To Have Or Not To Have

Bible Book: Exodus  20 : 17
Subject: Ten Commandments; Coveting; Greed; Things; Materialism
Series: Ten Commandments - God's Way, The Right Way

To Have Or Not To Have - Commandment 10

Dr. J. Mike Minnix,

Exodus 20:17

We come now to the last of the Ten Commandments. I trust that this series has meant as much to you as it has to me. Now, this last commandment is different from the others in that this commandment deals with attitude while the others deal with actions. The others deal with deeds but this one deals with desires. Someone has said that in order to stop the sin of covetousness you would need a policeman living in your heart and not just one standing on the street corner.

What is a definition for coveting? To covet is to desire that which someone else has by right and is something that is not presently your right to have. You can covet someone's power, fame, influence, position, appearance, popularity, spouse, talent or even their health. You can covet an automobile that belongs to your neighbor or you could covet his education. Coveting has nothing to do with "earning power”; it has everything to do with "yearning power”!

Coveting is a major problem in our day. On numerous occasions we have read of people storming into stores to get the latest fashion statement. A few years ago it took police dressed in riot gear to stop a melee in a shopping center over the sale of new Nike tennis shoes. There were only minor injuries, but if authorities had not been quick to respond someone could have been killed – over a pair of tennis shoes! That is modern America.

We are a nation of materialists. We love things. We feel that we just must have things. We feel we cannot live without them. Someone well said, “To be satisfied one must get more or be content with less.” There is a lot of truth in that statement. The fallacy of coveting comes in the idea that having things will make us happy. Perhaps things do make us joyful, for a few hours, days or weeks, but things never make one happy in the long run. You see, once we have the thing we want, there is always something else. A comedian once said, “You can’t have everything; where would you put it?”

The Bible says, "Covet the best gifts." It is not wrong to want things, but it is wrong for us to want that which is not rightfully ours, not lawfully ours, and not divinely ours. Eve desired that which was not rightfully, lawfully or divinely hers. It was a four-step walk over the precipice of death: Delight (she saw the fruit), Desire (she wanted the fruit), Demand (she reached for the fruit), and Doom (death was the result in her getting the fruit)!

I. The Cause Of Covetousness

Let us first of all establish that there are some things which we have a right to desire. Wanting things is not necessarily wrong. In Genesis 2:9 we are told that God created trees and placed them in the Garden of Eden. They were pleasant to the eyes and good for food. The word used for pleasant in that passage is the same root of the word for covet. But God placed one tree in the Garden of Eden which Adam and Eve were not to disturb – they were not to covet. Genesis 3:6 states that Eve found the tree pleasant to the eyes and she desired it. In other words, she coveted that which God said she was not to covet. She could have desired the other fruit and it was allowed. A desire for things, which is limited to the will of God for you, is not sinful, but all other desires are evil. If one had not desire for anything, that person would be an oddity in nature. God made you to desire things, but that desire must always fall within His will.

It is interesting that all that God made can be good or it can be evil. Sex was made for good, but it can be used in an evil way. Strength was made for good, but it can be used as an evil. So, what causes us not to stay within the boundaries which God has set for us?

A. Selfish Motivation

Mark 7:21 states, "From within, out of the heart of them proceed ... covetousness."

This thing called coveting comes from a heart that is selfishly motivated instead of being spiritually motivated. The heart of the human problem is the problem of the human heart. Man is self-centered. Man is seeking to satisfy himself, often at the cost of others. Someone has well said, "A man all wrapped up in himself makes a mighty small package." We act in self-interest to the point that we forget God and forsake others.

There is the story of two men hiking who saw a bear. One of the men sat down and started to put on his running shoes. The other man said, "You can't outrun that bear." As the first man finished lacing up his tennis shoes he said with a sly grin, "I don't have to outrun the bear, I just have to outrun you." That is how we are very often. We don’t care if the other guy gets hurt as long as we get ahead. Coveting is part of that process.

The cause of covetousness is a selfish heart, which leads to a selfish motivation.

B. Spiritual Misunderstanding

Luke 12:15 states, "Take heed to beware of covetousness, for a man's life consists not in the possessions, which a man has." Jesus follows this with a parable. The man in the parable was a materialist. You see, the man in Luke 12:15 knew how to make a living, but he did not know how to make a life! He did not own possessions, his possessions owned him! He was too shallow. Self, sin and sorrow go together – they are evil twins.

Someone said, "What a great country this is. You can own a second house, a second car and a second T.V and all you need is a second job, a second mortgage and a second wind! That statement is often true and always sad.

Most importantly, we do not understand that things cannot make us happy. Look at Ecclesiastes 5:10 which reads, "Whoever loves money never has money enough, whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income. This too is meaningless."

II. The Corruption Within Covetousness

Covetousness is very corrupting to one's life. Why? Covetousness substitutes position, power, prestige, and possessions for God. I want you to see what I mean by looking at the following points.

A. This Sin Corrupts By Misleading Us

We can be so misled that we do not even recognize when we are committing this sin. In Parker and Hart's "The Wizard of Id" comic strip, one monk is putting up a sign on the bulletin board in front of the church while another monk watches. The sign reads "Thou Shalt Not Covet." The Monk who is watching says, "Boy, I wish we had a signboard like that at our church." Robert C. Shannon, 1000 Windows, (Cincinnati, Ohio: Standard Publishing Company, 1997). Indeed, we can even covet in church and we can covet what another church has. Sad, isn’t it?

In 1 Thessalonians 2:5 we read that there is a cloak of covetousness. Very few people admit this sin. No one thinks that he commits this sin. Spurgeon said he had never seen a covetous person saved, simply because no one being saved will admit this sin! Beware, it will deceive you!

