The Ten Commandments - Tenth - Do Not Covet

Bible Book: Exodus  20 : 17
Subject: Coveting; Things; Materialism; Jealousy; Envy
Series: Ten Commandments - Paul Brown
Introduction

We come now to the last of those great moral absolutes called “The Ten Commandments.” It is recorded in Exodus 20:17: “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbor’s.”

There is a sense in which this commandment sums up all the others. As Dennis Marquardt expressed it, “The last commandment is the lynch pin of the 10.” Yet, strangely enough, the testimony of the late Dr. Herschel Ford is not uncommon. Dr. Ford, who served as pastor of a great church in Texas for many years, said, “I have heard many men confess many sins and ask God to forgive them.” But then he went on to say, “I have never heard a man pray, ‘Lord, forgive me for my covetousness.’” No wonder one preacher, speaking on the tenth commandment, entitled his sermon, “The Sin Nobody Will Admit To.”

We desperately need to give attention to this tenth commandment, for there is no admonition in all the Bible more crucial than that one, for society as a whole, and for our individual lives. First, let’s take careful note of...

I. The Meaning Of Covetousness

The word “covet” is used in different ways in the Bible. It is sometimes used simply to mean, “to want very intently.” In that sense, there are things which we may rightly covet. In 1 Corinthians 12:31 the apostle Paul wrote, “But covet earnestly the best gifts”, the NIV translates it, “eagerly desire.” Paul went on, then, to speak in the following two chapters of how we ought to seek diligently to have love  in our hearts, and of how we ought to desire spiritual gifts, especially one; he said, in 1 Corinthians 14:39, that men should “covet to prophesy”, meaning that we should earnestly desire to speak God’s truth boldly, clearly and appealingly.

But in this tenth commandment, and in many other places in the Scriptures, the word “covet” is used in a totally different sense, a very negative sense, in this verse, and numerous other passages, it means “to desire unlawfully.” It certainly isn’t wrong to want good things, or to work vigorously to gain them, but we’ve crossed the line into covetousness when we yearn for things that are off-limits. That includes yearning for too much, and it especially includes yearning for things that are not intended for us, things that could never rightfully be ours.

Bruce Larson, speaking on this tenth commandment, entitled his sermon, “Looking Over The Fence.” He asked if there is anyone who has never looked over the neighbor’s fence and envied the neighbor’s house, vehicles, money, wonderful marriage, health, self-confidence, social position, friends, great job, successful children, looks, talents, or at least something that the neighbor has or is. The fact is that every last one of us has at times “looked over our neighbor’s fence”, not necessarily literally, but at least figuratively. The truth is that this commandment nails every last one of us, without exception, and that has been true throughout history. In Jeremiah 6:13 we read this lament: “...from the least of them even unto the greatest of them every one is given to covetousness; and from the prophet even unto the priest every one dealeth falsely.”

It’s absolutely crucial that we face up to this sin and find a way to deal with it, when we think about…

II. The Curse Of Covetousness

And that’s not an overstatement. Covetousness truly is a curse, and that for several reasons:

A. Inward, Not Easily Detected

Covetousness is a curse because it is inward, and therefore not easily detected.

Mark Adams calls covetousness “The Secret Sin.” Jesus said, in Mark 7:21-23: “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: All these evil things come from within, and defile the man.”

Don Williams tells about a little boy who was defiant about coming in and sitting down to supper. His daddy had to whip him to make him come in and sit down. As the little boy took his seat at the table he said, with tears, “I may be sitting down on the outside, but on the inside I’m still standing up!” Unfortunately, that’s the way it is with many of us when it comes to obeying God. In Ezekiel 33:31 we read these words: “...they hear thy words, but they will not do them: for with their mouth they shew much love, but their heart goeth after their covetousness.”

Because covetousness is inward, the ordinary outward restraints don’t reign us in. When you have a covetous thought, no friend is going to call your hand; no family member is going to confront you; no policeman is going to arrest you. But never forget the truth of 1 Samuel 16:7: “...man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.”

James Merritt said: “This is a sin that flies under the radar. It doesn’t leave any fingerprints. It doesn’t trigger any alarms. It doesn’t set off any warnings. It is a sin that can be eating you up and you don’t even realize it.”

B. Breeds Other Sins

Covetousness is a curse because it breeds all sorts of other sins.

1. Can Lead To Adultery, Deception, Even Murder

It was “coveting after his neighbor’s wife” that led to king David’s downfall. He lusted after Bathsheba, with the result that he committed adultery with her, got her pregnant, and tried to cover his sin by having her husband Uriah murdered.

