“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
Scripture is remarkable for its treatment of human sin and wickedness because, unlike the holy books of many other religions, the Bible says that sin is ultimately a matter of the heart and mind. God’s Word does not limit its definition of sin only to the acts we commit but also to the thoughts and attitudes of the inner man. Jesus, for instance, explains that we have already broken the law of God when we harbor thoughts and feelings that are contrary to the Lord’s regulations and that, if indulged, will lead to the actual acts prohibited in the commandments (Matt. 5:21-30). Yet our Savior was not the first to show that God’s law deals with the mind and heart. The Ten Commandments themselves address the heart and mind in the law against coveting (Ex. 20:17).
We commit the sin of coveting when we are upset at our neighbors’ success and believe that what belongs to them is actually our due. Today’s passage shows the breadth of this command in its listing of those things that we may not covet. God gives us a representative list, not an exhaustive one. It is as wrong to covet anything not mentioned specifically in the commandment as it is to covet that which the rule explicitly lists. We see this in its concluding statement that we may not covet “anything that is [our] neighbor’s.”
Covetousness drives much of modern culture. Entire political campaigns are waged on the premise that one group has riches that everyone deserves, and so the government must redistribute wealth. Modern advertising encourages us to be dissatisfied with what we have, telling us that our lives will be so much better if we buy product x, y, or z. Dissatisfaction is the root from which covetousness grows. When we do not find satisfaction in the Lord with what we have, we begin to think He does a poor job in allotting His blessings, that we deserve what other people have, and that God was wrong to give them what is rightly ours. All of this reflects a failure to trust the Lord’s provision, and it manifests a belief that God does not know what He is doing when He blesses His people, both of which are great sins indeed.
The tenth commandment does not prohibit us from desiring good things. It is not inherently wrong to want a house that is as nice as our neighbor’s, for example. Covetousness comes into play when we are jealous of our neighbor’s home, when we think we are more deserving of it, and when we, in our heart of hearts, want him to lose it. May we seek satisfaction in the Lord that we might not commit the sin of coveting.
In addition to political campaigns and advertising that stoke the flames of covetousness, we also see this sin manifest itself in the act of vandalism, which says, “If I cannot have something I want, you cannot have it either.” However covetousness shows itself in our lives, we must put it to death. The best way to do this is to pursue satisfaction first and foremost in the Lord, and to “be content with what [we] have” (Heb. 13:5).
Passages for Further Study
1 Timothy 6:6–10