“Your Word Is Truth”
‘You Must Not Selfishly Desire Another’s Possessions’
THE Tenth Commandment of the Decalogue reads: “Neither must you desire your fellow man’s wife. Neither must you selfishly crave . . . anything that belongs to your fellow man.”—Deut. 5:21.
Was covetousness or selfish craving forbidden only to the Israelites, or are Christians also to be on guard against it? Christians most certainly are to be on guard against it. Thus the apostle Paul wrote: “Deaden, therefore, your body members that are upon the earth as respects . . . covetousness.”—Col. 3:5.
This commandment is unique with Jehovah God, for no man could enforce it. In fact, only God himself could tell whether it was being violated or not. As a nineteenth-century English scholar and author so well noted: “Search all the laws of the world and you will not find one which resembles it. The sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth you will find in all codes, although only as prohibition of crimes amenable to judicial punishment. The Tenth Commandment is the complement of all the rest. It shows that God requires of us not only outward virtue but inward holiness; . . . that sinful imaginings are a crime against him, as well as wicked acts.”
That God can read the hearts of men his Word repeatedly shows. God made that point when he sent the prophet Samuel to choose a successor to King Saul. (1 Sam. 16:7) And he said by his prophet Jeremiah: “The heart is more treacherous than anything else and is desperate. Who can know it? I, Jehovah, am searching the heart, examining the kidneys [the deepest emotions], even to give to each one according to his ways.” The Tenth Commandment made it clear to all of God’s people that they were accountable to him for their very thoughts, their very desires.—Jer. 17:9, 10.
Of course, this fact would not act as a deterrent to those who hold that God is dead or that he never did exist. But for the Israelites there was no question about their God Jehovah as being very much alive. As the preamble of the Decalogue reminded them, it was their God Jehovah who had brought them “out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slaves.”—Ex. 20:2.
Besides, since selfish desire is by and large the motivating force among men of this world, they would not even think of putting a law against it in their lawbooks. All that counts with them is success, regardless of the means used to gain it. As the late author Aldous Huxley so aptly put it: “Covetousness, which was a deadly sin in the days of our medieval ancestors, is now one of the cardinal virtues.”
As in the case of the others of the Ten Commandments, the Bible gives us warning examples. Satan the Devil coveted the worship that rightfully can go only to Jehovah God. This can be seen from his offering Jesus all the kingdoms of the world if he would do an act of worship before him. For coveting the worship due only to Jehovah God, Satan will be destroyed in God’s due time.—Matt. 4:8-10; Heb. 2:14.
There was the Judean Israelite Achan who coveted some of the treasure of Jericho that had been dedicated to Jehovah God. For yielding to this selfish desire he paid with his own life and even the lives of his family.—Josh. 7:20-26.
Wicked Queen Athaliah coveted the throne of the two-tribe kingdom of Judah, although as a woman she had no right thereto. To gain her goal she committed many murders, but in the end she too paid for her selfish desire with her life. Well has the Tenth Commandment been termed “the Counterpoise of Greed.”—2 Ki. 11:1-20.
To get rid of selfish desire, with what do we have to start? With the heart, even as Jesus noted: “Out of the heart of men, injurious reasonings issue forth: fornications, thieveries, murders, adulteries, covetings, acts of wickedness, deceit, loose conduct, an envious eye, blasphemy, haughtiness, unreasonableness. All these wicked things issue forth from within and defile a man.” And why does the heart have this downward tendency? Because of inherited sin and because of the influence of Satan and his demons.—Mark 7:21-23; Gen. 8:21; Ps. 51:5; Eph. 6:12.
What will help us to combat this ingrained selfish desire of wanting things that belong to another? Reasoning on the matter should prove helpful. As Jesus expressed it: “Just as you want men to do to you, do the same way to them.” We would not want another person to desire our own possessions, our wife, our house, our auto or our position in secular business or in the Christian congregation, would we? So, consistently, we should not desire such things belonging to another.—Luke 6:31.
Being truly spiritually minded, always conscious of one’s need for God’s holy spirit and its fruitage will also help one to combat innate greed, to deaden selfish desire in one’s heart and keep such desire from taking over. ‘Seeking first God’s kingdom and his righteousness’ will keep one from desiring that which belongs to others. (Matt. 6:33) If we do that we will have no shortage of spiritual blessings. As the apostle Paul so well expressed it: “He who did not even spare his own Son but delivered him up for us all, why will he not also with him kindly give us all other things” that we need?—Rom. 8:32.
Still another aid in combating greediness in our fallen natures is learning the lesson of contentment, self-sufficiency. The apostle Paul had learned this lesson, for he was able to write: “I have learned, in whatever circumstances I am, to be self-sufficient. I know indeed how to be low on provisions, I know indeed how to have an abundance.” Being spiritually minded helped him to be content. And that being content is most reasonable Paul shows in one of his letters to his friend Timothy: “It is a means of great gain, this godly devotion along with self-sufficiency. For we have brought nothing into the world, and neither can we carry anything out. So, having sustenance and covering, we shall be content with these things.”—Phil. 4:11, 12; 1 Tim. 6:6-8.
But above all will love, agápe, the unselfish, principled love, help Christians to combat selfish desire. This is the kind of love that “is not jealous, . . . does not get puffed up, does not behave indecently, does not look for its own interests.” If it does not even look for its own interests, how far it is from selfishly desiring that which belongs to others! (1 Cor. 13:4, 5) Unselfish ‘love works no evil to one’s neighbor; therefore love is the law’s fulfillment.’ Such love heeds the apostle’s advice and seeks, not another’s wealth, but another’s advantage: “Let each one keep seeking, not his own advantage, but that of the other person.”—Rom. 13:10; 1 Cor. 10:24.
Truly, though covetousness or selfish desire may be deeply ingrained and at the root of all sorts of wickedness, there are many aids to combat it for those who truly desire to do so.