Scripture passage: “You shall not covet your neighbour’s house. You shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbour.” (Exodus 20:17)
1. Brief introductory note: In the final commandment of the Ten Commandments (The Decalogue) the key word “covet” is repeated, emphasizing its importance. The word is used in both positive and negative senses. In its positive sense, the word simply means “a strong desire.” Used in the negative sense, the word means “a strong desire for something we have no right to have.”
The tenth commandment is not forbidding strong desire in general. It’s the object of the strong desire which crosses the line into coveting. That’s why specific objects are named in the verse: I have no right to possess my neighbour's wife. Or his house. Or his servants. Or his animals.
2. We are unhappy and miserable: If things could make us happy, we’d be in paradise every day. We think “more is better.” It seems the more we have, the less we like it. If having more would make us happy, we would never need the tenth commandment. It is written for unhappy people.
We think to ourselves, “If only I had......" We can fill the blank with so many things, a new house, a new wife, a new job, a new career, a new start in life. Oh how happy we’d be... If only!
No wonder we’re unhappy. No wonder we’re discontented. No wonder we’re miserable. Coveting has done its evil work within. It has bored its way into our soul, eating away our happiness, leaving us empty, frustrated and angry.
3. The invisible and forbidden sin: Coveting is an invisible sin. Most of the others sins have some kind of visible manifestation. Coveting is invisible. It is the root of all other sins. Whenever a thing is forbidden it becomes desirable. That which a man must not have becomes the very thing he now must have at all costs. Coveting is the root of all other sins because it causes us to want that which is forbidden.
4. It springs from an ungrateful heart: The covetous man doubts God’s wisdom, God’s goodness, God’s justice. God’s timing and ultimately God’s love.
Coveting is a terrible sin because it is a surreptitious attack on God himself. Those who covet are saying, “God, you haven’t taken care of me.” They are blaming God for his failure to meet their needs.
5. Coveting destroys life: We live in the most technologically advanced generation the world has ever known. No generation has been so advanced. No generation has enjoyed our privileges.
If having more could make you happy, we ought to be the happiest people in the world. But we’re not. We’re miserable, neurotic, unhappy, confused and dissatisfied. We’re frustrated and extremely materialistic. Our marriages fail, our homes break up, our children struggle, our lives don’t hold together. We’ve got it all! And it’s still not enough! We ought to be happy… but we’re not!
Elvis Presley had it all. Money, fame, wealth, power, success. All the things that people spend their lives seeking. What we covet, he had. What we yearn for, he attained. Yet it wasn’t enough. In the end, he turned to drugs to satisfy the aching emptiness and in the end it cost him his life.
6. Guard your heart: This means pay attention to your desires. Every act was once a thought; every purchase was once a desire; every foolish word was once an idea. Coveting happens inside the heart when our desires begin to get out of control. We must guard our hearts (our minds and thoughts) for it is the starting point of all sins. We become what our minds dwell most upon.
7. Your checklist for life: Don't compare what you have with what others have. A saying goes, "What makes us discontented with our condition is the absurdly exaggerated idea we have of the happiness of others." You can never be content nor have peace of mind as long as you keep comparing yourself and your properties with that of your neighbours.
Avoid impulsive desires to spend more money. Don't make excuses for your greed. Don't justify your foolish purchases.
Don't pass unfair judgments on those who have more than we do. You have no idea what trials they may be going through.
Stop lying to yourselves about things which you really need when in reality they are not needs but endless wants. Do not allow yourself to be swept away by foolish desire. Learn how to say “No".
8. What is contentment? Contentment is not the fulfilment of what you want, but the realization of how much you already have. It is putting your trust in God to meet all your needs and thereby helping you avoid stress and preventing you from hunting for happiness in all the wrong places. Benjamin Franklin said, "Content makes poor men rich; discontentment makes rich men poor."
9. Paul found sufficiency in Christ: In Philippians 4:11-13 we learn that Paul had learned to be content with what God provided, irrespective of circumstances. It is significant that Paul had to learn this virtue; contentment is not natural to most of us. Paul truly understood what it was to be in want and to have plenty. He had learned how to trust God in every particular situation and in all situations as a whole. In Stoic philosophy, "content" described a person who accepted impassively whatever came. Circumstances that could not be changed were regarded as God's will, and fretting was useless. This philosophy fostered a self-sufficiency in which all the resources for coping with life were located within a person. In contrast, Paul locates his sufficiency in Christ, who provides strength for believers.
10. The remedy for covetousness: Today coveting is one of the most prevalent and destructive sins. We covet money, status and success, possessions and pleasure without limits. What is the answer for the curse of covetousness? The answer is contentment. You can’t be content and covet at the same time. You can be contented or you can covet, but you can’t do both. The way to control our coveting, the desire for all forbidden fruits… is to practice its opposite, which is contentedness. Contentment is a rare quality in today’s culture, but it is extremely liberating!
11. Start being generous: Would you like to experience the joy of freedom from coveting? It’s not that difficult. Start by giving something away to the needy. Then do it again and again. Coveting can’t stay inside a generous heart!
12. Ask God to give you a grateful heart: This one is so simple that we miss it. Why aren’t we more grateful? We aren’t grateful because we’ve never asked God to give us a grateful heart. By nature we are covetous, greedy, grasping and unhappy. We need hearts filled with gratitude for God's grace, love, mercy and for all the blessings he had bestowed upon us, more especially for the blessing from the cross.
In conclusion: Contentment doesn't mean that you cannot pursue God-given goals, but it does mean that you are content with what he has provided you with, day after day. Contentment simply means, "Be happy with what you have." The “Contentment Prayer” by George Herbert sums up everything in a few words.
"Lord Jesus, you have given so much to me. Give one thing more, a grateful heart. Amen."