The Tenth Commandment


Blessed is the man

who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,

nor stands in the way of sinners,

nor sits in the seat of scoffers;

2 but his delight is in the law of the Lord,

and on his law he meditates day and night.


So reads the first two verses of Psalm 1. The law of God is the way to blessing. It is not, and was never meant to be, the way to salvation. In order to be right with God we must come to Him through Christ by faith. Not by doing, but by believing. That is, by trusting in Christ and only Christ. We cannot be right with God by “being a good person.” This is because we are so corrupt that we cannot be a good person. We must be changed by the Holy Spirit and this change begins when we have faith.


Once we come to the Father through Christ His Son then we are given a desire for His commandments.


The man, woman, or child who has been made alive by the Spirit finds that they delight in God’s law. They want to know it. They want to live it. They think about it day and night.


“Blessed is the man!” “Blessed is the woman!” “Blessed is the boy!” Blessed is the girl!”


Blessed is (put your name here).    …who does not listen to the wicked, but listens to God as He speaks through His law.


To receive the blessing we will meditate on the tenth commandment today. It is found in 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. (ESV)


What does it mean to covet? When you covet something it means that you desire it strongly. When the word appears in the NT it is also used to express a desire for good things (e.g., I Cor 12:31; gifts of the Spirit). Therefore, it is not that all coveting is sinful. It is sinful when it is, as one Bible dictionary puts it, “ungoverned and selfish” (Holman).


It is when we covet things that others have that it becomes destructive. We see that someone else has a thing and we begin wanting it. Why? Because they have it and we do not. So, we see that coveting which is forbidden and harmful is a selfish desire. It is an aggrandizement and satisfaction of self.


This is the only commandment that solely pertains to what is going on inside a person. All the other commandments have to do with actions that people take. This commandment gets right to the heart of who we are.


When Paul is describing himself before coming to Christ he writes: as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.” (Phil 3:6 ESV) Blameless to whom? Not to God. No one is blameless in his eyes before they come to Christ. He was blameless in the eyes of his fellow Jews. Why? Because they only could see what he did. He was blameless in his actions. His fellow Jews could not see his heart.


When Paul is writing to the Roman church, in chapter 7 of his epistle, and he is describing how the law convicted him of sin, he says:    What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” (7:7 ESV) He uses the tenth commandment as an example of how the law convicted him as a sinner!


We can make a show of keeping the other laws, but when it comes to the tenth commandment we are all convicted if we are honest with ourselves.


On the night of November 16, 1930, Mrs. Henrietta Garrett, a lonely 81-year-old widow, died in her home in Philadelphia and, unwillingly, started the most fantastic case of inheritance litigation in history.

She had failed to leave a will, or no will was found, to her $17,000,000 estate; a mystery left unsolved. She had expertly handled her financial affairs since the death of her husband in 1895 and, therefore, she must have realized that, without a will, her fortune would become involved in many legal battles. Although Mrs. Garret had, at the time of her death, three known relatives, all first cousins, and less than a dozen friends, attempts to prove relationship to her and to claim a part or all her estate were made by more than 26,000 persons from 47 states and 29 foreign countries, represented by more than 3,000 lawyers.

In their frantic efforts, these alleged relatives have committed perjury, faked family records, changed their own names, altered data in church Bibles and concocted absurd tales of illegitimacy. As a result, twelve were fined, ten received jail sentences, two committed suicide and three were murdered. The estate then increased to $30,000,000 and took 22 years to settle, finally settling in 1952.


Greed arises from covetousness. It is the coveting of money. It is the desire of riches. These false claimants were willing to lie under oath to satisfy their coveting of her estate.


Each commandment carries both a prohibition and an advocacy. Another way of saying that is that each commandment has a negative aspect and a positive aspect. When something is advocated it necessarily implies the censure of the opposite behavior. For example, the fifth commandment says “You shall honor your father and your mother.” This necessarily means that you are not permitted to dishonor them. Dishonor is just another word for disobey. The fifth commandment forbids disobeying your father or your mother.


The third commandment forbids misusing the name of the Lord. This necessarily implies that we must use the Lord’s name in the way He intended and desires. What is one way to use the Lord’s name as he desires? [Answer: by calling on His name!]


So it is with the tenth commandment.  [I.] The prohibition is plain. We are not to covet.


