Covetousness as Idolatry

The Tenth of the Ten commands, Exodus 20:17. “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s.”  This speaks clearly to our whole society, which if you haven’t noticed is largely given over to this sin of covetousness.

Consider the multi-billion dollar industry of Madison Avenue. It is devoted to manipulating people to desire things they probably cannot afford, so that they buy things they do not need to impress people they don’t even care about.  How do we oppose this lure of covetousness in our own heart, how do we oppose the politics of covetousness in our culture? First we need to understand one aspect that God’s Word identifies for us is The Connection between Covetousness and Idolatry.

The Connection between Covetousness and Idolatry – Colossians 3:5 “Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry:” We are to put covetousness to death in our hearts. Now this connection between covetousness and idolatry is one that we may not normally make in our thinking. To understand that connection that Scripture describes we need to understand what is actual idolatry.

The truth of the matter is that, there is only one True God, the God of the Bible – God is God. He is God and God alone. We come to know Him through what His Word says about Him, and to know Him personally through a relationship with the Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. There is no multiplicity of gods, there is only One True God. Now that doesn’t mean that there are no claimants to deity; there are many. We can categorize these I believe into three camps. Idolatrous “Religions,” Idolatrous Humanism, and Idolatrous Statism.

Idolatrous Religions – Something else is God not the God of the Bible. I put “religions” in quotes because there is only one true religion, that of the God of the Bible. All other claimants to deity are imposters. So take for example Buddhism. It claims that the Buddha through rigorous ascetic practices became God. And the goal of his followers is that they would achieve enlightenment just as he did. So if all humans ultimately achieve enlightenment, which Buddhism claims will eventually happen, you have 7 billion gods all different from and competing against one another.

[See also, “The Politics of Covetousness.”]

Idolatrous Humanism – Man is God. Often we don’t think of this as idolatry, and the proponents of this belief system don’t want us to see it for what it really is. Humanism would have us to believe that Man is the measure of all things. But think of the folly of this thinking. If man were truly god, then man would be the designer and the creator of the universe. Then why is it that we are still trying to understand the make up of everything in the universe.

Many are proud that we have uncovered the human genome and now understand much more about human genetics than ever before. But if we were the designers and creators of ourselves we would have known this perfectly already. Instead, if you talk with those in any field of scientific endeavor, they will admit the more they discover the more questions it leaves them grappling with. Clearly we couldn’t be the designers and creators of the universe. It is a silly thought to think that man is God. That being true it is even a sillier thought that human beings together in a civil government is somehow God.

Idolatrous Statism – the State is God

Legalized plunder keeps the whole idolatrous machine working

Coveting leads to taking by force or by law what belongs to our neighbor and is clearly a violation of God’s law. So “it follows that organization of such covetousness into a system is the creation of an anti-God society. A welfare economy -socialism, communism, or any form of social order which takes from one group to give to another – is thus lawlessness organized into a system of plunder. In such a society, the lawless seizure can lay hold of what belongs to our neighbor by asking the State to serve as our instrument of seizure; to covet and take by law is no less of a sin.”[1]

Liberty means breaking free from every form of idolatry. Think of what happens when people believe civil government is God. It can make law any way it chooses, and it can change the law it makes at a whim.


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[1] Institutes of Biblical Law, (IBL) 640