The Tenth Commandment

Exodus 20:17

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
December 2016

“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.”

We have been studying the Ten Commandments and today we come to the Tenth Commandment.  It deals with a sin that we do not talk about too much today.  We do not hear too many sermons on the topic and there are not too many books by Christians on covetousness. It is a word we do not even use that much today.  It is an old-fashioned word.  In fact, we would not even know that this was a sin unless God told us.

The Apostle Paul said in Romans 7:7, “I would never have known that coveting is wrong if the law had not said, “You must not covet” (NLT). One thing about the Bible is that it reveals sin.  Paul said in Romans 3:20 “through the Law comes the knowledge of sin” (ESV).  We are sinners by birth.  We do not know what is right and wrong naturally.  God has to tell us and He tells us in His Word.

The Tenth Commandment brings us to the forgotten sin.  This is the sin that no one talks about.  Ray Pritchard said, “In all my years as a pastor I’ve never heard anyone confess the sin of coveting. I think I’ve heard just about every other sin confessed. I’ve heard murder confessed, and adultery, and lying, and taking God’s name in vain, and bitterness of a thousand varieties. But no one—repeat no one—has ever said, “Pastor, I have a covetous spirit. Can you help me?”  What type of sin is covetousness?[1]

A Secret Sin

The Tenth Commandment is different from all of the other nine commandments.  As Dennis Prager points out, this is the only one of the ten that legislates thoughts.  All of the other ones legislate behavior but this one legislates thoughts[2].  Most of the Ten Commandments deal with deeds, but the tenth deals with desires.  This commandment does not say “don’t do this” but “don’t think this”.  That is interesting.  God has authority not only over actions and words but also over thoughts.

Coveting deals only with the heart. It is a heart sin.  It is something we commit with our mind, not with our body.  All of the other commandments are external. They involve things that you can see people doing (lying, stealing, murdering, dishonoring parents, worshiping false gods).

This one is internal.  You can’t see if someone is coveting something that someone else has, because it is a sin that takes place on the inside.  You can covet and no one but God would know about it.  Of course, thoughts come out in actions.  We can tell when a person is greedy but we cannot read their thoughts.

A Universal Sin

Covetousness is the oldest sin on the planet. It all goes back to Adam and Eve.  They wanted something that was forbidden.  They wanted to eat from the tree that God said was off-limits and that sin led to the fall of the human race.

This is a sin that we have all committed.  This commandment we have all broken.  We may not have murdered anyone or committed adultery but all of us without exception have coveted something that belonged to someone else.  Coveting is universal.  It affects everyone.  It is committed by poor people.  It is committed by rich people.

A Modern Sin

In fact, it is one of the most prevalent sins in our world today.  We live in a society that encourages coveting. The secular philosophy of our day is that “Greed is good. Greed works,” which is a line from the 1987 Wall Street movie.  This is one of the signs that we are living in the last days.

II Timothy 3:1-5 says, “But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, LOVERS OF MONEY, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people” (NIV).

Paul describes our world today.  He gives here nineteen characteristics of people who will live in the last days. Covetousness (love of money) ranks number two in this list of last day character traits. Our culture is saturated with it. In 1958, Billy Graham preached a sermon in at an evangelistic meeting in Charlotte, North Carolina.

In that sermon, he called covetousness “America’s greatest sin.” [3] We have become a gambling nation.  The nation is also drowning in debt.  The federal government is nineteen trillion dollars in debt and individual Americans are also in debt. [4]

More than 160 million Americans have credit cards. The average credit card holder has at least three cards. On average, each household with a credit card carries more than $15,000 in credit card debt.[5] Covetousness almost seems to be part of the American Dream with its emphasis on personal happiness, material comfort, and financial stability.

A Church Sin

This is not just a sin found in the world.  It is also a sin found in the church today.  This is a sin that sometimes even creeps into the church. It goes all the way back to one of the apostles. Judas betrayed Jesus for thirty pieces of silver.

He was motivated by covetousness and he was the treasurer for the Apostles. He was in charge of the money (John 12:4-6). The first scandal in the church involved covetousness.  It had to do with money.  You can read about it in Acts 5.  Two people died as a result of this sin.

You can be outwardly moral and covetous.  You can be very religious and covetous.  How do we know?  The Gospels tell us that the Pharisees were covetous.  They loved money (Luke 16:14).  In fact, we are told three times in the Gospels that they devoured widows houses (Matthew 23:14; Mark 12:40; Luke 20:47).  These religious leaders took advantage of people financially.

It is still done today.  It is the sign of a false teacher.  Some preachers are guilty of this. Churches should pay their pastor well. They should be fairly compensated but the Bible talks about people in the ministry for the money. They are money-hungry preachers.  They are greedy and they appeal to greed in their congregation.

Jeremiah 6:13 says, “From the least to the greatest, all are greedy for gain; prophets and priests alike, all practice deceit” (NIV).

Titus 1:11 says, “For there are many rebellious people, full of meaningless talk and deception, especially those of the circumcision group. They must be silenced, because they are disrupting whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach—and that for the sake of dishonest gain” (NIV).

2 Peter 2:3 says, “In their greed they will make up clever lies to get hold of your money. But God condemned them long ago, and their destruction will not be delayed” (NLT).

2 Corinthians  2:17 says, “Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, as those sent from God” (NIV).

One criticism of prosperity theology is that it is a theology of greed.  It preaches a gospel of greed.  It is not true of fall prosperity preachers but some appeal to covetousness.  The Bible says to be content with what you have.  They tell you that God wants you to be rich that “those who desire to be rich fall into many temptations and snares and foolish hurtful desires which drown men in destruction” (1 Timothy 6:9 KJV).

