When is it coveting? When is it not?

Status
Not open for further replies.

Tim

Puritan Board Graduate
It seems useful to investigate the nature of coveting. I thought of this when listening to an interview of atheist extraordinaire Christopher Hitchens (of all people), who said that coveting is good because it leads one to be motivated to work for that which is desired.

Of course, coveting is sin, because God says it is. And I believe Hitchens doesn't understand the true nature of the 10th Commandment. But, is it sin when...

  • A man sees another man's house and is motivated to work for one himself. He doesn't want his friend's house for himself, he wants another house to be his own.
  • A single man sees another man's wife to be a wonderful and godly woman. He doesn't want to have her as his own wife, he desires another (unknown and as yet unmarried) woman to be his own wife.

What say ye?
 

Abd_Yesua_alMasih

Puritan Board Junior
My two cents before I go to bed.

God gave the children of Israel a hope and a dream of the promised land. Throughout the scriptures he talks of them being blessed with different material goods and things such as vineyards, fruit trees etc... These blessings were both rewards and things in many ways to aspire to. God would not have promised them if a) it was wrong to have some motivation towards these things or b) it was wrong to want them.

On the other hand we have examples of people who wanted something and a) they did wrong to acquire it and b) they let this desire consume them.
 

Scott1

Puritanboard Commissioner
Westminster Larger Catechism

Question 146: Which is the tenth commandment?

Answer: The tenth commandment is, Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbor's.

Question 147: What are the duties required in the tenth commandment?

Answer: The duties required in the tenth commandment are, such a full contentment with our own condition, and such a charitable frame of the whole soul toward our neighbor, as that all our inward motions and affections touching him, tend unto, and further all that good which is his.

Question 148: What are the sins forbidden in the tenth commandment?

Answer: The sins forbidden in the tenth commandment are, discontentment with our own estate; envying and grieving at the good of our neighbor, together with all inordinate motions and affections to anything that is his.
.

Tim

* A man sees another man's house and is motivated to work for one himself. He doesn't want his friend's house for himself, he wants another house to be his own.

* A single man sees another man's wife to be a wonderful and godly woman. He doesn't want to have her as his own wife, he desires another (unknown and as yet unmarried) woman to be his own wife.

In light of our Confessions' summary of the doctrine of scripture, it seems being discontent with what God has given you right now , in the sense that "if only I had this thing (e.g. bigger house, more real friends, a wife) then I would be happy, and be grateful to God.

More-and-more I see God wants us to be thankful for (and to engage) the circumstances He has given us. What we have (right now) is given us for a reason. Our call as believers is to be grateful for the provision God has given us, not live in unhappiness based so much on circumstances.

An application:

Right now in the United States, we have broadly gotten to the point as a culture (not everyone of course) where not being able to finance a 3,200 square foot starter house is a 'crisis'. It's not only a disappointment, it has become an entitlement mentality, regardless of whether we could even afford it.

This discontentment has been promoted by media, special interests, advertising and government, but it has also been accepted hook, line, and sinker by many people, including some of God's people.

We are willing to demand that other people's wealth be transferred (and much wasted) through government bureaucracy in the false hope that everyone's 'crisis' of contentment will be resolved (through materialism, through government). None of the contentment, expectation, or respect for others property is based on fear of God.

It is based on wholesale violation of the tenth commandment (second commandment, others).
 
Last edited:

TimV

Puritanboard Botanist
Scott is clearly right, although it pains me to say it since I'm hugely guilty.
 

Reluctantly Reforming

Puritan Board Freshman
In light of our Confessions' summary of the doctrine of scripture, it seems being discontent with what God has given you right now , in the sense that "if only I had this thing (e.g. bigger house, more real friends, a wife) then I would be happy, and be grateful to God.

Excellent point. Such an attitude blames God for one's present lack of gratitude, and attempts to strike a devotional deal with Him: bless me more, and I'll thank You.

Yet getting back to the original questions: owning a home sufficient to one's family's needs, and being joined to a godly wife, are both good desires. Enjoying a friend's home that he built himself, and thinking, "I would like to do the same," is not of itself covetousness. Neither would it be for a single man to spend time around a godly couple and come away inspired to work harder at finding (and preparing himself for) a virtuous wife.

I realize that at all times our motivations are mixed. Yet "godly envy" is quite useful: we are often spurred on to good works by seeing others' successes.
 

