A Law to Boost Your Happiness
Most people agree with the Sixth Commandment: Thou shalt not murder. Many are changing their attitudes toward the other commandments, such as those against adultery, stealing and lying. Yet people rarely even think about the Tenth Commandment. But breaking this commandment hurts our entire economic system, our world and our day-to-day thoughts.
“Thou shalt not covet …” (Exodus 20:17). The Hebrew word translated covet simply means to desire or take pleasure in. Psalm 19:10, for example, uses the same Hebrew word to say we should desire, or covet, God’s laws. God wants us to desire the right things! But there are things we should not desire. That is why the Tenth Commandment specifies not desiring other people’s houses, spouses or property. These are things that are out of reach or unlawful or taken at others’ expense. Notice that this commandment forbids not the act of stealing or adultery, like the Eighth and Seventh Commandments, but the desire.
This commandment outlaws the attitude of get. It forbids us from wrapping our minds in material desires. Why? Because this pulls our minds away from God.
Most Christians claim the Old Testament is an outdated, letter-of-the-law set of rules. Yet this command explicitly governs our minds and our hearts. This is part of God’s very way of living, which has always existed and will always exist.
Right thoughts lead to right behaviors; wrong thoughts to wrong behaviors. God demands that we expunge the latter. Our human nature always tends toward selfishness and discontent. The Tenth Commandment aims to check that tendency. All God’s commands are for our happiness, but this is especially obvious with this commandment: Obeying it makes you happy; disobeying makes you miserable.
Today’s society enthusiastically breaks the Tenth Commandment. What woes this brings! Coveting feeds materialism and greed. It fuels our mountainous debt problems, individually and nationally. Politicians and manufacturers constantly stir up the spirit of covetousness, telling us we deserve more and better; thus, despite having so much, we are dissatisfied, always craving and demanding more.
Without God, we are incomplete. Each of us has a spiritual void. If we try to fill that void with material things, it will never be filled. Yet everywhere people are doing just that, still feeling the void, and thinking, That must mean I haven’t gotten enough things! I’ll be filled if I can only get that—and maybe that and that. This cycle produces untold misery. It sparks conflict between people and within families, and war among nations!
In a remarkably accurate prophecy about “the last days,” the Apostle Paul wrote that “men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous” (2 Timothy 3:1-2). This is a characteristic of our times. Verse 2 also says people in our day would be “unthankful,” a direct result of covetousness.
Verse 4 perfectly describes another destructive effect: People become “lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God.” Our world loves pleasure. It can’t get enough! It functions as though personal pleasure is the highest aim in life. Yet you cannot simultaneously love things and God. Coveting cripples spirit-mindedness, smothers faith, and destroys your spiritual power.
Another prophecy in Ezekiel 33:30-32 exposes this spiritual danger. When our minds are focused on acquiring physical things, our thinking becomes shallower and incapable of true spiritual growth. This is a major obstacle to people responding to God’s truth! “[W]ith their mouth they shew much love,” Ezekiel writes, “but their heart goeth after their covetousness.” People hear God’s correction, but then simply move on. Something else comes to occupy their thoughts and their time. Covetousness is never satisfied. It always looks, dissatisfied, for the next thing.
The Apostle Paul wrote, “Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth” (Colossians 3:2). Though you might think you can, you cannot seek both at the same time. When material pursuits absorb your thoughts, you shove God out. You cannot serve both God and things (Luke 16:13-14). Yet it is natural to set our affection on earthly interests—and struggle to cherish the things above.
The solution is to kill off those fleshly tendencies, including “covetousness, which is idolatry” (Colossians 3:5). Yes, at its root, covetousness is idolatry (see also Ephesians 5:5). Breaking the Tenth Commandment is actually breaking the First Commandment, because it puts some material thing and the pleasure you hope to gain from it ahead of God.
The Tenth Commandment helps us ensure that our priorities in life are right and that we are seeking first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness (Matthew 6:33).
Paul also wrote of how “those who desire to be rich” fall into many spiritual snares and pierce themselves through with sorrows (1 Timothy 6:9-10; Revised Standard Version). But he gave a wonderful antidote to covetousness: “godliness with contentment” (verses 6-8). Contentment and gratitude are the opposite of covetousness. If you find yourself falling prey to the “gimmes,” stop and count your blessings! Ask God for the peace of mind that comes with contentment.
Obey the Tenth Commandment by squelching greed and curbing materialistic thoughts. Cultivate contentment, and you will experience just what a blessing and a boon to your happiness God’s law really is!