Have you ever witnessed a roomful of children playing? It is amazing how quickly one of them will long for something that is not theirs.
Want to have some fun? Offer to serve in your local church’s nursery. Then place a new toy in one of the children’s hands. Most assuredly, what happens next is pure, 100%, human nature. You will (almost instantaneously) see a transition from the sin of coveting to that of stealing!
A few of the kids will see the toy, desire it, and exclaim “MINE!!!” But you had better hurry up and get in there to calm things down or it will soon look like an NHL hockey fight.
THE DEADLY DESIRE OF COVETING
I was teaching through the tenth and final commandment last night in our small group Bible study. Usually, the best is saved for last. So I was excited for #10. Yet, it seemed a bit strange that the last commandment would not be (what I might view) as the worst one.
Dare I say, if I were re-ordering the list, perhaps I’d make murder, or even false worship the last one. Wouldn’t you do the same? But why coveting?
Here’s the commandment:
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 belongs to your neighbor. (Exod 20:17)
Coveting is a deadly desire that communicates one thing and one thing alone: we are not content with what God has given us; and for that reason—it has earned its place as the anchor of the mighty ten.
It should be noted that the list in this verse is not exhaustive (only the neighbor’s house, wife, servant, or animal), but rather it is a suggestive list. Look at the end of the command, “or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” We can covet anything from anyone. Especially since Jesus taught that everyone is our neighbor (Luke 10:25-27).
When we covet, we are longing for something that is not ours. It is as if we deserve it. Like there has been some kind of mistake—check again Lord—because certainly our lives would be much, much easier with it.
Philip Graham Ryken explains this further in his book Written in Stone: The Ten Commandments and Today’s Moral Crisis1:
The truth is that if God wanted us to have more right now, we would have it. If we needed different gifts to enable us to glorify Him, He would provide them. If we were ready for the job or ministry we want, He would put us into it. If we were supposed to be in a different situation in life, we would be in it. Instead of saying, “If only this” and “if only that,” God calls us to glorify Him to the fullest right now, whatever situation we are in.
The word for this is contentment. Contentment is the positive side of the last commandment; it is the remedy for covetous desire… Contentment means wanting what God wants for us rather than what we want for us. The secret to enjoying this kind of contentment is to be so satisfied with God that we are able to accept whatever He has or has not provided.
To put this another way, coveting is a theological issue. Ultimately, it concerns our relationship with God.
THE SECRET OF CONTENTMENT
The secret to contentment is not circumstantial. It does not pertain to our possessions (technology, home, car, clothing, or money). It is not about our attributes (age, looks, brains, talents). Nor is it tethered to our situation in life.
Paul understood this well. In his letter to the Philippians, he wrote:
Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. (Phil 4:11-13)
So what is the secret to contentment? Ryken gets right to it:
God is all we need, and therefore all we ought to desire. To be even more specific, all we need is Jesus. God does not offer us His Son as a better way of getting what we want. No, God gives us Jesus and says, “Here, even if you don’t realize it, He is all you really need.”
When we come to Jesus, we receive forgiveness of our sins through His death and resurrection. We receive the promise of eternal life with God. We receive the promise that He will never leave or forsake us, that He will help us through all the trials of life. What else do we need?
Jesus stated it this way:
Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. (Matt 6:33)
We are far too easily distracted. Our daily actions often reveal an empty and bereft state. We long for someone else’s wealth and pleasure, all-the-while pushing precious time with the Lord in His Word and in prayer further away.
Did you read your Bible this morning? Did you spend time in prayer to God? The secret to contentment is just that—a longing for Jesus. To know Him more, for He is enough. And He is all we need.