Unlike other law codes, the Ten Commandments address not just external acts of sin but the internal motivations that lead to those external acts. We see this most clearly in the tenth commandment, which prohibits covetousness (Ex. 20:17). Longing for something that we should not have and that properly belongs to someone else is the root of many, if not all, other sins. For instance, a woman does not commit adultery until she first sees and desires a man who is not her husband. A man does not steal unless he first sees and desires an object that is not his.
A sin such as adultery begins with coveting, so it is natural for the author of Hebrews to follow his teaching on adultery in Hebrews 13:4 with instruction on covetousness in verses 5–6: the love of money. Christians, we read, must be content with what they have, not greedy.
Let us note that the author prohibits covetousness, not riches. The Bible actually has many positive things to say about wealth, and believers such as Abraham were wealthy. In fact, sometimes the Lord rewards those who fear Him by giving them riches (Prov. 22:4). At the same time, God’s Word also recognizes that money offers particular temptations. “The love of money is a root of all kinds of evils” (1 Tim. 6:10), for many people are willing to behave unethically if it will enrich them. Neither wealth nor poverty is inherently virtuous. One can be wealthy and not love money and one can be poor and love money above all else.
Scripture frowns not on wealth as such but on the love of money, the pursuit of wealth as one’s primary aim in life. People who love money sin because they are looking to money as their provider and not to the One who meets our needs and enables us to obtain wealth. Contentment with what we have is the sign of those who rely on God in all things. Now, contentment does not mean that it is always wrong to seek more than what we presently own. After all, God’s Word commends wise investment and taking actions to increase our wealth (for example, see Prov. 13:11). Instead, contentment means being happy with what we have even if our efforts to gain more prove unsuccessful. It means not being jealous or envious of those who are more financially successful than we are.
Love of money looks for security in things that cannot provide it ultimately. Those who do not love money strive to trust the Lord as the only source of their well-being (Heb. 13:5–6).