You Shall Not Covet

We, as God’s people, have been given Ten Commandments as our primary rule of life. The first four tell us how to love God, and the last six tell us how to love our fellow man. Five of these last six are mainly concerned with physical actions, although with some spiritual overtones. When we break most of those, it can be obvious to those who see us. But the last commandment is purely moral or spiritual. If we break that one, it is possible that no one might ever realise that we have broken it, except for God, of course. It is a commandment to control our thoughts, more so than our actions. However, if we break it, it can lead us to break some other commandments as well.

It is stated in Deuteronomy 5:21: “You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife; and you shall not desire your neighbor’s house, his field, his male servant, his female servant, his ox, his donkey, or anything that is your neighbour’s.” It is a very simple concept but can be very difficult to fulfill; especially, as it covers every possession of others. And as Jesus defined neighbor in the parable of the good Samaritan, it includes foreigners, not just fellow citizens.

In the course of history, coveting has been the cause of great suffering. The first episode of coveting we read about is in Isaiah 14:12-15. It concerns Satan who coveted position, power and glory that was not his to have: “How you are fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How you are cut down to the ground, You who weakened the nations! For you have said in your heart: ‘I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; I will also sit on the mount of the congregation On the farthest sides of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will be like the Most High.’ Yet you shall be brought down to Sheol, To the lowest depths of the pit.” Strong’s concordance states that “like” means resemble. Matthew Poole’s commentary states that Satan coveted uncontrollable power and universal dominion over all the earth, the same as only God has. Some feel that Satan really wanted to BE God, replacing Him as Ruler over the universe.

Coveting has been the motive for many wars over the course of history—coveting for land, wealth or power and control. James explains the motives for most fights and wars in James 4:1-3: “Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.” Again, individuals and nations covet what is not theirs and are willing to fight and murder to try to obtain it. This has led to much suffering throughout history.

Consider king David, a man whom God praised very highly, calling him, “A man after My own heart, who will do all My will” (Acts 13:22). Yet, even with such a high compliment, he still broke the commandment, “You shall not covet,” in his mind. This led him to commit adultery with Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11:2-4), and ultimately, the murder of his faithful servant, Uriah the Hittite (2 Samuel 12:9).

The apostle Paul wrote some things we should keep in mind to help us not to covet. While they refer specifically to Church members, they can be extended to others also. He states in Philippians 2:3-4: “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better [or higher, more important] than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.” Certainly, if we are looking to the interests of others, we will not want to take anything from them. We will not covet what they have.

He also wrote in 1 Corinthians 12:26: “And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.” If we are glad for the blessing another has received and rejoice with that person, we will not covet what they have but rather be glad that they have it.

There was one notable example of a person who did not covet power or position. That was John the Baptist. We read his words in John 3:28-30; “You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ,’ but, ‘I have been sent before Him.’ He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease.” Can we say under the right circumstances that someone else must increase while we must decrease? But John rejoiced in this very situation in which his own role would diminish.

While there is nothing wrong to desire what we can lawfully obtain, we should think on the apostle Paul’s example where he said: “I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content” (Philippians 4:11). And also his statement that “Godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Timothy 6:6). If we can live a life of contentment, there should never be a desire to ever covet what another has. Always remember, coveting can lead to a multitude of sins.

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