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January 14, 2016, 12:21 PM

When Is It Okay To Covet?

Once again this week we find a possible Biblical exception to one of the commandments. In the King James Version, 1 Corinthians 12:31 says: “But covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way.”  Paul tells them to covet. So we must once again ask ourselves, does the Bible tell us to do something that it tells us not to do?

The first possible explanation would be that in this instance, Paul is telling them to covet something that is good. He is indeed telling them to covet the best spiritual gifts. But, the context in which this verse is found may mean that this is an incomplete answer. 

Immediately preceding this statement, Paul has been addressing the issue of what seems to be a jealous competition of spiritual gifts within the church at Corinth. The members seem to have ranked themselves and their spiritual gifts in order of importance. This has created divisions and competition within the church. Paul has just finished explaining how the church is to work together like the human body does. Each member has a place and a role that lets the whole church function and work properly.  This means that there is equal value for each member, regardless of someone's perceived value. With Paul's swift and course attitude toward the subject, it is hard to believe that there was no breaking of the 10th  Commandment going on with respect to spiritual gifts. 

So why does Paul decide to tell them to covet the best spiritual gifts if he is already getting on to them for coveting other people's spiritual gifts? The best answer is, maybe he didn't. We must always remember that when we read the scriptures, we are reading it in the wrong language. A wrong language that is very different than the language it was written in. 

 πλεονεξία (pleonexia) versus ζηλόω (zēloō)

If those words sound like Greek to you, that is because they are. In 1 Corinthians 12:31, Paul uses the word “zeloo”.  According to Thayer's Greek Definitions this is a word that has a positive sense for earnestly desiring something. In Ephesians 5:5, Paul condemns coveting but uses the word “pleonexia”.  Thayer's Greek Definitions describes “pleonexia” as a greedy desire to have more. 

While both words could be translated into coveting in English, Paul is obviously talking about two different things. The full answer has to be more than it is fine to covet good things. As we see from the problems in the church at Corinth, even coveting good things can be spiritually harmful. When we see even small things in scripture that do not make sense, we must examine and study further. 

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