“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house.
You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”
~ Exodus 20:17
A story was told of Abraham Lincoln. His boys were upset, and he was carrying one in each arm away from a crowd. When someone asked what was wrong with his boys, Lincoln replied, “Exactly what’s wrong with the whole world … I have three walnuts and each boy wants two.”
This final command deals with a matter of the heart. It’s interesting actually, that both the first and last commands – the bookends of the commandments if you will – deal with matters of the heart. For the rest of the commands, others can prove that you’ve broken them. We can see someone bowing down to an idol, not taking a Sabbath, stealing something, or lying, but the first and last commandments are matters held between God and you. They are commands of the heart.
Command #1: Do you put anything before God in your life?
Command #10: Do you covet what isn’t yours?
These bookend commands, as J.I. Packer says, “move from actions to attitudes, motions to motives, forbidden deeds to forbidden desires.” No one can find you guilty of breaking these commands except for yourself and the Holy Spirit’s conviction.
This 10th command is significant!
In fact, it is not a stretch to think that the breaking of this 10th command is the springboard to the breaking of all the previous ones. If you covet comfort or peace, you may break the first three. If you covet money, you may break the fourth. If you covet independence, you may break fifth. If you covet your neighbour’s spouse or possessions, you may break the sixth through ninth.
The story of David and Bathsheba, in 2 Samuel 11, is a perfect example of this. David coveted Bathsheba, and what results from this covetousness is him breaking the other commandments. First, he takes her from her house (breaking the 8th commandment) and sleeps with her (7th commandment). Then, to cover up his tracks and hide what he did (9th), he has her husband killed in war (6th).
Coveting leads to all sorts of trouble.
So, not only is coveting a matter of the heart – something between you and the Lord – AND not only does breaking this command lead to the breaking of others, but we can be guilty of coveting so many things … things that perhaps we don’t even realize.
Maybe we don’t covet our neighbour’s spouse or possessions, but maybe we covet their reputations, their spiritual gifts, or their sense of humour. Maybe we covet how relaxed, driven, or handy they are. Coveting can take many different shapes.
The commandment reads “do not covet”, but what is our calling then?
Well, to put it plainly, we must be content in all situations.
In fact, we read this command all throughout the Bible:
Proverbs 16:8 teaches us how coveting gains us nothing by saying, “Better a little with righteousness than much gain with injustice.”
In Hebrews 13:5, the author says that you should “keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’”
And Paul, in Philippians 4:12-13, says, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through Him who gives me strength.”
When we are content with what we have, or who we are, our covetous nature goes away. And it isn’t just that we are to be content with what we have, it is that we must be content with what others have, too! Actually, we must not only be content with what God has entrusted to others, but we need to rejoice with them in that!
God calls us to love our neighbours as ourselves (Matthew 22:39). Paul teaches us to rejoice with those who rejoice (Romans 12:15). If we are to love our neighbours in this way and rejoice when they rejoice, that means we should be finding joy in our neighbours’ gain!
Furthermore, if our neighbours are who Jesus says they are in the parable of the Good Samaritan – meaning our neighbour is everyone we come in contact with (Luke 10:25-37) – then we must be grateful for everyone’s gain, and content in all situations! “Rejoice always … give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thes. 5:16,18 emphasis added).
In his book The Ten Commandments from the Back Side, J.E. Kalas puts this beautifully:
“When I rejoice in my neighbour’s having, I become wonderfully, almost unimaginably rich. When I covet, my life is so small and petty, but when I rejoice with my neighbour, my life has no boundaries. I feel better about myself because I’m so much more likable when I’m not envious. I feel better about God, because I’m seeing more of God’s goodness when I get out of my own small world. I feel better about life, because I see its blessings more clearly; I see what I have, instead of what I haven’t.”
This posture, this attitude of contentment, is not simply the antithesis of covetousness, but is the key to finding joy in life. Our vision becomes clearer, Christ’s gift of grace becomes more evident in our lives, and, as 1 Thes. 5 teaches us, we start living out God’s will for our lives! With contentment comes peace, and an understanding that God is sovereign over all things, including who you are and what you have.
Questions to Ponder:
1) What things do you covet?
2) As with the previous commands, how does coveting affect our community? What relational holdups come into play when we covet?
3) How does a posture of contentment allow us to revel in Christ’s gift of grace to us? How does God’s sovereignty become clearer when we are content with who we are/what we have?