You shall not covet…
One of the things we are trained to do as Christians is resist the temptation to judge the thoughts and motives of others. A person’s motives are hidden from our eyes. While we may be able to offer an informed guess about such things in certain circumstances, ultimately what goes on in someone’s heart is a mystery to us. Not so with God. Throughout Scripture we learn that God knows the thoughts and motives of all people. Nothing is buried so deeply in the human heart that it can be hidden from God.
At first glance the Tenth Commandment seems to be unique in the second table of the Law (Five through Ten) in that it governs thoughts and motives rather than actions. Of course each of the commandments reach well beyond volitional actions and penetrate deeply into the heart. But the tenth bypasses actions and speaks directly to the interior world of the individual.
Specifically, the final commandment forbids coveting. Coveting is the desire to possess that which belongs to someone else. There are good and proper ways to want something. But coveting is the sinful desire to possess something. It is akin to lust. Sinful sexual desires, materialism, and jealousy are all examples of coveting. The commandment also serves as a warning to keep our desires in general in check. To be sure, there are things we need in this life. But the Scriptures remind us often against a preoccupation with worldly goods which can so easily overtake the proper desire for heavenly treasure (Matthew 6:19-20).
In a sense the Tenth Commandment serves as a summation of the others. The First Commandment forbids coveting the gods of the nations. The Second forbids coveting the worship practices of the world. The Fourth forbids coveting time. The Fifth forbids coveting the honor due to others. The Sixth forbids coveting improper sexual gratification.
The Tenth Commandment helps us understand that sin reaches deep into our hearts and minds. Certainly, with enough effort, outward conformity to the commandments against adultery and stealing and murder is quite possible. Even the other commandments can be conformed to, so long as they are understood in the simplest terms. But the commandment against coveting reminds us that God’s law governs our heart. It governs the way we think and how we are motivated. This presents sinners with a grave dilemma: How can sinners be right with God when sin has corrupted them in the deepest place of their being, in that place that they cannot change through effort?
This is how the law of God drives us to Jesus. Jesus obeyed God’s law without fail. He conformed both inwardly and outwardly to all that the law demands. Where the first Adam failed, the Second Adam succeeded. And just as the first Adam’s guilt was passed along to us at birth so the Second Adam’s righteousness is credited to every sinner the moment they believe. However clearly the law identifies us as sinners, the grace of God in Jesus Christ speaks a better word to us: “It is finished.”