“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house . . . your neighbor’s wife . . . nor anything that is your neighbor’s” (Exodus 20:17). The 10th Commandment looks at our motivations.
What is coveting?
Covetousness is a lustful desire for something that doesn’t belong to us.
God recorded the 10th Commandment for us in Exodus 20:17:
“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s.”
When the 10 Commandments are listed again in Deuteronomy 5, the order of the items not to be coveted is slightly different (wife before house), which argues against breaking this into two commandments as the Catholics do.
Deuteronomy 5:21 says: “You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife; and you shall not desire your neighbor’s house, his field, his male servant, his female servant, his ox, his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.”
In modern terms, coveting often includes our neighbor’s cars, electronic gadgets, money, prestige, etc.
What does covet mean?
To covet means “to feel inordinate [immoderate, excessive] desire for what belongs to another” (Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary).
It is feeling “I have to have that!” when we have no right to have it.
The heart of the matter and the spirit of the law
Jesus Christ made clear in the Sermon on the Mount and throughout His teachings that God’s law involves more than just our actions. Really obeying the 10 Commandments involves our thoughts and attitudes and approaches.
Even before Christ expanded on the laws, this 10th Commandment added depth to all the commandments by drawing attention to our hearts and motives. Coveting, and all sin, begins in our hearts.
“But those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. These are the things which defile a man” (Matthew 15:18-20).
Why does God care about coveting?
Covetousness does in fact cause hurt. Beginning in the heart and spreading outwards, covetousness is where sin often begins.
“Covetousness, which is idolatry”
God even ties the 10th Commandment about not coveting to the Second Commandment against idolatry. When we put our greed and selfishness ahead of God, it can become idol worship.
The apostle Paul wrote: “Therefore put to death your members which are on earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience” (Colossians 3:5-6).
Paul also made this comparison in his letter to the church in Ephesus: “For this you know, that no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God” (Ephesians 5:5).
Jesus Christ explained, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon” (Matthew 6:24). Worshipping wealth separates us from worshipping the true God.
When we covet, we give in to a toxic, selfish mind-set that leads to sin and death. Thankfully, the Bible identifies the cure as well as the disease.That’s why Jesus Christ also told us, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21).
Greed in the Bible
Humans began coveting in the Garden of Eden. Satan, who was unsatisfied himself, sought to cultivate Adam and Eve’s desire and greed for the one tree God had restricted them from.
“So when the woman saw that the tree [the only tree God said not to eat from!] was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate” (Genesis 3:6).
And people have been desiring to enjoy their neighbor’s things ever since.
Achan’s greed caused suffering for his whole nation (Joshua 7:11-12, 20-21). Judas’ greed contributed to his betrayal of our Savior (John 12:4-6; Matthew 26:14-16).
Solomon warned, “He who is greedy for gain troubles his own house” (Proverbs 15:27). He also wrote, “He who loves silver will not be satisfied with silver; nor he who loves abundance, with increase” (Ecclesiastes 5:10).
When we give in to greed, we will not be satisfied. There will always be a desire for more.
The apostle Paul explained, “But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows” (1 Timothy 6:9-10).
See also James’ indictment of those who gained riches through greed and injustice (James 5:1-6).
However, the Bible does not condemn riches honestly gained and accompanied with wisdom and righteousness (Proverbs 3:13-16; 8:18).
Other bad examples of coveting
The Bible gives many other bad examples of coveting, such as when David coveted Bathsheba, his neighbor’s wife (2 Samuel 11:1-4) and Ahab coveted his neighbor Naboth’s vineyard (1 Kings 21:1-6).
In both of these cases, this mental sin led to other sins, including murder.
How do I avoid coveting?
The best way to defend against covetousness in our own hearts is by taking steps to counteract it—learning contentment, exercising generosity and expanding our faith.
Antidotes to covetousness
When we covet, we give in to a toxic, selfish mind-set that leads to sin and death. Thankfully, the Bible identifies the cure as well as the disease. The antidotes to covetousness include:
- Contentment. Paul “learned how to be content with whatever I have” (Philippians 4:11, New Living Translation). He wrote, “I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (verses 12-13, New King James Version).
- Generosity. If we learn to be “rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share,” we will be storing up treasure “for the time to come, that [we] may lay hold on eternal life” (1 Timothy 6:18-19).
- Faith. We can trust in “the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy” (1 Timothy 6:17). We can know that God has a glorious inheritance for those who have faith in Him. “But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6).
For more about the faith to trust God for our needs and desires, be sure to read “What Is Faith?”
Learn more about what the Bible says about coveting, the 10th Commandment and related subjects in the following resources: “Thou Shall Not Covet,” “How to Overcome Jealousy,” “Fighting the Works of the Flesh: Jealousies,” “What Does the Bible Say About Gambling?” “What’s the Real Source of Contentment?” and our video “The 10th Commandment: Where Your Treasure Is.”
When we discover that we have sinned and broken God’s 10 Commandments, we should turn to God in repentance. For more about this vital subject, see our section on “Repentance.”