Commandment 10 – Do Not Covet

June 23, 2019

Norwalk First United Methodist Church

The Ten Commandments

2nd Sunday after Pentecost

Commandment 10 – Do Not Covet

Exodus 20:1-2, 17

            The Hebrew word for “covet” means “desire” or “to pant after.” Now there is nothing wrong with desire if you desire the right thing for the right reason. The Apostle Paul even said in 1 Corinthians 12:31, “earnestly desire the best gifts.” Desire can even spur us to work harder and improve our lives. Desire can be a good motivator. But when we desire the things of others, that is when sin sets in.

         The 80s and 90s were when the “Jet Set” became the “Debt Set.” The advertisers and slogan writers on Madison Avenue in New York City continually bombard us with products that we think we must have, we must covet. It’s just that in these modern times, we don’t use the word “covet” anymore. We use “jealousy” or “envy.” A man once said, “If my wife doesn’t go shopping at least three times a week I send her a get-well card.”

         Nowadays, in our consumerism and materialistic culture, we can divide people into three classes as was reported a while back in Newsweek Magazine: The Haves, The Have-Nots, and The Have-Not-Paid-for-What-They Haves. It was Will Rogers who once said, “We spend money we don’t have, to buy things we don’t need, to impress people we don’t even like.”

         Listen to this Tenth Commandment one more time. It is more than just desiring or panting after something else. “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.”

         This is the only one of the Ten Commandments that legislates thought or desire. It is an attitude and intention of the heart. All the other commandments legislate behavior or deeds. So why does this commandment prohibit a thought? Because it is coveting that so often leads to evil and violating the four commandments before it. More about this in a moment, but first, would pray with me?

PRAYER

         Commandments Six, Seven, Eight, and Nine are the ones that prohibit acts of evil – murder, adultery, stealing, and perjury. This Tenth Commandment is the one that prohibits the thing that leads to murder, adultery, stealing, and perjury. Now just think about it.

         In his book, The Ten Commandments, Dennis Prager writes this: “Why do people do those things? In most instances, it is because they covet something that belongs to another person. Obviously, that is the reason people steal – thieves covet their victims’ property. But it is also the reason for many murders. And coveting is obviously the reason for adultery – wanting the spouse of another person. As for perjury,” Prager says, “or ‘bearing false witness’ in the language of the Ten Commandments – that is done in order to cover up all these other crimes that are caused by coveting.”

         Folks, the Ten Commandments are an amazing whole, in symphony with each other. The First Commandment and the Tenth commandment are like bookends. Remember, the First Commandment, “You shall have no other gods before me” – underlies all of the other commandments. It is the same when we reach the Tenth Commandment, the one that helps to explain all the other commandments in review. The commandments begin with the total claim of a God upon His people and the final commandment deals with our desire. You see, we have a desire for our own personal preferences. We desire our own personal, private God – to have the god we would create rather than the God who created us.

         Albert Mohler, Jr. writes in his book, Words of Fire, “We desire what belongs to [God’s] name and His name alone. We would have His authority and His rights for ourselves. We desire autonomy rather than to honor our parents. We desire our neighbor’s possessions, spouse, life, and reputation – a seemingly unquenchable desire.” This commandment, unlike the others, warns us twice not to covet and even gets very specific about it.

         Several scholars have suggested that the best way to define coveting is “to hanker after.” We are a hankering people. We hanker after things, and we live in a society that thinks we ought to be hankering even more. Just look at the advertising and watch the images that come before our eyes. We are told that you are what you own, what you buy, what you wear, what you drive, and what you want. John D. Rockefeller, in his time, was the richest man in the world. A reporter once asked him how much money it takes to be satisfied. Rockefeller said, “One dollar more.” We are a covetous people.

         There was a whole television show a few years back devoted to coveting. Do you remember the television program, “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous?” In addition to the obnoxious host, what was truly odd about the program is that you never actually saw anyone rich or famous. You saw their home, cars, yacht, and their stuff, and that was evidently enough because you would not actually see the owner. You just had to take Robin Leach’s word that this is their house and this is their stuff. And the entertainment factor was to watch as Leach showed off all these glamorous items that you could aspire to have yourself, knowing that you really were not ever going to be in a position to buy a million-dollar necklace or a five-hundred-dollar dish of caviar. But people loved watching the show. We are a covetous people.

