Eyeing Your Neighbor

Can we all agree that our culture is obsessed with the “stuff of life” rather than the living of it? It seems like, even to mention living life, requires the right set of stuff to do so, and if you don’t have that set, you’re not actually living to the fullest. That’s a generalization. Some are striving to simplify, but honestly, there’s a “market” for that as well (Google “simplify my life”, and hit the “Shopping” link in the results – it’s crazy).

The tenth law of the Decalogue is about “coveting”:

“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 belongs to your neighbor.”

Exodus 20:17 NASB

It sounds pretty simple, doesn’t it? You shall not covet, how hard can it be? Yet, when your neighbor gets something new, or new to them, do you notice? Do you consider the cost, the potential for you to acquire the same thing or something even better? Maybe not. Perhaps you are more admiring of their ability, intelligence, or luck, perhaps? Coveting doesn’t have to be about noting their recent purchase of a rhinoceros, and thinking how you’ve always wanted one of those. Sometimes it’s that they could buy one, and you wouldn’t even know where to shop for an affordable puppy.

The process of comparing ourselves to others, and measuring ourselves by the standards of others, is common, constant, and exhausting. I’m tired just writing about it. The thing is, there’s more at stake than I think we realize.

For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.

Ephesians 5:5 NASB (emphasis mine)

It turns out that this law violates the first and second ones. What a horror to discover that these laws are interrelated! Oh wait. We sort of already knew that, or we should have. The greatest commandment isn’t even one of the Ten Commandments, and the second greatest isn’t either. The summary commands go together. Paul points out in the connection in Romans:

Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. For this, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

Romans 13:8-10 NASB

Jesus gave priority to the “Shema”, the call to Israel to listen and love God with their whole being. Yet Paul clarifies that the law is actually summarized in how we treat others, loving them as we love ourselves. How can he do that? How can he dodge loving our Creator with our entire being? He doesn’t. He has spent nearly 12 chapters pointing out that it is impossible to love others without loving Jesus with our whole being. He has pointed out that without the law we wouldn’t know sin, without the standard of our Creator there is no understanding of how much we need Him, and without Him there is no meeting the standard. Yet with Him all things are possible, including obedience.

When we covet, we live trapped in a belief that our Creator is not sufficient for us. When we do that, He is no longer our first love.

When we love others so freely we rejoice when they succeed, even in midst of our own defeat, we live out a belief that our Creator is wholly sufficient for everything we need. Believe first, the rest is the result of the belief. Believe that, and we will never covet, murder, steal, commit adultery or bring false testimony. It’s all connected.

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation

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3 Comments

  1. Coveting in an interesting concept. At what point does one cross the line between like, desire, covet? Where does admiring your neighbor’s wife and wanting someone like her cross over to coveting her? If I look at my neighbor’s Tesla and wish I had one is that coveting or simply wishing? Where does the line exist?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. paulfg says:

      From the online Cambridge dictionary:
      “to want to have something very much, especially something that belongs to someone else”:
      She always coveted power but never quite achieved it.
      The Booker Prize is the most coveted British literary award.

      For me the line is “belonging” and where does belonging belong (if that makes sense). I am happy that you admire my wife, but if you want to have my wife – I can tell you right now: you have crossed the line! 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

    2. Matt Brumage says:

      I think Paul is right, the line is drawn between considering what someone else as “good”, and wanting what they have to be yours. Although, as a philosopher, I can draw that line pretty thick. Do I want something like what you have, or the very thing, removing it from you? Do I want to have more stuff than you, or are you providing me shopping ideas?

      But I think what prevents any idolatry at all is when I permit, and even ask, my Savior to draw the line. The more I think of Him, and seek Him, the clearer the line becomes, and the less important.

      Liked by 2 people

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