The final one of the Ten Commandments can be found in Exodus 20:17, “You shall not covet your neighbour’s house; you shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbour’s.” To a large extent our society today is built on covetousness. We are encouraged in this sin, it is an economic necessity. Our whole lives are increasingly defined not by who we are or what we do but by what we consume. We desire cars, holidays … our days are filled with the never-ending pursuit of more and more, therefore we are constantly breaking this Commandment. This is a very subtle sin, nevertheless, a very dangerous one. It often lies behind many other sins (1 Timothy 6:10). The action of adultery, murdering and stealing break the commandments, but all these begin when we break the 10th Commandment (James 1:14-15). It begins with a desire. It conceives sin. Sin brings death.
What is the sin of coveting? To covet is to strongly desire or delight in something. It is not necessarily a bad thing; a husband and wife should have a strong delight and desire in one another. However, the problem is we do not have the right to enjoy that which belongs to others. Covetousness is the big sister of the twins envy and jealousy. We are often determined in every way to match other people’s lifestyles. This is a destruction for the human heart (Proverbs 14:30, James 4:1-2). Jealousy clings to what we own with a grasping, selfish spirit. Howard Hughes, who died leaving a 2.3 billion estate, was a prisoner of his own fear of losing his own wealth.
Coveting holds firmly to what it has and will not open its hand to give (Psalm 62:10). The classic example in scripture of covetousness is found in 1 Kings 21 in the account of Ahab coveting Naboth’s vineyard. Ahab starts with making a fair offer for the vineyard and is not trying to rip off Naboth. But Naboth has a sense of this is a portion of God’s inheritance, part of his family’s identity. So Ahab sulks and won’t eat. Jezebel, his wife, says, ‘Aren’t you the king? I’ll get it for you.’ And Naboth is murdered. Such blatant wrong doing.
But we covet too. We go into debt to buy things we can’t afford. People covet when they play the national lottery, wanting to get money for what they have not worked. People covet when we spend our time, money and energy on acquiring more possessions and neglect to share with those in need.
Our nation has fallen far short of God’s standards. Advertising fills us with an insatiable appetite for more. The national lottery provides instant riches, yet robs those often least able to afford it. The message is clear – get what you can, however you can. Then we complain (James 3:16) and there is rising crime. We all, myself included, seccumb to the temptation and join in with the covetousness nature of our society. We may object to fat cats but very few of us would turn those salaries down if they were offered to us. We all have a covetousness spirit. And so we stand once again condemned before the Lord.
The problem with covetousness is it destroys contentment (Ecclesiastes 5:10-11). Our contentment is disturbed as our appetite for more of the world increases. We are guilty of being ungrateful to God, thinking that which He has provided for us is insufficient. Instead of thanking God for all we have, we complain we don’t have more – even though we have so much. God has blessed us so much. We have no contentment. There is a second sin, that of pride. We think we deserve more. The very first sin was based on pride. Satan insinuates God has forbidden Eve to eat of the fruit, stopping her being as all-knowing as God is. In Eve’s heart she thinks she deserves to be equal in knowledge with God. When we are envious, we think ‘Why should he have more than me?’ When jealousy grasps, we are saying we deserve it, we have worked hard for it. This is totally unfounded. The truth is, you and I deserve nothing but the wrath of God (I Corinthians 4:6-7). Is it true that because we have a bigger house, a bigger car that we are better than anyone else? We have not earned but received from God’s goodness. When we are not grateful for what God has provided we are guilty of the same sin as Eve. We are coveting. We accuse God of not giving us our just rewards we feel we deserve. What an arrogance! All sin leads to hell but none propels us faster than that of covetousness.
In the New Testament we are told a hallmark of a Christian is contentment. It is the hallmark of Christian maturity (Philippians 4:11, Hebrews 13:5). We are to be content. Covetousness is seen as a force that can shipwreck a Christian’s life (1 Timothy 6:6-10). It is also a sign that a person was not saved in the first place. The Parable of the Sower illustrates this; the seed that falls among thorns portrays an outward expression of faith which doesn’t have a true knowledge of salvation. There is something radically wrong when a believer thinks he deserves better.
The right sort of coveting. The word covet can be used in a positive way. The best way to avoid the wrong kind is to fix your mind on the right kind – coveting Christ, God’s Word and the life to come.
Coveting Christ. In the Song of Solomon we read of a girl who describes her beloved as one who is altogether lovely. She has an overwhelming desire for him. It is a picture of how we should covet the Lord Jesus Christ. He alone is the source of lasting contentment. The real desire that brings contentment is to desire Christ. It doesn’t matter then what else we have or don’t have. He is worth more than the whole world (Philippians 4:8). Have a heart full of desire to know Christ. Make Him the fairest of ten thousand to your soul. Dwell with Him. Think upon Him. Delight your soul in Him. Stir the depth of love in your heart for Him. He will satisfy your soul.
Covet the Word of God. Because you love the Lord Jesus Christ you desire to find Him, to see Him, to fellowship with Him in His Word, the Bible (Psalm 19:10). William Tyndale was publically executed in 1536. Why? Because he translated the Bible into English. He wanted the plough boy to read of Christ. The world desires to fill our mind with covetousness thoughts. The Bible fills our minds with praise to our lips and praise to our soul.
Covet the life to come. Set your desires on the lasting blessings of the world to come (Matthew 6:19-21). The attractions of this world are empty baubles compared to Christ and the riches of glory to come. Let us not covet material things of this world and war against spiritual well-being. Let’s covet Christ, His death on the cross which secured life for us.