We are continually being told by media, society, and culture to never be satisfied or content with what we have. In 1965 the Rolling Stones wrote a song about this us and they tried, and they tried, and they tried, and they tried and they “(Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”. The entertainment industry has a saying “Leave your audience wanting more.” This is why so many TV shows, books, and movies end in cliff hangers… they want you coming back for more. We are constantly bombarded with ads for products that are “New and Improved”, “Bigger and Better” or “version 2.0” because companies are continually “improving” their product and thus leaving consumers never fully satisfied. We are not only never satisfied, but I believe we are being told a lie that true satisfaction and contentment can be found in possessions, people, or power. Yet, some, like King Solomon, realize that true satisfaction can never be found in those things, and we know that we can find satisfaction and fulfillment, it is just a matter of perspective.
How many of you have ever spent a long time saving up for something you really thought you needed (car, home, gadget, etc.) and when you finally get the item you find that it isn’t as great as you were hoping and you are even a bit disappointed with your purchase? This has happened to me multiple times and it just serves as a reminder… True fulfillment and satisfaction is not found in stuff. In fact, the opposite seems to be truer. The more stuff you have the less fulfilled and satisfied you are.
For the past nine weeks we have looked at the nine commandments respectively and how each one applies to us. We have now arrived at the final commandment found in Exodus 20:17, “Do not covet your neighbor’s house. Do not covet your neighbor’s wife, his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” Many have shortened this command to simply say, “Do not covet.” The Bible has some strong words against the sin of coveting, in fact the word is often found smack dab in the middle of a list of egregious sins like envy, murder, strife, and so on.
So, what does it mean to covet? What does coveting look like today? What part do discontentment and contentment have in coveting? These are some questions I aim to answer today as we conclude our series in the ten commandments.
What does it mean to covet? I think it is appropriate to start with defining what coveting is not. It is not the prohibition of desires, pleasure and wanting of good things, because God has given to each of us desires, longing and blessing. We are creatures of desire. The tenth commandment does not mean we should be unfeeling creatures without hopes, dreams or ambitions. The Bible actually often commends desire when they are in their proper place. Psalm 37:4 says, “Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you your heart’s desires.” Isaiah. 26:8 says, “Yes, Lord, we wait for You in the path of Your judgments. Our desire is for Your name and renown.” However, desire that is sinful and disordered (selfish) can lead to sinful covetousness and our desires ultimately need be redirected so that they draw us nearer to God, helps us truly love our neighbors, and fully glorify God. But we must have proper perspective with our desires. We are human and many of the things we desire are fleeting worldly pleasures, and God does not shame us for having these desires. Instead he says, “I can give to you something far greater and more fulfilling than the trivial fleeting desires you are so determined to possess.”
J.I. Packer writes, “Coveting is the root of all social evil; desires that burst the bounds beget actions to match.” A simple definition of coveting is when we want for ourselves something(s) that belongs to someone else. It is longing for and desiring for someone else’s stuff to be your stuff. Some Biblical examples include David and Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11), and Ahab with Naboth’s vineyard (Turn to 1 Kings 21:1 – 8, 11 - 14). Coveting is desiring something or someone that is not yours to have. James 4:2 – 3 says, “You desire and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and wage war. You do not have because you do not ask. 3 You ask and don’t receive because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.”
Author Kevin DeYoung writes in his book THE TEN COMMANDMENTS: WHAT THEY MEAN, WHY THEY MATTER, AND WHY WE SHOULD OBEY THEM, “Just as adultery of the heart is lust, and murder of the heart is hatred, so theft is the heart of covetousness.” Coveting, like the previously mentioned, is a matter of the heart. It is not only a matter of wanting what is not yours, it goes deeper to the point of being angry or resentful of someone because they have what you want. It’s an attitude of I am angry because you are happy, and I would be happier if I were in your shoes.
Coveting is usually at the root of breaking the previous nine commandments. When we covet we make the objects of desire gods and idols. We will profane the Lords name to get what we want. We will not rest until we acquire what we think we need. We will dishonor parents, our neighbors’ husband or wife, and others in pursuit of attaining our sinful desires. We will murder, steal, and lie to take what is not ours. Ultimately coveting leads us to failing to fully love God and loving our neighbor as ourselves.
What Does Coveting Look Like Today?
Let’s take a closer look at this commandment so we can get a mental picture of what coveting looks like today.
The words: “Do not covet your neighbor’s house…”
The heart: “I do not like my home, I wish we lived in the Jones’s home because it is bigger, fancier, and they have a pool.”
The words: “…Do not covet your neighbor’s wife…”
The heart: “I would be so much happier if my spouse was more like so and so’s spouse. My neighbor doesn’t deserve such a good spouse. If he/she were my spouse, I would treat them the way they deserve to be treated.”
