[There is] a trap that can destroy any of us in our search for joy and happiness. It is that devious, sinister, evil influence that says, “What I have is not enough. I must have more.”
When the finger of the Lord wrote the Ten Commandments on the tablets of stone, He gave as the tenth and final commandment: “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s.” (Ex. 20:17.)
There have been many changes in this world since that time, but human nature has not changed. I have observed that there are many in our present generation who with careful design set out on a course to get rich while still young, to drive fancy automobiles, to wear the best of clothing, to have an apartment in the city and a house in the country—all of these, and more. This is the total end for which they live, and for some the means by which they get there is unimportant in terms of ethics and morality. They covet that which others have, and selfishness and even greed are all a part of their process of acquisitiveness.
Now, I know that everyone wants to succeed, and I wish that everyone might succeed. But we must be careful of how we measure success. One need only read the daily newspapers to know of case after case of those whose driving, selfish impulses have led to trouble and serious, abysmal failure. Some of those who once drove about in the fanciest of cars and owned the fanciest of homes are now languishing in prison. They are, without question, persons of tremendous capacity and ability. They have good minds, but their cleverness led to their downfall.
I think if the Lord were speaking today and giving us the last of the Ten Commandments, He might say, “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife, nor his position in society, nor his car, nor his boat, nor anything that is thy neighbor’s.”
During the past few years, newspapers have carried story after story of able men and women who began working with integrity and honesty. They lived in reasonable comfort, but they were not satisfied. In their anxiety to enlarge their own kingdom, they enticed others to invest with them. And the investors, in many cases, were not without a comparable affliction of greed. They listened to stories of large returns with little effort. Like a dog chasing its own tail, the momentum of the scheme increased until one day there was a collapse. Both the promoter and the investor were left only with shattered dreams. What had been a friendly and pleasant association became one of accusation, meanness, criminal prosecution, and civil litigation.
In one of his great letters to Timothy, Paul wrote: “For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” (1 Tim. 6:10.) You need not look far to see the veritable truth of that great warning. Once made rich through a consuming desire for money, some of these persons of whom I speak now find themselves “pierced through with many sorrows.”
Of course, we need to earn a living. The Lord told Adam that in the sweat of his face should he eat bread all the days of his life. It is important that we qualify ourselves to be self-reliant, particularly that every young man at the time of marriage be ready and able to assume the responsibilities of providing for his companion and for the children who may come to that home.
Yet none of us ever has enough—at least that is what we think. No matter our financial circumstances, we want to improve them. This, too, is good if it is not carried to an extreme. I am satisfied that the Father of us all does not wish His children to walk in poverty. He wants them to have comforts and some of the good things of the earth. In the Old Testament, He speaks of “a land flowing with milk and honey,” of the fatlings of the flock, and of other things which indicate that He would have His children properly fed and clothed and sheltered, enjoying the comforts that come of the earth, but not to excess.
It is when greed takes over, when we covet that which others have, that our affliction begins. And it can be a very sore and painful affliction.
“Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house.” We all need shelter. We all need a roof over our heads with warmth in the winter and a measure of comfort in the summer. This is not evil. It is important. But when we go to wild excess, as some are prone to do, our folly can become as a trap to destroy us.
Thou shalt not covet the kind of clothes and jewels thy neighbor wears. Oh, what slaves we become to fashion. It can be a possessive and monstrous thing. It can destroy individuality and resourcefulness. It seems that most of us want to look alike, to live in the same circumstances, rather than give some play to our own individuality.
Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s car. The modern automobile is a wonderful machine. It is almost indispensable in the society in which we live and work. But when I see persons borrowing heavily to buy cars with exorbitant prices, I wonder what has happened to our values.
It is so with boats and other fancy toys. When one family in the neighborhood gets a boat, others think they need one. To satisfy our desires, we go into debt, dissipate our resources in the payment of high interest, and become as slaves working to pay it off. Please do not misunderstand me. I repeat that I wish everyone might have some of the good things of life, but I hope our desire will not come of covetousness, which is an evil and gnawing disease. I think of many of our younger single and married members; I hope that you will be modest in your physical wants. You do not need everything that you might wish. And the very struggle of your younger years will bring a sweetness and security to your later life....
It is the obsession with riches that cankers and destroys....
Well has the Lord said, “Thou shalt not covet.” Let not selfishness canker our relationships. Let not covetousness destroy our happiness. Let not greed for that which we do not need and cannot get with honesty and integrity bring us down to ruin and despair.
The Lord has been plain with us on these matters. Our prophets through the generations have emphasized them. Those who have observed this counsel can walk with peace in their hearts and security in their homes and merit the respect of all who know them. (Ensign, March 1990, 2)