Tenth Commandment: You Shall Not Covet

Exodus 20:17

“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 neighbour.”                                                            


As we come to the 10th of the Ten, I want to share with you some thoughts in the book True Spirituality  by the late Francis Schaeffer.  After giving his testimony, the author launches into the significance of the Ten Commandments.

He writes, “If we are considering outward things in relation to true spirituality, we are face to face not with some small list, but with the whole Ten Commandments and all of God’s commands.”  

Then he writes, “However, eventually the Christ life and true spirituality are not to be seen as outward at all, but inward.”  He then quotes this tenth commandment and writes, “The commandment not to covet is entirely an inward thing. … Actually, we break this last commandment, not to covet, before we break any of the others.”  A little later he writes, “Coveting is the negative side of the positive commands, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and mind and soul; and thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”   And then, “Thou shalt not covet is the internal commandment which shows the man who thinks himself to be moral that he really needs a Saviour.” 

 We may wonder sometimes why the Bible says, “Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life.” (Proverbs 4:23)  And this is why I have found Schaeffer’s book helpful: it drives at the heart, not just the externals.  And the title is fitting: TRUE SPIRITUALITY.  The church is in desperate need for a season of meditation on this commandment!  One does not have to go anywhere, talk to anyone, or do anything to break this commandment!  It’s of the heart!  And as Schaeffer points out somewhere, this commandment brings us right back to #1: “You shall have no other gods before me.”  

 So how does someone cope with this?  There is not one among us who hasn’t broken this commandment!  In fact, we tend to break this commandment every day!  And it’s a matter of the heart, as we’ve said.  Which logically brings our focus back to the daily maintenance of our hearts as followers of Christ. It has been my experience that in the church it is the unusual person who has some plan and practice for taking time each day (morning and/or evening) for this very purpose.  Yet, I have met many men – busy men – who do!  And by the way, the problem is not a problem of time.  It’s a problem of priority.  You may not agree with me; but I’ll take you on anytime to prove to you that we do the things we believe are necessary.  Many people in the church look on this as a really commendable thing, but not a priority. 

I’m reading a book right now, a novel, about a flyer in World War I and it brings back to me my deep passion to learn to fly when I was young.  It’s very revealing that conscientious pilots have a check list to review before take-off.  My sister’s son-in-law flies for Jet Blue and he recently talked about their preparatory routine before taking their passengers aloft.  It’s that kind of care that I’m speaking about.  Those Christians who have learned to keep their hearts before God as priority before starting the day know something of the hazards of the real world!  And it is amazing how regular time in the Word and Prayer as one’s daily launching pad not only protects the Christian and the Christian family, but also opens the doors of opportunity!  And, yes, I mean that in terms of work, and also witness.   And… in that order!  Let me conclude this review of the Ten Commandments on this note.  The man who delights in the law of God, as Psalm 1 says, can expect the fulfillment of the accompanying word, “whatsoever he does shall prosper.”  The great enemy of that perspective is coveting!  Coveting focuses on self, not serving; on getting, not giving.  Love, on the other hand, reaches out beyond self to one’s neighbor. It is love, as opposed to coveting, that asks, “How might I be a help and encouragement to him or her or them?”

The focus finally brings us to our Savior Jesus.  According to Philippians, Jesus did not clutch to Himself His position in heaven, but “emptied Himself” and came to earth as a man (and still God) to redeem us from our sins.   The cross where He died still stands as a symbol of sacrifice.  So, the way of the cross fulfills in principle this tenth command. Hence, when one hears Christ’s call to salvation, he hears, “If any man come after Me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily and follow Me.”  This tenth commandment denies self-centeredness to honor God.  

May I urge you: if you have never memorized these TEN WORDS, do so now.  Let the law of God command your profile of being a follower of Christ!  

by Ken G Smith

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