10. Do you covet?
Tenth Commandment- "You shall not covet your neighbour’s wife. You shall not set your desire on your neighbour’s house or land, his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbour." Deuteronomy 5:21 (NIV)
This is a commandment about something which few people consider even to be a sin. Yet it catches everyone. It even caught the apostle Paul. He spoke in his letter to the Romans about how, before he became a Christian, he was trying with all his might to obey the commandments. Yet he eventually realised that he was covetous. He was doing quite well, or so he thought, in obeying the other commandments. But he discovered that he was definitely guilty of this one:
7What shall we say, then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! Indeed I would not have known what sin was except through the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, "Do not covet." 8But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of covetous desire. For apart from law, sin is dead. Romans 7: 7- 8 (NIV)
Covetousness means inappropriately and unhealthily desiring those things that are not ours. We do this about money, property, houses, cars, jobs or even other people’s wives. It means to crave for that which is not yours and not meant to be yours. It is not wrong to desire something in a healthy and proper way. Thus, it is alright for you to desire to get a promotion or to buy a new house. What is wrong however is to crave for it in an unwholesome, unbalanced and excessive way.
The essence of covetousness is that you are allowing your fleshly, carnal cravings to direct your life. Then you long for possessions, or positions, and are not content with what God has given you. Look at what Jesus says about this when speaking to a young man who came asking Him to make his brother divide an inheritance with him:
13Someone in the crowd said to him, "Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me."14Jesus replied, "Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?" 15Then he said to them, "Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions." 16And he told them this parable: "The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. 17He thought to himself, 'What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.' 18"Then he said, 'This is what I'll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19And I'll say to myself, "You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry." 20"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?' 21"This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God." Luke 12:13-21 (NIV)
Look closely at what Jesus says in verse 15 above: “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions”. All of us are, in one way or another, guilty of this sin. We all yearn for things which are not meant to be ours. And we are not content with what God has given to us. But contrast this with apostle Paul’s attitude, as shown in his letter to the Philippians:
11I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13I can do everything through him who gives me strength. Philippians 4:11-13 (NIV)
The right attitude for each of us to have is simple and sincere contentment with whatever we have, in our job, home, savings, car, and so forth. It is right for us to work hard and to ask God to bless us with good things and, if we get good things, then to enjoy them. Yet, if we do not have those things, or if the things we have are not as good as we would like them to be, we are to practice the art of contentment. We must not be consumed with striving to acquire more, or better, things.
All of us know that we are, or have been, guilty of this. That is especially so in our materialist European and American societies. The debt crisis which engulfed the world in 2008 illustrates how damaging and corrosive the sin of coveting really is. The world would not be in this financial mess if it was not for covetousness.
I have covered nine of the commandments, but there are so many other things that we do wrong as well, besides breaking the Ten Commandments. What about ingratitude? None of us fully appreciate or thank God for all that He has done for us. Also what about pride? And what about selfishness?
Which of us would even attempt to deny that we are proud and selfish? How could we? We know it’s true. Remember that it was pride which caused Satan to fall from his position as God’s most senior angel. Pride is the most dangerous and corrosive sin because it leads us into every other sin. It also prevents us from repenting.
Likewise, selfishness is what we are at the core of our character. It also causes an infinite number of other sins and enables us to justify more or less anything to ourselves. Self-interest has become our main guiding principle, instead of conscience. Thus let’s admit to pride and selfishness and many other sins too. Let's also recognise that our sinfulness extends far beyond breaking the Ten Commandments, which we have looked at only as a starter.
I hope you will by now accept that you have, like me, broken all nine of the commandments we looked at, and are also guilty of pride, selfishness and a host of other sins too. Perhaps you will argue, however, that you have not done so very often, and that you are not guilty of “many” sins. However, imagine that you have only sinned once per day, which is totally unrealistic. Over say 60 years, that would be 365 sins x 60 years = 21,900 sins! When viewed as a whole, you could hardly call that combined total trivial, or deny that that makes you well and truly a sinner.
But, think how many times you must really have sinned each day of your life. You could probably multiply the above figure ten fold, or a hundred fold, in order to be more realistic. That gives a better picture of the true scale of your sin and mine. Hopefully it will persuade you to abandon any lingering hope that you can justify or excuse yourself. Most Christians find that as they grow in maturity and understanding, their ability to see their own sin increases. That is still the case even if they are actually less sinful in their behaviour. God causes us to get more and more sensitive to sin as we mature. That means that the battle against our sinful nature is life long. It will not go away, even in a real believer, until the day he dies.
I have dwelt at length on the question of sin and the sinful nature of man. I have also tried to prove that it includes you. I have done so to prove to you beyond all doubt that you, just like me, have got a real problem. There is no way that you will ever accept God’s solution, (which is found through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ) unless you first recognise that you truly do have a major problem. If you don’t accept you have a sin problem, and that there is no other way out of it, why would you want, or need, Jesus to save you?
But if you can admit that you are a sinner, then it follows that the inevitable consequences of judgment, Hell and then the Lake of Fire lie in store for you. That is everyone's position until and unless they find salvation in Jesus Christ. We shall come to that wonderful process of salvation shortly. But, for now, let us look at judgment, Hell and the Lake of Fire in closer detail. Then we can see even more clearly how desperate our problem is.