Summary: WHY not covet? It harms us, and relationships with others and God. HOW overcome it? Gratitude, love for others, and godly ambition.
As we come to the end of the Ten Commandments, we find a somewhat surprising concluding statement: Exodus 20:17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”
What’s wrong with coveting? Roughly 2/3 of the American economy depends upon consumer spending. If people stopped wanting nice things, the economy would be plunged into a recession. Spending is not always a bad thing, although there are symptoms in our society of over-spending: high consumer debt, overflowing garages and storage units, and high numbers of people without enough in savings to handle an emergency.
Coveting can be good, if we covet the right things. Coveting motivates work, education, and marriage. The tenth commandment is about coveting the wrong things. They are the wrong things, because they belong to someone else. We are not to covet the house or spouse or wealth that belongs to our neighbor.
In the New Testament, we discover that coveting is also wrong if it is self-centered. Our lives belong to God, so whatever we have is to be used for his glory. James 4:1-3 asks, “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You COVET but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.”
WHY DOES GOD COMMAND US NOT TO COVET THE WRONG THINGS?
1 Timothy 6:6-10 gives several reasons. (Read it now.)
1. Coveting can harm us. Proverbs 14:30 says, “…envy rots the bones.” (Preacher: I told a story here of a classmate, a resident physician, with a good income, a house, and a wife and kids. I was an intern, with none of that. Envy did not help me!)
Worldwide studies through several decades have shown that, as long as people have enough to get by, money does not buy happiness. In fact, happiness is correlated with how wealthy people feel they are in relation to others around them. No wonder God says (verse 6), “Godliness with contentment is great gain.” We can’t do too much about how much we have, but with God’s help, we can be content with what we have.
Of course, that is hard in today’s world, as people around us have so much. For example, in 1950, the average new home was about 950 square feet. The average new home in 2018 was about 2600 sq. ft. A 1950’s palace of 1500 square feet might be a little disappointing today, even as a starter home.
Possessions will never fully satisfy us. Ecclesiastes 5:10 has these words of wisdom: “Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income.”
Of course, people covet more than money. The tenth commandment mentions the neighbor’s wife, house servants, and animals. Today, we might think about an attractive partner, good looks, a great job, and along with success and the acclaim that comes with it. We want to be like “that guy,” or “that woman.” Maybe that would satisfy our longing for more.
In 2005, quarterback Tom Brady of the New England Patriots was interviewed by Steve Croft on “60 Minutes.” He spoke very candidly: “Why do I have three Super Bowl rings and still think there’s something greater out there for me? I mean, maybe a lot of people would say, ‘Hey man, this is what is. I reached my goal, my dream, my life.’ Me, I think, God, it’s got to be more than this. I mean this isn’t, this can’t be, what it’s all cracked up to be.” Steve Croft asked him, “What the answer?” Brady replied, “I wish I knew. I wish I knew.” Brady went on to win two more Super Bowl rings, he married a supermodel and has a couple of kids, and dreams of succeeding in politics. I don’t know what he would say about his life today, but having “more” is never enough.
Paul says to Timothy (verse 8), “If we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.” Paul had nothing against the good things of life. Two chapters earlier (1 Timothy 4:4-5), he said, “Everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.” But if our baseline is having enough to get by, we can be overwhelmed with joy by the good things we are able to have. “Godliness with contentment is great gain.”