And that’s one of the major problems in our modern society. Sexual immorality runs rampant, and it all begins with covetousness, in other words, with unlawful desire.

2. Makes People Vulnerable To Scams, Gambling, And Other Vices

Some people covet after wealth, and that, too, results in a variety of other sins.

1 Timothy 6:9-10 says: But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil [not every individual act of evil, but rather all kinds of evil]: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.

Covetousness causes people to fall for all sorts of scams, and it causes multitudes of people to live beyond their means. 2 Peter 2:3: “And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you: whose judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not.”

Covetousness is what fuels the gambling industry. People lust after wealth without working for it. They hope to get something for nothing, whereas God‘s plan is that man labor for his daily bread. And never forget that gambling doesn’t create wealth, it simply siphons off money that otherwise could have been spent for food, clothing, shelter, and other worthwhile things.

Someone says, “But preacher, what about the revenue that gambling generates for state governments?” The truth of the matter is that, in spite of the “quick fix” that gambling appears to provide at the outset, studies have shown that over the long haul the costs in terms of social wreckage outweigh the benefits, so, in reality, gambling is a loser any way you look at it, even economically.

One of the tragic results of gambling is that many become addicted, and ruin their lives. Several years ago Earl Grinols of the University of Illinois did a study and concluded that up to one-third of casino revenue comes from problem or pathological gamblers. And wherever gambling is accepted by a society, many youth are drawn into it. As a matter of fact, Jeff Derevensky, a psychology  professor at McGill University in Montreal, found that the addiction rate among youth is two to four times that of the population at large.

Someone says, “But isn’t most of life a gamble? For example, isn’t running a business a gamble? Isn’t farming a gamble?” But that’s a weak, invalid argument. Running a legitimate business and farming involve necessary risks, with the goal of benefiting everyone involved, whereas gambling involves taking unnecessary risks, and does not benefit all concerned. The simple arithmetic of the matter is that for one person to win, many others have to lose.

Gambling, whether it’s buying lottery tickets, or going to the casino, or betting on horses, is a miserable, destructive, God-dishonoring activity, and no Christian ought to participate.

C. Hurts Other People

Covetousness is a curse because often it brings ruination not only to the offender himself, but also to others around him.

For example, in the book of Joshua is the sad story of Achan, an Israelite soldier who coveted after some forbidden spoils of war, called “accursed” items, and stole them. By doing so, he not only brought destruction upon himself and his family, who apparently had conspired with him, but his sin contaminated the whole army of Israel, with the result that they lost their next battle, and thirty-six Israelite soldiers were killed. Joshua, the leader of the Israelite forces, cried out to God in his distress, and God answered, in Joshua 7:13, “...thou canst not stand before thine enemies, until ye take away the accursed thing from among you.”

The person who says, “Well, I know what I’m doing is wrong, but at least I’m not hurting anybody but myself,” has swallowed the devil’s big lie hook, line, and sinker. Everything you and I do affects those around us, and when we fall into the sin of covetousness, we pull others down with us.

D. Provokes God’s Anger

Because it ruins and wrecks people’s lives, the sin of covetousness provokes God’s anger.

Listen to these sobering words of warning in Ephesians 5:5-7:

For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no man deceive you with vain words: for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience. Be not ye therefore partakers with them.

In the path of covetousness lies a gigantic pile of debris, the debris of heartache, tears, broken homes, devastated children, messed-up lives, hopelessness, and despair.

But I want to end this message on a positive note; so let’s look together at…

III. The Remedy For Covetousness

A. Give Christ The Supremacy In Your Life

As emphasized early on, the root cause for covetousness is self-centeredness. So, in order to overcome covetousness we must de-throne self and place Christ on the throne of our lives. He must be made the king, the ruler of your life. Colossians 1:18 says, “...that in all things he might have the preeminence.”

If you’re not saved, you need to repent of your sins and by faith receive Christ as your Lord and Savior. Jesus will forgive you, cleanse you, give you a new future, and a new present.

Listen to what the apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 6. After having made the solemn point that the “the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God”, and in his list of “the unrighteous” he includes those who are “covetous”, he then goes on to say in verse 11: “And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.” Regardless of how long you’ve been entrenched in a particular sin, covetousness or something else, Christ can break those chains and set you free!

