Many individuals are like the Rich Young Man when Jesus said to him, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 19:18-19), readily reply, “All these I have kept” (Matthew 19:20). A person may rationalize they have never murdered, committed adultery, or stolen, however untrue their claim may be, but no person in their right mind would say they have never coveted. The final commandment of the Ten Commandments, “You shall not covet,” stands out from the rest. In those few words, the very heart of the Law is laid open to us. God’s Law does not concern itself with our actions alone. “You shall not covet” unreservedly proclaims that our thoughts, feelings, inclinations–matters of the heart–matter a great deal to the Lord.
The sin it strikes at is an all-too familiar companion. It surfaces when we hear of a co-worker’s promotion, see a new car in the driveway next door, or reflect upon the seemingly perfect family at church. This enemy raises its evil head in a moment. We do not need to go looking for it or be schooled in it. Rather, it comes quite naturally. And though this sin is a familiar acquaintance, it is no friend. It is an opportunistic and deadly foe, which grips the heart, turns the affections, occupies the mind, and unravels a life. Where there was peace it brings hostility, where there was love it stirs up division, and where there was contentment it breeds complaint.
Why is coveting so deadly? Because it can never be satiated. Coveting relentlessly craves more of this world; and a person’s thoughts, affections, and heart occupied with the world will cease seeking heaven. It forsakes love for God and disposes one to hate their neighbor. Coveting pulls the heart down into the pit of self-seeking and the muck and mire of envy, slander, adultery, pride, dishonor, murder, thievery, and idolatry. It has rightly been said that when we break any of the first nine commandments, we also break the tenth commandment.
How do we combat such a sin of the heart? Let me offer three simple biblical encouragements: look to Christ, live in contentment, and rejoice in thankfulness. Look to Christ and the things above. “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you,” said the Lord (Matthew 6:33). The more we value Christ, the less we ascribe inordinate worth to earthly things. The more we desire Christ, the less we long for the things of this world. Honor, wealth, material possessions, reputation, worldly success, and even health possess little glimmer when compared to the radiance of the glory of God in the person of Christ (Hebrews 1:3). As we seek Him, we find earthly treasures hold fleeting pleasures, but joy in Him is everlasting (Psalm 103:17). They possess hollow promises, but His promises are secure. They offer comfort, but He insures it (Matthew 11:28-30). Seeking after Christ is an enterprise unlike any other, it never disappoints. His beauty, loveliness, comfort, peace, and joy surpass all this world has to offer.
If we desire covetousness to have no hold on our lives, we also must seek to live in contentment. Contentment is not something we chase after, but rest in. The Apostle Paul said, “I have learned in whatever situation to be content” (Philippians 4:11b). He said to Timothy, “Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment” (1 Timothy 6:6). The Apostle Paul believed in a sovereign God and trusted in this God, who reigns over heaven and earth. He knew God’s providence provided what he needed. Whatever he possessed, it was sufficient, so he could rest content. If God thought it was good for us to have more, he would have given us more. Every Christian rightly seeks to maintain this mindset. And when this is the case, what joy contentment brings to the Christian life. Contentment is one of those rare jewels, once found and treasured it fills the soul with delight.
Maybe the greatest force we can muster against coveting is rejoicing in thankfulness. Thankfulness steers the Christian life away from the dangerous shoals of discontentment. It is difficult to be content in all circumstances if thankfulness does not dwell in our hearts. The Apostle Paul exhorts us even when struggling with anxiousness or concern that we should “by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6). We want to thank God for what we have received and what He has given. Every good gift and every perfect gift comes from above” (James 1:17). Therefore, we not only rejoice in what we personally receive, but also in the good gifts the Lord has granted others. We and others enjoy these gifts by no mere coincidence. In this we can rejoice in thankfulness. Dear Christian, look to Christ, live in contentment, and rejoice in thanksgiving and send coveting scurrying from your heart and life. It is a deadly foe not to be trifled with. Rather, let us live in love for God and one another–storing our treasures in heaven above.
This article first appeared in the June 2015 issue of Tabletalk magazine.