(Exodus 20:17 NIV) “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”
The tenth word to live by takes us back to the first. The first and tenth words to live by are bookends. Unlike the other eight that are focus on visible actions, the first and tenth have to do with our heart, or our state of mind.
Exodus 20:1-4 (ESV) And God spoke all these words, saying, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. “You shall have no other gods before me.
The tenth word to live by is a perfect sign-off to the ten words to live by. It reminds us that unchecked desire, jealousy, and discontent leads us to violate the other commandments. As a result we wound our neighbor and wreck our life together.
Many of us are overworked trying to earn more so that we can own more. We may be able to get more, but we lose the time to enjoy what we have. But instead of labeling this as coveting, we describe it as ambition, providing for the family, supporting a lifestyle, working for a better life, getting ahead.
King David ignored God’s words to live by. He stole another man wife thus ignoring two of the words. He lied about it and had the other man murdered thus ignoring two more of those words. He invoked God’s name to justify his actions, thus he violated even another. But it all began by ignoring the tenth word to live by. He was coveting his neighbor’s wife. And he ignored the tenth because he ignored the first. David should have been doing what God called him to do – leading the armies of Israel – but instead he was at home.
Coveting is the attitude of heart that preceeds us not living according to God’s words. The remedy is to go back to the first word that God spoke. He will be our God. We are to be his people.
The Hebrew word translated covet here refers to “enthusiastic desire.” Coveting the misdirected energy of a heart set on wrong goals. A person is covetous who lets his values get so warped that he wants all the wrong things to the neglect of all the good things, wants one wrong thing with such a consuming passion that he is willing to sacrifice any and all right things for its sake, or simply becomes selfish with the blessings God has entrusted to him.
As long as God is in his rightful place in a human life, everything else fits in relation to him. Get God out of the central place in that life, and all values within it become hopelessly fouled-up.
It was to this sinful spirit that the very first temptation called the human race. Do you remember Satan’s temptation of Eve? It was to eat the forbidden fruit, right? Yes, but why eat the fruit? The temptation didn’t center on the fruit itself but on Satan’s promise that eating it would turn her into a god. He told her: “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5).
The first temptation was to self-enthronement and covetousness. Make yourself into a god, Eve!
Covetousness causes people to judge all things in life from a single perspective, i.e., worth to self. Jesus once warned a certain man: “Take heed, and beware of covetousness, for a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:15). The point of his warning seems to be a practical one about the outcome of having a covetous heart.
Covetousness lives and breathes in an atmosphere of the single desire to get and never give. It generates the desire to have any and all forbidden things. Even Paul admitted the personal problems caused for him by covetousness. He wrote: “I should not haw known what it is to covet if the law had not said, ‘You shall not covet.’ But sin, finding opportunity in the commandment, wrought in me all kinds of covetousness” (Romans 7:7b-8a).
How to Restrain Wicked Covetousness
First, cultivate your own strengths and abilities. Rather than resent and envy others their assets, capitalize on your own. A woman sees someone more beautiful and says, “Oh, I wish I could be that woman!” A man sees someone who is wealthy and powerful and says, “1 wish I could trade places with him!” I suppose we’ve all done it in one setting or another. But have you ever stopped to realize that such a wish involves a type of suicide? In order to be someone else, you would have to stop being you! Rather than wish for some self-destructive impossibility, it is wiser to find and develop your own assets.
Second, learn to rejoice with others over their good fortune. The Bible says: “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). For most of us, it is easier to do the latter than the former. To see someone really prosperous and happy seems to evoke feelings of “Why couldn’t that have been me?” rather than genuine joy on that person’s behalf.
Third, trust God. “Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek all these things; and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well” (Matthew 6:31-33).
Fourth, be content with the things you have. “There is great gain in godliness with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world; but if we have food and clothing, with these we shall be content” (1 Timothy 6:6-8).
Story of the fisherman and the business man – An exhausted businessman traveled to a faraway island for a vacation. Everyday he went to the beach to swim and relax and every day he noticed a man with a boat and fishing net. He was cleaning one, maybe two fish every day. The business man finally asked, “You’re a fisherman, right? I noticed that you catch just one or two fish a day.” The fisherman replied, “Yes, I usually find plenty of fish in the morning.” The businessman asks, “But what do you do with the rest of your day?” Fisherman: “Well, let’s see. I clean the fish to eat or sell. I go home and take a nap. I work on my house, I eat supper with my family, then I play guitar and sing with my friends.” The businessman with furrowed brow said to the man, “Well see here, if you were to fish all day you could probably triple your profit. You could use that to buy a bigger boat, hire workers, and maybe even expand your business by getting into distribution.” “Why would I do that?” the fisherman asks. “Why, you could eventually get to the point that you would be set of life. You could quit work, stay home most of the day, take vacations, relax and spend time with friends and family whenever you wanted.” “Well man, that’s what I am doing now but I only have to catch one fish a day to do it.”
Contentment will come to us when we escape our slavery to things, when we find our wealth in friendship and our joy in caring about people, and when we realize that our most precious possession is the grace of God through Jesus Christ.
Luke 12:13‑21 And someone in the crowd said to Him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” But He said to him, “Man, who appointed Me a judge or arbiter over you?” And He said to them, “Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions.” And He told them a parable, saying, “The land of a certain rich man was very productive. And he began reasoning to himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no place to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘This is what I will do: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry.”’ 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 lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”