But coveting isn’t all bad. There is a good side to coveting that we should not forget. Look at these two examples: Psalm 19:7-10 - where the Law of the Lord is to be coveted, and Psalm 68:16 – where God Himself covets us to dwell with Him. In the original Hebrew, exactly the same word, chamad, is used in these instances as in the command “you shall not covet,” so what’s the difference? In reality, the biblical use of the word “covet,” just like “desire,” can be good or bad depending on context. In the Ten Commandments we are given examples of specific things that we should not covet or desire – our neighbor’s wife, house or, in fact, “anything that is his.” So biblically, it’s not wrong to covet or desire a wife, or a house, or anything else – just so long as it does not already belong to someone else, and that it doesn’t become an obsession, of course, which would break the first commandment.
In the New Testament the Greek word epithumia has the same dual usage of a right and a wrong desiring of things. Luke 22:15 tells us that Jesus desired or coveted to eat the Passover with His disciples, and 1 Timothy 3:1 tells us if a man covets after the office of a bishop, he covets or desires a good work.
So the Bible certainly gives plenty of examples where coveting things wrongly led to very bad consequences. But it also gives a great many examples where coveting things is fine. In fact, the positive use of the word is more common in the Bible, and that’s an understanding we can apply to ourselves. Both the Hebrew and the Greek words carry some extra weight that “desire” doesn’t always have. We can desire food when it’s meal time, for example, but “desire” (just like the word “want”) doesn’t always convey deep desire – that we really want something badly. That’s more the aspect covered in the word “covet.”
This context can help us to see the real significance in 1 Corinthians 12:31 where the apostle Paul commands us to “covet earnestly the best spiritual gifts” (KJV – most modern translations say “desire”). He outlines what those gifts are in 1 Corinthians 13, but Paul isn’t just reminding us that those gifts of God’s Spirit are things we should find appealing – he is saying they are things we should want badly! God doesn't want us to mildly desire the things He offers, but to deeply, passionately and actively want them.
So, remember, there are some things we should not covet – but there are others we should, and we have a direct command regarding those good things, one that we need to be applying in our lives on a daily basis: “You shall covet!”