Doubting God’s Generosity
You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor. Exodus 20:17
The dictionary on my phone defines covet as “to desire wrongfully, inordinately, or without due regard for the rights of others.” Clearly, the last of the Ten Commandments addresses the importance of controlling our desires. There is an important distinction to make, however, between controlling and eliminating desire. Desire is a good and Godly force that animates our lives, and the commandment does not call for the elimination of our reasonable longings. Desire for a legacy drives us to excel in our profession, or to marry and have children. Aspiring to a better life provides the motivation to do whatever is required to get from where we are to where we want to be. Our desire for an improved future is a good thing, unless that desire leads us to try to improve our future at someone else’s expense. Our longing crosses the line into covetousness when we want a specific something that belongs to our neighbor. Similar to the commandments against stealing and committing adultery, the prohibition against coveting has to do with respecting that which belongs to another.
There is another aspect to covetousness, however, which is an issue of faith. When we covet something belonging to another, we indirectly express our dissatisfaction with what we have. In the context of the gifts, talents, and relationships given by God, when we covet the gifts, talents, and relationships of others, we cast doubt on God’s generosity. Coveting and contentment do not co-exist. To covet is to be selfish to an extreme that is not likely to end well.
The Ten Commandments have set a foundation for our worship life, as well as our life in community with others, for thousands of years. The first four commandments guide our relationship with God by warning not to have other gods before our God, not to worship idols, not to misuse the name of God, and to keep the Sabbath day holy. The remaining commandments guide our relationships with others: we are to honor our parents, not murder, not commit adultery, not steal, not lie, and not covet. Taken together, the Ten Commandments form a timeless set of rules for living, as relevant today as when first written.