Have you ever wished that you could have the life that someone else has? Maybe if you had their money, influence, fame, or job, you could finally be able to relax and enjoy life a little more. Most of us at one time or another may have had that desire. We look at our neighbor down the street who just bought a new car or went on a great vacation, and we find ourselves wanting what they have. The Bible calls this covetousness.
In Exodus 20:17, God gave this command: "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 is your neighbor's." This is a pretty straight forward command which God has given to us, and of the the Ten Commandments, it is the only commandment that deals with the inward motivation of the heart. This is where coveting begins as an inner longing to have what someone else has. We cannot see someone's inner motives, but God can and does.
Furthermore, covetousness can actually be said to be a sin that leads to many other sins for if we break this commandment, we have broken them all. The book of James says: "But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then, desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death" (James 1:14-15). Examples of this abound in our newspaper every day. We read about people who feel they deserve more money so they embezzle funds from their employer. Then, another person may steal something from an innocent victim because he/she feels they deserve it. People have been killed because someone wanted to have their possessions. Coveting, then, is very much like a cancer that needs to be removed from our very soul. It is the height of ingratitude for what God has done in our lives.
Jesus spoke these words as recorded in Luke 12:15: "...Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness for one's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions." Having more "toys" will not bring us happiness and being angry with God because our neighbor is prospering and we are not does not change anything. It is not for us to tell the Lord what we are to have in this life. He is sovereign over us, our possessions and our days on earth. Rather, we need a heart of gratitude and joy. This leads to contentment which brings peace to our hearts. The Apostle Paul learned this and we would do well to emulate his example: "Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need" (Phil. 4:11-12).
I wish I could say that I never struggle with envy, and that I am very content at all times. However, that would not be truthful. There are times when I wonder why God allows someone else to have a certain opportunity and not me. When the Spirit of God reveals how sinful my thinking is, I turn to the Lord and once again repent for having a covetous heart. At this point, this is when I need to make a list of things for which I am grateful in my life. Keeping an answered prayer journal as well as a gratitude journal would go a very long way to restoring our hearts to beat in rhythm with God's. After all, He has given us life, provided us with salvation through His Son Jesus Christ, and He keeps us daily in His care. How much more could we ever want?
Instead of wishing that we had what our neighbor has, we need to develop a heart of contentment. We need to thank God each day for all the things He has given to us, If we would begin to live in this manner, we would find it easier to overcome the temptation to covet. Paul learned how to be content, and this is what we must do. Selah!