[A.] We must run from covetousness because it leads to other sins. Covetousness is a sin in itself. But it is one of those sins that frequently leads to other sins. Consider all the false claimants for the inheritance of Miss Garrett. They read about her estate and its great value and they began to covet part of that wealth. So they concocted tales that were false. They bore false witness in a court of law! They perjured themselves and many paid the price.


  • The inordinate desire for more things, more material possessions, has caused some to work long hours and they have neglected their families.
  • Others have worked on the Lord’s Day to make more money and have forsaken the assembly of the church.
  • The leading cause of divorce is not unfaithfulness, but disagreements and severe arguments over how money will be spent.
  • Covetousness also leads to complaining when one does not get what they covet.


We must run from covetousness because it leads to other sins.


[B.] We must run from covetousness because it leads to senseless and harmful desires. Paul to Timothy writes this: those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. (ESV)


When I was in the Air Force I had a dear friend who was a great companion. We lifted weights together, went to rock concerts together, and went to church together. A week after I was saved I shared the gospel with him and he, too, gave his life to the Lord. There was a weakness I perceived in him early on. He frequently talked about making a lot of money. He would talk about the plans he had to get rich. These plans seemed to change every few months. After he left the Service he went from one job to another. Every time I spoke with him it seemed as if he had a different scheme to make money. Only he never did. He could not work in the same place for more than a few months. He seemed to be the personification of this verse. The desire to be rich led him into senseless desires.


Not only can covetousness lead to senseless and harmful desires bit it can lead to destruction.

Of the 20,000 inhabitants of Pompeii, some 2,000 lost their lives, among them a woman who loved finery above all else. As the deadly rain of fire came down, she decided to run to the harbor and escape by ship. That was wise, but this rich and beautiful woman stayed behind just long enough to collect as much jewelry as she could carry. Snatching up her rings, she hastily thrust them on her fingers. There was no time to hunt for a box or a bag in which to cram her ornaments, so she picked up as many as she could hold, and rushed into the street, clutching her pearls and diamonds, her rubies and sapphires, her gold brooches and her earrings—a wealth of finery that would be placed at thousands of dollars today.

But she delayed too long. The poisonous fumes overcame her as she ran; and with all her trinkets she stumbled, fell, and died, clutching the things she prized so much.

There, under the ashes of Pompeii she lay; and when the excavators found her, she was still lovely, and her hands were still laden with jewels.


The kind of ruin that this lady experienced was blatant. The ruin that most experience in their pursuit of things is more subtle. As a person pursues wealth they, over time, neglect the more important aspects of life and this is what ruins them.


We have only spoken of the dangers of coveting material things. We have not even touched upon the danger of pursuing persons. One can lose all sense of what is good and can have their life turned upside down when they covet a person – when they “fall in love.”


We should not covet money, clothes, shoes, cars, treasures, and such. Neither should we covet persons. The all-encompassing pursuit of another person, wanting to make them yours, can lead to even more trouble than the pursuit of things. Save your greatest love for the Lord Jesus Christ and let all other loves pale in comparison. If you do this, other aspects of your life will become balanced and you will save yourself from ruin and destruction.


[II.] What is the opposite of coveting? It is being content with what one has. This is the positive side of the tenth commandment. This commandment calls us to be content. We see this in the verses leading up to verse 9 in I Tim 6.


But godliness with contentment is great gain, 7          for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. 8        But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. (vss 6-8)


It is not possible to covet if you are content. Contentment is a great blessing. Paul wrote about contentment in his letter to the Philippians as well.


I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. 11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (Phil 4:10-13 ESV)


Paul testifies that he has learned to be content in any and every circumstance. His was not a constant search for the right circumstances that would bring him happiness.


Nelson Rockefeller one of the richest men in the world in the 1970’s, with a net worth of 1 billion dollars then, was once asked, “How much money does it take to make a person happy?” He answered, “Just a little bit more.” You could replace the word “money” in that question with anything. “How much food does it take to make a person satisfied?” “Just a little bit more.” “How much power does it take to make a person happy?” “Just a little bit more.” Nelson Rockefeller’s answer gives us an insight into the human soul.


Human beings always seem to want what they cannot have Our jobs are never good enough, our houses are never big enough, our circumstances are never nice enough.


This problem is made worse by the fact that we think that if we had a better job, a bigger house, a more attentive spouse, better circumstances then we would be happy and content. This is a natural way of thinking but it totally misdirected. It is wrong and it is sinful way of looking at things. I am not saying that one cannot seek a better job, a larger house, lovingly attempt to have your loved ones give you more of their time, or improve your circumstances. But it is wrong, and you will be severely disappointed, if you think that you will be happy if you achieve some of these things if you are not happy right now.


