Living Christianity: The Ten Commandments (Contentment)
December 1, 2020
by Peter Amsterdam
Living Christianity: The Ten Commandments (Contentment)
(Points for this article were taken from The Doctrine of the Christian Life by John M. Frame.1)
The tenth commandment stands out among the others because it focuses on our inner thoughts and desires rather than outward sinful actions. For example, while the eighth commandment forbids the act of theft, the tenth commandment forbids the desire to steal. The term used to express this desire is to covet. To covet means “to feel inordinate [immoderate, excessive] desire for what belongs to another.”2 When we have a strong desire to have something which belongs to someone else, we are coveting.
This commandment is stated twice in the Old Testament. In the book of Exodus we read:
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.3
In the book of Deuteronomy, it states:
You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife. And you shall not desire your neighbor’s house, his field, or his male servant, or his female servant, his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.4
Today, people generally aren’t coveting their neighbor’s ox or donkey, but they do covet others’ jobs, paychecks, bank accounts, material goods, spouses, or social or workplace positions; all of these fit under the clause anything that is your neighbor’s. We covet when we are discontent with our material situation while envying what others possess. Coveting is a desire for what someone else has which causes us to be dissatisfied, to see our happiness and contentment hinging on obtaining those things.
Warnings against covetousness are found throughout the New Testament. Jesus warned against it.
He said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts … coveting. … All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”5
He said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”6
In the book of Romans, Paul included covetousness in a list of the sins of unbelievers.
Since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness.7
In the book of Colossians, he wrote:
Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: … covetousness, which is idolatry.8
As human beings, we all have God-given desires and dreams which are perfectly legitimate. There is nothing immoral, ungodly, or sinful about setting financial or other goals and working toward them in order to improve your life. It’s not wrong to work toward buying a home, a new car, or studying to earn a degree, or saving money in order to meet some future need. However, when you desire the things which belong to your neighbor, whether it’s something they physically possess or their position, relationships, or their particular gifts and talents, that is sin.
Within Scripture we find examples of covetousness that led to people illegitimately obtaining the objects of their covetousness. In the book of Joshua we read of Achan who, because he coveted, disobeyed the command not to take anything from the city of Ai.
Achan answered Joshua, “Truly I have sinned against the LORD God of Israel, and this is what I did: when I saw among the spoil a beautiful cloak from Shinar, and 200 shekels of silver, and a bar of gold weighing 50 shekels, then I coveted them and took them. And see, they are hidden in the earth inside my tent, with the silver underneath.”9
King David coveted Bathsheba—the wife of Uriah, one of David’s soldiers—when he saw her bathing on her rooftop. He coveted his neighbor’s wife, which led to his committing adultery with her, which resulted in her becoming pregnant. Then, in order to cover up his sin, David arranged for Uriah to be positioned in the forefront of the hardest fighting, and for the soldiers who were near him to draw back from him so that he would be killed in battle.10
While covetousness may not result in outward action such as these examples describe, it is a major cause of unhappiness. It breeds comparison between yourself and others and causes dissatisfaction, which can result in an intense desire for what others have, such as their job, money, house, car, spouse, etc. Covetousness can cause one to judge their self-worth by their possessions; however, Scripture clearly states that our lives and our worth as human beings are not measured by how much or how little we own.
The antidote to covetousness is contentment—to find fulfillment and happiness in whatever state we may be in. The apostle Paul wrote,
There is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But 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. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.11
As the apostle Paul expressed, he had experienced both abundance and financial need.
I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 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. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.12
Being content means that we are thanking the Lord for what we have rather than complaining about what we are lacking. Like with the apostle Paul, it’s important that we learn to be content in whatever situation we may find ourselves. Being content with our present situation, however, does not mean that we cannot take steps to improve upon that situation.
It’s not morally wrong to let someone else’s success motivate you to take action to improve your life. Often we are inspired by what others have accomplished, and it helps us to see that we too can make progress and achieve worthwhile goals in some aspect of our life. Such motivation is not coveting, as there is no desire to take what belongs to another; rather, we are motivated by someone’s example to work toward legitimate goals and to improve ourselves in some way.
The way to combat covetousness is to trust that God will provide our needs and to have faith in His promises. Scripture tells us, and our experience reinforces His promise, that He will care for us.
Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”13
As Christians we are called by Jesus to not be anxious, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself.14
Covetousness ultimately has to do with our relationship with God. Do we trust that He loves and cares for us and has our best interests at heart? If so, are we willing to accept what He has or hasn’t provided for us, and to be content and thankful?
As Christians, it’s important that we remember that Jesus gave up everything in order to bring salvation to us.
You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.15
Jesus didn’t let His position in heaven stand in the way of sacrificing everything in order to redeem us. Likewise, each of us should follow His example by expressing gratitude to God for supplying what we need, and by being generous to others.
Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptures are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
1 John Frame, The Doctrine of the Christian Life (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing), 2008.
2 Merriam-Webster’s 11th Collegiate Dictionary.
3 Exodus 20:17.
4 Deuteronomy 5:21.
5 Mark 7:20–23.
6 Luke 12:15.
7 Romans 1:28–29.
8 Colossians 3:5.
9 Joshua 7:20–21.
10 2 Samuel 11:1–27.
11 1 Timothy 6:6–12.
12 Philippians 4:11–13.
13 Hebrews 13:5.
14 Matthew 6:31–34.
15 2 Corinthians 8:9.