A Serious Sin

Compare the last commandment to the other nine, this one does not seem to be that big of a deal.  Murder is a big deal.  Adultery is a big sin.  Stealing is a big sin.  Most of these are not only sins; they are crimes.  You commit murder, you go to jail or you might be executed.

Covetousness is a sin, not a crime.  It is wrong but not everything that is wrong is illegal. You can’t go to jail for being covetous.  You cannot be arrested for having bad thoughts. Otherwise, everybody would be in arrested. This commandment is different from the other nine.  It almost seems anti-climactic.

The truth is that this sin is a big deal to God.  God put it on his top ten list.  It may not make our top ten lists of sins but it made God’s. This sin is so serious that it shuts people out of heaven.  Discontentment takes people to Hell.

Paul said, “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, NOR THE GREEDY, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God” (I Corinthians 6:9-10 NIV).

That is interesting.  You do have to be a homosexual or a thief or an idolater to be excluded from the kingdom.  If you are greedy, you will be excluded as well.  Paul says it again in Ephesians.

Ephesians 5:3-6 says, “But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving.  

For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure OR GREEDY PERSON—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient” (NIV).

Covetousness not only disqualifies people from heaven, it also disqualifies a person from spiritual leadership in the church. One qualification of elders is that they are not to be covetous. Titus 1:7 ESV says “For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain” (cf. I Timothy 3:3).

Do we apply this today in most churches?  If a man is a drunkard, no one would think of making him an elder but would we do the same thing if a man is greedy?  The Apostle Paul said, “I have not coveted anyone’s silver or gold or clothing” (Acts 20:33 NIV).

Covetousness Defined

What is covetousness? What does it mean to covet something?  To covet is to desire or want something that you don’t have but all desires are not wrong. It is not wrong to want some things. What is the difference between desiring something and coveting something? There is a difference between a legitimate longing and covetousness.

Wanting something that you legitimately need is NOT coveting. If someone is hungry and wants food or is thirsty and wants something to drink, we wouldn’t call that person greedy.  If you are single and have a desire to get married, that is not wrong.

If a man wants a wife, it is not wrong.  If he wants his neighbor’s wife, it is covetousness.  Covetousness is not just desiring something. It is desiring something that belongs to someone else and something that you have no right to possess.

The Tenth Commandment says, “You shall not covet your NEIGHBOR’S house. You shall not covet your NEIGHBOR’S wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your NEIGHBOR.” Notice the word that is repeated three times in the verse.  It is the word “neighbor”.

Our text mentions coveting your neighbor’s house, wife, servants, ox and donkey. Your neighbor may not have any servants or donkeys but he or she may have some other things you want. It is the word “anything” in the verse that condemns us. There is a difference between desire and coveting.  There is also a difference between appreciating what our neighbor has and coveting it for ourselves.

Jesus on Covetousness

Luke 12:13-15 says, “Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” (NIV)

Here a man tried to get Jesus on his side of a family dispute about his inheritance. An inheritance is something that you have a right to receive by law. It’s not wrong to inherit some things. Legally you are entitled to it when you parents die but how many people do we know that become very greedy when it comes to their parent’s will and fight their siblings over it.

Jesus never said, “Be on your guard against murder,” “Be on your guard against drunkenness” or “Be on guard against lust” but he did say, “Be on your guard, not just against greed but against ALL KINDS of greed”.  When we are greedy, we try to get more than we need.  We are always trying to get the next thing (I Phone).  We fill our homes with things we do not need and when we run out of space, we rent a storage unit to store more stuff that we do not need.

Jesus also gave a parable on the topic of covetousness called “the Parable of the Rich Fool” in Luke 12:16-21.

“And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’

 “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’

 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’

“This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.

What is Jesus teaching in this parable about the rich farmer? Everyone else thought he was a great man. He was very wealthy and very successful. He was very ambitious and hard working. He was not lazy but God calls him a fool. Why? He was not a fool because he was successful or rich. He was not a fool because he worked hard and planned for the future. He was not a fool because he wanted to expand his property and build bigger barns. This man didn’t steal or cheat or mistreat anyone.

Jesus called him a fool because he was greedy and selfish. He never considered the needs of others. He thought only on himself. He was a fool, not for having treasures on earth but for having no treasures in heaven. He was a fool because he made a god out of money and material possessions. He thought that he did not need God.  He was not rich toward God.

He had everything he could possibly want or need. As Jesus said, “What good is it if you gain the whole world but lose your soul?” (Luke 9:25). What good is it if you are the richest person in the world and get everything you want in this life for sixty or seventy years and then you die and go to Hell forever and ever?

Paul on Covetousness

Two times in the NT we are told that covetousness is idolatry.  If that is true, then the First and the Tenth Commandment actually say the same thing. When you break the Tenth Commandment, you are actually breaking two commandments.

“For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—SUCH A PERSON IS AN IDOLATER—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God” (Ephesians 5:5 NIV).

“Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, WHICH IS IDOLATRY” (Colossians 3:5 NIV).

Why did Paul call covetousness idolatry?  Many people’s god is stuff. They seek your happiness in things, rather than in God. That is where their heart is. They think that things will fulfill the longing in their soul.

Someone said that malls have replaced churches as the main centers of religion in our society. Shopping centers have become places where people go to worship. They worship the god of materialism.

It is the god that says, “Buy this, but that, it will make feel you better.” This god may speak in a clothing store, a sporting goods store, a computer store, a jewelry store, or some other store. This is not shopping therapy.  It is shopping worship.

Never have we had more stuff and been less happy.  Ecclesiastes 5:10 says “He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity” (ESV)

That is why the Apostle Paul says, “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5 NIV).  He said we should be content with food and clothing (I Timothy 6:8).  There is a lot we could learn from Paul.  We feel like we need much more than food and clothing today.






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