Paul wrote this letter while he was in prison, a miserable prison, yet he was content. Maybe some of you are thinking right now, “Yea, I’d rather be in prison right now instead of…fill in the blank.” If that’s what you are thinking then this message is for you!


What is the nature of Christian contentment and how can we have it?


First, this passage teaches us that you can be content. We know that it is attainable because Paul attained it. Some might think, “Well, Paul was an apostle. He was on a higher spiritual plane than I am. He may have attained it, but I cannot.” But Paul did not obtain contentment because he was a  spiritual superstar. He writes, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” The same God who strengthened Paul will strengthen all those who belong to Christ.


In the midst of all your struggles, contentment can be yours.


Second, contentment must be learned. In verse 11 he says, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.” Contentment does not come naturally. It is contrary to our normal way of thinking. The world says that you get contentment by achieving your goals; in other words, by getting what you want. The Bible teaches that true contentment comes by being satisfied with God and longing for His greater presence.


In the second half of verse 11 Paul says that he “has learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.” In other words, Paul found a secret for contentment. What was that secret? Would you like to know the secret? I’m going to tell it to you.


It is not just one secret. Rather, Paul was absolutely certain regarding three facts about the Living God. Knowing these three things constituted the secret.


The first fact is seen in verse 19. After Paul thanks the Philippians for their generous help to him while he was in prison, he writes, “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” He knew that God supplies the needs of the Philippians. Not their wants, not their desires, but their needs.  God will frequently even grant the desires of those who fear Him (Psalm 145), but Paul knew with certainty that God would supply their needs. How did he know this? Because he had experienced it! God supplied his needs over and over again, so he knew that he would supply their needs as well.


But this supply is according to the riches in glory in Christ Jesus. It is not as if God will meagerly give us what we need. It comes out of an abundance, out of riches, out of glorious riches. These riches are found in Christ. Therefore, not to be satisfied with the supply of our needs means not to be satisfied with Christ. Paul knew this and it kept him content.


Are we satisfied with Christ or are we not satisfied with Christ? To ask this question of any true believer is to answer it. We only need to be reminded that Christ is our satisfaction and all else is a deception.


The second thing that Paul learned and was certain of is that God is sovereign. In verse 6, Paul says, “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God…will guard your hearts and mind…” Notice he does not say that we will get our requests, only that we are to make them known to God. Just making them known will bring us peace. How is that so? It is because God is sovereign, meaning that he is in complete control of all things. This is one of the most blessed doctrines in all of Scripture. Paul knew it well.


Whereas verses 6 & 7 merely hint at it, elsewhere Paul gives it overt expression. As in Romans 8:29.         And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.


Paul could be content because he was certain that whatever circumstances he was in, they were for his good. Even those that, outwardly, did not seem to be. Even people coming against us, as Joseph’s brothers did in the OT. When Joseph and his brothers were reunited he could say to them, “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.” (Genesis 50:20)


Paul knew that God was sovereign and exercises His sovereignty for Paul’s good. This taught him contentment. Similarly, the same knowledge teaches us contentment.


Finally, he enjoyed the Lord’s presence. Paul has been dropping hints of this marvelous key over and over again leading up to his statement about the secret of contentment. In verse 4 he says, “Rejoice in the Lord.” When? Always! He repeats himself, “Again, I say, rejoice!”


Verse 10 started out with, “I rejoiced in the Lord…”


He ends the epistle with, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.” To rejoice in the Lord is to experience His presence and enjoy it. Just as we enjoy the presence of a person we love, so we enjoy the presence of the Lord. When we enjoy Him everything seems just right, whether it is a dry morsal of food or filet mignon perfectly prepared. One day I asked someone how they were doing and they answered me, “Everyday with the Lord is a holiday and every meal is a feast.” When he said those words, immediately I knew they were true. When we enjoy him there is contentment.


The three things Paul knew and experienced that taught him contentment were:


  1. The rich supply of God for all his needs.
  2. The sovereignty of God  - all things are under his control and plan, even the bad things.
  3. And, enjoying the Lord.

When these three things are known and experienced, they constitute the secret of contentment and contentment becomes a present reality.


Conclusion: When one is content, covetousness is something that will not be realized.  When one is content they will find that life is better than they had thought and the future is more glorious than it was in the midst of any dissatisfaction in this life. And it is all real for all these things come from the Lord Himself.