The Tenth Commandment

Exodus 20:17

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
June 2014

We have been studying the Ten Commandments and today we come to the Tenth Commandment.  It is found in Exodus 20:17.  It says, “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.”  In many ways, the Tenth Commandment is very different form the other nine.

The Uniqueness of This Commandment

1.  This is the only one of the Ten Commandments that prohibits an attitude, not an action.

The first nine for the most part have to do with visible actions. Coveting deals only with the heart. It is something we commit with our mind, not with our body. We already had a commandment against stealing. This is a commandment against just wanting their stuff. It is a lot easier to control your actions than it is to control your thoughts and feelings.

2. This is the only one of the Ten Commandments that was NOT a crime.

Stealing was a crime. Murder was a crime. In the OT, adultery was a crime but covetousness is not a crime. There is no human law against covetousness.  You can’t go to jail for being covetous.  You can’t criminalize bad thoughts. Otherwise, everybody would be in jail. Covetousness is a SIN but it is not a crime. Pride is a sin but it’s not a crime. Jealousy is a sin but it’s not a crime. Laziness is also a sin but it’s not a crime.

3. The Tenth Commandment involves an INVISIBLE SIN.

All of the other Ten Commandments are things that you can see people doing (lying, stealing, murdering, dishonoring parents, worshiping false gods). You can’t see if someone is coveting something that someone else has, because it is a sin that takes place on the inside. It is a secret sin that is invisible.

4. This is one of the few Ten Commandments that was NOT punishable by death.

In the Law of Moses, people who worshiped idols were to be put to death. People who committed adultery and murder were to be put to death. People who broke the Sabbath were to be stoned. People who dishonored their parents were also to be executed but people who broke the Tenth Commandment were not put to death. That would mean that everyone would have been put to death.

This commandment is very convicting.  This is one of the Ten Commandments that we have all broken.  There are some of us in this room who may not have murdered anyone or committed adultery but all of us without exception have coveted something that belonged to someone else.

Covetousness is one of the most prevalent sins in our world today. We live in a society that encourages coveting. That is why so many people are in huge debt. Most Americans are pretty materialistic. In our day, it is almost seen as a virtue. In the 1987 movie Wall Street we hear the line “Greed is good. Greed works”.

Our culture is saturated with it but we do not hear too many sermons on the topic and there are not too many books by Christians on covetousness. Many do not even seem to think it is a sin. Many pastors will tell you that in all their years of experience in the ministry they have never heard anyone confess this to be a sin or ask for help in this area of their life. They have heard many other sins confessed (stealing, killing, lying, and adultery) but not covetousness.

Covetousness is not only a sin; it is a serious sin in Scripture. It is mentioned in the OT and the NT. Jesus had a lot to say about covetousness.

“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.” (Luke 12:13-15 NIV)

A man asked Jesus about his inheritance. An inheritance is something that you have a right to receive. 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” or “Be on your guard against drunkenness” but he did say, “Be on your guard, not just against greed but against ALL KINDS of greed”. Greed takes all sorts of forms. What was Jesus talking about here?

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 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?

The Apostle Paul also preached against covetousness in II Timothy 3:1-5.

“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.

Paul gives nineteen characteristics of people who will live in the last days. Covetousness ranks number two in this list of last day character traits. Paul also said, “The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” (I Timothy 6:10 NIV). If you notice,Paul did NOT say that money is the root of all evil. He said, “The love of money is the root of evil”.  Money is neutral.  It is neither good or bad but it can be a source of idolatry for some.

This is a sin that sometimes even creeps into the church. One of the Apostles was guilty of this sin. 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).

Some preachers are guilty of this. Some are in the ministry for the money. The Bible warns about false teachers and false prophets who are covetous.  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)

Covetousness disqualifies a person from spiritual leadership in the church. One qualification of elders is that they are not to be covetous. Titus 1:7 says “Since an overseer manages God’s household, he must be blameless—not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain.

Paul said that covetousness is not even to be named among Christians (Ephesians 5:3). It was so serious in the early church that it was a matter of church discipline. Now that is a practice that you don’t see too much today. Most churches today do not practice church discipline but Paul said, that if a person claims to be a Christian and is covetous, you are not to even fellowship with that person (I Corinthians 5:9-11).

 “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.” (Ephesians 5:3-6 NIV)

Paul made two important statements here about covetousness. The first thing Paul said that covetousness IS idolatry. The second thing Paul said here is that NO covetous person will be in heaven.

If covetousness is idolatry, this means that the First and the Tenth Commandment actually say the same thing. When you break the Tenth Commandment, you are actually breaking two commandments.

How is Covetousness Idolatry?

If you are covetous, you seek your happiness in things, rather than in God. That is where your heart is. You think that things will fulfill the longing in your 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 is not shopping therapy.  It is shopping worship. This god may speak in a clothing store, a sporting goods store, a computer store, a jewelry store, or some other store. We know what God thinks about idolatry. He hates it.

