Chapter 10

You Shall Not Covet

From the booklet The Ten Commandments

“Live richly.” That is the key message in a tv commercial for one of the major credit card companies. The meaning is obvious. If you do not have the cash, use the card!

The truth is, many Americans have been wholeheartedly following such advice. In 2004, consumer debt topped $2 trillion for the first time according to the U.S. Federal Reserve—up from $1 trillion in 1994. As of 2008, the average American household carries over $10,000 in credit card debt—up from $3,000 in 1990. Are Americans living richly? Actually, debt is dragging more and more families into bankruptcy. The Administrative Office of the U. S. Courts tells us that 1.6 million people declared personal bankruptcy in the 2004 fiscal year, up from 1.2 million in 1999. It is surprising to note that the age group with the highest number of declared bankruptcies is 18 to 25. The level of credit card debt in the United States is shocking. Unfortunately, as credit card interest rates rise—and they will rise—the debt load will crush many people.

What is the cause? Why does one of the wealthiest nations ever to exist in the history of man have such a problem with debt?

Covetousness is not a word we often think about. Yet coveting is at the core of the problem.

Contrary to what most would like to think, credit card debt is not the result of a low income. It is simply a matter of overspending to obtain material things or to satisfy personal pleasures. We are a nation deceived with the philosophy of buy now, pay later. What many people fail to recognize is that there is a high cost associated with paying later—in the form of interest. Of course, Americans are not alone in their debt woes. You will find the same misuses of credit in all Western nations.

Devoted to Possessions

We must take an honest look at what is happening in the world around us. We live in a drastically different world than our parents and grandparents did. The dramatic change came just after World War ii. The development of Western civilization and culture sped up. But instead of getting better, our society degenerated.

Major, stable institutions such as marriage and two-parent families are crumbling before our eyes. We seem not to care. Under the shadow of the bomb, people are in a hurry to make more money, get more things and have a grand time. As a generation, we have come to yearn for extravagances that our grandparents would never even consider—because of their known harm to strong moral values. We desire opulent homes, trendy cars, a lush lifestyle and expensive vacations.

We live in a culture that has succumbed to raging materialism. This inclination is rampant on a national and international scale, particularly in Western nations. Our so-called in or cool way of life focuses on the self-centered idea of getting it allwhile the getting is good! Marketing experts bombard people with high-pressure ads to strive, compete and lust after as many possessions as your neighbor owns. Nearly everyone desires to be rich and famous. Most want to live a lavish lifestyle. There is a continual pressure applied to get ahead, which means making more money and having more things. This pressure is not only the underlying cause of most financial problems, it is the source of many marital, emotional and mental problems.

This poor example set by Western nations—the emphasis on getting and on self—is going to backfire. Third World countries want to compete and have as much as our have nations. We must come to see that world war will be the natural result. The Apostle James warned, “From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members? Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not” (James 4:1-2). There are grave dangers ahead if something does not change quickly. You can learn how to protect yourself from the certain suffering to come.

Our materialistic society is the ruin of our spiritual health. We must recognize that an insatiable desire for more and more material things is idolatry. No human being will find true and lasting happiness through things. When people put all of their effort into obtaining more possessions, little effort is devoted to seeking God and the ways of God. It is only through a sustained, active relationship with the living God that all men will find lasting happiness and real peace of mind.

Are you content with the material possessions that you have? Or do you anxiously want more? Here’s how to curb your desires for more material things.

Tenth Commandment Stated

When we disobey God’s laws, we suffer. In our study of the preceding nine commandments, we have learned that only through obedience to God and His spiritual law can we find the solutions to our problems. The Ten Commandments reveal the way to peace, happiness and real prosperity, but man stubbornly insists on doing things his own way—which is the wrong way. God intends to give to all men everything that is good for us, but humans lack the faith and patience to wait upon God. Therefore, we live broken lives—even financially.

There is a way to change our covetous, materialistic culture. Do you know how?

God’s voice thundered out to the Israelites, “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s” (Exodus 20:17). Similar to commandments five through nine, God desires to protect all men in their personal and social life. This commandment speaks specifically to man’s relationship to other men. Let’s not forget that the Ten Commandments are living, spiritual laws. When we break them, they break us. Our generation especially needs to understand and learn how to apply this commandment.

