There is something distinctively different about the tenth commandment which sets it apart from all the rest. And this distinction gives a key to the interpretation of all the rest. Whereas the other commands focus on visible behavior (do not steal, murder, work on the Sabbath, etc.) this one focuses on the invisible behavior of the heart.
Coveting (craving something that belongs to another) is not something you can see until it erupts into visible sin like stealing or adultery. By dealing with an attitude in this commandment, God is indicating that attitude is an important factor in every one of the commandments. That’s why, for example, Jesus interprets the commandments in his sermon on the mount from their attitudinal perspectives (Matthew 5). There is murderous anger and adultery of the heart.
Though someone might claim to have kept all the other commandments (someone, that is, who hasn’t spent any time thinking about the commands or his own life), no one can claim he has not violated number ten. In fact, when Paul describes his attempt to live under the Law of Moses, he specifically points out the command not to covet as his undoing (Romans 7:7,8). This is the undoing for every “Pharisee” because it sets a standard that no one can keep perfectly and it reveals the utter depravity of the human heart.
Coveting is the wrongful desire to have something which does not belong to you. It is the expression of a basic dissatisfaction in life with what God has given you. Coveting tends toward obsession. What we crave becomes so much a part of our thoughts that we can think of nothing else but ways to bring our lusts to fruition. Coveting brings home the sobering reality that we cannot change ourselves. We are slaves to our desires unless God comes in and does surgery on our hearts.
Once God’s life has been implanted in our lives we can begin the process of subjecting our cravings to His authority. Instrumental in this process is the renewing of our minds by the Word of God. You do not stop thinking about something by concentrating on overcoming it. You must concentrate on what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely or admirable (Philippians 4:8). God has given us words for meditation that counteract every one of our improper desires. As we study God’s Word, relying on Him in prayer for empowerment, we find new self-control in the thought realm. Many times confessing our thoughts to a trusted brother or sister in Christ steals its power. We learn to stop the trails our minds want to wander down, and put ourselves on healthier paths that God has laid out for us.