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You Shall Not Covet – a Little-Known Christian Commandment

Carola is a Christian writer and author of several books. She writes about Christian living, relationships, and other related topics.

The tenth commandment:

“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”

- Exodus 20:17

Many of us Christians are familiar with most of the ten commandments. We know we should not steal, lie, or commit adultery, and honor our parents. Our churches tell us to put God first, honor His name, honor our parents, and take some time off to honor the Sabbath day. We may have heard of the commandment not to bear false witness against our neighbor.

However, “covet” and “coveting” are words that we do not hear very often. The term "covet" sounds archaic and King-James-Versionish, yet it is essential to our salvation that we understand what it means and how it applies to our life choices.

Definition of the Word Covet

Coveting is a strong desire or lust for other people’s spouses, servants, possessions, status, or anything else that belongs to them. People who covet are never satisfied, may be jealous, and feel entitled to what other people have or seem to have. They are attracted to what is forbidden and feel driven to do whatever it takes to get what they want, no matter how many people get hurt on the way.

It is difficult for us to avoid lusting for other people’s possessions in a world that encourages people to ignore boundaries and act on their sinful desires for other people's spouses, servants, wealth, status, or possessions.

The Story of David and Bathsheba

Most of us know the story of David and Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11). David was walking around the palace roof at night and saw this beautiful woman bathing on the roof of her house. Never mind that she was married to Uriah the Hittite, a loyal soldier. Never mind that David already had a stable full of wives and was king of the land. David wanted Bathsheba, sent for her, and slept with her. She became pregnant.

David could not cover up his sin being talking Uriah into leaving the battlefront of war and going home to be with his wife. David arranged for Uriah to be on the war’s frontlines, where he was sure to be killed.

Bathsheba gave birth to David’s child, who died soon afterward, causing great heartache to her and David. After the prophet Nathan confronted him about what he had done, David did realize that his coveting had led him to commit adultery and murder. He repented of these sins.

The Source of Covetousness

Coveting begins when we allow ourselves to be tempted and enticed by our own human desires (James 1:14-15). Our minds obsess about seducing another person’s spouse, plots to get another person’s wealth, or plans to steal another person’s possessions (James 1:14-15). Coveting leads to all kinds of evil thoughts such as adultery, deceit, jealousy, sexual immorality, murder, sensuality, theft, wickedness, slander, foolishness, and pride (Mark 7:20-23).

Factors that lead us to covetousness:

  • Putting ourselves in situations where we are tempted to sin
  • Selfish cravings that threaten the fundamental rights of others
  • Strong, insatiable desires to have more than what we have
  • Lust
  • Jealousy
  • An insatiable hunger for gain and position
  • A love of money
  • A longing to obtain things that are forbidden to them
  • A sense of entitlement to things other people have it

The Consequences of Coveting

The cravings can grow into sin (Romans 7:7-8, James 1:13-15). The consequences are severe and can lead to harm and death (James 1:14-5).

Acting on our sinful desires for what other people have can:

  • destroy relationships
  • provoke quarrels and fights
  • ruin people financially
  • Hurt innocent people
  • Cause our neighbors deep grief, loss, and tremendous emotional pain

Some people are so focused on obtaining something they have no right to have that they do not see the devastating results of their actions. People trying to acquire wealth, for example, do not know that poverty is around the corner for them (Proverbs 28:22). People who seduce their neighbors' spouses not only potentially destroys the spouses' marriages. It devastates all the families and innocent parties involved.

People who covet things such as money pierce themselves with pain and wander from the faith (1 Timothy 6:10). Once they make a move to get what they want, they may have to lie to cover up their actions. When Bathsheba became pregnant with David’s child, David tried to get her husband Uriah to come home from the field, hoping Uriah will sleep with his wife and think the child is his. When Uriah refused to go home,

David ordered his commander to put Uriah on the front lines, where he was likely to be killed. This heinous act shows the length to which people will go to get what they want and cover up their sins.

People think that they will be satisfied once they get what they want, but they are not. Coveting is a selfish act that does not see how it damages both the perpetrators and others. It is the beginning of many sins such as stealing, committing adultery, or as in David’s case, murder and adultery. Woe will come to people who covet and seize property and rob others (Micah 2:1-2).

How To Overcome Coveting

God calls us to overcome our sinful natures (Colossians 3:5-6). God gives us several tools to battle the temptation to covet what other people have.


God knows the things we need and wants to shower blessings on us. God wants us to have loving spouses, a great family, wealth, and possessions. There are many reasons why some people have things that we want in our lives, and we do not. One may be that we did not ask God for these things in prayer. We can pray for the strength to resist the temptation to covet what other people have. However, God will not answer our prayers if we ask for things for the wrong motives such as indulging our own selfish lusts.

Seek Contentment

Though we do not have certain blessings, we should learn to be content with what we have (Philippians 4:11-13, Hebrews 13:5). Contentment leads to happiness and satisfaction, no matter what our situation. On the other end, covetousness leads to dissatisfaction and misery, especially when people find out that getting what they want is not all it is cracked up to be.


A spirit of thankfulness will also help us focus on what we have, not what we do not have. No matter whether we are poor, have dysfunctional families, are single or have lost a loved one, all of us have blessings in our lives. We should appreciate the grace of God that has come through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, no matter how bad our situation is.

Jesus said that we should love our neighbors as ourselves. One way we can do that by not indulging in feelings of covetousness that could lead us to sin. We can rejoice that our neighbors are blessed in certain ways and enjoy the benefits of being children of God with His help (Psalm 141:3-4).

Reference: The Holy Bible, New International Version

© 2016 Carola Finch

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