This is a little weird to admit, but for the majority of my adult life I gave almost no thought to a very particular section of the tenth commandment. Until recently, I read through the tenth commandment as if one part of it was not even there. It was that irrelevant to me. In case you need a refresher, the tenth commandment can be found in Exodus 20:17 and it reads,
“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”
Reading over it now, it’s a little funny that there was only one thing I ignored in this passage, given that the contextual application is so different from ours today. I don’t covet oxen or donkeys, and I certainly don’t want servants. However, those are not the segments I’m referring to. The particular instruction I ignored for years on end was the caution against coveting your neighbor’s spouse.
In order to understand why I ignored it, I need to explain that I wasn’t willfully disobeying it, nor was I making a statement about the authority of Scripture. The reason I overlooked it is that I was single until I was 28. For the bulk of my life I was focused on nice, single men to date and marry, not married ones. The idea of coveting another woman’s husband was not only icky but didn’t even make sense to me.
However, I didn’t give this instruction much thought after I got married either. I had been single for 28 years so coveting another person’s husband was the last thing on my mind. I was just glad to have a husband at all!
Looking back, I was naive to write off this commandment so casually. Even if I didn’t struggle with it at the time, there is a reason this teaching appears in the Ten Commandments. It’s not a relic of the past and it’s certainly not a unique temptation to perverts. On the contrary, coveting another’s spouse is a real and common temptation, one I have reflected on more soberly in recent months.
The first time I ever gave this temptation some real thought was when Ike and I had been married long enough to experience the occasional rough patch. Now I want to preface what I’m about to say by noting that I am madly in love with my husband and I thank God every day for him. I am TRULY blessed by the man that he is and how he cares for me.
Even so, we are both sinners which means we have conflict from time to time, and it is during these tough spots when I start to play the comparison game. For example, if Ike and I fuss at each other before joining another couple for dinner, I later find myself comparing our marriage to our friends’. I look at how kindly and gently my friend’s husband treats her and I feel envious, perhaps even a little covetous.
The next time this temptation came to my attention was at church a few months ago. During the service we watched a video listing temptations or struggles we may need to confess. Among the items listed was the question, “When you get ready for church in the morning, are you dressing for someone else’s spouse?”
Gradually I have come to realize that this temptation is a common one. Unfortunately, I have almost never heard it discussed. I’m not sure if people simply feel weird talking about it or if they’re a little embarrassed, but it’s an important conversation to have. Especially given that more and more women are initiating extra-marital affairs.
If this is a temptation with which you find yourself struggling, I would encourage you to confess it to a trustworthy girl friend and ask her to hold you accountable. As we work to guard our marriages, that transparency is a must. But when we’re alone in our thoughts feeling dissatisfied and ungrateful with what God has given us, how should we respond?
Since this post is getting a little lengthy, I’ve decided to break it up into two parts. In the next section I’m going to take a look at the underlying issues of this commandment and what it means for our every day lives. In the mean time, I want to reiterate my earlier encouragement to start talking! As women who are prone to competition, we resist confessing our jealousies because it makes us appear weak or inferior. It disturbs the carefully constructed illusion that we have it all together. But that trend has got to stop. Clearly, jealousy and covetousness is so spiritually dangerous as to be include in a the Ten Commandments so we need to take the necessary steps to fight it. I hope you will.