This is a commandment we don't take very seriously, do we? Of the ten in Exodus 20, I think it's the only one that is hidden fully in the heart of the sinner. Such a quiet sin, a feeling of longing for something lovely that doesn't happen to belong to us. We can disguise it to ourselves and say we're only appreciating a friend's belonging. Or as my humorous mother-in-law has been known to say: "I wish I had yours and you had better"!!
Of course, coveting doesn't apply only to material possessions. I'm far past desiring my friend's Corvette, or his beach house, or his pool. I can see from watching others that those things aren't making them happy. But what about your friend's job, or his attitude toward life, or his wife -- you know, his life. Have you ever coveted someone's life?
This, I think, is where the rubber meets the road. We pine and complain about our lives; we look at others' seeming happiness; we desire it.
Recently I heard someone bemoan her marital state. After a gruelingly long, sad divorce, she is realizing she spent many years with someone who made her feel terrible. After some heart-to-heart talks with old male friends (now, sadly, unavailable), she realizes there are nicer men in the world, men who would have made her feel affirmed, loved, free, confident. Men who wouldn't have been such "downers." She, perhaps, is coveting men that she can't have, longing for something she hasn't had, doesn't have.
Covetousness is a lying sin. We look at something distant from us and imagine what it would be like if it were in our possession. How can I tell this woman that the man she desires might not be so kind/loving/affirming if he were married to her? That he is so wonderful because of the woman and marriage he chose? How can I tell her that the man she DID marry might have become a different person, if he'd not been married to her?
That desired object could turn to ashes in my hands.
Instead of wishing for things out of our grasp, we should spend our days making sure that the little scraps and rags of life we do hold, are made more beautiful, more good, more precious to us, in our holding them. This will keep coveting at bay.