Scripture: “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.” Exodus 20:17 ESV
Observation: This, the last commandment, is the only one directly addressing the thought life rather than the action. Of course, all the commandments, when violated, can be traced to their origin: the heart. But covetousness uniquely ties the other nine together, for when we covet:
- self/others over God, we place us/them ahead of him,
- the material world over its Creator, we idolize it,
- others’ approval over his, we blaspheme his holy name,
- our time over his, we breach the Sabbath,
- our honor over our parents, we dishonor them,
- revenge over forgiveness, we murder,
- another’s spouse over ours, we commit adultery,
- another’s possessions over ours, we steal, and
- another’s favor over truth, we false testify.
And like the other nine, the tenth commandment addresses a relationship boundary that ensures Israel’s health and welfare with their one true God and one another.
Takeaway: Because coveting can fester without acting on it, it isn’t easily recognizable. But there is one telltale sign of a coveting disposition: discontentment. Paul speaks to this ill in his closing remarks to the Philippian church. After exhorting them to rejoice in the Lord and pray to him with thanksgiving when stressed, he urges them to reflect on noble aspects of godly living worthy of praise. He then shares a little insight into his victory over trials and suffering: “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need in any and every circumstance. I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:11-13 ESV).
Through Christ, who has given us his Holy Spirit to help us, we can find the mental and spiritual strength to be content with our present circumstances and material possessions. Of course, being content does not mean that we submit to abuse or neglect, but it does mean, as Paul notes, that we can find peace and rest in the Lord during seasons of abundance or need, in times of humbling or success. And the key to learning contentment is to covet God—to devote ourselves wholeheartedly to the One who will always satisfy our deepest longings.
Prayer: Father God, we thank you for the gift of your Son who grants us an other-worldly peace that surpasses understanding, even in times of want. Would you please help us covet you and your Son above all other things of this world and find contentment in our present circumstances? Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling