What does it mean to covet? What does the Bible define as coveting?
Coveting, the Tenth Commandment
Exodus 20:17 “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”
The command to not covet is the tenth or last of the Ten Commandments and is one of the hardest commandments to obey and it is impossible to see this being broken in others because it is hidden in the heart where only God can see it. The Ten Commandments can never be kept by anyone except Jesus Christ Who kept them perfectly. The Ten Commandments were intended to show us what sin is as Paul said “if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead. I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died. The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good” (Rom 7:7-12) since “It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure” (Rom 7:13b).
The Goodness of the Law
Paul tells us that “the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good” so he is not saying that striving to obey the law should not be our goal but the purpose of the law was given “in order that sin might be shown to be sin.” We had not even known what sin was except by the law (Rom 7:7). God gave us the Ten Commandments to define what sin is and sin is the breaking of God’s Law (1 John 3:4). Just like someone who runs a red light is sinning against society because they are putting others at risk, so too does the breaking of the Law put others at risk and the lawbreaker above all.
The Rich Young Ruler
Jesus used the Law to show a self-righteous, rich young man that he thought that he was saved by keeping the Law but Jesus clearly showed this man that he wasn’t’ keeping it. In Matthew 19:16-22 the young man who had wealth came up to Jesus and asked Him “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The young man said to him, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?” Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.”
This man’s first mistake was by asking “what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” There is nothing that any of us can do except to repent and trust in Christ and only by this confession can we have eternal life but it is never by doing anything but it is by what Jesus has done on the cross at Calvary. This man believed that he was a good person by keeping the Law but actually he was coveting his wealth because when Jesus tested him by saying, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven the young man heard this [and] went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.” He was actually coveting his wealth and making it his god and we are to not have any other gods before us (Ex 20:3). No one can have two masters for he will either love the one and hate the other and no one can serve both God and man (Luke 16:13).
How do we Covet?
This might be the commandment that is most frequently broken. By coveting our neighbor’s wife, are lusting after her and committing adultery in our hearts (Matt 5:28). We also covet what other people have like their house or their car (ox or donkey), their employees or housemaids (or servants), and anything that a neighbor has. Our neighbor doesn’t mean the person living next door. It means anyone that has more than we do. When we covet, we are telling God that we are not satisfied with what we have because our life is not really defined by our possessions (Luke 12:15) but by profession (John 3:17-18) because “life is more than food, and the body more than clothing” (Luke 12:23). Paul warns us about the pursuit of “things” and tells us in 1 Tim 6:6-10 that “godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.”
The true riches are not found in this world but will come in the kingdom when Christ returns. True riches are found only in a relationship with Jesus Christ (Phil 4:19). We are to store up treasures in heaven and not here on earth (Matt 6:18-21). If you have repented, confessed your sins and trusted in Christ, then you are as rich as God the Father because we will share in the inheritance of God when we are brought into the kingdom. If you are not born again then this is your best life right now and it will never be any better and in fact be far worse at your death or at Christ’s return (Rev 20:16-20). I strongly urge you to make today your day of salvation (2 Cor 6:2) for He could return at any given moment…today or tonight…and then your chance to be saved is over. Covet only the things of God and the prayers of the saints for coveting anything else is sin and God will judge those who are lawbreakers and it will be with an everlasting judgment (Matt 22:33).
Another Reading on Patheos to Check Out: What Did Jesus Really Look Like: A Look at the Bible Facts
Article by Jack Wellman
Jack Wellman is Pastor of the Mulvane Brethren church in Mulvane Kansas. Jack is also the Senior Writer at What Christians Want To Know whose mission is to equip, encourage, and energize Christians and to address questions about the believer’s daily walk with God and the Bible. You can follow Jack on Google Plus or check out his book Blind Chance or Intelligent Design available on Amazon