Rev. Eric Brown
Here’s a quick quiz for you. When was the last time you heard someone reference the Ninth or Tenth Commandments? You know, the two coveting commandments. When was the last time someone dropped a, “Hey, don’t go breaking the Ninth Commandment here?” We’ll occasionally hear that with the others: “Don’t break the Eighth Commandment,” “This is a Sixth Commandment issue,” etc. Really with 1-8 we will bring them up fairly regularly (at least, if you think on the commandments). But 9 and 10—they don’t show up in normal discussion. They are just sort of…extra commandments.
Or so we think, to our own detriment. Let’s ponder them. There they are, the two “coveting” commandments: Don’t covet your neighbor’s stuff, don’t covet your neighbor’s relationships (because a spouse, workers, and livestock are all relationships that you might be tempted to lure away). They are straightforward enough and we tend to rush through them in Confirmation class so we can finally get to the Creed.
But wait. Let me ask a question: Where does coveting happen? Let’s see…false witness: That happens in public. Stealing: in the world. Adultery: well, mainly in the world. The other commandments have a very strong public, worldly aspect to them… but coveting? Coveting takes place in your mind. Coveting really is the “thought” aspect of sinning in “thought, word, and deed.” Coveting is the sin that really harms you, first and foremost.
What do I mean? Well, let’s take coveting your neighbor’s house. If you are sitting there, longing after your neighbor’s house, wishing you had it, wanting it… what are you ignoring? The gifts God has already given you. Are you delighting in what you have? Are you rejoicing in God’s good gifts to you? Is your house a thing to delight and rejoice in or is it blah? Coveting takes the gifts God has given you and ruins them in your mind.
When you slip into covetousness, it ruins your peace. Peace is a big word in the Scriptures which is understood to be the sense of total wellbeing. Peace is “everything is good.” Peace is what God sees at the end of each day in Genesis 1 when “it was good.” Yet when you covet, you don’t see things as being good anymore…and you convince yourself that it won’t be good until he’s your boyfriend, until you get that new pony, until you have that specific job…so on and so forth. And your sense of peace, your sense of wellbeing is then demolished.
When you slip into covetousness, it ruins your freedom. Freedom also is a big word in the Scriptures, especially in Greek. It’s the word that describes the whole purpose of salvation: For freedom you have been set free! Covetousness destroys your freedom. If you just have to have X, that controls your actions. If I’m content with my car, I’m free to enjoy it. I’m free to drive it, use it, even free to give it away or trade it in. It’s a gift that I have, and thus it is a gift that I can freely use (or freely give away). But if I’m coveting some other ride…well, that freedom goes out the window. I’m no longer free to enjoy my vehicle; I’ve bound myself to this goal of getting this other car. I’m not happy anymore. I have submitted myself again to a yoke of slavery—one that’s just in my mind.
Covetousness is a huge issue in our lives. We don’t talk about it that much, because it’s hard to see it. Normally we see its impacts, we see the things that our covetousness drives us to, and we point those out. But just think for a moment how many things you see or hear or read that try to make you want more, desire things, and be discontent with who you are and what you have. The world is driving you towards covetousness.
Over and against that, Christ Jesus says, “Peace be with you.” Seriously. Peace. In Christ, it is all good. Is there anything in this life that you really need that Christ doesn’t give? No. So remember that and be at peace. For freedom Christ has set you free. You don’t need to chase after this thing or that desire. Everything you have is a gift from God, and you are free to serve and free to show love. You are free to give of yourself, because Christ has already provided you everything you need for this life and eternal life.
When God tells us that we shall not covet, it’s a reminder of the fact that He has already provided for us so many good things—all that we need and certainly more than we deserve. There is no need to get ground down and become miserable because of the rat race of the world for you have true life in Christ. Remember that the next time covetousness comes creeping around your mind. You don’t need what your mind and heart are telling they just have to have. You have peace in Christ, and you are free from such things in Him.
Rev. Eric Brown is pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in Herscher, Illinois.