What “Thou Shall Not Covet” Means, and Why You Don’t Want To


By Pastor Josh Stone 

Never in the history of humankind has it been so easy to covet so many people in so little time.  Through social media we see the glossed, lacquered, and filtered representations of childhood friends, old high school flings, and anyone else with a computer.  Since reality has been replaced by the edited representations of ourselves, we are dissatisfied, frustrated, and covetous of others.

The Tenth Commandment tells us “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”.  What is coveting?

Desiring good things is not coveting, for Scripture tells us to fix our minds on what is good (Philippians 4:8).  Rather, coveting is the heart disposition that says, “If I could take away what they have and keep it as mine, I would”.  I’d take their spouse, their job, their career, their body, their children, their money, their life.  Coveting is discontent that breeds jealousy that blossoms into a desire for what is theirs to be mine.

“Thou shall not covet” is an interesting prohibition because there is no clear effect.  When you covet, no one dies or loses their property or sleeps with someone they aren’t married to.  Coveting seems innocuous.  Why would it then be in the Ten Commandments?  Because coveting has a clear effect.

Coveting is a sin that creates relational separation from the person we covet.  You can imagine a scenario where you are sitting on the couch looking at Facebook with your spouse.  You see that one of your high school girlfriends’ husbands started doing CrossFit, he’s won some competitions, and he is looking good!  Then you glance over to your husband who is watching Duck Dynasty with a bag of Cheetos propped on his belly.  Coveting takes hold and relational separation forms between you and your husband as well as you and your friend.

God included coveting in the Ten Commandments because He knew that a life of coveting is ultimately a life of isolation.  God meant his people to live in loving and charitable community just like the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Next time you are on social media, remember 2 Corinthians 4:18, “…we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”