Taking Every Thought Captive

Editor’s Note: Today we’re in Exodus 20:17 for the final charge of the Ten Commandments. Let’s finish strong and spend some concentrated time in the text and in Chapter 10 of Ten Words to Live By.

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Exodus 20:1-17
Ten Words to Live By Chapter 10 (audio download available through Crossway)
And God spoke all these words, saying,

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.

“You shall have no other gods before me.

“You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.

“You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

“Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.

“You shall not murder.

“You shall not commit adultery.

“You shall not steal.

“You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

“You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor's.”


Recently when sorting my inbox, I was about to delete a message from an online retailer that bombards me with its daily ad campaigns, but I paused as “Currently coveting…” jumped out from the subject line. As a former journalism student, I understand a bit about public relations and marketing, including the questionable practices of preying on humankind’s desire for what is in the possession of another. What surprised me about this advertisement for this clothing line’s newest items was the continued, blatant use of words that have long held negative connotations in our world. Here’s a bit of cut and paste from the ad:

Satisfy Your Style Cravings

Lust After Lavender

Pine for Puff Sleeves

When I was in school more than 20 years ago, I never could have put one of these words, let alone four of them, in an ad mockup for a traditional clothing line and passed the assignment. Yes, an ad designer wants people to feel a need in their life and then meet it with the featured item, but the goal, for better or worse, was to make saying “yes” feel good.

This ad showed me how far our culture has slipped into the normalizing of sin and the expectation that personal desires must be satisfied. In the final commandment, God asks His people in every generation to go against cultural norms and to fight what fills the sinful heart.

“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.”

Exodus 20:17

This commandment addresses the condition of our hearts. Covetousness has long been defined in a bad sense as inordinate, ungoverned, selfish desire, or lust. To covet is to be consumed with desire for, or take pleasure in, what belongs to another person. To covet is to be discontent and in many cases to view people with jealousy that leads to discord in relationships. 

In her book Ten Words to Live By, Jen Wilkin points out three key areas of coveting:




What are some of the things you tend to covet or have coveted in the past?

In Proverbs 12:12, the covetous person is described as wicked, while the righteous is praised for bearing fruit. In Galatians 5:13-26, Paul talks about this fruit as he charges the believers to keep in step with the Spirit:

For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another. But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do[b] such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.

According to this section, what are the works of the flesh?

What is the fruit that comes from a righteous person?

We have a choice how we will respond. The apostle Paul, who declared that he had learned to be content in all circumstances (Philippians 4:11), says that in Christ we can do all things, including not envying others (Galatians 5:26) or coveting them (Colossians 3:5), and that we must “take every thought captive to obey Christ” (II Corinthians 10:5).

What are some ways you can daily practice taking every thought captive?


Lord, we are surrounded by cultural messages that tell us it is natural and even good to desire — and to go after — what is currently out of our grasp. We confess that we covet, breaking Your law and what You say is best for us. Forgive us. Remind us to take every thought captive, to live a life of obedience. May we find contentment in You, the author of our lives and the provider for all our needs. We love You, Lord.

MEmorizing Exodus 20:17

— jls