The Ten Commandments.
When you read those words, you probably thought about one of three things: The Law of God, Moses, or Charlton Heston. It’s possible that you pictured Christian Bale, but I’m assuming there aren’t many who made that specific connection. Regardless of what your mind associates that title with, I doubt that the Ten Commandments are totally foreign to you. You may even be trying to count how many you know from memory, listing them off in classic King James Version English (“Thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not commit adultery, thou shalt not steal,” etc. (Exodus 20:13-15, KJV)).
For the longest time, I ignorantly thought of the big ten as a fairly simple list to follow. Coveting, specifically, stood out as a seemingly easy sin to avoid. I learned to be content without the latest technology or clothing or media, and I liked to believe that I was free from any form of covetousness. I mentally checked off “You shall not covet…” from the list of commandments to obey (Exodus 20:17, ESV). But sin has a frustrating way of letting you think you’re safe as it eats you alive inside.
Jesus, in the “Sermon on the Mount,” traced sin from its external expressions to its internal beginnings. Sin, he said, is a heart issue. That means that the act itself is only a progression of what has been growing on the inside. Murder doesn’t become sin when another person dies; murder is sin from its conception in unrighteous anger in the heart (Matthew 5:21-26).
That makes sense. It definitely reveals the depths of sin in man’s heart, and it shows how far we are from the mark (Romans 3). But I could still mentally affirm this truth while believing that I was rocking at obedience. But then the extent of sin began to show itself, specifically with coveting.
In Exodus, the commandment is clear:
You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.
The verse seems pretty contextual at this point, so maybe that’s why I haven’t always given it much thought. But then it hit me that Jesus’ words tie sin to the heart, and that, if so, the implications are far reaching. You could almost hear the commandment continuing:
You shall not covet your neighbor’s financial security, or his emotional stability, or his stable family life, or his relationship status, or his wisdom, or his knowledge, or his preaching opportunities, or his _________ (fill in the blank).
The truth is that covetousness reaches much further than physical possessions or immediate relationships. You can covet almost anything. And this covetousness is ultimately a form of idolatry according to Paul in Colossians 3:6. At the root, covetousness is a misplaced focus on the created over the Creator. And the idols will never satisfy the hunger. I think that’s why I can get so downcast and discouraged and pitiful when I give way to covetousness: I can get distracted by what I don’t have rather than rejoicing in what I cannot lose (I’m thinking specifically of my relationship with God in Christ). I can begin to love lesser things with all of my heart, mind, and soul rather than devoting myself to the Lord of all creation. And once that happens, the entire system is thrown off course.
So what do we do? How do we escape the idolatry of covetousness? I think Paul presents a good model in Colossians 3. He calls Christians to change focus, seeking things above rather than things below (Colossians 3:1-2). He calls us to specifically put off the former ways of sin and to remember who we are in Christ (Colossians 3:5-11). Finally, he calls us to specifically pursue the things of God, letting love and the Word of the Lord abide in us as we do everything in the name of Jesus (Colossians 3:12-17). The truth is that there will always be something external to covet. We can’t change that. But we can refocus and realign our hearts internally with Truth. We can rest in the provision of the Lord and be content in any circumstance along the road (Philippians 4:11-13). We can trust God to provide whatever we need because he has already provided what we need most (Romans 8:31-32; Matthew 6:25-33). As the old hymn says,
Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.
– Helen H. Lemmel,