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The Ten Commandments Series: The Tenth Commandment

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The Ten Commandments Series

The Tenth Commandment

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If you knew nothing about the Bible and tried to guess what God’s Ten Commandments are, you probably would not guess the Tenth Commandment. Even the apostle Paul would not have guessed it (Romans 7:7 Romans 7:7What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. No, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, You shall not covet.
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).

But this commandment, together with the rest of the Bible and especially the New Testament, lets us know that God, who knows our every thought, is judging our hearts, thoughts and motives as well as our behavior. He expects godliness in our deeds and our desires, in our actions and our attitudes (see Isaiah 55:8-9 Isaiah 55:8-9 [8] For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, said the LORD. [9] For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.
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; 2 Corinthians 10:5 2 Corinthians 10:5Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ;
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). Personal character is a matter of our hearts as well as our hands.

Coveting also robs us of contentment, gratitude and peace of mind. And evil thoughts often lead to evil actions (James 1:13-16 James 1:13-16 [13] Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempts he any man: [14] But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. [15] Then when lust has conceived, it brings forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, brings forth death. [16] Do not err, my beloved brothers.
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; James 4:1-4 James 4:1-4 [1] From where come wars and fights among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members? [2] You lust, and have not: you kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: you fight and war, yet you have not, because you ask not. [3] You ask, and receive not, because you ask amiss, that you may consume it on your lusts. [4] You adulterers and adulteresses, know you not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.
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; Mark 7:21-23 Mark 7:21-23 [21] For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, [22] Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: [23] All these evil things come from within, and defile the man.
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).

Coveting can lead to murder, adultery, stealing and lying.

The Bible gives us many strong warnings about covetousness and the related sins of avarice, greed, envy, jealousy and materialism (Luke 12:15 Luke 12:15And he said to them, Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man's life consists not in the abundance of the things which he possesses.
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; Romans 1:29 Romans 1:29Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers,
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; 1 Corinthians 5:10-11 1 Corinthians 5:10-11 [10] Yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortionists, or with idolaters; for then must you needs go out of the world. [11] But now I have written to you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortionist; with such an one no not to eat.
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; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 [9] Know you not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, [10] Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortionists, shall inherit the kingdom of God.
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). People covet not only physical stuff but all kinds of things.

Long ago, the English word “covet” simply meant desire. Two verses, 1 Corinthians 12:31 1 Corinthians 12:31But covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet show I to you a more excellent way.
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and 1 Corinthians 14:39 1 Corinthians 14:39Why, brothers, covet to prophesy, and forbid not to speak with tongues.
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, are about a positive desire for spiritual gifts, but the King James Version translates the Greek word for desire, zēloō, as “covet.” But in modern English, covet usually refers to one of the worst kinds of lust. It is not lust for what is obtainable in an ethical way such as earning or purchasing it. It is lust for what belongs to someone else—one’s “neighbor”—when he is not willing to sell it or give it to you. If everyone would “love his neighbor as himself,” he would thank God for the blessings his neighbor has instead of craving to take away what belongs to his neighbor!

Covetous versus contented versus satisfied

The opposite of covetousness is contentment. Quite often the word “satisfied” is used as a synonym for “contented,” but not in this article. It is not wrong to be dissatisfied with your present condition or situation when you have the opportunity to improve them in an ethical manner. For example, if there is no important reason for you to live in a dangerous neighborhood, you don’t have to be satisfied with that location when you are able to move to a safer neighborhood. God wants us to have godly goals, the right kind of ambition and godly methods of striving for those goals. But God wants you to have a contented state of mind no matter where you are. God certainly doesn’t want us to ever be satisfied with our present level of godliness. We can call that being self-satisfied, apathetic, lethargic and lukewarm. God wants us to fervently flee temptations and spiritually grow!

Paul regularly demonstrated that with the help of God, one can be content in even the most miserable circumstances. He gave us the best biblical explanation of contentment in Philippians 4:4-14 Philippians 4:4-14 [4] Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice. [5] Let your moderation be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. [6] Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. [7] And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. [8] Finally, brothers, whatever things are true, whatever things are honest, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. [9] Those things, which you have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you. [10] But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at the last your care of me has flourished again; wherein you were also careful, but you lacked opportunity. [11] Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatever state I am, therewith to be content. [12] I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. [13] I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me. [14] Notwithstanding you have well done, that you did communicate with my affliction.
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, and the following quotes are from the New International Version. Paul had had an incredible amount of suffering and “troubles” in his life (Philippians 4:14 Philippians 4:14Notwithstanding you have well done, that you did communicate with my affliction.
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). In fact, he wrote this epistle while in prison. Nevertheless, he wrote, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want” (Philippians 4:11-12 Philippians 4:11-12 [11] Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatever state I am, therewith to be content. [12] I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.
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, emphasis added throughout).

