Do Not Covet
This post is by Tim Brister. Brister is a pastor and elder of Grace Baptist Church, founder/director of the PLNTD Network, and director of The Haiti Collective.
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You and I were made to desire God.
In God’s wisdom, He created us so that we would put Him on display through our joyful delight in Him. He wants all of our wants to terminate in His fullness so that we would not lack in anything. When our lives are truly aligned with this reality, we can confess with our lives, “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.”
But for so much of our lives, this is sadly not the case. We have believed the lie that God’s goodness is not bound up in His governance and rule over our lives. We question His promises and wrestle with His providence. We convince ourselves that the broken cisterns of the world can really satisfy the longing of our hearts while we fail to drink deep from the fountain of delight in God (Jer. 2:12-13). The Bible says we have sinned against God. We are restless for satisfaction by wanting things to satisfy us in ways that only God can.
James tells us that sin originates in our desires, and our desires give birth to sin (James 1:13-15). Because of our sinful nature, our hearts are not right with God, and when we desire according to our sinful nature, sin is birthed and ultimately leads to death. We are all by nature rebels to contentment with God. The sin of covetousness is a battle every person faces. As Scripture says, we all like sheep have turned away; we have turned—every one—to his own way” (Isaiah 53:6). Covetousness manifests in different ways with different people, but the act is the same nonetheless—we are seeking satisfaction and contentment in worldly substitutes for God.
This is why the Apostle Paul explained covetousness as idolatry to New Testament believers (Col. 3:5). The first commandment is “you shall have no other gods before me” (Ex. 20:3), but when we sin by coveting, we are placing god-like expectations on things, people, or ideas that we value so that they become idols in our lives. In essence, breaking the 10th commandment (you shall not covet) is a manifestation of breaking the first commandment (have no other gods before me).
While it is difficult to hear the news that we are lawbreakers, it is the God’s law that reveals our sin and failure and causes to look outside of ourselves for help, hope, and healing. In Romans 7, Paul argued,
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 ESV)
God’s law exposes us and shows us an accurate picture of ourselves apart from God. We are undone. Our lives produce “all kinds of covetousness.” If we are truthful with ourselves and refuse to cater to self-deception, we must come to terms with the bad news of our coveting heart before God.
However, there is good news for law-breaking coveters. God sent His Son into the world so that our hearts might rest fully in Him. As Augustine once said, “You have made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find rest in you.” The good news of the Gospel is that Jesus promises rest for the restless and burdened heart weighed down through broken cisterns (Matt. 11:28-30). As the Son of His love, Jesus was always well-pleasing to the Father because He never once failed to know and believe the Father’s good and perfect will for His life. Even in His death, Jesus was content to take upon Himself the sins of all who would ever believe in Him, thus enduring the wrath of God on their behalf. Only through Christ can our restless, coveting hearts find rest in God.
One of the most misquoted verses in the Bible is Philippians 4:13. Paul says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” I am in the long line of believers who have used this verse out of context, including as a little boy wanting to make that game-winning hit and get the game ball. But the context of this very familiar verse is quite unfamiliar to many Christians. In the verses preceding verse 13, Paul is talking about learning the secret of contentment in all circumstances. In other words, Paul is saying that He has learned as a disciple of Jesus how to live free from a coveting heart and to trust with confidence in God’s good purposes for him regardless of the worldly circumstances outside of him. He learned how the power of the Gospel continues to enable believers to live counter-cultural lives by having their hearts set free to love God supremely and delight in Him fully.
The good news is good for believers every day of their lives. Indeed, through Christ you can have all your wants to terminate in Him, because He is your Good Shepherd (John 10:11). We do not have to live coveting and making much of the things of this world because we have tasted and seen that the Lord is good (Psalm 34:6), that He indeed is our portion in the land of the living (Psalm 73:25-26), and God alone will satisfy the longing of our hearts with pleasure forevermore (Psalm 16:11).