We live in a consumer driven culture, where everything from marketing to popularity is driven by the desire to have it all. If we just drive the right car, marry the right person , have the right job, or live in the right house we are told that we will be happy. However, no matter what we have, we always end up finding that there is something else that others have that we want. To get a healthy perspective on our desire to have things a Bible lesson and life application study of the tenth commandment, “You shall not covet,” is necessary.
What does it mean to covet?
The word covet is commonly defined as (1): (Verb) 1. To wish for earnestly 2. To desire (what belongs to another) inordinately or culpably. From this definition, to covet means to strongly desire to have something that belongs to someone else.
What does God say about coveting?
The tenth commandment reads like this:
“Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s” (Exodus 20:17).
This commandment adds to the common definition in that it specifically refers to certain things in addition to all other things.
In this verse, the Hebrew word hamad (2) is used and is commonly translated as covet, desire, delight, or lust, amongst other words. Like the common definition, it also communicates a strong desire to have something that belongs to someone else. This desire, called lust , has three main areas of focus: lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and the pride of life (1 John 2:15-16). When looking at Exodus 20:17, we find these three lusts displayed in three ways:
- Coveting things: Coveting someone’s house, their ox, or their ass primarily speaks to our desire to have things that belong to someone else. It could be the coveting of the house they live in, the car they drive (ass used for transportation), or job (ox used for farming) they have. This target of coveting is primarily motivated by lust of the eyes.
- Coveting intimate relationships: Coveting someone’s wife speaks to our desire to have a relationship with someone else’s spouse. It could be the coveting of how they provide for each other’s physical day-to-day needs, their closeness, or sexual relations. This target of coveting is primarily motivated by lust of the flesh.
- Coveting influence: Coveting someone’s manservant or maidservant speaks to our desire to have the influence that someone else has. It could be the number of servants they have, the power they have in ruling over others, or how they are perceived by others in wealth and status. This target of coveting is primarily motivated by the pride of life.
What is the Spiritual perspective of coveting?
Coveting is based on our desire to please our self and does not have eternal benefit nor give glory to God or esteem others (Matthew 6:19-34). God tells us that our lusts (lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and pride) tempts us by drawing us away and enticing us. When we allow these lusts to continue in our thoughts, it conceives the desire to sin, which destroys relationships and leads to our demise (James 1:12-16; 1 Timothy 6:10). Satan used the three lusts to seduce Eve in the garden successfully (Genesis 3:1-7) and he used the three lusts to try to seduce Jesus in the wilderness unsuccessfully (Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13).
Is coveting ever justified?
God does tell us there are things that we should covet after. In 1 Corinthians 12:27-31 and 1 Corinthians 14:39-40 we are told that we should covet the best gifts of the Spirit. Of these gifts, the highest are related to preaching and teaching the Word of God. This is why God says special honor should be given to those who do so (1 Timothy 5:17-18).
How do we defend against the desire to covet?
To covet after these gifts requires that we spend time in study of God’s Word (Psalms 119:11; John 8:28), seeking to have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 1:10; Philippians 1:27; Philippians 2:1-11). When that is the focus of our study and prayer, God guards our hearts and minds (Philippians 4:6-9). The result is that we learn to be content with what we have and our desire is to glorify God through His strength , no matter what the situation (Matthew 6: Philippians 4:10-13; 1 Timothy 6:6-12).
God commanded us not to covet in the tenth commandment. Although this was an Old Testament commandment, it pointed to the fact that coveting is not in keeping with loving God and our neighbor above our self. Coveting in motivated by lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and pride. It consumes our desires to serve God and others and demonstrates that what God provides for us in not enough. The prescription for coveting is having the mind of Christ, which changes our thinking.
Related reading: What Are the Ten Commandments? 
Resource – Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, King James Version. (1) Merriam-Webster. (2014). “Covet”. Retrieved from Merriam-Webster Dictionary: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/covet. (2) Strong, James, (2014). “Covet”. Strong’s number H2530. Strong’s Talking Greek & Hebrew Dictionary.