Perhaps our forgetfulness can be excused since that sin is addressed in the caboose of the Ten Commandments, no? It’s not as bad as murder or adultery, is it? And surely love is the important thing – first love to God (worshipful adoration of Him and serving Him with all one’s being) and second love to neighbor (charitable elevation of his interests to the level of my own), correct? Coveting is surely minor in comparison, is it not? Then of course there is our pandemic Biblical illiteracy arguing for laxity in this matter, right?
Wrong. Negative. There is no excusing sin, and the sin of coveting is not exempt. In fact, admonishing the Christians in ancient Colossae, Paul the apostle wrote “Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry” (Colossians 3:5). No indeed, there is not the slightest excuse for this “little” sin. It is not minor, it is actually a form of false worship! Paul’s inspired exhortation puts it right up there with the first of the big ten.
So the disciple struggling with sin’s indwelling power, its lusts waging war against his soul, must give sin no quarter, including the sin of coveting. He or she is commanded to put all sin to death summarily…to go all out Samuel on that Agag! (Cf. 1 Samuel 15:33.) Let there be no coddling of this serpent. Such coddling lures one back toward sin’s bondage and misery.
Likewise the soul newly convicted of sin’s guilt and now stricken with an awareness of how sin has corrupted that one’s entire being and course of life must not vainly dream of making satisfaction for the guilt of coveting or the guilt of any other sin. As 18th century hymn writer Augustus Toplady wrote:
“Could my tears forever flow
Could my zeal no respite know
All for sin could not atone
Thou must save and Thou alone!”
That convicted and tormented one, being not far from the kingdom of God, must flee to the only narrow gate, the cross of Christ, to find forgiveness and everlasting rest.
Likewise a society slipping and sliding deeper and deeper into lawlessness must be warned. Its rulers must learn to do their duty to the supreme Sovereign Who appointed them and gave them the power of the sword, as the Bible puts it. That duty is to punish the evildoer and reward those who do good – both of those ethical categories being defined not by the capriciousness of man but by the eternal God Who said…
YOU SHALL NOT COVET
Because we in the West already have fallen so far, sadly a defintion of covetousness, the act of coveting, is in order. Let the following amplification of Scripture’s already amplified proclamation (Cf. Exodus 20:17 and Deuteronomy 5:21) of that four word prohibition serve this defining purpose:
You shall not enviously desire your neighbor’s spouse, you shall not enviously desire your neighbor’s home or other property, you shall not enviously desire your neighbor’s business or personal assets, in fact you shall not enviously desire anything that is your neighbor’s. Keep your grubby hands and beady eyes and skulking minds off your neighbor’s stuff, period!
To learn who your neighbor is, check how Jesus answered that very question when it was put to Him by a man considered by his tribe to be an expert in the law of God. It is called the parable of the good Samaritan, and can be found in the tenth chapter of the Gospel according to Luke. The short answer easily and rightly inferred from the parable is that EVERYONE is the neighbor of everyone else!
With that understanding (O Lord, let it take root and grow in all our hearts!) let’s consider and respond to what bombards us in our own society – directly and bluntly, subtly, and even subliminally – as we are led away by our own propensity to covet.
“I DESERVE this, that, or the other thing which my neighbor has!” False! In the sight of God you and I deserve nothing. All that you or your neighbor has comes from His unmerited mercy and grace. And in the sight of your fellow human beings you deserve no more than compensation for your honest labors, honor for your well doing, and punishment for your evil doing, while both you and your neighbor owe perpetual charity to one another and to all.
“My neighbor has privileges I don’t have! I am right to identify my neighbor as evil because of them. I must tear down my neighbor and make him feel ashamed of his privileges” (real or imagined)! False, the very meaning of privilege is the possession of some earthly treasure or advantage which all do not have.
Our almighty and all wise Creator gives no explanation as to why, according to His inscrutable and righteous decree, one is born in a palace and another in a shack or why one lives a long life in robust health lacking nothing while another lives a brief life beset with pain and sorrow (Cf. Luke 16:19ff). He only gives the assurance that no one is treated unjustly by His providence. Fairness and justice are not synonymns! And God also assures us that every manager of His diverse gifts will face a final reckoning. Each of us is such a manager, such a steward. To whom much was entrusted, much will be expected. (Cf. Matthew 25:14ff)
Our place is to be resourceful, industrious, thankful, and content. In the midst of pursuing those precious character traits, which do not come naturally, we often discover that we too have great privileges and advantages not possessed by others, and abundant reason to be clothed with humility and overflowing with gratitude. (Cf. Solomon’s meditations in the book of Ecclesiastes)
“There must be universal equality of income, no classes in society, and redistribution of wealth in order to level the playing field!” False. This is the very manifesto of covetousness and the sure path to an equality of abject poverty, to the existence of one vast miserable class controlled by a handful of elites, and to a dearth of any wealth to distribute to anyone. Consider the former Soviet Union, Cuba, North Korea, Venezuela, etc. and the underlying sophistry of their regimes which mock genuine charity and trample the Eight and Ninth Commandments…a discussion for another day.
God has not forgotten that covetousness is a sin. He has not edited His law, ignorance of which is no excuse especially since we who bear His image cannot fully escape the knowledge of right and wrong, however badly we sear our consciences. Our way forward is repentance for coveting and our other national sins. Then we can hope that God will heal our land.