The words: “…his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”
The heart: “It’s not fair. I look at Facebook every day and see my friends going on luxurious vacations to Hawaii and cruises to the Bahamas etc. I wish we could do that whenever we wanted.”
Now, I should note that there is nothing wrong with noticing what other people have, but most of us rarely stop at just noticing, and we rarely, if ever, give thanks to God for blessing others. Unfortunately, we take note of what others have and stop being thankful for all that God has blessed us with. We grow discontent with what we have.
The Seed of Coveting: Discontentment
The seed of covetousness is discontent. When we are discontent, we are dissatisfied with what we do have, and we desire to gain what does not belong to us. The world promotes discontentment from an early age…
The world says, “If you want to be happy, you need more. You need bigger, and better.” In fact this movie is geared towards younger kids and this scene explains exactly what they world tells us. Now, I don’t want to say this is a bad movie because it does not necessarily pain the girl in a positive light and ultimately, she understands contentment to a degree.
The heart of discontentment is unbelief. We do not believe that God is big enough to help us or good enough to care. We look at what God has given to us and we refuse to accept that what he has given us, where he has placed us, or what he has kept from us is actually a blessing and a gift and he knows exactly what we do and don’t need.
The Cure for Coveting: Contentment
If the seed of coveting is discontentment, then the cure for coveting is contentment. “Do not covet” is a call to contentment. Contentment means that you are completely happy, satisfied and fulfilled with all that you have. Now this can apply to us materialistically but more importantly it should apply to us spiritually.
Concerning materialism, the Apostle Pau writes in Philippians 4: 11 – 12, “I don’t say this out of need, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I find myself. 12 I know how to make do with little, and I know how to make do with a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content—whether well fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need. I am able to do all things through him who strengthens me.” Paul has learned to find satisfaction in whatever he has. He is blessed when he has little and he is blessed when he has much… but most of all he is content because Jesus gives him strength to do what he needs to do with what he has or does not have. Many take this verse out of context to mean that you can accomplish whatever you want because Jesus will give you the strength, but in reality this verse is about contentment and being satisfied in Christ and with what he has given you.
Paul also writes in 1 Timothy 6:6 – 10, “But godliness with contentment is great gain. 7 For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out. 8 If we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. 9 But those who want to be rich fall into temptation, a trap, and many foolish and harmful desires, which plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and by craving it, some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” He is saying that we need to be content with whatever we have, not with how much we have, how expensive it is, or how we get it. True godly contentment means you are and know you are blessed with whatever you have, and God is the root of your satisfaction.
The writer of Hebrews 13:5 says, “Keep your life free from the love of money. Be satisfied (content) with what you have, for he himself has said, I will never leave you or abandon you.” The author encourages you to be content (or satisfied) with everything you that we have (whether a little or a lot) because in the end what really matters most is that we have Jesus and he will not let you down or abandon you. And this verse brings up a question that needs to be asked of all believers rich or poor, wanting or well off, healthy or sick, in marriage or singleness, in work, home, or school… IS JESUS ENOUGH for you? If all was stripped from you (and I pray this does not happen) but if… would Jesus be enough for you to be content and satisfied? Are you willing to be content in your discontentment? Your flesh may want more, but the Spirit says, “I am enough.”
As I wrap up this series, I encourage every one of you who has been on this ten-week journey to take some and check your heart, because these commandments are truly matters of the heart. Ask yourself… “Is Jesus all I need? Or do I NEED more?” Jesus is the embodyment and fulfillment of the law and only he can save. I have said countless times that keeping the ten commandments will not save us and it certainly doesn’t account for our righteousness. However, the true purpose of the ten commandments are to reveal our sin nature and rebellion: we do not like being told what we can and cannot do, but in reality the law, or 10 Commandments, if anything, should bring us to our knees and point us to our great need for Jesus. They show us that we cannot reach perfection and we cannot keep His commands perfectly. They reveal that we are sinful people. We can either view the 10 Commandments as rules constraining and restricting to keep us under God’s thumb or we can view them as ways for free people in body, heart, and mind, to live in obedience to the God who has truly rescued, delivered and set us free through Jesus Christ.
Jeff has been in full-time ministry for thirty years. He currently serves as Executive Director at Anchor House Ministry at SeaPort Manatee in Palmetto, FL and he is a part-time Campus Pastor at West Bradenton Southside in Bradenton, Florida.
Jeff Has authored A Lent Devotional (A Spiritual Journey to Lent) an Advent Devotional (The Advent of Jesus) and a devotional on the book of James (James: Where Faith and Life Meet). All three are available on Amazon.
He is married to Carrie and they have four children, Micaiah, Gabe, Simon, and Berea.
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