“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s.” Exodus 20:17
We don’t use the word covet much anymore. Like a great number of words that were once commonly found in the day to day vocabulary of most people the word covet has been replaced and now feels antiquated. Still, thanks to its appearance in the tenth commandment most people still know what it means. To covet simply means that I want or yearn to possess something.
Now here’s the distinction we need to make very clear. The tenth commandment isn’t telling us that it’s wrong to want anything. It is, however, making it very clear that it’s wrong to want, or yearn, to possess something that belongs to someone else.
In the tenth commandment God brings the law full circle. In the first commandment he began by commanding us to let no other god have possession of, or even a place in, our hearts. There’s no specific external action required to either keep or break this commandment; it’s all about the attitude or motivations of the heart. The same thing could also be said about the tenth commandment. No external action is required for covetousness to take place but still the desire is there doing its sinful work. If permitted to remain the desire to possess what legitimately belongs to someone else has been proven to be able to twist us and compel us to do all kinds of evil.
Satan coveted God’s throne. Eve was beguiled to covet the fruit God had commanded them to never eat. Cain coveted the acceptance his brother’s obedience earned for him. David coveted the wife of one of his officers. Ahab coveted the vineyard of one of his neighbors.
We could fill pages with the accounts of disastrous, even murderous, events that all began with one person wanting someone or something that belonged to someone else.
Sin is all about what drives you and I to do the things we do. If we do bad things it’s because we want something we shouldn’t want.
In the tenth commandment God reveals that he knows that it’s possible to suppress our illicit desires and make it appear that everything’s as it should be even when beneath the surface we’re a seething caldron of dissatisfaction for what we have and envy for what someone else has.
It’s not good enough for God if we cover up our ugliness. He wants the beauty of righteousness to be more than skin deep.
Every commandment contains a promise. In the tenth commandment Christ promises that he not only has the power to help us with what we do he can help us change the way we think.