Coveting and Self-Destruction

“Whoever is wicked covets the spoil of evildoers, but the root of the righteous bears fruit” (Prov. 12:12).

- Proverbs 12:12

J.R.R. Tolkein, in The Lord of the Rings, tells the story of two hobbit-like people named Sméagol and Déagol who had decided one day to go fishing. Ordinarily simple folk who could find delight in the smallest things, everything changed for these two when, in the course of their fishing expedition, Déagol found a ring on the bottom of the river. This ring, however, was no ordinary ring, for it had been designed by the evil warlord Sauron and promised to grant great powers to its wearer. Seeing the ring, Sméagol instantly wanted to have it, and upon Déagol’s refusal to hand it over, “he caught Déagol by the throat and strangled him, because the gold looked so bright and beautiful.”

This episode from twentieth-century literature is a striking illustration of what can happen to people when they abandon themselves to covetousness. The inward desire to possess that which does not rightfully belong to us, if not resisted, can twist us into people we hardly recognize. Things may start “innocently” at first. Perhaps we find that attractive friend or co-worker “interesting” and tell ourselves that we simply want to “get to know” that person when our hearts are really coveting. If such desires are not resisted by the power of the Spirit, reputations and families can be ruined. Maybe we begin to long for our neighbor’s brand-new car and know that we can get one only if we make a few extra dollars each week. This might lead to fudging a time sheet just enough to “earn” that money, which simply amounts to stealing from our employer. The list could go on.

When we do not resist covetousness, we put ourselves on the path to self-destruction both here and in the world to come. We begin to long for ill-gotten goods or even wickedness itself, as today’s passage indicates. If, however, we cultivate the root of personal righteousness that is given to the children of God by the Holy Spirit for growth into the full bloom of sanctification, we will bear much good fruit (Prov. 12:12). Only by seeking contentment with what we have and consistently refusing to feed our covetousness can we nurture godliness and escape self-destruction. Resisting covetousness and seeking contentment is a daily process that involves much hard work, but it is worth it for both our own well-being and the sake of the kingdom.

Coram Deo

In our market-driven culture, the temptation to covet that which belongs to others is constantly before us. Thus, we need all the help we can get to find contentment in those things we cannot change. We need Christian friends to remind us to be thankful for all that we have. Most of all, we need to seek the face of God and implore the help of the Holy Spirit to help us be content.

Passages for Further Study

Deuteronomy 7:17–26
Philippians 4:10–13

First published in Tabletalk Magazine, an outreach of Ligonier. For permissions, view our Copyright Policy.