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You Shall Not Covet

“As the head of the family should teach them in a simple way to those of his household.” 

(Martin Luther)

 The Ninth & Tenth COMMANDMENTS:

You Shall Not Covet

The Ninth Commandment

You shall not covet your neighbor’s house.

What does this mean?

We should fear and love God that we do not sinfully desire to get our neighbor’s inheritance or house by a trick or in a way that appears to be right; but we should do everything we can to help him keep what is his.

The Tenth Commandment

You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his workers, nor his animals, nor anything that is your neighbor’s.

What does this mean?

We should fear and love God that we do not sinfully desire to use tricks or force, or do anything that might cause our neighbor to lose his wife, workers, or animals; but we should urge them to stay and do their duty.

We have reached the final two commandments in our study, the Ninth and Tenth. Since they involve the same topic, covetousness, they will be taken together. In fact, within the realm of Christendom, Lutherans and Catholics appear to be the only ones who keep these commandments separate. Others divide the First Commandment into two in order to end up with ten.

The numbers identifying the commandments are not a matter of doctrine, just as Bible chapter and verse notations are of human devising. The numbering is for convenient reference; the content is what matters.

One of the benefits of having this commandment divided in two is the emphasis it places on the sin of covetousness. Since one of the purposes of the God’s law is to condemn us as unworthy sinners, commandments dealing with the inner workings of an evil heart serve as a fitting conclusion. It is almost as if God is saying, “You aren’t quite convinced of your guilt yet? Take a look at these commandments!” The sinner is left to respond, “What? Even our every thought has to be pure?” Or as Luther states in his Large Catechism, “For He would especially have the heart pure, although we shall never attain to that as long as we live here; so that this commandment will remain, like all the rest, one that will constantly accuse us and show how godly we are in the sight of God!” (Part I, para. 310).

There is certainly no shortage of Bible examples demonstrating the sins of covetousness and greed and the resulting harm. Satan himself coveted what God had, and in turn convinced Eve to do the same. The list of other covetous offenders includes Cain, Lot, Esau, Joseph’s brothers, Achan, Ahab and Jezebel, Gehazi, Saul, David, Absalom, Solomon, and Judas.

Because of the seriousness of this sin, God issues many warnings to His people. “Do not lust after her beauty in your heart, nor let her allure you with her eyelids. For by means of a harlot a man is reduced to a crust of bread; and an adulteress will prey upon his precious life” (Proverbs 6:25-26). “But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition” (1 Timothy 6:9). “But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death” (James 1:14-15; see also James 3:14-16).

As you can see, covetousness alone is a sin, but it is also a snowflake that can cause an avalanche to the Christian soul. It is in the heart where covetousness is conceived, often in the form of lust
and greed.

Most of our sins are those of thought—fewer become words,
and fewer yet become deeds.

Since we humans cannot see into the heart, we judge others only by their words and actions. Because of this, it is easier to become complacent with our sins of thought because we don’t receive a negative reaction from society (sad to say, this is becoming the case with sins of word and deed as well). Let us not become like the Pharisees of Jesus’ day, pious in their outward ways yet fostering pride and all other evil in their hearts.

Luther wrote, “This last commandment, therefore, is given not for cheaters in the eyes of the world. It is for the most pious, who want to be praised and to be called honest and upright people” (Large Catechism, Part I, para. 300).

Permit the following analogy. Scientists tell us that the Earth contains between three million to thirty million different species, with 10,000 new ones discovered annually. The overwhelming majority are insects, very few seen by most people. Other species are larger and easy to see but fewer in number.

So it is with sin. The “large” sins—murder, rape, robbery, drunkdriving—are easily seen and often punished by society. We might say they are “the hippos and the bears.” The sins of the heart are hidden and “tiny” by comparison, and are not punished by society–but they are present by the millions in both believers and unbelievers, and are fully known only to God. These insidious “insects” are just as damnable.

We pray:

Dear Father, we confess our sins of the heart, too many to number. By Your grace, make our hearts content and eager to serve You. Thank You for the redemptive sacrifice of Your Son
to forgive all sins, both “small” and “large.”