“Well then, am I suggesting that the law of God is sinful? Of course not! In fact, it was the law that showed me my sin. I would never have known that coveting is wrong if the law had not said, “You must not covet.” But sin used this command to arouse all kinds of covetous desires within me! If there were no law, sin would not have that power. At one time I lived without understanding the law. But when I learned the command not to covet, for instance, the power of sin came to life, and I died”
Romans 7:7-9 NLT
What is “coveting” all about? A dictionary definition is “to wish for earnestly”. Other words crop up like yearning and desiring. So I see a shiny new car in my neighbour’s driveway and “covet” it. I imagine how great it would be to own a model like that, and my imagination starts to kick in with all sorts of feelings, leading me down a sinful path at variance with the tenth commandment. Another example of coveting is with all those people who wish they could win the lottery. They start to imagine what they could do with all that money. Coveting.
Paul wrote that the Law exposed how sinful he was. He made the assumption that he “would never have known that coveting is wrong if the law had not said, “You must not covet.” But is he right in this? Surely there is something inbuilt within us that would understand that coveting is a pointless exercise that could degrade into sin, should it be pursued to its limit? Perhaps. To take a modern example from the UK Highway Code, if we did not have such a reference book detailing the laws of driving would we still find ourselves driving safely, or would chaos reign? I suspect the latter position! Seeing something like a law written down in black and white draws our attention to a non-negotiable position, designed for our protection and safety. God gave the Ten Commandments to Moses for a very good reason. It brought social cohesion and God’s expectations to a bunch of rebellious ex-slaves, and is expanded upon in books such as Leviticus.
But the specific Law, “You must not covet”, was included in God’s list for a reason. The commandment in Exodus 20:17 reads, “You must not covet your neighbour’s house. You must not covet your neighbour’s wife, male or female servant, ox or donkey, or anything else that belongs to your neighbour.” It is interesting that this commandment is focused on what our neighbours have. Nothing about more general coveting, which is so often driven by national advertising, incessantly pushed on our televisions and media sources. But the principle is still there.
How much debt and misery has been caused by people who have responded to an advert and got into debt as a result. A child nags their parents for a particular game, or item of clothing, or the latest type of mobile phone. Often unaffordable, the parent capitulates and runs up a debt that takes months to pay off. How many families get caught up in the commercial materialism of Christmas and end up trapped to a payment plan? It’s all starts with coveting and ends up in misery.
When God issued the commandment “You must not covet” he knew what the propensity of human beings was like. We pilgrims will get caught up in this as well, the still small voice of the Holy Spirit drowned out by the coveting nature of our unredeemed sinful selves. When times are hard financially perhaps we should ask ourselves whether what we desire is a need or a want. Hmmm…
Dear God. You promised to provide for all our needs, so we trust in You and Your provision. Please forgive us for when we get caught up in the sin of covetousness. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.