Do Not Covet

Exodus 20:17

If asked which is the LEAST IMPORTANT of the Ten Commandments, most would reply the tenth. Compared to murder, adultery, stealing and lying, how unimposing coveting sounds. Exodus 20:17—

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.

COVETING is THE SIN WE NEVER ADMIT. It is so universal, so hidden, so powerful and so deceptive that we scarcely are aware of its existence.

The seven prohibitions listed in the Tenth Commandment symbolize completeness and make it all inclusive. So the NT simply says, DO NOT COVET.

This commandment disqualifies everyone for heaven! It is manifested early in life as one small child grabs a tool from another or screams in an attempt to obtain it.

A resident of Springfield, Illinois, was drawn to the door one day by the crying of children. He saw Abraham Lincoln walking by with his two sons, both crying. “What’s the matter?” asked the neighbor. Lincoln replied crispy, “Just what is the matter with the whole world. I have three walnuts and each boy wants two!”

All the other commandments forbid overt sin, but his one reaches to inner motives, condemning as evil the entertaining of thoughts of wrongdoing. The internal nature of this commandment points to its divine origin, for only God knows what goes on in the human mind and heart according to Jeremiah 17:9-10—

The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? “I the LORD search the heart and examine the mind, to reward a man according to his conduct, according to what his deeds deserve.”

John Wesley wrote—

The heart—There is nothing so false and deceitful as the heart of man; deceitful in its apprehensions of things, in the hopes and promises which it nourishes, in the assurances that it gives us; unsearchable by others, deceitful with reference to ourselves, and abominably wicked, so that neither can a man know his own heart, nor can any other know that of his neighbor’s.

The Tenth Commandment shows the impossibility of earning eternal life by keeping the law. God demands not only faultless behavior, but a flawless thought life as well, which no one possesses. It was this sin that brought conviction to the Apostle Paul, who wrote in Romans 7:7—

What shall we say, then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! Indeed I would not have known what sin was except through the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “Do not covet.”

What is COVETOUSNESS? The Hebrew word dmxt (hamad) denotes desire, lust after, covet. When Moses gives the Law the second time in Deuteronomy 5:21, he uses the synonym hwa (‘avah), which means DESIRE, along with HAMAD. These two Hebrew terms are used interchangeably.

COVET is having a longing, a desire, a craving, a want for something that belongs to another. It is an excessive desire for what one does not have. It’s wanting MORE!

Picture Oliver Twist at the orphanage holding out his bowl and saying, “MORE!” Now picture Eli’s sons, Hophni and Phinehas, the priests, who wanted MORE! 1 Samuel 2:12-17 tells of their greed—

Eli’s sons were wicked men; they had no regard for the LORD. Now it was the practice of the priests with the people that whenever anyone offered a sacrifice and while the meat was being boiled, the servant of the priest would come with a three-pronged fork in his hand. He would plunge it into the pan or kettle or cauldron or pot, and the priest would take for himself whatever the fork brought up. This is how they treated all the Israelites who came to Shiloh.

But even before the fat was burned, the servant of the priest would come and say to the man who was sacrificing, “Give the priest some meat to roast; he won’t accept boiled meat from you, but only raw.” If the man said to him, “Let the fat be burned up first, and then take whatever you want,” the servant would then answer, “No, hand it over now; if you don’t, I’ll take it by force.” This sin of the young men was very great in the LORD’s sight, for they were treating the LORD’s offering with contempt.

Not content with the specified portions of the animals that the sacrificer is to give to the priests, Hophini and Phinehas demanded more—they wanted raw meat. Boiled meat separates and falls off the fork leaving a smaller portion than stabbing a raw piece of meat. They wanted an unlawful portion before the LORD received what was rightfully His. These two priests treated the LORD’s offerings with contempt. Christians repeat this great sin when it comes to the LORD’s tithes and offerings. Wanting MORE they take what belongs to the LORD!

When greed is directed toward another’s property, house, land, car furniture, business, boat, wife, or whatever, it is covetousness. When full grown, this desire to have what one has no right to possess blossoms into willingness to use dishonorable means to secure it for oneself.

A desire can be covetous because of its excess, even though for a legitimate object. Or a desire may covetous because it is pointed at a neighbor’s possession. Wanting to keep up with the Joneses is a greedy desire! Paul writes in Acts 20:33—

I have not coveted anyone’s silver or gold or clothing.

