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)
Our cultures have changed so the list above may seem a bit foreign to many of our experiences. But the idea behind this verse is central to living a healthy and meaningful life. You shall not covet…
We live in a consumer culture in a system that is designed to get you to covet. Much of what drives the American experience is grounded in coveting. Magazine ads, TV commercials, Google ads that pop up based on your search data are all designed to get you to want something you don’t have and eventually to get you to do something about it. Who hasn’t seen an ad for something you hadn’t even been thinking about and thought, “Wow, that looks cool. I want one of those.”
The goal of much of our existence is to be sure that you are pressured to be dissatisfied with who you are and what you have. No matter how happy you thought you were a minute before the commercial came on, the advertiser’s goal is to make you feel inadequate at the moment and also to show you what you need to get, do, or buy in order to feel fulfilled and whole again. Yes, coveting drives the economy. Coveting makes Christmas Christmas.
In contrast, the Bible pictures a world where people are connected and care about what they have in ways that elicit gratitude. Gratitude for what we have is the opposite of coveting. Gratitude comes from a sense that we have good things and that what we h ave is enough. While there is still poverty in America, even many of us who struggle to make ends meet have too much stuff we wanted but don’t need and as a result we lack resources to have what we need. Only in America can you have way too much and way too little so easily!
So, the command to not covet is also a charge to live contented lives. It is a call to live wisely, grounded in good decisions about the things we have and the relationships in our lives. Being good stewards of those will bring more meaning and purpose to who we already are. Longing for different things and people may only make us miserable. There’s a lot of pressure in our world trying to make us miserable, but the Bible’s message is one that encourages contentment and gratitude whenever possible. So, take stock of what you have and say thanks when you can. In general, it beats wishing you had someone else’s life instead of your own.