation to “preach the word,” choosing instead to “heal the hurt of My people slightly, saying ‘Peace, peace!’ when there is no peace” (Jeremiah 6:14).

Everywhere people are lamenting the spiritual poverty of the church but failing to make the connection that coveting leads to leanness. Maybe God has given us what we had to have and now, as it streams out our nostrils, we are becoming aware of what we have lost. Covetousness may be observed in churches or nations, but the place it resides most insidiously is in a single human soul. The North American Church has leanness in its soul. I have leanness in MY soul. That’s where the work has to begin.

5 Important Questions:

  1. Is there anything you currently have or want to have that occupies primary space in your soul or upon which your happiness hinges?
  2. What can you point to that you would have, but do not have because you’ve chosen instead to give for the advance of the gospel?
  3. Is there a ceiling you have set on your lifestyle that you will not exceed, no matter what you have or may have in the future?
  4. Are you willing to agree that wanting anything in a way that damages your hunger for God is idolatry?
  5. Are you willing to repent?

Leave your comments, but not before repenting, as I must now do.


Read comments:

  • Blake BellJul.05.2011

    So true, James. Born again since Feb 12 this year and, looking back, EVERY trial that I fell into (which I now count as joy) came from covetness, from the relentless pursuit of things that I was hoping would fill the ever-growing hole in my soul, heart and mind. The only thing that brings me peace now is my ever-growing spiritual hunger for God’s Word. Every time I follow the instructions in God’s Word = joy; every time I don’t, mainly out of coveting something other than God’s Word = “train wreck!” (to quote you). I thank God that I found a Church (All Nations Full Gospel in Toronto) that is the opposite of how you describe the majority NA Churches of today. Our Senior Pastor Dunkor doesn’t deliver “emotional pep talks” that just make me feel good; he delivers the Word of God which convicts me to follow the teachings of Jesus ever increasingly.

  • just meJul.05.2011

    Good topic & points!!

    We missed you last weekend & keep you and your family in our prayers every day!

  • Ryan HallJul.05.2011

    Well put. Healthy dose of truth.

  • Judith BigleyJul.05.2011

    I am so “Thankful” for your teaching and what you cause me to consider. I am convicted by my thoughts of the possibilities of idolatry used space in my life.(if that makes sense?)
    I so want to seek to be content joyfully with what the Lord has so blessed me with in this country. Just being able to hear and read the Word of the Holy Lord God, should be enough, but noooo, I want more. I am repenting each and everyday for the struggles of the temptations of this life. I Thank my God, for his provisions and His forgiveness. I don’t even want to think of where I might be without Him.
    May the Lord continue to have preachers like you in the pulpits. Shalom

  • BenJul.05.2011

    Thanks for the reminder. Those are some check-up questions that we all must ask… frequently. I was struck by that passage in Numbers just a few weeks ago. What a judgement fitting of the sin! (but what else should we expect from God!)

    It all seems quite in line with Platt’s message in “Radical.” Related to your debate in the Elephant Room (I only saw the part you put on the blog), do you see any differences between this truth you are stating here and what Platt is actually calling people to do in his book?

  • PattyJul.05.2011

    My coveting doesn’t show up in possessions so I thought I was in the clear. The Holy Spirit has been revealing to me (not to subtly either LOL) the past month that my consuming desire for marriage and children has become an idol in my life. It’s a tough one, but I’m thankful for the reproof.

  • Ellen BellJul.05.2011

    In the past, I have been guilty of the covetousness for things that our materialistic and worldly culture teaches (in opposition to what the Bible teaches). I thank God that He showed me, through His grace, the peace that comes with ceasing to strive after such things.

    At its extreme, covetousness leads to something even more hideous. We know that in the Last Days, the worst covetousness of all–treating others as material objects to “buy and sell”–will become common in the world system called Babylon. When the “Restrainer” is removed, human beings will be traded as just another commodity. Already, slavery is becoming more and more common throughout the world–but it is still practiced somewhat covertly. The words of the KJV are haunting: “…and slaves, and souls of men” will be sold by the merchants of Babylon. (Rev. 18:13) In that day, when God permits every sin–including the sin of covetousness to run rampant, the souls of humans will be emaciated.

  • AndyJul.06.2011

    I wish I could find the reference Pastor James but for whatever reason I tuned into Joel Osteen’s program one morning last year and heard him preach on Numbers 11. Mr. Osteen proceeded to use that passage to show the blessings that God would shower! ( voice raised )on us if we would just ask Him.

    Preach the truth, we can take it.

  • Julie, Noah and Ed ZaccariJul.06.2011

    We as a family have been holding on to two great passages that state, 37:1 By David.

    Do not fret 2 when wicked men seem to succeed! 3
    Do not envy evildoers!

    and the second one states:

    The Lord is near! 4:6 Do not be anxious about anything. Instead, in every situation, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, tell your requests to God.

    Because of my past sinful life style we are about to go through some very harsh and hateful consequences, from the very family that is ours. Who turned out to be very covetous of things that do not even belong to them. Therefore these two verses have filled our hearts with much joy, understanding, and the anticipation and privilege of partaking in the sufferings of Christ our Lord.

  • TonyJul.06.2011

    Pastor James-
    Could you please expound on this statement so we know what it means and what the importance of whatever “decline” means? Thank you.

    “More than 80% of Bible-believing, gospel-preaching churches in North America are either in a plateau mode or in steady decline.”

    James MacDonald Reply:

    To clarify, more than 80% of churches in America are in decline. A couple of different documents were involved in this post.
    Thanks for writing,

  • JoshuaJul.06.2011

    Pastor James,

    You say that a couple of different documents were involved in this post. What are these documents, can you post them as well, so that we can understand where you have gotten the justification for saying that more than 80% of churches are in decline?

    Also, you say that thousands of church leaders have rejected 2 Timothy 4:2 and its exhortation to “preach the word,”. Could it be that they are preaching the word, but not preaching in the same way or style that you seem correct to be?

    I have heard many pastors who preach the word and do it well. It’s a tough battle because their congregants live in a materialist world, and they might not be hungry for God, but it’s not necessarily the pastor’s fault.

    Can you provide some background or justification why you say what you say?



    James MacDonald Reply:

    The stat on 80% of churches in America are plateaued or in decline is well established and has been cited in countless places http://www.sbclife.org/Articles/2004/02/SLA4.asp and http://enrichmentjournal.ag.org/201001/201001_056_strategic_planning.cfm

    As for pastors using the condition of a congregation for defending their failure to preach God’s word . . . not acceptable right. We are to do what God has commanded us to regardless of the response. This is a blog for pastors and they know without question that many do not proclaim a message from the text of God’s word week by week. I have taught on this extensively. Reference my current series at jamesmacdonald.com called. Vertical Church. thanks for commenting.

  • bruce crewsJul.07.2011

    I’m often surprised how easy covetousness or even idolatry can creep up in my life. It subtly grows from a thought all they way to an action if I am not consciously focused on confessing and keeping my heart on the narrow path the Lord is guiding me down. I’m leading my congregation through Proverbs during the month of July – so many nuggets being mined out through my own study, as well as others sharing what God’s laying on their hearts.

    Thanks for this poignant reminder James. It was timely for me and others for sure.

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