The 10th: “You Shall Not Covet”


Sermon Text: Exodus 20:17
Sermon Series: “The Ten Commandments” (#11)

Main Points:
I. Covetousness
II. What causes man to covet?
III. Why is coveting prohibited?
IV. Christian’s joy

By God’s grace, you and I have just read the last of the Ten Commandments and we’ll listen to what it teaches us and warns against ‘covetousness.’ We should not covet anything or anyone of our neighbours. This command rules out every unlawful desire.

What is ‘covetousness’? It’s an ‘envious eagerness to possess something.’ The word itself means no evil because coveting is a desire for something. But when this craving is after anything that belongs to someone else, that’s coveting, craving for an unlawful or dishonest gain, and that is what God forbids.

Unfortunately, all of us are familiar with covetousness – in fact, we’re experts in this. By experience, we know what goes on in the mind of a child who craves for a toy that is in another child’s hand. We know what goes on in the heart of a teenager envies her friends. We know what it is to covet others’ talents or promotion. Millions of other cases we know of man’s covetousness, craving and desire for unlawful gain.

A man named Achan in Jos. 7 is a good example of this sin. Israel was under the leadership of Joshua and Joshua led his people following God’s commands. Being faithful to their God, Israel witnessed a miracle of God and conquered that once impregnable Jericho. God’s follow-up command for Israel was to give all plunders to God. But Achan saw some things among the rubbles of Jericho and desired them. So he took them and hid them for himself. Because of his covetousness, because of his craving for what was not his but someone else’s – and, in that case, it was of God – the whole Israel suffered, and his sin of covetousness was revealed to everyone’s eyes.

King David is another case of being covetous and sinful before God. He saw a woman of someone else and desired her. His covetousness led him to murdering the husband of the woman.

This sin of desiring an unrightful gain is covetousness. The Apostle John gives a definition of it in 1 Jn. 2:16 as “the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life.” Covetousness is, therefore, not from God, but of the world. And it is a desire of anything that is not mine but someone else’s.

What causes people to covet? Why do people desire things that are not their own but belong to others? Why do we begrudge what is not ours? There must be a reason, and what is it?

The core of covetousness is discontentment, dissatisfaction and displeasure of one’s possession. If anyone thinks he has got all he needs, why would he covet, desire or crave for anything else? If your heart along with your eyes are satisfied with all you have, what else would you wish, especially from someone else’s possession?

Therefore, the root of covetousness, the fountain of unending lustful desire for things that belong to others is man’s unsatisfied, discontent heart. With this heart, people are always jealous of someone else’s possessions.

A greedy and covetous man was travelling with another who was of a jealous and envious nature. They found a lamp of the legend and, by rubbing it, called its genie. However, unlike the legend they knew, the genie told them that he could answer to a wish of only one person and the other would automatically get a double portion of the first had asked for. They both knew what they wanted but each one was afraid to make his wish because the covetous man wanted to have a double portion and the envious man did not want his companion to get twice as much as he had. The genie got impatient at last and asked them to quickly make their minds. Then, the greedy man took his fellow by the throat and threatened him to make a wish. At that, the envious man said, ‘Very well; I’ll make my wish. I wish to be made blind in one eye.’ What happened? Immediately the envious man lost the sight of his eye, and his companion went blind in both eyes.

If anyone covets his neighbour’s house, that’s not because the house he lives in is insufficient. Rather, it’s because his heart is not satisfied with what he has. Bad news is that man’s heart will never be satisfied with any house. Man’s craving for something else will never end. A Dutch proverb picks this up and says, ‘Covetousness is never satisfied till its mouth is filled with earth.’ Man’s heart that never satisfies is the well of endless covetousness.

If such is the case for all in mankind, why does God warn us against being covetous? Why does the Lord prohibit us from lusting after other’s possession? By commanding us not to covet, God means that we should stop being discontent and start being satisfied. Why should we?

The answer to this question is given in Jas. 1:15 which says this: “desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” It means, a discontent heart desires and covets, and that gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown, brings forth death. In a word, covetousness is the seed of evil that brings death. 1 Tim. 6 from which we’ve read earlier this morning elaborates the grave danger of covetousness in vs. 9-10, “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 [which is another word of covetousness] is a root of all kinds of evils.”