In other words, “I am not living my life to keep up with the Joneses! I don’t need or desire everything my neighbor owns. My Master is God, not material possessions.”

On the other hand, without the instinct for acquisition, we could not support ourselves nor our families and would become intolerable burdens on others. The Bible does not forbid setting things aside for the future. In fact, Proverbs 6:6-8 advises—

Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise! It has no commander, no overseer or ruler, yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest.

Paul instructs us in 1 Timothy 5:8—

If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

But when the instinct to acquire gets out of hand, it becomes plain covetousness as 1 John 2:15-17 warns—

Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and [the pride of life], boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.

The Tenth Commandment is the only commandment seemingly concerned with an offence of the heart and mind. Covetousness produces impulses of the will that often lead to prohibited actions. It is solely concerned with attitudes of the heart and mind that subtly or not so subtly lead to the misuse of that which is not one’s own.

It relates to the spirit of the individual that forms the interior ground for the violation of the other commandments. Without covetousness, disobedience of the other nine commandments would probably not occur. This command reveals how demanding the other Nine Commandments of God are.

True obedience involves avoiding not only certain actions but also intentions or attitudes toward others in relationship, perhaps best captured in such words as envy or greed or lust.

COVETOUSNESS has a way of breeding discontent and easily leads to abuse and crime; it is a basic source of social disorder and trouble in interpersonal relationships. It betrays a deep dissatisfaction with that which one has been given. Case in point: Adam and Eve wanted MORE. Genesis 2:15-17—

The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the LORD God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.”

Adam and Eve enjoyed liberty and abundant provision in the Garden and did not need the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. But along came the Devil, the father of lies. Satan aimed at Eve’s mind and succeeded in deceiving her with his lies. He questioned God’s Word, denied God’s Word, and then substituted his own lies. Eve doubted God, thereby, opening the door of her mind and heart to covetousness—dissatisfied with what God had given, she desires what does not belong to her. Genesis 3:6 records the tragedy—

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.

Here we see the tragic operation of the covetousness:

Lust of the flesh: “good for food.”
Lust of the eyes: “pleasing to the eye.”
Pride of life: “desirable for gaining wisdom.”

In 2 Samuel 11:2-4, we behold the tragic operation of covetousness doing its work on King David of Israel—

One evening David got up from his bed and walked around on the roof of the palace. From the roof, he saw a woman bathing. The woman was very beautiful, and David sent someone to find out about her. The man said, “Isn’t this Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite?” Then David sent messengers to get her. She came to him, and he slept with her.

Coveting is the root of all disobedience. First David coveted, then he committed adultery with her, murdered Uriah to steal his wife and to give false testimony to cover up the adulterous conceiving of her child to David. Eventually, the prophet Nathan exposed the sin, dishonoring the name of David’s father and mother. As God’s representative, David had misused the LORD’s name, he could not keep the Sabbath holy because he had placed sex before God and bowed down to it. One covetousness thought had exploded into the breaking of all Ten Commandments!

Prosperity can be the source of discontentment. Adam and Eve lived in Paradise and were not content! David had power, prestige, wealth, family and was not satisfied. He wanted MORE!

Covetousness betrays a deep dissatisfaction with that which one has been given.

We live in the age of covetousness. Credit cards are used for going out to dinner, for entertainment, to buy clothes and so on! All of a sudden a family discovers they haven’t got enough to pay for everything, but they’re not willing to cut down their way of living. They don’t want to go back to their lower lifestyle—they want MORE!

In effect, these debtors crave too strongly their good way of life. They covet their luxuries; they are not content with what God has provided; so they live on credit. 1 Timothy 6:6-10 presents an opposite lifestyle for the Christian —

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

We are bombarded by TV and radio commercials, newspapers, magazines, billboards, third-class mail and other sources to stimulate the purchase of previously unknown or unwanted products. The insane, insatiable hankering after the goods, styles, and services of the contemporary world are symptoms of the disease of greed. No matter how high the salary, many couples live from paycheck to paycheck. Others live beyond their salary in debt and pierce themselves with many griefs. A leading cause of divorce is debt.

