Commandment #9: Coveting, Part 1

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Monday, December 10, 2018 0 comments

by Katie Erickson

“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house.“ (Exodus 20:17a)

As we come close to wrapping up our look through the Ten Commandments, I’m again intrigued at how they’re numbered, as I brought up in my first post in the series. Many traditions put all of Exodus 20:17 into one commandment, while splitting the first commandment into two so it still make a total of ten. I can definitely see the logic in this method, since verse 17 is all about coveting, so why did the Lutheran tradition I grew up in make it into two commandments?

As it turns out, that commandment division goes all the way back to St. Augustine around the 4th century AD. Augustine is commonly viewed as one of the most important early church fathers, and his Confessions, both an autobiography and theological work, spanned 13 volumes! He followed the Talmud (the book of Jewish religious law) by putting verses 3-6 together as the first commandment, then then split up verse 17 into two. Both Romans Catholics and Lutherans continue using this tradition, although the wording of the last two commandments differs some between the two.

Now that we know that, let’s take a look at what this commandment means. First of all, what is this word “covet”? Coveting basically means a yearning, a longing, a craving, or a desire to have something. If I want that delicious looking piece of chocolate that you have, I would be coveting the chocolate. As we talked about last week, your neighbor is every person, no matter whether we have things in common with them or not.

This commandment specifically looks at coveting your neighbor’s house, so desiring the house of any other person. I enjoy TV shows about houses - remodeling them, selling them, redecorating them, etc. I also enjoy houses in general; my husband and I currently own 6 of them, 5 rental houses plus the one we live in. While I do like the house we live in, there are definitely times I covet other people’s houses, or even features of other people’s houses. I’m sure we could all find things in our own living spaces that we would like to change, where we see someone else having a better version.

But this commandment doesn’t apply to only the structure of the place where we live. According to Luther’s Small Catechism, the meaning of this commandment is: “We should fear and love God so that we do not scheme to get our neighbor’s inheritance or house, or get it in a way which only appears right, but help and be of service to him in keeping it.”

Coveting another’s house doesn’t just mean the place they live, but also their inheritance. An inheritance can be monetary, but it can also be the legacy they leave after they’re gone. We are commanded to not only not desire after his house or inheritance, but to actually help our neighbor keep his house.

I’m blessed to have pretty good neighbors where I live. Some neighbors keep to themselves while others are more outgoing and friendly, but they’re all respectful. But when a neighbor goes the extra mile to actually help us with things around the house, that really shows God’s love. One neighbor of ours will often mow our front yard for us when she does her own lawn; while that may be because they’d rather not look at our yard being long, we believe it’s because they truly want to help us out and it’s a way they can do that.

Coveting comes down to being a matter of contentment. If we are content with what we have, we will not want what someone else has. The apostle Paul tells us in Philippians 4:11-12, “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” Paul was completely content while writing that, even while chained in a miserable prison. If we have place to call home, shouldn’t we be content as well with what God has given us?

Are you struggling with coveting your neighbor’s house? What can you do to change your attitude to be one of contentment toward what God has given you? Remember what Proverbs 14:30 says: “A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones.“

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