Notice carefully how this commandment safeguards the welfare of others. It speaks to the things held most dear to every human being. No human being should covet another’s house, wife, possessions or anything that is our neighbor’s. Remember that it is not wrong to lawfully desire a house, a wife or possessions. But to yearn, or develop an inordinate desire, to possess something that belongs to our neighbor is sin! In a similar vein, it is also sin to yearn for or develop an inordinate desire to have goods just like our neighbor. “Keeping up with the Joneses” is an outward sign of covetousness.

God—the Great Giver

Obedience to this commandment reveals the depth of a person’s spiritual life. James teaches us this eternal truth about God. He wrote, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning” (James 1:17). It is truly God’s desire to give us everything that is good for us. In fact, the gospel of the Kingdom of God shows that God wants to give mankind the entire universe—not just planet Earth! In other words, it is God’s desire to provide a home, a husband or wife, and possessions for us. This commandment is the acid test that reveals whether we are fully submitted to God’s will to provide for our material needs when He so plans.

The Bible is full of examples of what happens to those people who are not willing to wait for God to give. The fruits of covetousness are always tragic. King David’s illicit relationship with Bathsheba is a prime example of the destruction caused by disobedience to this vital Tenth Commandment. On the positive side, the Bible also gives numerous examples of those people who patiently and faithfully waited for God to fulfill His promises. Study Hebrews chapter 11.

Jesus Christ knew God the Father intimately. He believed and had real faith that His Father’s word is always reliable. God promises to provide our every need. Jesus Christ taught this absolute truth in what has become known as the Sermon on the Mount: “Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things” (Matthew 6:31-32). We are physical beings. We need food, shelter and clothing to live a high-quality life. God promises to provide these necessities. God wants us to have an abundant life (John 10:10). We should not put undue effort into obtaining an overabundance of such things. It truly is a waste of time.

Those who do not know God or have a shallow relationship with God seek a multitude of possessions. Why? Mostly people do this to mask their deep need for God. Jesus Christ warned: “Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth” (Luke 12:15). Although it can be a comfort to have property and wealth, lasting happiness comes from a completely different source. What we accomplish spiritually is all that really matters. At the return of Christ, a big house, a flashy car, money, clothes or whatever we possess will not be used to measure a human being’s fitness to enter the Kingdom of God.

All men, women and children must learn how to set proper priorities during this extremely short mortal life. There is another, better way of living.

Build God’s Character

Instead of putting all of our efforts into acquiring material goods, we should put a priority on seeking the spiritual wealth that can never be lost. Jesus Christ taught, “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself” (Matthew 6:33-34). We should be seeking a deeply rewarding spiritual life with God—first. That should be our primary focus in life. We must put attaining God’s Kingdom and developing His righteousness—His very character—first on our priority list.

Of course, we should work at having a good job and career. We should do all we can to provide an affordable, comfortable home and an automobile for our family. It is a wonderful thing to be married and have a family. But we get into real spiritual trouble when we allow these things to become so important that God becomes secondary or even non-existent in our lives.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Christ gave us promises that we can count on. When we put God, His Kingdom and character first in our lives, He’ll take care of providing all our material necessities.

Since we are physical beings, it takes God’s righteous character to control our desires. This commandment speaks to the physical things of life. Yet, it clearly demands that we obey the spirit of the law to fulfill its requirement. Remember that all sin begins in the mind. Certainly, we should be able to see that the sin of coveting is the clearest example of this fact.

We need God’s Holy Spirit in order to control our minds. Paul taught the Corinthians, “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:3-5). This scripture represents the heart of true Christianity. Those who follow Christ must be fully obedient to Christ in both action and thought.

Understand Human Nature

Remember, the Bible shows that we are what we think (Matthew 15:19). Action always follows thought. When we secretly entertain thoughts that are opposed to God’s principles and way of life by lusting after something that we cannot come to lawfully possess with His blessing, an outward sin will be the result. Mental rebellion, unless quickly repented of, always results in an act of sin! We must allow God to have full authority over all our thoughts. This is thinking as God thinks.

