The Tenth Commandment
Contentment is the best remedy for a habit of coveting. Faith in God’s Providence as being the best plan for you is what Christian contentment is all about. That includes whatever your circumstances are at the moment. That is a big order! And even Paul had to learn how to do it. “…I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content”…(Philippians 4:11).
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 covet is to desire ardently; to long for something and pine after it. That involves a lot of emotion and feelings! This Tenth Commandment forbids that kind of longing and desire for several specified things. We are to love our neighbor as much as we love ourselves and not seek after what is hers. Desire like this can move us to commit all kinds of evil. Ardent desire can lead to stealing to get what we want. Or to adultery. So, therefore, “the love of money is the root of all evil” (I Timothy 6:10). Desire for more money can cause all kinds of evil.
Of course, there are some good things to be passionate about. We are to desire earnestly to have spiritual gifts, especially love. We are to pursue the moral virtues listed by Peter in 2 Peter 1. We are to covet the best things.
But, still, we may find ourselves unhappy with life as it is for us. We might even have a bad habit of always desiring more, different, better….
Identifying Our Covetousness
Besides searching out our inner most feelings and thoughts, another way to identify covetousness is to look at what we talk about. Is it only things of this world like clothes, politics, jewelry, retirement accounts, home decorating, or other people? Nothing about the Bible or spiritual principles or doctrines? It doesn’t sound so bad, does it? It can be if it leads to discontentment or no interest in spiritual things. In that case, covetousness is disguising inordinate desires and making worldliness a virtue
Thomas Watson, being a “good” Puritan, was adept at dissecting matters of the soul. He pointed out that overloading ourselves with work is another sign that covetousness might be sneaking in on us unawares. If you are so burdened with work that there is no time for prayer or helping at church or helping out a friend, or listening carefully to your children, and your thoughts are consumed with your work, then beware! In this case, covetousness is like a beautiful coat that looks good, but covers up a dirty dress (I Thess. 2:5). Underneath it you are really like Martha: busy with lots of things, but not taking the time for what really counts like her sister, Mary, was doing.
Sadly, there is no power in the Ninth Commandment to keep us from coveting. Instead, it shows us our sin. It is like a mirror revealing our inner-most thoughts. We must face what we see and seek to turn from it and change. Repentance leads to forgiveness. But, before we know it, we are unhappy and discontented again!
Contentment is the Remedy
The root of covetousness is distrust of God’s providence…Faith believes God will provide. Remember in the Lord’s Prayer where we pause and think about God as our Father before we start asking for anything? A good Father looks after his children and provides what they need. The doctrine of Providence is that God looks after all of His creation, but especially His people, to provide for what He deems is best for them. Once this doctrine is understood, contentment lessons begin. Ernie Reisinger used to say, “Experience is a strange teacher. First it gives the test, then the lesson.” Discontentment receives an F on the test. That calls for a lesson in Providence.
Review the Westminster Confession, Chapter 5, “Providence,” especially paragraph 7. Study the proof Scriptures attached. It basically says that the Bible teaches us that God, who made everything, is in charge and in control. Even when times are tough. And He will work all things for the good of those who trust in Jesus Christ. Read Chapters 2 and 3, “Providence Dispels Fear” and “The Providence of God Is Sweet” in my book, Old Paths For Little Feet. Recall the story of Esther, Abigail, and of Ann Judson. Now talk to yourself. Do I believe this doctrine? Do I believe God is looking after me? What about this present circumstance I find so distasteful? Do I think He will work these things out for my good? Why am I graving after……..? Why am I so upset? Why am I discontented or “disquieted” within me as the Psalms say? Is it that worldliness has gotten a hold on me?
Contentment is the result of both our understanding Providence and our love for God. Our mind and emotions are both stirred. There is a new commitment to please God. Where is the covetousness? Praise God, it is beginning to lose its hold on us. We are learning to be content. Therefore, the power for change is from the Holy Spirit’s work in us. It is not from the commandment.
If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. …For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God (Romans 8:13-14).