Notice the virtues that promote and accompany contentment: “Rejoice in the Lord always” (Philippians 4:4 Philippians 4:4Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice.
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). “Do not be anxious about anything” (Philippians 4:6 Philippians 4:6Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
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). “Prayer” (vs. 6). “Thanksgiving” (vs. 6). “The peace of God, which transcends all understanding…” (Philippians 4:7 Philippians 4:7And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
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). Think about pure and noble things (Philippians 4:8 Philippians 4:8Finally, brothers, whatever things are true, whatever things are honest, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.
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). Contentment focuses gratefully on what one has rather than pitying one’s self for what one does not have.

Needs versus wants

Psalms 23:1 Psalms 23:1The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
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(KJV), says: “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” The popular meaning of “want” has changed since 1611 when the KJV was published. The New Living Translation makes the meaning clear: “The Lord is my shepherd; I have all that I need.”

However, most people still don’t believe Psalms 23:1 Psalms 23:1The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
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. Adam and Eve didn’t believe it. In our materialistic and affluent society, we are dazzled by a seemingly endless variety of products and we convince ourselves that we need lots of them. We are heavily influenced by advertising to believe that accessories are really necessities. We unwisely “compare ourselves” and envy (2 Corinthians 10:12 2 Corinthians 10:12For we dare not make ourselves of the number, or compare ourselves with some that commend themselves: but they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise.
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), and we arrogantly think we “deserve” better.

Regarding this subject, chapter 6 of 1 Timothy is jam-packed with important lessons (again using the NIV). Some people “think that godliness is a means to financial gain” (verse 5). For example, having an appearance of being religious is often good for business around holidays like Christmas and Easter to enhance their money-making power. But, truly, “godliness with contentment is great gain!” (1 Timothy 6:6 1 Timothy 6:6But godliness with contentment is great gain.
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).

Paul regularly demonstrated that with the help of God, one can be content in even the most miserable circumstances.

“But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that” (1 Timothy 6:8 1 Timothy 6:8And having food and raiment let us be therewith content.
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). In affluent societies, it is hard to take this literally. But when ministers and members visit our church brethren in other areas of the world, where they may only have the bare necessities of life, they are often inspired by their contentment. They are often less distracted by materialism—focusing more on the glorious, joyful prophecies and promises of the Kingdom of God!

“Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money [covetousness!] is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs” (1 Timothy 6:9-10 1 Timothy 6:9-10 [9] But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. [10] For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.
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). Being wealthy is not evil or a cause of evil, and God has often helped people to become wealthy. However, being infatuated with money or lusting for riches leads to all kinds of evil. Compare with Ecclesiastes 5:20 Ecclesiastes 5:20For he shall not much remember the days of his life; because God answers him in the joy of his heart.
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, NIV—“Whoever loves money never has enough.” (One theme of the book of Ecclesiastes is covetousness versus contentment.)

Advertising fuels the fires of desires and covetousness. And many politicians gain popularity by promising “free” stuff that is paid for with taxpayer money (largely the taxes paid by future generations).

Sadly, those who spend all their income on themselves are not tithing and donating to their church, they are not putting money into savings, and they are not giving to others who have serious needs. It is important to learn the way of give versus the way of get (Acts 20:35 Acts 20:35I have showed you all things, how that so laboring you ought to support the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive.
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).

Covetousness is idolatry

Idolatry is any violation of the First Commandment. In two scriptures, Paul equates covetousness with idolatry (Ephesians 5:5 Ephesians 5:5For this you know, that no fornicator, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.
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; Colossians 3:5 Colossians 3:5 Mortify therefore your members which are on the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry:
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). When one is obsessed with possessing something, that person is idolizing it. These scriptures help us to better understand the meaning of “covet” and how serious it is when we break the Tenth Commandment.

We can think of the Ten Commandments as making up a perfect circle. For one thing, this visual makes every commandment seem equally important since no one commandment is higher or lower on a list. More clearly, this puts the Tenth Commandment right next to the First Commandment. Breaking the Tenth Commandment is one way of breaking the First Commandment. God commands us to look to Him as our primary Provider (Matthew 7:7 Matthew 7:7Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you:
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; James 1:17 James 1:17Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom is no ficklenss, neither shadow of turning.
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; 1 Timothy 6:17 1 Timothy 6:17Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not high minded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy;
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).

Please read and reflect on the sixth chapter of Matthew. Quoting from the NIV: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth… But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven… For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21 Matthew 6:19-21 [19] Lay not up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust does corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: [20] But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust does corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: [21] For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
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).

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” (Matthew 6:25-26 Matthew 6:25-26 [25] Therefore I say to you, Take no thought for your life, what you shall eat, or what you shall drink; nor yet for your body, what you shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? [26] Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much better than they?
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“So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:31-33 Matthew 6:31-33 [31] Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? [32] (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knows that you have need of all these things. [33] But seek you first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you.
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).

And if we remain faithful to God, He will resurrect us and grant us everlasting life in the Kingdom of God!

Let’s conclude with one final inspiring scripture: “Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’” (Hebrews 13:5 Hebrews 13:5Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as you have: for he has said, I will never leave you, nor forsake you.
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). 

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