by David Shalley.
He looked, and desired to take that which was not his to have. None-the-less he went on to take what did not belong to him. Finally, to hide his guilt and gain exclusive possession of his spoil, he resorted to murder. David coveted his neighbour’s wife (1). Tragedy and pain followed, for what was conceived and nurtured in the shadowy recesses of his mind gave birth to a blatant disregard of God’s moral code. David was not content with what God had given him, his restless heart sought for more.
Covetousness Affects All Aspects of Life Today
What was true of King David centuries ago is true of our own times. Discontent has become the driving force of our culture’s lifestyle, relationships and economic rationale. Those who have want more, be it power, money, substance or fame – a climate that has also affected the Christian community.
“Return tomorrow, and you could double your money”, says the quizmaster to a make believe audience whilst millions watch in envy. Real people are incomplete without….! So we are fed a diet designed to stir covetousness in our hearts, a discontent with what we are and already have. Added to which is the trivialisation of real values so that we will believe the lie that satisfaction is found in the abundance of our possessions. This, allied to credit on tap, has reduced us to economic slavery.
God’s Word Is Clear
Yet God has said, and is still saying, “You shall not covet” (2). His loving message to all is that the fullness of life we all long for is only to be found in that Godly antithesis of covetousness: “contentment” (3).
Unlike the first nine Commandments that deal with overt actions, the tenth addresses the inner, hidden attitude of the heart. Yet covetousness has the potential to stimulate actions that violate the whole of God’s moral code. Covetousness leads to theft, loss of trust, lying speech, disregard of the rights of others, lust leading to fornication or adultery, anger that breeds hatred and murder. It is not last on the list of ten because it is least BUT because it is the most far reaching. Change people’s hearts at this point and you will transform our nation and our world. The First and Tenth Commandments are integral to each other. For if people serve only the Lord, they will desire only what He provides. In effect, the covetous person is saying, “I cannot trust God to meet my needs so I will reach out and help myself anyway I can.”
Jesus Addresses this Issue
The Lord Jesus Christ spoke plainly on this when He said that if our priorities were God’s kingdom and Godly living then the necessities of life would be guaranteed(4).
It is interesting, in this context, to reflect on the record of Jesus’ conversation with a wealthy young man (5), in which Jesus quotes only six of the seven proscriptive commandments. Strange, is it not, that Jesus leaves out the very one that the young man is guilty of? Stricken by his conscience he breaks off his conversation with Christ…because his couldn’t let go of his heart’s greatest treasure.
At the personal level covetousness distorts the fruit of the Spirit and poisons relationships with God and others. On the larger scale it drives oppression, injustice and exploitation; feeding the greed of the capitalist plus the communist as well as the depravity of the anarchist, the cruelty of ungodly democracies and the tyranny of the worst dictatorships alike. To hope for reconciliation between individuals, groups of people and nations who are intent only on a larger share of wealth and status is, historically, a forlorn hope. Richard Foster expressed a longing for the day when: “The poor are no longer oppressed because covetousness no longer reigns” (6). A very pertinent hope indeed!
The “…godliness with contentment (that) is great gain” (7) can only be realised in lives that are grafted into Christ. It is His love alone that frees me to love Him and others before myself. To experience the promised presence of one’s loving Father is the real key to contentment. Such a restful spirit as contentment is the antidote to the pervading influence of covetousness and the safest pathway through the ensnaring tentacles of consumerism.
O Lord, may you become our greatest treasure. Amen.