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 is your neighbor’s.”
We are considering some of the most important biblical laws as principles by which to live. Once again, and for the last time, since this ends the series, the fact that God has given us these commandments is plenty enough reason to obey them. But because I am realizing that our good Father gives us no arbitrary laws that don’t also produce abundant life when we live by them, I am looking at them as principles. They are principles, and I truly believe that God wants you to have a better existence, even on this fallen planet in this age, by following him and keeping his ways. It brings him glory and pleasure to see his children walking in light.
The prohibition against coveting falls into the same category as many of the others. We have learned that God loves life. We have learned that God wants us to live and not die. This was the choice set before Adam, the Israelites, and now it is the choice set before us. As Christians, we know we are saved, not by our good choices, but by Jesus’ choice to give himself for us and for our sins. But, in general, the quality of our life on earth will be largely based on our individual choices. Apart from the things that are outside our control, there are a million choices we make through the course of a lifetime that are in our control.
Each man or woman has a right to this choice. They have a right to their life. That is why it is such a horrible thing to murder someone. That’s obvious. Slightly less obvious is that the same principle applies to theft, and even to bearing false witness. It applies to theft, because a person’s possessions are considered part of what is making their life possible. To steward something for God by ownership is to take responsibility for it, and the purpose is the furthering of one’s life. To take one of my things is to take from my life. To be sure, I should learn to hold my stuff with an open hand, remembering that it all belongs to God, but none of it belongs to anyone else but me. That is why God protects private property.
Coveting taps into the same sinful tendency as the desire to take someone’s life, or at least to take from someone’s life. It also tells God that you don’t like your own life, that God should have given you what the other man has, instead of giving it to him. To covet is to not trust God. It is also to prioritize things in your own life that should not be a priority. James says,
1 What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? 2 You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. 4 You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God (Ja 4:1-4)?
Coveting and murder are in the same category here, because the above statement shows that they both take from someone else’s life. This is why it is considered by James to be a root cause of “wars” and “battles.”
So, on principle, do not allow yourself to covet another man’s (or woman’s) possession of anything. It’s a trap of Satan and an invitation for demonic torture.
It tricks you into looking away from the facts of your own life, which is where your attention needs to be.
What is happening with you; why do you not already have this thing that you think is so important? How can you use the facts of your life to see where you are, where you could be, and how to get there? To keep this principle is to trust God. To go a step further, practice thankfulness for what you have, awareness of what you could have and where you can grow, and focus on doing those things that will move you toward a greater faithfulness in your stewardship.
Do not covet…anything that is your neighbor’s.