In fact, covetousness is the gateway to various other sins, such as stealing and adultery, for example, which the 8th and 7th commandments forbid. If it is a material of another’s possession, it becomes stealing; and, if it is another’s wife or husband, that’s adultery.

Warning us against covetousness, prohibiting us from this evil, God safeguards us from all forms of evil. By this, the Lord introduces us to the opposite, that is, the way of being content and satisfaction and joy. Instead of coveting anything/anyone of our neighbour, instead of craving for an unrightful, dishonest gain, God commands us to search and know how sufficient He is and how abundantly He has provided us according to His goodness. Everything you and I have are from God and His provision for us is more than plentiful – it satisfies us in all respects.

Some years ago, I read a newspaper article about an experiment taken place in America. The purpose of that research was to find out how women usually perceived themselves. The method was simple; a woman was asked to give her own facial description over the phone to a FBI specialist who used to draw montage of the criminals. Then, a friend of hers was asked to describe her friend’s face over the phone. This FBI montage specialist didn’t know whether he was drawing the same woman. The same was done for many women and the result was interesting. The drawings made by self-description contained a less beautiful version than those drawn with their friends’ explanation. Not a case was exceptional in the result. This proved that not only every woman participated had a low self-esteem, but also she was much more beautiful and attractive to her friend’s eyes.

This tells us a truth – that is not that ladies no longer need any more lipsticks or beauty products, but that we altogether are blind to God’s sufficient, thus, satisfactory provision for each of us. In wealth and beauty, in success and failure, in talents and nature, and in all things both visible and invisible, God provides each of us sufficiently. This tenth commandment that says, “You shall not covet,” is for us, firstly, to see how plentifully we’ve received from the gracious Giver and, secondly, to remain satisfied, thus, joyful in Him.

Then, a question arises – ‘Is this the ultimate goal of this commandment? Being satisfied with what we see in our life as God’s sufficient supply?’ The answer is, ‘No.’ What God desires to achieve with this commandment is more than simply making us to be content with who we are and what we have. Rather, He pursues to enable Christians like you and me to dwell in the promise God made with us through Jesus Christ.

Listen to Heb. 13:5 about this promise: “Keep your life free from love of money [again, this is another way of saying ‘covetousness’], and be content with what you have, for [God] said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’.” God’s purpose is more than seeing us free from ‘love of money’ or covetousness. Something greater is in God’s plan for us. And, that is, to make us joyfully dwell in God’s promise. Heb. 13:6 elaborates this further in these words: “So we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper, I will not fear; what can man do to me?’” Do you hear this? Our satisfaction is from God’s promise who is our helper. The ultimate basis of our joy is the promise God made with us in and through His Son Jesus our Saviour and Lord, that is, we’re His and He is our eternal God and Father!

Listen to Him, the Lord Jesus, as in Mt. 6, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? … your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness”!

Christian contentment is not passive acceptance of the status quo, but active assurance of all things promised to us, that is, our eternal inheritance of the kingdom together with Jesus our Lord. After all, if you know that you have a great mansion as your inheritance, why would you covet your neighbour’s house? Knowing the sufficiency of God’s grace, we Christians have no need to covet anything of this world, let alone anything our neighbours possess!

So, our conclusion is clear – we’re commanded not to covet anything, but to content with the promise of God. We who are the regenerate through repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus have no reason to covet other’s possessions. You and I and all true believers of God have Christ the King of kings as our Saviour and Lord. In Him, we inherit the eternal kingdom of God. Therefore, all things belong to us in Jesus Christ. After all, no one covets his own possession.

For this reason, we are urged by the Lord Jesus in Mt. 6:33 to pursue the kingdom and righteousness. 1 Tim. 6:11 and following also tell us to pursue godliness, faith, love, steadfastness and gentleness. Such is to take hold of the eternal life to which you and I are called, and to start living our eternal inheritance from here and now. We should focus on what is true instead of what is unreal, and chase things eternal instead of things rusting away.

So, my beloved fellow members of God’s house, let us give up coveting anything of our neighbour’s, anything of this world, but “keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ”! Amen. ***

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s