Questions 58 & 59


Q. What is the tenth command?


A. The tenth command is: Do not desire anything that belongs to your neighbour.


Exodus 20:17Deuteronomy 5:21



What does the tenth command teach?


The tenth command teaches us to be content* with what we have.

The tenth command talks about our desires. ‘You must not want to have your neighbor’s house. You must not want his wife. And you must not want his men and women servants. You must not want his cattle or his donkeys. You must not want to have anything that belongs to another person.’[1]


But what does the command mean? The Bible* does not say that all desires are bad. God promised to bless* his people if they obeyed his covenant.* They were to desire these blessings* from God. It is not wrong for us to desire food [2] or drink[3] or sleep[4]. It is not wrong for us to desire to have children [5] or to live in a good place[6]. But when we desire something so much that we hurt our neighbor to get it, we break the tenth command.


For example, it is not wrong for me to admire something that my neighbor has. I may even wish that I had it as well. But it would be wrong if I wanted to take that thing. And it would be wrong if I became angry with my neighbor because he or she had something I did not have. A desire that makes me jealous of someone else is an evil* desire.


I can also break this command in another way. God tells his people to be content, to be happy with what they have.[7] But sometimes, I have a desire for things that I do not have. I may want these things because I am not content with what God has given me. I forget that God has given me all that I have. I doubt that he will provide for my needs. When that happens, the things I desire can become more important to me than God. Paul* says that those kinds of desires are like idolatry.* Why does he say that? Because anything that I love more than I love God becomes an idol* to me.


Jesus* said that when we break the commands, there is a problem with our hearts.* Before we act in a wrong way on the outside, there is already something wrong on the inside.


Before I murder someone, I first have a desire to hurt that person. Jesus says that our anger can lead us to have this evil desire.[8] Before I commit adultery*, I first have a desire to be with someone else’s husband or wife. Before I steal, I want something that belongs to someone else. The tenth command makes this clear to us. When we have a desire that will lead us to break God’s commands, that is a sinful* desire. Sin* always begins in the heart.


Jesus once said. ‘A good man says good things. These come from the good that is in his heart. And evil man says evil things. These come from the evil that is in his heart.’ Sin always begins on the inside of a person. The Old Testament* speaks about a person’s heart as well. [9] God told Israel that they must love him with all of their heart. [10] We cannot always see when someone breaks this command. But we almost always know when we break it.


God promised to care for his people Israel.* But sometimes, they forgot his promises. They forgot all of the good things God had done for them. Then, they stopped trusting him. They even began to follow other gods. Why did they do this? They did it because they loved what they wanted more than they loved God.


When we forget God’s promises, we stop trusting him too. Then we will want things that God has not given us. Those desires can lead us away from God. Each time that happens, we break the tenth command.


The last six commands help us know how to be good to our neighbors. We will not be good to our neighbors if we want what they have for ourselves.


*To be content is to be happy with what we have. To know that what we have is enough.

[1] Exodus 20:17
[2] Matthew 4:2
[3] John 19:28-29
[4] Luke 8:23
[5] Genesis 30:22,23; 1 Samuel 1:17; Psalm 127:3-5
[6] Psalm 24:27
[7] 2 Corinthians 9:8; Philippians 4:11; 1 Timothy 6:6-8; Hebrews 13:5
[8] Matthew 5:21-24
[9] Deuteronomy 11:18
[10] Deuteronomy 6:5-6