This sin can do great damage to your life and soul, and you will not even recognize it. I heard about a fellow who had a wreck. A policeman showed up and found the man crying loudly, "Oh, my BMW, Oh, my BMW." The policeman said, "Sir, I'm sorry about your car but I think there is something far more important here - your left arm is missing." The injured man then began to scream, "Oh no, I've lost my Rolex, I've lost my Rolex!"

Covetousness makes us unaware of our greed. It anesthetizes us to feelings of deep concern for God’s will and for other people. It blinds us to our own selfishness. It is truly misleading. But, notice also…

B. This Sin Corrupts By Mastering Us

1 Timothy 6:9f states, "The love of money is a root of all evil." Covetousness can cause a man to break all the other commandments.

The 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Commandments are broken when we covet, for when we covet, we also worship money or things along with or instead of the true God.

The 4th Commandment can also be broken since we may well put things, pleasure, money and ambition ahead of our worship of God.

The 6th Commandment can also be broken due to this sin. Remember that Judas betrayed his Lord into the hands of the enemy for 30 pieces of silver. Remember that David coveted another man's wife and it led to the husband's death.

The 7th Commandment is broken by a covetous heart, for the very word means to lust after or desire something outside the will of God.

The 8th Commandment can be broken because of this sin. Achan desired a Babylonian garment and some gold, and it led him to steal. It also led to the death of his entire family.

The 9th Commandment is certainly broken due to covetousness since a person whose desires are out of control will exaggerate and lie in order to obtain another person's money or possessions.

If allowed to go unchecked, this sin soon can master us. We fall prey to its force and seem to have little power to overcome it. Only when our eyes are fixed on Jesus can we break the bands of earthly desire. That is why the Bible tells us to set your affections on things above and not on things on the earth.

Ephesians 5:5 states, "For this you know that no...covetous man shall have any part in the kingdom of God." Look at Mark 10:17. The rich young ruler did everything right, but he was covetous and he turned his back on Christ. This sin can doom your soul to hell! Many have refused to trust Christ for fear that they might have to give up some earthly desire. Little does that person know that when Christ becomes the foremost desire of the heart, those earthly desires fade away, and joy – real joy – will come in knowing Him who holds the entire world in His hand. If we seek first the kingdom of God, He will give us the other things that we need. Our desires can be wholesome and legitimate. We can want things without coveting them. We can have things without serving them. We can be happy when others succeed and have things that God has planned for us as well. That is God's way!

III. The Cure For Covetousness

Things can get a grip on us

 Satan can corrupt us

But, God can deliver us.

God can deliver us from the obsessive behavior of coveting. How? There are three things He can aide you to do in overcoming this sin.

A. Be Thankful For What You Have

Note Colossians 3:15 and 4:2. If Christ is all we have, that is enough!

1 Thessalonians 5:18. I ask you today to stop now and think of all you have.

Start with your salvation, and if you have never trusted Christ as you Savior, you can do that today.

Think also of your family and friends.

Consider how God has given us so much.

Think of the meals you have eaten in your lifetime.

Think of all the clothes you have worn your entire life.

Think of all you have had and know that God will provide what you need.

You see, ambition is not bad, in fact we need it to excel, but when it comes without gratitude for what God has given and when it comes without regard to our responsibility to others we are in danger of allowing coveting to take over in our lives.

B. Be Peaceful In What You Have

Hebrews 13:5 and following reads, "Let your conduct be without covetousness, and be content with what you have." Even if you have nothing materially, but have Christ, you are rich indeed! Read on, "I will never leave you."

Read Philippians 4:11-13.

A country preacher went to New York on a necessary trip. He knelt down to pray that night and said, "I thank you Lord for letting me see these things, but I thank you even more that I did not see a thing that I wanted." Isn’t that the way we should be? I can see what someone has, rejoice in their having it, and not need it myself.

Christina Onassis is reported to have said, "Happiness is not found in money and my family is proof of that."

C. Be Helpful With What You Have

Look at 2 Corinthians 9:7 and Acts 20:35.

Three boys were told by their uncle that he had to make a choice as to who would inherit his fortune. He gave each of them a gold coin and told them to buy what they could and fill a large empty room with it. The one who did the best would inherit the business.

The first boy bought straw. Once shaken and loosed it filled half the large room. The other boy had bought feathers. He thought the feathers would surely fill the room. When he had shaken them out, they filled two-thirds of the room. The other boy confessed that he had bought a meal for a poor beggar and had only some change left. With the change he had bought a candle and some matches. He lit the candle and it filled the room with light. He inherited the fortune! If we will learn to be helpful, we can light the world with the love of Jesus and get all that God has planned for us at the same time!


When archeologists were unearthing the ancient city of Pompeii, where 20,000 died during the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius, they uncovered the bodies of many of the dead. Among them, they found the well-preserved outlines of the bodies of people who were caught totally off guard by the explosion of this powerful volcano. People were found sitting at their dinner tables, their food still on their plates. Others were found in their beds sleeping.

One woman in particular stands out among all the bodies recovered at Pompeii. When the archeologists unearthed her body, they found clutched in her hands precious stones that were worth thousands of dollars. It seems that as molten volcanic ash rained down on the city, she risked her life trying to save a portion of her wealth. Now, 2,000 years later, those things she tried so vainly to hold onto, are the property of another!

Indeed, those who practice covetousness will find that the things they thought so valuable will be absolutely worthless. We should not allow covetousness to direct our lives, to dominate our lives, for if it does, it will destroy our lives.

A very rich man in a large city died and a massive and expensive funeral was held. Two men attended the funeral service, and as they left one man asked the other, "How much do you think he left?" The other man answered without hesitation, "He left it all!"

Turn from things to the Creator of things. Turn from stuff to the Savior! Turn from that which will waste away to nothing to that which will last for eternity - turn to Christ!