Summary: This study takes a look at the Ten Commandments from a New Testament perspective.
Thou shalt not covet / Thou shalt not steal.
Coveting and stealing are closely related. The majority of the time when someone gives into the temptation to steal, the first step was to covet. The word covet means to have a desire for, long for, lust after or sigh after something that does not belong to you. Coveting is an inward temptation of the heart and mind and the result of coveting causes people to envy, steal, commit adultery or even kill. Coveting is the fuel that leads to many sins. Let’s look at God’s command not to covet as found in Deuteronomy 5:
21 ’ You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife; and you shall not desire your neighbor’s house, his field, his male servant, his female servant, his ox, his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.’
The Bible tells us that the eyes of man are never satisfied. If we look at our own lives and the lives of the culture around us, we can see that this is absolutely true. A few years back a study was conducted where people in each economic level were polled and asked how much money would it take to satisfy them? The answer was almost identical for every person; each one thought that if they could double their income, they would be happy. The truth is that you will never be happy as long as you are striving for the things of this life. You cannot satisfy human nature. Our desires of the flesh can be temporarily gratified but never satisfied. As soon as the excitement of your gain wears off, you will want more. In our desire for more, covetousness is born.
I once heard a woman who called in to a radio broadcast who went on a tirade about how she despised rich people. She hated to see their houses, fancy cars and nice clothes when she was struggling to get by. She ended her tirade by saying, “I would give up everything I own just to see the rich lose their BMW’s. That would make me happy.” No it would not. If this were to happen, she would have glee for a moment, but she would soon return to the same mindset. Why are we focused on what our neighbor possesses? If we would set our hearts where it belongs, we would not be concerned with what our neighbor owns. Every thief feels justified in stealing because coveting causes us to look at what others have as though it should belong to us. Coveting shows that we have lost focus on what has eternal significance.
Setting our Focus
The desire to covet is not a new problem. The Bible addresses this issue constantly throughout the Old and New Testaments. God knows that we are in a body of flesh and that sin in our flesh is drawn by the glitz, glamour, pleasures and luxuries of this life. This is why we are constantly being reminded not to covet what we do not possess. It begins with not allowing our affections to be set on the world that is passing away. Look at 1 John 2:15-17
15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world -- the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life -- is not of the Father but is of the world. 17 And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.
Lusting after the things of the world leads us directly into covetousness. When our focus is on the things of the world, this reveals to us that something needs to change in our heart. We are not in the love of God if our affections are in the world. Many churches teach their people to covet by saying that “We are going to take what is mine back from the world”. Isn’t this what the thief says when shoplifting or robbing someone they consider to be rich? They believe that they rightfully should have what they are stealing because of a skewed concept of fairness. Consider this quote taken from a discipleship training page on the youth with a mission website:
God has called his people to rise up and take back the wealth of the nations for his kingdom.
How does this compare to scripture? We have just read that if anyone desires the things of the world they are not in the love of God. God is not calling you to ‘recapture the wealth of the world’, but to set yourself apart for God with a focus on godliness and not covetousness. The devil did not take your wealth and you are not going to gain the world by claiming it. Do you realize that this is exactly what Satan tempted Jesus with when he took Christ on a high mountain, showed him the kingdoms of the world and their glory. Jesus did not desire the riches and glory of the world and the Bible has clearly stated that we also should not allow our hearts to fall into the desire for the things of this world.