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Sermon 10-25-09
Exodus 20:17 - Coveting

Audio Sermon


"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" (Exodus 20:17)

To be covetous is to enviously wish for something that belongs to somebody else. It’s when you want the wealth, possessions or privileges of another person. In the original Hebrew language of this verse it meant to desire, to lust after something pleasant, beautiful or delightful. This verse is repeated in Deuteronomy 5:21, except the verse also warns against desiring your neighbor’s “field” as well. The Hebrew word in Deuteronomy is a different but similar word for covetousness, carrying the meaning of delighting in something that is not yours.

How many marriages, how many friendships and families have been destroyed because somebody wanted a person who was someone else’s spouse? How much tension are you living under because you want to keep up with your neighbors and have what they have?

What if no one coveted in this world? What if everybody was content with what they have, what they are? What kind of world would it be? Certainly the evening news, if there was any, would be very different from what it is now. It is entirely likely that all the problems of this world are caused by humanity's covetousness. It’s our sin that brings us down.

There are temptations all around us to break the Tenth Commandment, which is our Scripture for today. Our eyes are continually drawn to something or someone and we must constantly be in prayer as we are urged to do in 1st Thessalonians 5:17. I have been reading the book, “Every Man’s battle,” which explores the restless eyes and thoughts of men and the authors urge us to train ourselves to look away when we are tempted. We must pray and we must also “look away,” as we are taught in “Every Man’s Battle.” The man named Job understood our battle to be free from covetousness, for he said, “I have made a covenant with my eyes; how then could I gaze at a young woman?” (Job 31:1).

The Apostle John understood humanity’s temptation, stating: “All that is in the world, the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions – it is not from the Father but is from the world” (1 John 2:16). Have you noticed that what you need of this world is passing away? The money you want is being swallowed up by inflation and that young, attractive person who drew your attention is likely to inflate also. John continued, “The world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:17).

You can see God’s will in today’s Scripture, the Tenth 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 is your neighbor’s" (Exodus 20:17). Your need is to become content with who and what you are. You are to trust in the Lord to the extent that you are not greedy for money, not angry to the point of murder, and not disrespectful to others. John Stott said, “Covetousness is dry drunkenness.” The greatest need for an alcoholic is to stop drinking and the covetous person needs to STOP also.

By ourselves we are helpless. That’s what Paul the Apostle observed – “We know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. I do not understand my own actions, for I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate… I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out…” (Romans 7:14 & forward). He said, “I would not have known what it is to covet if the Law had not said, ‘You shall not covet,' but sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment produced in me all kinds of covetousness…” (Romans 7:7-8 & context). If you see a sign next to the road that says, “Bridge Out Ahead!” do you stop or keep on going? It may be that you are curious and want to see if the bridge is actually damaged. Be careful, for in the darkness of this life, you are likely to go over the edge.

Paul continued his discussion on covetousness, on keeping the Law, in Romans 7:24, shouting, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” And then he concluded with the good news that there IS a way to be delivered from covetousness. He said, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus; for the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:1-2).

There are many excellent examples of covetousness in Scripture. Some are very obvious, such as the story of Samson presented in the Book of Judges. He was a man who enjoyed being the deliverer, the judge of Israel, but he also enjoyed that which was forbidden to him. His mixed motives led to his weakness, imprisonment, blinded eyes, and death.

More subtle is the story in Acts Chapter 5 of Ananias and Sapphira, a married couple who wanted to seem to be religious, but covetousness literally killed them. The Early Church in Jerusalem was full of new converts who were zealous for Christ. Many demonstrated faith by giving everything they had to the church. Ananias and Sapphira sold their land and told everyone that the money was given like the others, but they secretly kept some of it for themselves. When confronted about it, each of them lied and then both of them suddenly died. They did not have to sell their land or give anything to the church, but they did and then to be on what they considered the safe side, they lied about how much they gave. They may have trusted in the Lord or maybe they faked it, but when they said to the people in the Presence of the Lord that they gave all the money to the church, it no longer belonged to them. They coveted the temporary security of money more than they trusted in the Lord, and it led to their destruction.

The complete opposite of those two was the man Jonathan in the Old Testament Book of First Samuel. He was the son of Saul, king of Israel, and he was also the friend of David, the man who would succeed Saul on the throne of Israel. Jonathan was the Crown Prince who was first in the line of Israel’s throne and on the death of Saul, he could have been king, except for one thing. He was David’s friend and as such, he did not covet the throne of his father, but supported and protected David. Jonathan honored God by acting out the Scripture which is to us all: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18).

Coveting is to lack the faith that God is giving you exactly what you need in life and that He knows what He is doing. If you feel, like Ananias and Sapphira, that you must possess something in order to feel safe and happy, go to the Lord in prayer, for your life may well be in jeopardy.

If somebody has something or is about to get something that otherwise might be yours, be sure and pray, for you will learn that God is watching out for your interests as well, though perhaps differently than you expect. John Stott said, “Covetousness is a self-destructive passion, a craving which is never satisfied, even when what has been craved is now possessed.” The more you get of what you think you want, the more you think you need. When Paul the Apostle said, “Godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Timothy 6:6); those words speak directly to you and me.

We have been covetous, Lord. Help us trust in You, that we may be content with Your provision, and have faith to accept the blessings given to others. In Jesus Name. Amen.

Ron Beckham, Pastor
Friday Study Ministries

Write to: Letters@FridayStudy.org

"While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8)

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