Love of money, material possessions, a lifestyle beyond our means is covetousness. The opposite of covetousness is contentment. Paul writes in Philippians 4:11-13—

I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 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 everything through him who gives me strength.

What is Paul’s secret of being content? He learned the secret of the secure mind through the power of God. If we depend on our own power, we will fail; but if we depend on His strength, we can be content whatever our circumstances. Contentment begins with a submissive mind as Paul points out in Philippians 2:12-13—

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.

As we seek to live for God in obedience to His will, we allow Him to work in our circumstances for good.

Grumbling, complaining, disputing, discontentment are transgressions of the Tenth Commandment. They betray a deep dissatisfaction with God.

Ours is an age in which the appetite for more and more seems almost impossible to pacify. We find it increasingly difficult to maintain any sense of balance regarding our use of food; gadgets for home, office, or auto; clothing; entertainments done in our behalf as we look on; or recreational goods and equipment.

We must learn how to make distinctions between desiring that which is whole and good and beneficial and that which only feeds a hunger for more than we need.

Coveting cannot be regulated or policed, let alone clearly observed since it is an attitude of the mind and heart. Only God can look upon the heart and observe the presence or absence of covetousness within the human spirit.

The Tenth Commandment deals most basically with our relationship with God. Or, to put it in other terms, sin against one’s neighbor is not simply an inter-human matter. It involves God, and the passion with which God responds to our inner attitudes.

Far from a harmless, inconsequential rule, the Tenth Commandment is the key command, for it involves a sin which begets every other sin.

COMMANDMENTS ONE AND TWO require that we love God supremely. Coveting displaces God with some other object. When happiness of heart is sought in some other god, covetousness has become idolatry, which is what the NT calls it in passages like Colossians 3:5—

Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed [covetousness], which is idolatry.

Love of money kept the rich young ruler from Christ and eternal life. Love of money put the rich fool in the torment of Hades. As a penny held close enough to the eye can blot out the sun, so money can eclipse the Sun of Righteousness. Money madness makes people bow to the Almighty Dollar instead of to the Almighty God, which violates the foremost of the Commandments.

COMMANDMENT THREE of misusing the name of the LORD your God occurs when we set aside the promises and oaths we made before the LORD so we might obtain anything. A common misuse of the LORD’s name is the breaking of one’s membership vow to support the church with one’s attendance. Earning money in order to have MORE takes precedence. Note that I said TO HAVE MORE! God knows the thoughts and intents of our heart! Pray without ceasing Psalm 26:2—

Test me, O LORD, and try me, examine my heart and my mind.

COMMANDMENT FOUR says keep the Sabbath holy. Why were the Blue Laws repealed? GREED!

A number of years ago in a Pennsylvania city where Sunday movies were prohibited a movie theater hung out a motto: “Go to church Sunday; attend movies during the week.” But when a town referendum to permit Sunday movies was proposed, the theater scrapped its motto and worked hard for an affirmative vote. Sunday opening meant MORE dollars.

COMMANDMENT FIVE of honoring one’s parents is often broken because of covetousness. In Jesus’ day, a legal loophole in the law allowed a Jew to avoid the responsibility of supporting parents by dedicating his property to the Temple. Jesus unmasked this covetous practice charging in Matthew 15:34—

And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said, `Honor your father and mother’ and `Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.’

COMMANDMENT SIX—you shall not murder—is broken everyday in the United States because of greed. Kids kill kids for Nike sneakers! Why? Because they desire their neighbor’s property and when covetousness of the mind and heart consumes the will, they murder for MORE!

King Ahab’s sulking greed for his neighbor’s vineyard resulted in the death of Naboth its owner.

Judas Isacriot’s fever for money not only led him to pilfer from the treasury bag of his friends, but finally to betray Jesus to certain death for a measly 30 pieces of silver.

COMMANDMENT SEVEN forbids adultery. Jesus said in Matthew 5:28—

But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

While actual adultery is far worse than inward lustful fantasies, the inner desires can quickly lead to this forbidden sin. We must deal ruthlessly with ourselves and not encourage the imagination to “feed on” these sins. The eyes and the hands (seeing and touching) must be kept under control.

Why does anyone sell pornography?—simple—the love of money!