If you’re already saved, yet have temporarily backslidden into the sin of covetousness, God commands you to face up to your covetousness, confess it, put it behind you, and reaffirm the Lordship of Christ in your heart. In Colossians 3:1-7 we read: If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory. Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry: For which things’ sake the wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience: In the which ye also walked some time, when ye lived in them.

B. Keep Things In Proper Perspective

Having put Christ on the throne of your life, then ask him to help you keep all things in the proper perspective.

In Luke 12:13-14 we read: “And one of the company said unto him [to Jesus], Master, speak to my brother, that he divide the inheritance with me. And he said unto him, Man, who made me a judge or a divider over you?“ [If you want to see people’s true colors, you watch them squabble over dividing up an estate.] Jesus then went on to say, in verse 15, “Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.”

C. Be Content With Your Lot

In that same connection, ask God to help you to be content with your lot in life. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t have ambition, or strive to get ahead. It means that we should ask him to help us, though, at each stage of life to be content with our present lot, even as we work diligently to make things better.

Hebrews 13:5-6 says, “Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me.” In 1 Timothy 6:6-8 we read: “But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment let us be therewith content.”

As someone has said, “If you can’t have what you want, then learn to want what you have.” A man in Boston told of walking down a steep hill one day after a heavy snowfall. He saw a young boy skiing with only one ski. He stopped beside the boy and said, “Son, don’t you know you are supposed to have two skis?” The little boy looked up with a happy grin and replied, “I know I ought to have two, but I ain’t got ’em. But, mister, you can have a lot of fun with one ski if you ain’t got two.”

I can imagine that some people, in reading the story of the apostle Paul, might say to themselves, “Now, there’s no way that that man could have been content, considering all that he went through.” And he did, indeed, experience a lot of turmoil. Because of his commitment to Christ he was disowned by his countrymen. He was maligned. He was run out of town after town. He was stoned and left for dead. He was beaten. He was shipwrecked. He was unjustly imprisoned. And on top of all of that, he suffered some painful physical affliction that he mysteriously referred to as his “thorn in the flesh.” Yet, in Philippians 4:11 he declared, “...I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.”

What was the explanation? The explanation was that he was so surrendered to the Lord and walked so close to him on a daily basis, that the uplifting, energizing, encouraging presence of the living God overshadowed his dismal circumstances.

D. Read God’s Word

Another factor in warding off the temptation to covet is to be faithful in reading the Bible. The author of Psalm 119:36 said, “Incline my heart unto thy testimonies, and not to covetousness.” The clear implication is that the more we saturate our lives with the Word of God, the less vulnerable we are to covetousness.

E. Love Others

Still another vital part of resisting covetousness is to recommit ourselves, on a daily basis, to loving other people. When we love someone, we rejoice in his success and we don’t envy him. Romans 13:10 says, “Love worketh no ill to his neighbor: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.“

Conclusion

A striking incident occurred during a spring thaw on the Niagara River. Great ice floes were coming down the river and heading for the falls. A gigantic eagle had been feeding on a dead lamb, on a large cake of ice. I don’t know whether the lamb had gotten stranded on that chunk of ice before it broke loose, or whether the eagle had snatched the tiny lamb from the flock and dropped it on the ice floe, or what, but however it came to be there, the eagle was feeding on it.

As the floating ice came dangerously near the falls the eagle tried to stretch his wings and fly to safety, but the mist from the river had caused his wings to freeze and his strength wasn’t sufficient to pull loose. He struggled fiercely as the huge chunk of ice reached the falls. Then, still frozen to the ice, the mighty eagle went plummeting to his death, with a piercing scream that could be heard even above the roar of the falls.

That is a sobering parable of many a life. Man was meant to have fellowship with God, through faith in Jesus Christ. God means for you to soar to the heights of abundant living, yet many get so frozen to the things of this world that they go plunging into eternity lost and undone.

Others, who are saved, allow covetousness to stunt their spiritual growth, drain them of their happiness, and nullify their influence.

Let’s you and I determine that, with the Lord’s help, we’ll be the kind of people spoken of in Exodus 18:21: “...able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness....”

Whatever needs to be made right spiritually this morning, let the Lord fix it. If you’ve never done so, I encourage you to repent of your sins and surrender in faith to Jesus Christ. John 1:12 says, “But as many as received him, to them gave he the power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name.” If you’re a Christian who has gotten out of God’s will, I encourage you to repent, confess your sins, and claim God’s promise in Jeremiah 3:22, “Return, ye backsliding children, and I will heal your backslidings….”