OPC'n

Puritan Board Doctor
It seems useful to investigate the nature of coveting. I thought of this when listening to an interview of atheist extraordinaire Christopher Hitchens (of all people), who said that coveting is good because it leads one to be motivated to work for that which is desired.

Of course, coveting is sin, because God says it is. And I believe Hitchens doesn't understand the true nature of the 10th Commandment. But, is it sin when...

  • A man sees another man's house and is motivated to work for one himself. He doesn't want his friend's house for himself, he wants another house to be his own.
  • A single man sees another man's wife to be a wonderful and godly woman. He doesn't want to have her as his own wife, he desires another (unknown and as yet unmarried) woman to be his own wife.

What say ye?

I don't think either examples are coveting unless that becomes your obsession, but then that might be more idolatry.
 

bisonrancher

Puritan Board Freshman
Here is an article by Rev. Bill Sytsma. It might help you out.

Two Commanding Lessons


Brad’s father regularly offered him advice. Often Brad appreciated it. His dad had helpful insights into a variety of matters. But no matter what the situation, it seemed the litany of instructions regularly carried certain words: “Slow down and think things through.”

Those words helped shape the way Brad approached life. As he grew older Brad found that whenever he grew frantic or worried, his father’s words echoed in his head. He gained the reputation of being someone who remained cool-headed in stressful situations.

In God’s written Word, God gives instructions that shape the lives of his followers. For example, the Ten Commandments are more than merely a list of do’s and don’ts. They give us insight for how we can thrive in our walk with God.

We discover many practical benefits to following God’s commands: When we strive to honor our parents, we enjoy better family relationships. When we develop the practice of telling the truth and protecting our neighbors, we find that people more easily trust us. When we strive to follow God’s commandments, we might even discover a level of peace.

Even though most of God’s commandments are quite practical and easily understood, two offer greater challenges as we strive to understand and live by them.

The Challenge of the Fourth

The fourth commandment tells us to “remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy” (Ex. 20:8). Throughout history people have debated how to keep this commandment. During his time on earth, Jesus was often accused of breaking this commandment.

I remember many debates within my family about what was forbidden and what was permitted on Sundays. We ended up with rules that often seemed inconsistent: We couldn’t swim, but we could run under a sprinkler. We couldn’t go to a restaurant, but we could purchase a can of pop from a machine.

Even today, whenever I preach on the fourth commandment, listeners regularly ask about what is forbidden and what is permitted on the Sabbath.

There is value to discussing how we can best keep the Sabbath day. But it’s difficult to give strict guidelines about the fourth commandment, then say with confidence you have spoken the words of the Lord.

The New Testament does not contain a lot of instruction about how followers of Christ should observe the Sabbath. Romans 14:5 even indicates that some observe special days while some do not, and that both perspectives are considered legitimate.

The Challenge of the 10th

The 10th commandment offers a different challenge: “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant or his maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor” (Ex. 20:17).

Unlike the fourth commandment, this one seems clear as to what it forbids: we should not set our hearts on things that belong to others. We could even argue that it teaches us we should not desire what God does not desire for us.

The difficulty with this commandment is not in understanding it, but in observing it.

One difficulty in observing this commandment is knowing whether we are violating it. How do we know when we have crossed the line from a legitimate desire to coveting?

A second complication becomes evident as we try to control our desires. Have you ever tried to stop wanting something? Even when we’re aware we desire something contrary to God’s will, it’s not easy to change that desire.

Contrast this commandment to the others. If I realize I’ve told a lie, I can repent by confessing and telling the truth. If I’m tempted to steal a candy bar from the grocery store, I can, by an act of will, force myself not to steal. It is theoretically possible for me to force myself to observe most of the commandments. However, I cannot force myself to stop coveting.

I find in weak moments that I wish I could steal or tell a lie or walk away from God’s desires. In those weak moments, I desire something that is contrary to God’s will. I am guilty of coveting. It’s important to understand this commandment, but it seems futile to try to keep it.

The Lessons of Both

The fourth and 10th commandments seem very different from each other. One tells us to keep a holy day. The other tells us to control our desires. What could they have in common?

Remember Brad? His father’s words, while perhaps not immediately practical, helped shape the way Brad approached life.

