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 is your neighbor’s.” 18 Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off 19 and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.” 20 Moses said to the people, “Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.” 21 The people stood far off, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was.
In Michelle Van Loon’s Christianity Today article, “Green with Housing Envy: Bursting the Bubble of Coveting My Neighbor’s Home,” she points out that coveting is deeply ingrained in who Americans are as a people.
This desire is deeply embedded in our collective psyche, beginning with the arrival of the Pilgrims at Plymouth in 1620. Though religious liberty was their primary motivation, within a generation, the original group dispersed in search of more space. Governor William Bradford explained, “For now as their stocks incresed, and ye increse vendible, ther was no longer any holding them togeather, but now they must of necessitie goe to their great lots; they could not other wise keep their katle; and having oxen growne, they must have land for plowing & tillage.” The desire for a place to keep our own “katle,” oxen, or that massive collection of kitschy salt and pepper shakers has shaped us ever since.
Indeed, American society does not have to be taught how to want more, how to covet. In truth, nobody anywhere has to be taught to covet. It is natural to fallen human nature to desire what our neighbor has. For this reason, we should pay special attention to the tenth commandment, “You shall not covet…”
The sin of coveting reveals a fundamental lack of trust in the love and providential care of God.
The tenth commandment offers a general prohibition buttressed by specific examples.
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 is your neighbor’s.”
To covet is to desire to own what your neighbor has. J.I. Packer says that coveting is “the first cousin to envy.” That seems true enough, for we covet what we jealously desire.
Why is this so dangerous and why is it so detrimental to the human soul? It is because, at its core, the sin of coveting reveals a fundamental lack of trust in the love and providential care of God.
When Jesus teaches us to pray in Matthew 6:11, He teaches us to call upon God for provision: “Give us this day our daily bread.” The nature of that request is telling. It reveals that we should trust God for enough, not for everything we jealously desire to possess. We are to trust God for daily bread, not for a lifetime of bread all at once.
In Luke 12, Jesus showed the utter folly of this covetous desire to have more by telling a memorable and jarring story of a man who was not content with what he had.
13 Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” 14 But he said to him, “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?” 15 And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” 16 And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, 17 and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ 18 And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”’ 20 But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21 So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”
The all-consuming desire to have more blinds us to the temporal nature of life, to the judgment that awaits mankind, and to the sufficiency of God’s daily provisions. Daily bread, after all, seems so paltry and small when compared to weekly, monthly, and yearly bread. But daily bread keeps us reliant upon and content with God and His provisions.
To covet is to tell God that you do not truly trust Him.
The cure for coveting is a Kingdom-shaped reprioritizing of values and an embrace of the economy of Christ.
In order to conquer a covetous spirit, we must reprioritize our values. In order to reprioritize our values, we must embrace the economy of Christ. We must value what Christ values and content ourselves with the provisions of the Kingdom. After the story of the rich fool in Luke 12, Jesus demonstrated the sufficiency of the Kingdom with these words:
22 And he said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. 23 For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. 24 Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! 25 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 26 If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest? 27 Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 28 But if God so clothes the grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! 29 And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. 30 For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31 Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you. 32 “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
It is so simple, so beautiful, and so liberating. In the Kingdom, God cares for the little birds and God clothes the grass. None of these things have savings accounts or warehouses. They live simply, daily, and trusting in God.
God cares for His creation. He will likewise care for us.
To be sure, the scriptures speak elsewhere of the nobility of work and provision for our families and appropriate savings. For instance, in 1 Timothy 5, Paul writes:
8 But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.
Certainly providing for your family involves work and appropriate savings. Paul extols the virtue of work in 2 Thessalonians 3.
10 For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.
Furthermore, in Proverbs 6, Israel is instructed to work and to save.
6 Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise!
7 It has no commander, no overseer or ruler,
8 yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest.
9 How long will you lie there, you sluggard? When will you get up from your sleep?
10 A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest—
11 and poverty will come on you like a thief and scarcity like an armed man.
Jesus is therefore not calling for the abandonment of our jobs and responsible, appropriate, reasonable savings. He is talking about the spirit of coveting that leads to anxiety because its thirsts are never slaked. He is talking about a society, like ours, that deep down believes that happiness is bound up with acquisition and that peace can be achieved if we just have enough in the bank or the pantry.
Christians must live their lives with the calm, consistent, rock-solid conviction that all we have has come from God and that the lustful desire to have more only pulls us farther from Him.
Christians must value daily bread and the sufficiency of the Kingdom. This will be scary for consumers like us, but it is ultimately freeing. Deep down we know this. How beautiful would it be to be free of the tyranny of coveting, of the insatiable desire for more? The Kingdom of God shows us how. In the Kingdom, the good of our neighbor is of more value than our comfort. In the Kingdom, daily bread is enough. In the Kingdom, the danger of inordinate acquisition is clearly seen and rejected as the poison that it is.
The giving of the law led to an increased understanding of the holiness and the love of God.
Our text concludes with the peoples’ response to the giving of the law.
18 Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off 19 and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.”
In the immediate aftermath of the revelation of the law, Israel reels with trembling and fear before the awesome sovereignty and holiness of God. They backed further away from the mountain and they asked that Moses and not God speak to them. They are now once again aware of the otherness of God, but also of the responsibility of being the people of God.
The law was given with power and a truly overwhelming display of divine might. The people appear to conclude on that basis that the law establishes distance between them and God and that their relationship will henceforth be one of shame and judgment and despair. Moses intervenes to show them that this is not the case.
20 Moses said to the people, “Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.” 21 The people stood far off, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was.
This response is telling. It reveals that, yes, there will be a kind of fear present, but it is a fear intended to keep humanity from transgressing the law of God, a fear that, ultimately, will drive us into the gracious arms of God, and not a fear that leads us to mistrust like the Greeks would have mistrusted their gods.
The giving of the law reveals to us the holiness of God, our need to obey His commands, but also His love. Had God not revealed the law, human beings would never have had a complete understanding of right and wrong, or morality and ethics. The law protects us from the ravages of soul-destroying sin.
Of course, it does bring a kind of despair as well, for it reveals to us our own insufficiencies to keep the law. It reveals the holiness of God but also the sinfulness of man. And this, of course, drives us to desire forgiveness and liberty from the tyranny of our own wickedness. And this means we cry out in faith to Jesus…and Jesus is always faithful to answer and to forgive. Paul put it so beautifully in Galatians 3.
23 Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. 24 So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. 25 Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian. 26 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
The law reveals our distance from God, but the Lord Jesus brings us to Him. Through faith in Jesus, we are saved, for by faith we are able to receive the grace of God.
Are you crushed by thoughts of the holiness of God and your own guilt before Him? Then see how God has made a way home by sending His Son to lay down His life in obedience of the law.
The righteousness of Christ is our hope, and it is an unfailing hope!
 Packer, J. I. (2008-01-07). Keeping the Ten Commandments (Kindle Location 879). Crossway. Kindle Edition.