THE DESIRE OF WANT
The Tenth Commandment
You must not want to take your neighbor’s house. You must not want his wife. And you must not want his men and women servants or his cattle or his donkeys. You must not want to take anything that belongs to another person.
Exodus 20:17 (Easy-to-Read Version)
Notes on the Scripture
When early English versions of the Bible (notably King James) were published, the verb “to covet” meant simply to desire or to want fairly strongly. Because of its use in this passage, it has come to mean “to want something wrongly.” Use of the term in the Bible has changed its meaning, ironically, so that the Bible doesn’t mean quite what it did when it was translated!
Christ will teach us a complex lesson about serving God versus serving money. But that is another lesson; the tenth commandment, in and of itself, does not forbid us from wanting things of this world. The entire message is in phrase, “your neighbor’s.”
Only the first and last of the ten commandments crawl into our head and seek to regulate thought. The others refer to external acts. We have already been told not to have relations with someone else’s wife or take his possessions; here, we are told that we must not allow our minds to go there in the first place.
The injunction is not for our neighbor’s benefit; it is for our own benefit. Jealousy and envy are poison. The importance of the person or item coveted is blown utterly out of proportion. We can become fixated on it. We cannot help but feel some dislike toward the person who has what we want so desperately.
More subtle is the resentment of people who have something — money, or power and position, or good looks — that we do not necessarily even admit to ourselves that we covet. We just don’t like them being more important than us, getting more attention, making a decision.
Praying the tenth commandment is a great way to come closer to God. As we put aside our resentments of other people, our desire to keep up with the Jones, we naturally become more centered and focused on more important things in our lives. As Christians, of course, we go further than the commandment, for we must examine constantly how much our lives served God, and how much our lives serve mammon.
If this is sometimes a source of confusion for you, you are not alone. Every Christian struggles with the problem. All we can do is pray about it and try to work out a reasonable and good-faith system of dealing with worldly possessions, asking for God’s guidance.