COMMANDMENT EIGHT forbids stealing. Taking the booty from Jericho was forbidden; Achan couldn’t resist an expensive Babylonian garment, 200 shekels of silver, and wedge of gold of 50 shekels in weight. When discovered, he confessed, “I coveted them and took them.” Attitudes precede actions.

People gamble because they covet easy money. Martin Luther threatened excommunication to a man who planned to sell a house for 13 times what he had paid. Luther labeled this man’s intended price exorbitant and unbridled covetousness.

COMMANDMENT NINE forbids lying. Gehazi, Elisha’s servant, pursued after Naaman, captain of the Syrian armies, whose gifts had been refused by Elisha. He pretended his mater had changed his mind and was asking for a talent of silver and two changes of garments for himself.

God revealed the lie and the servant’s greed to Elisha who pronounced the punishment of Naaman’s leprosy on Gehazi and his family. “Ill-gotten gain brings ruin in its train.”

The soldiers who guarded Jesus’ tomb at the time of resurrection were given hush money to report a lie— that the disciples stole Jesus’ body at night when they were asleep.

Ananias and Sapphira pretended to bring an offering of all the sale proceeds from their property, while through covetousness they were keeping some for themselves.

Bottom line: Breaking the TENTH COMMANDMENT leads to the violation of one or more or all the other nine commandments.

There are FIVE WAYS TO CURE COVETOUSNESS.

The FIRST way to cure covetousness is to GUARD YOUR HEART. Proverbs 4:23 says—

Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.

Jesus warns in Luke 12:15—

Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.

Every crime was once a thought. If we never entertain an evil design, we’ll not likely to commit it. Harbor no lust of flesh, lust of eye, nor pride of life. Stifle the first bubbling of evil within. It’s easier to kill a snake when it’s still an egg, than when a huge, dangerously slithering, striking serpent. So, nip any covetousness in the bud. Follow Paul’s advice in 1 Timothy 6:11—

But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.

In other words, GUARD YOUR HEART by seeking first God’s kingdom and His righteousness.

The SECOND way to cure covetousness is to CULTIVATE CONTENTMENT. Discontent spawns desire. Our high standard of living makes the luxuries of yesterday become the necessities of today. One man said, “Let us be happy and live within our means, even if we have to borrow to do it.” But things do not satisfy! If happiness came through things, and covetousness is based on this supposition, Americans should be the happiest people on earth. Yet our country has more people who are depressed and using pills than most other nations. Follow the advice of Hebrews 13:5—

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.”

Be content with God!

The THIRD way to cure covetousness is to TITHE. Failure to tithe is robbing God. Why do most people fail to tithe? They are not content with God! They want MORE! They love money and things more than God. Tithing helps cut the nerve of selfishness, making us giving persons instead of grabbing ones. The death of covetousness comes through the birth of charity.

The FOURTH way to cure covetousness is to ENJOY YOUR POSSESSIONS WITH MODERATION. When a Christian has tithed, even given generously beyond the tithe, and still has some money left over, is it right to use that surplus to buy some of the comforts of life for personal enjoyment? It seems so according to 1 Timothy 6:17—

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.

MODERATION is sticking your fork into boiled meat instead of raw meat! Moderation excludes debt! Ironically, the two definitions of DEBT are a state of owing something and whatever is morally unacceptable. Romans 13:7-8 instructs —

Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor. Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellow man has fulfilled the law.

The FIFTH way to cure covetousness is to THINK OFTEN OF THE CROSS OF CHRIST. Think upon the words of Emily Elliott’s hymn:

Thou dist leave Thy throne
And Thy kingly crown,
When Thou camest to earth for me;
But in Bethlehem’s home
Was there found no room
For Thy holy nativity.

Heaven’s arches rang
When the angels sang,
Proclaiming Thy royal decree;
But of lowly birth
Didst Thou come to earth,
And in great humility.

The foxes found rest,
And the birds their nest
In the shade of the forest tree;
But Thy couch was the sod,
O Thou Son of God,
In the deserts of Galilee.

Thou camest, O Lord,
With the living word
That should set Thy people free;
But with mocking scorn,
And with crown of thorn,
They bore Thee to Calvary.

O come to my heart, Lord Jesus,
There is room in my heart for Thee!

MORE! Yes—MORE OF JESUS—less of ME!

Jesus means MORE than anything to me—that is the cure for covetousness!

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