The lessons of the fourth and 10th commandments have the same quality as the advice from Brad’s father. They might not seem immediately practical, but they shape our understanding of life with God.

The 10th commandment teaches us the depth of our sinful nature. When we first begin to comprehend the reality of sin, we tend to believe it’s limited to the “bad things” we do. We believe that sin is lying, stealing, or disobeying our parents. If we didn’t have the 10th commandment, we might believe we could eliminate sin from our lives simply by behaving well.

But the 10th commandment makes us realize we have an innate tendency to walk away from God. It helps us realize that sin is a problem that runs far deeper than our behavior. The more we strive to keep God’s law, the more we get confronted with the stain of sin in our lives. That stain seems to taint all we do.

This stain of sin would cause us great despair if it were not for the lesson of the fourth commandment.

The fourth commandment reveals the wonderful nature of God’s grace.

As I was growing up, the fourth commandment seemed to be a law that limited my Sunday activity. It meant I could not do many things I wanted to do. But the people of Israel might have heard this commandment differently.

When God first spoke these words, God was addressing a group of people who had just been released from centuries of slavery. In Egypt the people of Israel did not have many things we take for granted today. Most slave drivers did not allow weekends away from work; rather, they drove the Israelites mercilessly, often not even giving them enough supplies to do the job.

It’s not hard to imagine that the people of Israel rarely, if ever, received a day of rest.

After lives of endless work, these people are given a gift. They’re not merely given permission to rest; they’re commanded to do so. God will take care of them from now on.

God tells them that on this special day of rest, they will not even have to get out of bed early to collect the free bread from heaven. God would preserve the bread from the previous day.

The Sabbath is a gift. It’s a day to bask in the comfort of knowing you are free from your ultimate worries because God is in control of your life. God will see to it that you have everything you need.

For people who have faced the reality of the 10th commandment, this gift of Sabbath grace comes as a great relief. We realize our sin is great, but we also realize that Jesus Christ frees us from the consequences of our sinfulness. We can rest in God’s care.

Brad’s father never came out and told him that he should be an even-tempered, thoughtful person. Instead, he gave him instruction that naturally shaped him. Consider how your heavenly Father uses these two commandments to shape your own life of faith.
 

Idelette

Puritan Board Graduate
This is a great question, I've often thought about this issue as well! I don't think there is anything wrong with desiring to have good and godly things. However, I've come to realize that when the commandments speak of coveting, I believe it has to deal with discontentment more than anything. Just looking at the fall of Adam and Eve..... they had absolutely everything in the garden, and yet they sinned against God partially because they were not fully content. I think when we find ourselves discontent with what God has already provided, and when we see something else as an answer to our joy.....then we are coveting in our hearts! In an essence, we are not fully trusting that the lot the God has given to us is the very best!

I think the question is...... why do we desire something specific? Is it because we are not fully content with what we already have? Is it because we do not fully trust the Lord to choose our lot for us? Is it simply for ourselves and our own pleasure? Or do we truly see it as useful for advancing God's glory in our lives as well as our enjoyment? We ought to delight ourselves in the Lord, and then He will give us the desires of our hearts! (Ps 37:4) When we truly seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, then all these things will be added unto us! (Matt 6:33) I do not believe it is wrong to desire things, but when we desire them apart from His will, I think is when we covet. The Lord does place good and godly desires in our hearts, but we need to seek them within His will first. I think many people seek God for His many blessings rather than Himself......and that is coveting. But, when we seek Him with all of our heart and desire to have according to His will....I think this is not coveting, but expectantly waiting for God to provide!

I just saw Scott's post....I would agree with him! :)
 

Rich Koster

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
The sin nature pokes up it's ugly head when we do not rejoice in the blessings of others, but think we deserve it instead or also.
 

Knoxienne

Puritan Board Graduate
The sin nature pokes up it's ugly head when we do not rejoice in the blessings of others, but think we deserve it instead or also.

True. When hearing the word "deserve" either from someone else or inside our heads, it's good to remember in no way do we want what we deserve! :eek::)
 

reformed trucker

Puritan Board Sophomore
More-and-more I see God wants us to be thankful for (and to engage) the circumstances He has given us. What we have (right now) is given us for a reason. Our call as believers is to be grateful for the provision God has given us, not live in unhappiness based so much on circumstances.

:amen: :agree:
 
Status
Not open for further replies.
Top