The Definition of Covetousness

What is covetousness? What does it mean? Is it wrong to want or desire certain things? No. This commandment doesn’t mean that we can’t have desires, ambitions and goals. That is part of being human. We can want some things that are good and some things that are bad. It is not wrong to want some things. What is the difference between desiring something and coveting something? Where does one draw the line between a legitimate longing and covetousness? Two things come to mind.

1. Coveting is wanting MORE than you need.

Wanting something that you legitimately need is NOT coveting. If someone is hungry and wants food or thirsty and wants something to drink, we wouldn’t call that person greedy.  Some of us have too many possessions.  We have too much stuff.  What are some signs that you might be a harder?

Signs of a Hoarder

1. We never want to throw anything away.

2. We have excess clutter.

A little clutter is normal but some have piles of things at home and they are not even organized.

3. We have piles of things that are completely useless

We have piles of things, like broken appliances. We have bags of things that we never even use.

4. We hate to give up any of our possessions.

We even hate to let anyone borrow something when they ask us. That is a sign you might be a hoarder.

5. Our home is completely unsanitary.

A final sign of hoarding is that the excessive clutter begins to affects our health.

2. Coveting is desire something WHICH BELONGS TO SOMEONE ELSE.

Covetousness is not limited to money. Exodus 20:17 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.” It is the word “anything” that condemns us. 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 (nice car, tractor).

It is not wrong to want a house, a car or a wife. It is wrong to want YOUR NEIGHBOR”S mansion of a house, YOUR NEIGHBOR”S expensive car or YOUR NEIGHBOR”S hot wife. Covetousness is not just desiring something. It is desiring something that belongs to someone else and something that you have no right to possess.

King David is a good example of this.  II Samuel 11 describes what happened when David did not go out to war.  He was not where he was supposed to be and saw something that he was not supposed to see (Bathsheba bathing).  This led to David coveting a married woman which led to abuse of power.  He took her to himself.  This led to adultery which led to murder to cover up the crime.  The murder involved treason because David just murdered one of his most loyal soldiers in the army. After Bathsheba mourns the death of her husband, David marries her and she ends up pregnant.

II Samuel 11 ends with the words, “But the thing David had done displeased the Lord.”  God was not happy with King David’s actions.  A year later, God sent the prophet Nathan to speak to David and he told David a parable.  Jesus was not the only one who told parables.  There are a few of them in the OT.

 Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man! This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul. I gave your master’s house to you, and your master’s wives into your arms. I gave you all Israel and Judah. And if all this had been too little, I would have given you even more (II Samuel 13:7-8).

Nathan has a message from God to David.  God tells David that his adultery was completely unjustified.  David was not only married, he had multiple wives.  He did not need to take Uriah’s wife way from him.  God had already given him plenty of wives.  David’s many sins all began with covetousness.  David sought to take something that was not his and which he did not even need in the first place.

How to Avoid Covetousness

There are two practical ways to avoid covetousness or greed. The first way is to be content with what you have (Hebrews 13:5; I Timothy 6:6, 8). Be grateful for what you have and thankful for what God has given you. That is part of our problem. Most of us are not content. If we are single, we want to be married. Some who are married wish they were single. Women, who are infertile, desperately want to have children.

Parents who have large families sometimes wish they would all go away, so they can have some peace and quiet. If you are renting, you want to own. If you own a house, you want to buy a bigger and better house. Can you imagine just being content with your food and clothes? That is what Paul said. He did not say that we should be content with food, clothes, a fancy car, a big house and a big screen television.

The second way is to be generous. A covetous person is always trying to get something. If instead of trying to get, you give to others, you will not be covetous.  There are two kinds of people in this world – givers and takers. Which are you?

Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). This verse says that there is a special blessing that we receive when we give, especially when we help someone in need. That is completely counter-cultural. Tell that to kids on Christmas day.  It’s all about what they are going to get.

The interesting thing is that this quote is found in the book of Acts but, if you read the Gospels from cover to cover, you will not find the words anywhere on the lips of Christ. Here was a real saying of Jesus that was not recorded in any of the Four Gospels.  It was a genuine saying of Jesus but it was never written down.  People knew about it through oral tradition.  It is called by scholars the agrapha (lit. “not written”) of Jesus.

The Book of Proverbs has many verses to say about this topic.  Below is a small sample.

Proverbs 21:25-26 says, “The craving of a sluggard will be the death of him, because his hands refuse to work. All day long he craves for more, but the righteous give without sparing.” (NIV).

Proverbs 22:9 says, “The generous will themselves be blessed, for they share their food with the poor.” (NIV)

Proverbs 28:27 says, “Those who give to the poor will lack nothing, but those who close their eyes to them receive many curses.” (NIV)

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