“My neighbor has the most beautiful car I have ever seen. Why Lord can’t I have a beautiful car like that? Don’t you love me as much as my neighbor? My neighbor just went on a beautiful vacation in Cancun [I saw the pictures on Facebook]. Why won’t you give me a vacation like that Lord? I know you love me as much as you love him. My neighbor has an extremely beautiful wife. Why is my wife not as beautiful? Oh Lord, give me a woman who has an appearance that is as stunning as her so I can enjoy life with a woman just like that.
Commandment Number Ten: “You shall not covet.”
Whereas several of the Ten Commandments deal with overt sinful actions that man can commit, number ten concentrates on the feelings that we have prior to taking sinful action. When Jesus warned that man should not look on a woman with lust in his heart, He was warning that feelings can lead to the sin of adultery. Like Commandment Seven, number ten is a feeling that can lead to many types of sin. Coveting is a sin that Stott writes about with these words: “Covetousness belongs to the inner life. It lurks in the heart and mind. What lust is to adultery…covetousness is to theft” [Stott, 69].
John Stott has listed The Ten Commandments and commented on each one in his book Basic Christianity. Why? A new Christian needs to understand the role The Commandments play in the Christian life. The Commandments are the standards of behavior by which we are measured. In past posts I refer to them as the “guardrails” of the Christian life. Indeed they are “basic.”
One may wonder if coveting ranks up there with “Thou shalt not kill” but one can examine this commandment and see the dangerous nature of covetousness if it is allowed to go unchecked. The Apostle Paul likens covetousness to idolatry. Instead of being content with the possessions we have, we idolize the possessions of others. At the root of this form of idolatry is envy, a sin which (once it grabs a person) can lead to worse sins. When one is envious of the neighbor’s ownership of a beautiful car, resentment can begin and eventually lead to hatred of the neighbor. When one is envious of the neighbor’s car, this can lead to unlawful accumulation of funds in order to purchase a similar car. Envy is a form of self-love and the more a person becomes obsessed with their “neighbors” possessions, the more they become unhappy and discontent. I would imagine that God could foresee a society full of envious, malcontented people who are pushing themselves to the point of committing all types of sin to achieve materialistic goals.
Again, what is the basic idea of Christianity that new Christians should focus on? God is the only thing that will make us happy or content. Material goods that we don’t have are distractions from the way God wants us to live. Think about the following words in First Timothy 6: 6-8: “You gain a lot when you live a godly life. But you must be happy with what you have. We didn’t bring anything into the world. We can’t take anything out of it. If we have food and clothing, we will be happy with that.” True happiness lies not in the things we can attain; true happiness is in the personal relationship we can have with God through Jesus Christ.
Why does the Bible focus on not coveting a neighbor’s servants or a neighbor’s ox or donkey? Those examples seem so irrelevant for today. Believe it or not both examples can be relevant to today’s world. Can you imagine going into your friend’s house and it is spotless. Your house is comparable and it is also clean but you have to work hard to keep it that way. As in Bible times, today the measure of a person’s wealth is the ability to afford servants. If your friend can afford a housekeeper, wouldn’t your own life be easier and your home cleaner if you had a housekeeper? You certainly would not have to work so hard. Now you think that you have to have a person to help you keep a clean house. You are now not as happy with your home as you once were because having “help” is the new standard of a good life. You have to keep up with your friend; you have to have a “servant.” Today this is often referred to as “keeping up with the Joneses.”
Maybe coveting an ox or donkey would be comparable to today’s vehicles but probably in Bible times the accumulation of such animals meant a lot more. Oxen could plow the ground to grow more crops and oxen could assist humans in the harvesting of crops. Donkeys were used as pack animals by traders and merchants. In Bible times, they were a steady source of revenue because owners could rent them out to others. The ox or donkey represents livelihood. If you were satisfied with your life, you understand that you have no need for more oxen or more donkeys. “Today, coveting a neighbor’s ox or donkey may sound something like this: ‘Why does he get all the breaks? I work as hard as he does, but I get nowhere. If I just had what he has, I could do better, too.’”* Second Thessalonians 1: 5-6 says “We cannot love and serve our neighbors if we are jealous of their station in life. Coveting another’s livelihood can result in believing that God is not doing a good job caring for us, as we accuse Him of being unfair in the way He has blessed someone else.”
As we get to the end of this commentary on all ten of The Commandments, Stott refers to them as an “ugly catalogue of sins.” Some of them are outward but some are inward. We may think those “inward” sins are not such a big deal; God does not see those things. But God does see all our sins. It is written in Hebrews 4: 13 “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.” God sees us as we really are and the Ten Commandments expose our sin. At times it seems hopeless as we feel unworthy in light of God’s standards.
Truly we have to pay a price for our rebellion against God and we will return to that thought when we discuss Chapter Six in Basic Christianity, a chapter entitled “The Consequences of Sin.”
For now we know that “Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the covenant law in his hands, he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the LORD”** but he carried in his arms commands for us all to follow, standards we have to meet, “guardrails” that keep us going safely down the road of life.
We don’t have to heed those commands. We can do what we want. However, I contend that we need guidance in life, that none of us knows all the answers about how to behave in this world. I contend that we need to be held to a higher standard than the standards of this world. God gave us the Ten Commandments for a good reason and that reason is that He loves us and as His followers He wants us to play a positive role in our lives here on this earth.
He loves us
We should love Him.
Let’s not think of His commandments as restrictions; let’s think of them as guidance for the most successful life we can have on this earth.
* “Covetousness” from the Gotquestions.org website accessed on 12/23/2021.
**Exodus 34: 29