The Tenth Commandment

  • “You shall not covet your neighbour’s house. You shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, or his man servant or maid servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbour.” (Exodus 20:17)
The Oxford Dictionary explains covetousness as “Having or showing a strong desire to possess”.  The Hebrew words used in Exodus 20:17 and Deuteronomy 5:21 both mean “to lust after” or “long for with a great desire” something that does not belong to us.
The Lord tells us, “You shall not” because covetousness goes deeper than just a yearning for something. Other commandments such as “do not steal” or “do not murder” warn us against actions. But this last commandment warns us against a mental activity. When we covet something, we dwell on how we should acquire it, because we begin to believe that peace of mind or happiness is not possible without it and this becomes idolatry…a thought process which takes priority in our lives. This same desire can also lead a person into committing those actions which are prohibited: theft and murder.
The problem with covetousness is that it is not seen from the outside, so no one can warn us that we are committing this sin. We ourselves can be unaware that we are nurturing the sin of covetousness in our lives, or we may tell ourselves it is after all only something in our minds and the thought does not harm anyone, or even ourselves. Thus, it can becomes a landmine on which we continue to live, lulled into being comfortable, and completely unaware that it can explode, shattering our inner spiritual lives, and, perhaps our relationships and causing damage in other areas of our lives.
The root of covetousness is envy. The Lord Jesus tells us in Matthew 5:28 that the lustful thought is as serious as the action of adultery. So, covetousness goes beyond an envious glance at another person’s new car or clothes. When this thought is entertained, it goes beyond envy and can become hatred towards him/her and resentment against the Lord: “why can’t I have what he/she has?”
God tells us that covetousness is a sin and that we should not tolerate it in our lives because: [James 1:15] “…desire, when it has conceived, gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.”  At the core of this thought is love of self which leads to discontent. A family built up of envious, discontent members is a family of disunity, where each is for himself, uncaring about the well-being of others. Selfishness and self-centeredness do not contribute towards a happy mindset and so these will be unhappy families, made up of unhappy individuals. 1 Timothy 6:6 tells us that godliness with contentment is great gain.  If we can be content with what God has given us, we avoid so much trouble for ourselves.
What attitudes do we model for our children?  Do we model a lifestyle of contentment, resulting in thanksgiving, for daily provision? Or, do we model discontentment: acquiring the latest styles in clothing, changing our vehicle, phoone, television and our furniture, replacing the old with the latest? Do we feel insecure wearing the old-fashioned styles and driving old vehicles? Are we ashamed to say that we do not own latest equipment? Or do we show them that our sense of security and acceptability do not come from what we use but from our relationship with the Lord?
Prayer: Lord Jesus, we pray that we will be content with what we have so that we will not covet anything that is not ours and clutter our minds with things we long for. Help us be godly models for our children, leading them to focus on you rather than on material things.  Amen