It’s very easy to point the finger at someone who has visibly done something wrong, but what about wrong thinking? Is our thought life important? One of the commandments is “You shall not covet your neighbor's wife. You shall not set your desire on your neighbor's house or land, his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor” (Deuteronomy 5:21). If this commandment is broken, it can only be seen by God because it is a desire that comes from within us.
To covet means to strongly desire something that we cannot have and that we are not entitled to. We can be enticed by all sorts of things: status, fame, a job, a bigger home, a nicer car, an attractive spouse, talent, money and more. We think that if we could just have that thing, then we will gratify that part of us that longs for it and be happy. The desire to have more than what we have shows an absence of contentment in our life. However, it is only the Lord who can sustain and satisfy those deep longings that we have.
A story of two gardens
In the book of Genesis, it was Eve who looked longingly, touched and ate the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden thinking that she would be like God, knowing good and evil. She exchanged the truth of God and fellowship with Him for a lie. Rather than pointing the finger at Eve for her choice, we would do well to think how we also follow our own will and desires. We exchange the truth of God for a lie that promises big but delivers little.
However, there is another garden where God would do what humanity could not do. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed “Not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42). Jesus laid His will down in obedience to the Father. He lived the life we could not live. He died the death that we should have died. One garden led to the fall of mankind, the other was where Jesus laid down his will to give us new life. He was tempted in every way like us, but did not sin and therefore we can receive mercy and grace in our time of need as He sympathizes with us (Hebrews 4:15-16). He is the only one who can sustain us when we are tempted to covet.
Our thoughts matter to God
The temptation to covet comes when the desires in our mind entice us. This can escalate to us acting on our thoughts which leads to sin (James 1:15). It is clear that our mind has a role to play in coveting, but it is actually the heart that has the problem. The heart is deceitful above all things (Jeremiah 17:9). Jesus said: “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person” (Mark 7:20-23). It is from within us that can cause outward behaviors that grieve God and hurt others.
The first commandment says that we are to have no other gods before God Himself (Deuteronomy 5:7). The desire and attitude of the heart reveal where our affections are and often it is on other things, not on God, which is a breach of the first commandment. The tenth commandment is to not covet and is the root of all other sins. This commandment provides a diagnosis that coveting is a sin, but it does not provide a cure to stop us from it. When we are told not to do something, we long to do it more and more. As Paul says:
“Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, ‘You shall not covet.’ But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness.” (Romans 7:7-8)
Coveting is a heart issue. The commandments cannot change the heart, but Jesus can.
Christ is enough and can satisfy us fully
When we yearn for something more than Christ, we are not trusting Him to meet our needs or to be fully content and satisfied in Him. He promises to never leave us nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5), to give good gifts to His children (Matthew 7:11), and to work all things out for the good of those that love Him (Romans 8:28). He sees us as valuable (Matthew 10:31), we were purchased with His precious blood (1 Corinthians 7:23) and we have been given the gift of eternal life (Romans 6:23).
When Jesus spoke with the Samaritan woman at the well, he contrasted the water that she was collecting with the living water that only He can give. Water is essential for life, but the living water that Jesus offers is eternal. Our human life is temporary and all of the needs and wants will eventually pass away, but God’s words will never pass away (Matthew 24:35).
Jesus also says that He is the bread of life (John 6:35). Bread is a staple food, yet Jesus is offering something more than physical bread - He is offering Himself. He surpasses the physical needs and wants that we have with spiritual, imperishable, eternal truths.
His character shows us that we can find everything we need in Him
One look at the cross where Jesus died should leave us in no doubt of how much God loves us. It is where He took our place for all of the wrong thinking and actions that we have done and will ever do. He knew us before the foundations of the world were laid (Ephesians 1:4) and He knew us before we were formed in the womb (Jeremiah 1:5).
God is faithful (1 Corinthians 10:13), patient (2 Peter 3:9), love (1 John 4:16), good (Psalm 34:8), just (Deuteronomy 32:4), merciful (Romans 9:15-16) and so much more. The Bible is filled with the character of God and He is unchanging. Will our view of God be bigger and brighter than what we crave?
Paul prays in Ephesians 3:16-17: “that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.” As Paul prays for the Ephesians, he asks that God will strengthen them with power by His Spirit in their inner being. It is the inside that needs to be transformed and it is by God’s Spirit and His power that this is possible. God does not leave us helpless in our sin, but is the One who died for our sins and enables us to overcome by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Our mind can be renewed
We can take our thoughts captive to make them obedient to Jesus (2 Corinthians 10:5). But it is not something we can do in our own strength. With the help of the Holy Spirit, we can learn to do this, and like Jesus in the wilderness, we can answer the temptation to covet with truth from the Word of God. We are in a spiritual battle and we need to remember to put on the armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-18) as our minds are renewed day by day.
The hymn “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus” reveals a truth of what happens when our mind is placed on Christ:
Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.
When we focus on Jesus, the desires for what others have will seem less appealing. It is a daily surrender of our will with the transforming work of the Holy Spirit in us. In those moments we can ask for help to overcome, to speak the truth found in God’s Word and seek first His kingdom (Matthew 6:33), not earthly pleasures and pursuits.
Temptations will continue throughout our time on earth, but as we turn our gaze towards Jesus the things that entice us will gradually seem less appealing. By reflecting on all that He has done for us, is doing for us on our behalf as our advocate before the Father, and knowing that He will return in glory, we can know His power to sustain us and our perspective on our desires and Jesus will be renewed.
Photo credit: Unsplash/Benjamin Davies