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” (Matt. 19:18–19). They likewise readily reply, “All these I have kept” (v. 20). A person may rationalize that he has never murdered, committed adultery, or stolen—however untrue that claim may be. However, no person in his right mind would say he has never coveted.
The last of the Ten Commandments, “You shall not covet,” stands out from the rest. In those few words, the very heart of the law of God 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 at which it strikes is an all-too-familiar companion. It surfaces when we hear of a coworker’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. Instead, it comes quite naturally. And though this sin is a familiar acquaintance, it is no friend. It is an opportunistic, deadly foe that grips the heart, turns the affections, occupies the mind, and unravels a life. Where there is peace, it brings hostility; where there is love, it stirs up division; and where there is 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 his 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 this sin of the heart? Let me offer three simple biblical encouragements: look to Christ, live in contentment, and rejoice in thankfulness.
First, 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,” the Lord said (Matt. 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 (Heb. 1:3). As we seek Him, we find earthly treasures hold fleeting pleasures, but joy in Him is everlasting (Ps. 103:17). They possess hollow promises, but His promises are secure. They offer comfort, but He ensures it (Matt. 11:28–30). Seeking after Christ is an enterprise unlike any other, for it never disappoints. His beauty, loveliness, comfort, peace, and joy surpass all this world has to offer.
Second, 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 something we rest in. The Apostle Paul said, “I have learned in whatever situation to be content” (Phil. 4:11b). He said to Timothy, “Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment” (1 Tim. 6:6). Paul believed in a sovereign God who reigns over heaven and earth, and he trusted in Him. He knew God’s providence would provide for his needs. Whatever he possessed, it was sufficient, so he could rest content. If God thought it was good for us to have more, he would give us more. Every Christian rightly seeks to maintain this mind-set. 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.
Finally, 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 we are struggling with anxiety that we should “by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Phil. 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 that 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 covetousness 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.