Tenth Commandment- You Shall Not Covet
Written by Pastor Jim Law
We end our journey through the Ten Commandments this week with a look at the last of these commands which forbids coveting. We might be tempted to dismiss coveting as a mild offense in light of the other commands which forbid murder, adultery, or stealing. However, the tenth commandment addresses the desires of the heart as an important indicator of the direction of one’s life.
Interestingly, the Apostle Paul refers to this tenth commandment in his personal reference of how he came to understand the sinful dictates of his own heart. Paul writes in Romans 7:7, “Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, ‘You shall not covet.’” He could have referenced any of Ten Commandments to describe his discovery of his sin nature, but he mentioned covetousness because it brought him to the wayward desires of his heart.
The tenth commandment forbids the coveting of your neighbor’s house, your neighbor’s wife or anything that belongs to your neighbor. (Exodus 20:17) I believe God gave this word to keep us from many sorrows and to call us to find the satisfaction of our life in a personal relationship with Him.
Rodney Clapp some years ago wrote an essay published in Christianity Today entitled, “Why the Devil takes Visa.” In the article Clapp addressed the universal battle with covetousness:
The consumer is schooled in insatiability. He or she is never to be satisfied—-at least not for long. The consumer is tutored that people basically consist of unmet needs…..Accordingly, the consumer should think first and foremost of himself or herself and meeting his or her felt needs. The consumer is taught to value above all else freedom, freedom defined as a vast array of choices.
These “vast array of choices” seem to describe what fuels a frenzy of consumption. In this world’s philosophy, such a passion for things is linked to one’s happiness. However, this is a dangerous way to think and to live. This vicious cycle helps us understand why God lovingly goes on record by forbidding covetousness.
The attitude that wants to keep up with what others have is not harmless, but can lead to myriads of problems. We should not be surprised that financial struggles are at the top of factors leading to marital breakup. It is not uncommon for a young couple to be $300,000 in debt the first few years of marriage.
By the time you add up the mortgage, student loans, a couple of cars, a boat, and a line of credit for “entertainment needs,” it is easy to see how joy is suffocated out of life. Often these decisions are motivated by a desire to keep up with friends (who don’t have money either). Such a life leads to daily, seemingly endless conversations on how to service debt, and few ever get to the real issue. Namely, their indebtedness is due to a covetous heart. Even when the finances are available possessions never bring true satisfaction.
Jesus Christ told a story about a rich fool who was very productive, prosperous, and ambitious. This man had great vision for his business as he planned to tear down his barns and build larger ones to store his grain and inventory. The man lived for the expansion of his personal kingdom, and he actually talks to himself saying, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry.” (Luke 12:19) This sounds like one who has struck it rich. This man boasts to himself of his accomplishments. We could say he definitely has achieved the “American Dream.”
However, God’s assessment was not the same. Listen to how Jesus closed this story, “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?’ So is the man who stores up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:16-21)
The great danger of coveting is that you forget God and live for yourself. There is no greater poverty irrespective of how full your barns or bank account may be. Look to Jesus Christ and come discover the abundant life He gives. (John 10:10)