The best source of good deeds is good desires. The 10th commandment deals with man's desires and how they determine the type of life he will experience.
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 belongs to your neighbor.
- Exodus 20:17
The word "covet" means, “enthusiastic desire," and by itself is neither good nor bad. Our enthusiastic desire becomes the sin of coveting when we desire something or someone that is not permitted or something gained unjustly. For example, David the psalmist and king who desired a woman not permitted him because she was married.
It is okay to desire a woman, but not if you are married or the woman you desire is. We see that David did not control his desire and it led to adultery, murder and deception. His first sin was not adultery (this was his second sin) - no, his first sin was covetousness - the desire for something forbidden (another man's wife).
The Evil in Covetousness
The core of evil in covetousness is selfishness. This is what separates a normal and healthy desire for something from the sin of coveting.
Proverbs 21:25-26 describes the opposite virtue of covetousness - generosity.
25 The desire of the sluggard puts him to death,
For his hands refuse to work;
26 All day long he is craving,
While the righteous gives and does not hold back.
Empty desire, the bottomless yearning of the lazy, the selfish desire of the immature, these are the elements that create coveting. A covetous person desires to gain without effort or to gain merely to spend on self without any thought of serving others or glorifying God. For example, the person who covets your success usually wants it for free and for his own gratification only.
The Destructiveness of Covetousness
Remember, God forbids things because they are destructive to us. Covetousness is especially destructive because:
1. It destroys our relationship with others
As individuals we suffer when we covet because coveting leads us to judge everything in life from the perspective of how it will affect or benefit self. Covetous people ask the same question:
- How will this profit me?
- How will this give me enjoyment?
- How can I make this last?
Instead of asking the important questions like:
- How will this affect others?
- How will this build up the church?
This egocentric thinking creates isolation because it blinds a person to the needs of others and leads one to lose human contact that in turn develops into loneliness, depression, disorientation and depression.
Greedy people as a group engender hatred. Individuals, or nations, who because of this unconscious covetousness, amass supplies of essential products to artificially keep prices high and cause hardship on other groups create hatred and strife. This is one reason there are famines, wars, strikes and social unrest.
If there was less covetousness among nations and true generosity, there would be less hatred and consequently less war and death. Aside from alienating us from others individually and collectively, covetousness also:
2. Destroys our relationship with God
God tells man (in His Word) that if man keeps God as his number one priority in life (Matthew 5-6), man will have peace and salvation. When we sin through covetousness, we replace God with our own desires. This is why Paul refers to covetousness as idolatry in Ephesians and Colossians.
For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.
- Ephesians 5:5
Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry.
- Colossians 3:5
When our desire for things (forbidden or simply selfish) replaces our service to God and others, we lose the reward of joy and satisfaction that come from serving the Lord with our time, goods and money. Those who do not make the Lord and His service a priority begin a vicious cycle:
- The less they serve, the less they give
- The less they serve and give, the less they rejoice
- The less they rejoice and receive from God, the less they believe, the less they serve and give, etc.
You know you are in this cycle because you do more complaining than rejoicing; more doubting and depression than service; more of the world and its activities than the kingdom and its influence. In the end we do not know what we want - we just want but are never satisfied. This is the end result of covetousness - empty materialism.
How to Obey This Command
The command is stated in a negative form, but there are positive ways to honor it and avoid the trap of covetousness.
1. Trust God for everything
31 Do not worry then, saying, 'What will we eat?' or 'What will we drink?' or 'What will we wear for clothing?' 32 For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.
- Matthew 6:31-32
Do not just trust in God, but trust that God both knows what you really need in every area of your life and is able to provide it. Trust that God knows your needs and will fulfill them in His way and in His time.
2. Keep your priorities straight
But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
- Matthew 6:33
Our job as Christians in this world is to figure out how to serve God and His kingdom first with our talents and time. God promises that when this is our priority, He will provide what we need materially, emotionally and spiritually to live in this world. When we turn this around and try to serve our needs first instead of our God, we are never satisfied. Why? We never seem to acquire enough to satisfy our desire for more.
The reason for this is that the "feeling" of satisfaction that we crave is a gift given to us by God when we seek Him first, not a result of amassing wealth or goods.
I know that there is nothing better for them than to rejoice and to do good in one's lifetime;
- Ecclesiastes 3:12
This is why satisfaction in life comes from keeping God and His service first and this satisfaction/contentment protects us from the trap and cycle of covetousness.
3. Be content with what you have today
But godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment.
- I Timothy 6:6
5 Make sure that your character is free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, “I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you," 6 so that we confidently say, “The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid. What will man do to me?"
- Hebrews 13:5-6
Learn to be full with today's blessings. This doesn't condone laziness or glorify poverty. A person can strive to improve, to succeed, but in order to avoid the trap of covetousness he must also learn to be satisfied where he finds himself today. Some people will only be happy and satisfied in the future, no matter what they have today. This guarantees that they will never be happy.
I can be content today because I know that this is what God has provided today and I trust that He will provide for tomorrow. Not to be thankful or to have endless desire is to reject what God has provided in exchange for what we covet!
Coveting is the uncontrolled desire for forbidden things or the uncontrolled desire to acquire (greed). This sin is dangerous because:
- It separates and isolates us from others (why the greedy are usually lonely).
- It makes us servants of our needs and desires instead of servants of God.
We can avoid this sin by:
- Trusting God to provide what you need.
- Keeping God first, not needs first.
- Thanking God for what you have now.
As Christians this sin is truly a foolish one because God takes care of all our earthly needs so we can pursue our relationship with Him in peace. In addition to this, He gives us freely the two things no effort on earth could ever buy - forgiveness and eternal life in Jesus Christ.
If we keep our hearts fixed on these treasures, there can never be any thing in this world that can draw us away from the love of God in Christ our Lord.