“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife ... nor anything that is your neighbor’s” (Exodus 20:17). The 10th Commandment tells us not to covet. It gets to the heart of the matter of sin. It looks at our motivations, showing how God wants us to think.
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.
The heart of the matter
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 and idolatry
God even ties the 10th Commandment about covet in with 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).
Bad examples of coveting
The Bible gives many bad examples of coveting, such as when David coveted Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11:1-4) and Ahab coveted 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.”