This article is part of a series from our monthly newsletter written by Pastor Steve. Read more from the series by clicking the button below:
Throughout the year, I will be reflecting upon the Ten Commandments in the newsletter. This month we continue by examining the Ninth & Tenth Commandments. I plan to begin with Luther’s explanation and then move into what this might mean for us today.
The Ninth Commandment
You shall not covet your neighbor’s house.
What does this mean?
We are to fear and love God, so that we do not try to trick our neighbors out of their inheritance or property or try to get it for ourselves by claiming to have a legal right to it and the like, but instead be of help and service to them in keeping what is theirs.
The Tenth Commandment
You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox,
or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.
What does this mean?
We are to fear and love God, so that we do not entice, force, or steal away from our neighbors their spouses, household workers, or livestock, but instead urge them to stay and fulfill their responsibilities to our neighbors.
Luther writing in his Large Catechism about the last two commandments says:
‘This, then, is the common meaning of this commandment. First, we are commanded not to desire to harm our neighbors, nor to assist in doing harm, nor to give occasion for it. Instead, we are gladly to let them have what is theirs and to promote and protect whatever may be profitable and serviceable to them, just as we wish others would do for us. So these commandments are aimed directly against envy and miserable covetousness, so that God may remove the root and cause from which arise all injuries to our neighbors. Therefore he sets it forth in plain words; ‘You shall not covet,’ etc. Above all, he wants the heart to be pure, even though, as long as we live here, we cannot accomplish that. So this commandment remains, like all the rest, one that constantly accuses us and shows just how upright we really are in God’s sight.’ (The Book of Concord, p. 427)
These two commandments may not seem like they should be on the same level as others (e.g. steal, murder, adultery) but these commandments may actually address a more significant issue. These are the only commandments that take aim at our motives over against our actions. Most of the other commandments address actions or behaviors that we do; these commandments address our motive and what is in our heart. It calls us to have a ‘pure heart’ in being content with our possessions and status.
Too often, we tend to think that the grass is always greener on the other side or we see what others have (more money, newer cars, better stuff) and we think that we need to have these things as well. When we covet, it can lead us to working at enticing, forcing or even possibly stealing from others. These commandments call us to look upon what God has bestowed upon us and understand that it is sufficient.
When I think about these commandments, the one Bible verse that comes to my mind is I Timothy 6:10. This is actually a verse that gets misquoted a lot. Many people think that the Bible says that money is the root of all evil. The verse (I Timothy 6:10) actually says ‘for the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.’ These two little words make all the difference. It isn’t money that causes the problem, but the love of money and the desire to continually want more and more that causes issues. This love of (or desire for) is essentially what coveting is about—the desiring for more and more of all kinds of stuff. Luther challenges us in his writings that coveting leads to a heart that is not pure and leads us astray to focus upon ourselves rather than help or assist our neighbor.
One way that we see the significance of these two commandments can be seen simply in the fact for Luther that he keeps them separate. There are 2 of the 10 that deal with this one issue—coveting. For others, when they put together the list of the 10 Commandments, they combine these two into 1 ‘Thou shall not covet.’ Coveting may not seem like a terrible thing, but Luther warns us as to what it can lead to—an impure heart.