One fact we must accept about ourselves is that it is more natural for us to covet than to wait upon God to provide our needs. That is how our human nature works. James wrote this to God’s people: “Do ye think that the scripture saith in vain, The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy?” (James 4:5). The normal human mind is full of vanity, selfishness, competition, greed, hate and lust. Human beings don’t naturally think like God. His thoughts are not our thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9). For this reason, all men must repent and become converted. Jesus Christ and all the original apostles showed that our receiving eternal life depends upon repentance and real conversion (Mark 1:15; Acts 3:19).

We must have our minds completely changed—to go the way of God’s perfect law. Paul wrote the Philippians, “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5). Thinking and living as Jesus Christ lived is the only way to true happiness and success in this life. Living as Christ lived is the only way that will lead to eternal life.

We cannot afford to kid ourselves about God and true religion. There are no shortcuts where eternity is involved. Jesus Christ set us the perfect example. He loved God and the ways of God above all else. He said, “I do always those things that please him” (John 8:29). Jesus Christ lived His life to please the Father. We must come to love our Creator God, His ways and His laws with all of our being, or we will automatically turn away from God, His authority and His rule over our lives. If we willfully follow a carnal way of thinking, we will become bitter and resentful of the loving God and will lose out on eternity. We will suffer the ultimate fate—eternal death (Romans 8:6-7). What an unnecessary tragedy.

The Tenth Points to the First

If we take a frank look at our world, it is not difficult to see a society founded on covetousness. When we open our eyes, we can see hundreds of examples of this society-wrecking sin. We must take a candid look into our personal lives as well. It is time to see our own covetousness. Then we must ask God sincerely to help us repent of it and give us the spiritual strength to overcome it! It will take hard work and continual prayer and deep Bible study. Our lives—mentally, emotionally and spiritually—will make an amazing turnaround when we do.

There is an incredible perfectness and unity to God’s magnificent Ten Commandments. This Tenth Commandment points us right back to the very first: “Thou shalt have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3). Paul taught the Colossians, “Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry” (Colossians 3:5). Take very careful note: Paul states that covetousness is idolatry. When we idolize something, we put it in place of the true God. We break the First Commandment. Do we get it? Breaking the tenth means we also break the first.

There is even more depth to consider.

If we are breaking the tenth, we are probably also guilty of breaking more than the tenth. In fact, we are most likely guilty of breaking all ten. Besides having an idol in place of the true God, coveting can lead to idolatrous worship, disrespecting God’s name, breaking God’s Sabbath and holy days, disobedience to parents and other authority, murder, adultery and fornication, and lying. We must learn this life-and-death lesson. We must set our life’s goal to obey all of God’s commandments.

Let’s not forget that to covet is to bring pain and suffering into our lives. Paul taught the Romans, “Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?” (Romans 6:16). When we covet material things, we literally serve them. We spend our precious time, energy and hard-earned money for our things. Generally, in such a situation, we do not spend enough time in thorough study of the Bible or earnest, heart-rending prayer. In addition, we often find ourselves becoming tightfisted with people who need our help and even with God and His work.

If not caught in time, covetousness will slow-boil us like a frog in a pot. Covetousness will reduce us to a miserable existence. This sin will cut us off from God and from those who truly love us.

Paul gave similar instruction to Timothy, a young evangelist. He warned, “But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition” (1 Timothy 6:9). It takes a spiritually mature person to understand this. What is the better way? The aged apostle also taught, “But godliness with contentment is great gain” (verse 6). Real peace of mind and happiness come from pursuing godliness and contentment with what we have. Now that is real wealth!

As we close this booklet on the Ten Commandments, let’s remember that God’s way of life is the way of giving, sharing, helping and cooperating—toward God and man. Jesus Christ said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). When we give our whole life to God—truly serve Him—and to others as God directs—then we will find real happiness, and ultimately eternal life.

All men and women need to ask God for His help and Holy Spirit in order to obey the commandments. The commandments are the only way to achieve happiness in this life. They are the means God is using to build righteous character in human beings. Obeying the Ten Commandments opens the door to a future—an eternal life of giving and serving in the Kingdom of God.