Dan PoppRenew America
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)
I'll admit that, before beginning this article closing my series on God's "Ten Words," I didn't have much respect for envy. Compared to murder and adultery it's just not very impressive, is it? But I'm starting to see that illicit desire is the ground in which other sins germinate. Because I view envy and greed as two hideous faces of the monster called covetousness, I'll use those words somewhat interchangeably.
There are hints that envy was the Adversary's original, original sin. It was certainly part of his temptation of Eve: He promised, "...your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God...." Cain's murderous fury began as envy that Abel's offering had been accepted, and his rejected. David committed adultery and murder because he saw another man's wife and wanted her. No, this is no trivial sin. In the New Testament we learn that the covetous man is an idolater, breaking two or three Commandments at once.
Perhaps most poignantly for Christians, this is the sin that put Jesus on the cross. Pilate "knew that because of envy they had handed Him over." (See Matt. 27:18, Mark 15:10.) So often, li'l ol' covetousness is the parent of "big" sins like robbery, lying, adultery and murder. Is this why the Holy Spirit calls greed the "root of all evil" â€” the love of money, the lust for stuff that doesn't belong to us? Unchecked, covetousness grows and spreads its poison tendrils wherever it can, to do the maximum possible damage to humanity.
And it's everywhere. It's a plank of political party platforms. But violating the Tenth Commandment can't bring about "social" or any other kind of justice. If you're bothered by the fact that someone has more than you, you're condemned by this law. Jesus said,
"For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. When he had agreed with the laborers for a denarius for the day, he sent them into his vineyard. And he went out about the third hour and saw others standing idle in the market place; and to those he said, 'You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right I will give you.' And so they went. Again he went out about the sixth and the ninth hour, and did the same thing. And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, 'Why have you been standing here idle all day long?' They said to him, 'Because no one hired us.' He said to them, 'You go into the vineyard too.'
When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, 'Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last group to the first.' When those hired about the eleventh hour came, each one received a denarius. When those hired first came, they thought that they would receive more; but each of them also received a denarius. When they received it, they grumbled at the landowner, saying, 'These last men have worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the scorching heat of the day.' But he answered and said to one of them, 'Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what is yours and go, but I wish to give to this last man the same as to you. Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with what is my own? Or is your eye envious because I am generous?' So the last shall be first, and the first last." (Matthew 20:1-16)
Literally, is your eye evil because I am good? Does observing my generosity cause your heart to swell with greed? How wicked is that? God gives other men more gifts, more talents, more opportunities, more blessings than He gives me. That's none of my business. My business is to be faithful. Do I think God is going to cheat me? That's the lie behind covetousness, isn't it â€” that God isn't giving me what I deserve? Since I deserve hell, everything better than that is grace.
The antidote for covetousness is gratitude. Thankfulness and contentment are "great gain" â€” a downpayment of the true riches of the Kingdom. May we cultivate a thankful spirit not just one day a year, but moment by moment for eternity.
Previous articles in this series: God, Images, Name, Rest, Parents, Murder, Adultery, Theft, Lying.
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Â© Dan Popp