10th Commandment, Desire and Coveting

Q. 79. Which is the tenth commandment?

A. The tenth commandment is, Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maid servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s.

Q. 80. What is required in the tenth commandment?

A. The tenth commandment requireth full contentment with our own condition, with a right and charitable frame of spirit toward our neighbor, and all that is his.

Q. 81. What is forbidden in the tenth commandment?

A. The tenth commandment forbiddeth all discontentment with our own estate, envying or grieving at the good of our neighbor, and all inordinate motions and affections to anything that is his.

The tenth commandment brings the decalogue back full circle to the prologue (I am the Lord God who delivered you out of Egypt) by reminding the godly of the freedom they have been received by the power of God’s hand. Most clearly the tenth commandment also looks behind the sins condemned in the previous commandments. The tenth commandment exposes our hearts and reveals that adultery, theft, and murder are sin and so is the desire behind those sins. To put it another way “at all times we shall hate sin with our whole heart and delight in all righteousness”. (Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 44)

This is why Reformed theology has affirmed that even the desire to sin is sin and not only the act. Paul states the tenth commandment in a general sense in Romans 7:8-9. In this he shows that we may not even be aware of how sinful we are till we understand the tenth commandment. Through this law of the “do not covet/desire” our eyes are opened to the depths of our own depravity. We are made alive to the standard of God’s righteousness that far surpasses humanity’s. In society we do well when we live and let live. In the Kingdom of Heaven the depths of our hearts and minds are brought under the examination of God’s law. It seems rather obvious how Paul arrives at his memorable statement in Rom 7:18, where he says , “nothing good dwells in me”. This self-examination can be a maddening exercise. Understandably Paul cries out for a rescue “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” Paul’s answer is our answer..Jesus Christ (Rom 7:24-25).

When we entertain desires those desires will consume us. When we are consumed by desires we become enslaved to sin. Thus the Christian mind is not to be focussed on that which it does not have, being a constant consumer. Rather Christians are to have hearts of thankfulness and joy. The tenth Commandment exhorts the Christian to rejoice in the freedom they have, not to look back to the bondage of Egypt and long for the leek and garlic. We are called to set our minds on things that are holy and pure and have hearts that are thankful and content.

Phil 4:8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.