Tenth commandment

ďYou shall not covet Ö anything that belongs to your neighborĒ

To covet something means to desire something and make plans to take it. In the original language, the word covet is not just about desiring something but making plans to take that something. The beginning point of this sin is desire for what others have, which is envy. In my reflection on the eighth commandment, I spoke about two tendencies within human beings that lead to stealing. The first one already discussed was the tendency towards deception, sometimes as it relates to work. This is basically by defrauding others to enrich oneís self.

The second tendency is to look at what others have, desiring what they have, and making plans to take it. The root of coveting is envy, the desire for what someone else has. Envy can cause a person to violate Godís commands. Envy can cause a person not only to steal but also be uncooperative, to slander, be unfaithful, and to kill. The things desired that this commandment prohibits us to desire are not just tangible property, but also the life that other people have.

You may envy another personís MP3 player for example, and take it. You may also envy another personís popularity, which canít be taken, by taking steps to make that personís life miserable. You may spread false rumors so their friends wonít like them anymore. You may hate that person and show it by being disrespectful. You may obsess about being better than that person in some way. You may associate with that person for the sake of being popular, not because you are truly a friend. You may try to go out of your way to make that person angry. These actions come from an envious heart.

When your life does not feel happy, you may be tempted to envy others. If you are a teenager growing up in a bad family situation, you may envy a girl in the mall who is with her family. That is understandable to want a family to make your life stable, make you feel love, and make you less lonely. However, focusing on what life could be will make it hard for you to live in the present and also to face the future. It will be painful as time goes on and things you wish for does not happen. The way to live wisely is to accept the past, live in the present focused on doing what is right, and entrust the future to God who provides you all you need including peace with him through the death of Jesus.

To accept the past means to put the past in perspective, not to like what happened in the past. There are bad things in life but there are also good things. To always think about the bad will blind you to the good things in the past (for example, people who had been like good parents to you), in the present (For example your health right now), and even good possibilities in the future (For example, you may become great at whatever you set your heart to do). The story of your life is not finished yet.

Your whole story is a gift from God. That doesnít mean that everything feels good but that God is always behind your story shaping it into something beautiful. What makes a story beautiful is that a person becomes a blessing on Godís world.

A person who has gone through tragedies is better able to show empathy when comforting a person who suffered the same tragedy. Jesus is someone who can empathize with you because he has experienced suffering to the point of death. Remember that when you pray to him. Empathy is being able to feel with somebody. A person feels better when somebody feels with them, than when somebody could not feel with them for any reason. The world is under a curse and your story goes a long way to helping people live through that curse. Your story is a blessing on Godís world.

Another way God has shaped your story into something beautiful is through the character you have developed throughout your life. The good character in you is a witness to God who created you in his image. The good character in you is shaped by circumstances and people that God brought into your life. A person with good character is a benefit to Godís world. If you are faithful, your future spouse will be blessed with a sense of peace. He does not have to worry about being left for another.

This leads me to the antidote to envy. The antidote to envy is an attitude of thankfulness. God desires for us to be thankful and when we are envious, we show that we are not thankful. Thankfulness comes from the realization that everything we have comes from God, and that even through our sufferings, he has good intentions for us. The good intention that God created us for is to become a blessing to others. Thankfulness leads to contentment, which leads to rest, which is what God commands us in the fourth commandment.

The issue of contentment leads us to a discussion of desire. Is desire always wrong? I believe that desire is not wrong in itself but desire gets easily misdirected (See note 1). Desire can lead to bad actions- stealing, killing, committing adultery, slandering. Desire without a sense of faithfulness to God leads to idolatry, wanting something so much that it has become our main preoccupation.

Is there a proper desire? The proper desire is for God (See note 2). A biblical author describes himself as a deer panting for water (Psalm 42). A thirsty deer is focused on finding water and canít rest until he finds water. This is the picture of someone who desires God above all things. To desire God means to see God as the ultimate concern. What does this mean?

If a person sees God as the ultimate concern, he will devote his life to being at peace with God and to be satisfied in God. A person who desires God sees peace with God as the most important thing because God is his life. His life is not in other people, in having possessions, or in being popular. His satisfaction is in what God provides, what God is providing, and what God will provide. He trusts that God has good intentions for him even when his life is not going well.

The description of a person who devotes his life to God is a person who is dedicated to obeying his commands, which is the way to peace with God. The same author who describes himself as a deer panting after water sees Godís law as a light that guides him through darkness (Psalm 119:105-112). For those who believe in Jesus, they have found peace with God through Jesusí death on the cross. Because of this peace, they can find satisfaction in Godís goodness; in the past, the present, and the future.

Life is hard, like going through darkness. This is true, even for those people whose life looks perfect from the outside. This is another reason not to envy other people. One reason life is hard is that people, even the closest to us, come and go for different reasons and it is painful. Things disappear, or get broken, or gets old and we get bored with it and look for the next thing. We constantly search for contentment. God is the one who has been, who is, and who will always be there as human stories unfold. Godís name Yahweh (Hebrew) is translated, ďI will be what I will beĒ. Usually it shows in the bible as, ďI am who I amĒ. The point is that God is always there for his people. He is there as a light in the darkness, moving their story into something beautiful.

I pray that you seek Godís light and that you find your satisfaction in God as he moves in the midst of your story, making it into something beautiful.

Discussion Questions

  1. How do we keep ourselves from envy?
  2. Reflect on your own story. How has God shaped it to something good?
  3. What does it mean to desire God?

Notes

  1. See Schweiker, William ďReconsidering GreedĒ in eds., Schweiker, William and Matthewes, Charles, Having: Property and Possession in Religious and Social Life. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2004), 249-271.
  2. See Piper, John. Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist. Colorado Springs, CO: Multnomah Publishers Inc, 2003.