         As for coveting another person, I heard about an older lady that moved to a nursing home. She began to stare at this particular man. She would go into the room where he was watching television and just sit and stare at him. She would make sure she would sit across from him at every meal and just stare at him. Finally, he said, “Why do you keep staring at me?” She said, “You look just like my fourth husband.” He said, “How many husbands have you had?” She said, “Three.” We are a covetous people.

         Mohler writes, “We live in a new Gilded Age, an age in which the prosperity theme comes back, and materialism becomes the warp and woof of the culture. But consumerism is as much a danger to our souls as anything we could possibly know. It is as much a threat to our families as anything we could possibly detect….Why are so many parents so distracted?” Mohler asks. “Why are there so many latchkey children who come home to an empty house? All too often, it is because we live in a society that praises covetousness. Most of what we define as ‘necessary’ has been defined by the warped expectations of the new Gilded Age – a completely artificial expectation.”

         The statistics are showing that families seem to be having fewer children. Why? Too often, the answer given is that the parents cannot afford more children, as if people in past times who had many children were wealthier than we are now. Do we even hear the illogic of what we are saying? The problem is we are coveting too many possessions and living beyond our means, to afford to have a family.

         As far as church is concerned, the same person that would pay $500 for a ticket to go to the Super Bowl, will complain about a church asking for money. The same person that will give $1,000 to a political candidate, in hopes of having some influence, will complain about a church asking for money. That person’s problem is not the church, his problem is his money. The Rev. James Merritt in one of his sermons on coveting writes, “There are people whose god is gold, whose creed is greed, whose honey is money, and they will stay away from the church and go to hell because they covet their money so much.”

         If you are a coveter, it means you love things, but you don’t love people. You cannot covet what someone else has and love them at the same time. If you love them, you would be glad for what they have. When you go into a beautiful home or see someone who is driving a much nicer car than you, you need to make it a practice to thank God that He has blessed them with what they have.

         If you love people the way you should and you love God the way you should you ought to live in celebration of God’s grace and God’s goodness to other people. One of the things we ought to be teaching our children is that somebody else’s blessing is not our loss. Rather than wanting what someone else has or wanting more than someone else has, we ought to be thankful for what other people have knowing that God gave it to them.

         Covetousness is simply the evidence of an ungrateful heart. Instead of coveting someone else’s house, be grateful for your house. Instead of coveting another man’s wife, be grateful for your wife. Instead of coveting another person’s car, be grateful for the car you have to drive. When you covet what someone else has, you are really telling God that you are displeased with what He has given you. As someone once said, “We need to learn to admire without having to acquire.” Ecclesiastes 5:19 says, “And it is a good thing to receive wealth from God and the good health to enjoy it. To enjoy your work and accept your lot in life that is indeed a gift from God.” Just think about it, God gives us daily bread and we complain because we don’t have daily steak. We have bread and covet another man’s steak when much of the world today doesn’t even have any bread.

         One last story before I close. In 1990, in Ottawa, Canada, twenty-four-year-old, Danny Simpson, robbed a bank of $6,000. After getting caught and going to trial, he received a six-year prison sentence for his crime. Robbery by small time crooks like Danny Simpson happen every day all around the world. But here is the fascinating part of the story.

         To rob the bank, Danny Simpson used a .45 caliber Colt semi-automatic pistol made by the Ross Rifle Company in Quebec, Canada in 1918. That gun, an antique, was worth at the time $100,000, over sixteen times more than what Simpson stole when he used it. Think about it. If this man had just paid attention to what he already had, he would have never wanted what belonged to somebody else. When you realize you have God and you understand that God is all you need you won’t have any problem wanting what someone else has.

         Brothers and sisters in Christ, it was coveting that led to the Fall of humanity. Adam and Eve had a desire for something they could not have. It is the same Hebrew word used in the Tenth Commandment, that is used in Genesis 3:6. “When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was “to be desired” to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.” Adam and Eve hankered after that which was forbidden, revealing to us just how basic and fundamental this sin is.

         This is why we so desperately need this Tenth Commandment. It is a lifelong battle fought by the poor and the rich alike. Folks, we are to desire Christ. As Mohler writes, “We are to desire the glory of God. We are to desire fellowship with the one true and living God. We are to desire those things that are above. We are to desire heaven. And apart of what it means to desire heaven is to understand that there and there alone will our satisfaction be found.”

         God said, “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.”

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