“You shall not Covet”
What does this mean?
“We are to fear and love God, so that we do not try to trick our neighbors to get their things for ourselves. Instead we should be of help and service to them in keeping what is theirs and urge them fulfill their responsibilities.”
-Martin Luther, Small Catechism
The 9th and 10th commandments are very similar. They both have the same first four words: You shall not covet. Last Sunday, Pastor Mike said that to covet meant to have a jealous desire of something or someone else. Jealousy is when we want something or someone so badly that it can lead to us resenting anyone else who has what we want. The desire part of coveting comes in when we want something so badly for ourselves that we will try to get it no matter the cost.
Coveting happens when we begin to feel that life is a zero sum game. That is, in order for one person to get ahead, someone else has to fall behind. When coveting shows up in our own lives it usually feels like, “my life is hurt when your life goes well.” When we covet other people’s things and lives, it begins to minimize our own blessings and maximize other people’s blessings. Social Media can create a space where we compare our blooper reel to other people’s highlight reels.
What effect can it have on us to compare the messy parts of our own lives to the best parts of other people’s lives?
To better understand the role coveting can play in our everyday lives read this story about Abby and Nicole, two Jr. High band members. As you read consider the bolded questions.
Abby & Nicole have been acquaintances since they got into Jr. High. They have always sat near each other during band because they played the same instrument, but they weren’t best friends by any means. They hung out together occasionally in larger groups but never just the two of them. During the end of their 7th grade year, it was announced that they would have tryouts for 8th grade band before they left for the summer. After class on the day that announcement was made, Abby found herself chatting with Nicole as they put away their instruments. In that conversation they both announced that they wanted to be first chair next year. They decided that they would practice together in the coming weeks to give them both the best chance to achieve their goal.
As they practiced together, Abby and Nicole realized they had a lot more in common than they ever thought. They would tell jokes and giggle throughout their practice time together and because they enjoyed the time together so much, they ended up practicing more than they would have separately. When it came time for tryouts, both felt like they did a great job. However, on the last day of school when the chair positions were posted, Nicole was listed as 1st chair and Abby as 2nd.
Abby wanted to feel happy for Nicole’s success, but instead she felt like her opportunity to be the best had been stolen from her. When Nicole ran over to Abby smiling and excited to tell her that they had done it, Abby felt like Nicole was mocking her. Over the next few days Abby felt a flicker of anger every time Nicole would talk to her.
- Why do you think Abby was struggling with her feelings after the chair positions were posted?
- What is something you have been jealous of someone else getting?
Abby’s summer break now had a new purpose. Instead of hanging out with friends and relaxing, her goal was to become first chair as soon as the opportunity presented itself. Nicole seemed to be oblivious to Abby’s jealousy. She would text Abby to talk to her about things like boys and other friends. Nicole would even invite Abby to hang out. Abby knew what was going on, she could see that the 1st chair was trying to solidify her position by stealing valuable practice time from the only person who could dethrone her. Abby was almost always able to find an excuse not to hang out with Nicole and would turn her attention to practicing.
One time Nicole tried to talk with Abby about her boyfriend dumping her for another girl. Abby played along as Nicole told her that she still liked the boy and would take him back if that chance ever came. Abby said the things she thought she should, but she couldn’t see how this would be that big of a deal for a 1st Chair. Abby figured that Nicole was just playing up the problem because she wanted to divert Abby’s attention from her practice time.
- Why do you think Abby’s view of Nicole was changed by her getting 1st Chair?
- What were some things Abby missed out on because she was consumed by her jealousy?
- When someone got something you were jealous of, how did it change the way you saw them?
When summer finally ended and they showed up for the first day of band, Abby was delighted to hear that they would have the opportunity to challenge the person ahead of them for chair position in two weeks. The band director told them that they had one week to sign up for the challenges. Abby was ecstatic to have the opportunity to get just what she wanted. Abby wasn’t going to miss out this time, so she needed a way to increase her chances of winning first chair. She quickly hatched a plan.
Abby went out of her way to steer conversations she had with Nicole away from the subject of the impending seat challenge. And when Nicole finally did ask Abby outright if she was going to challenge, Abby said she wasn’t sure yet. Abby hoped the element of surprise would give her the edge. On the last possible day Abby signed up to challenge Nicole. Abby decided that she would forget to mention that she signed up for the challenge and allow the band director to tell Nicole to give herself the biggest edge possible with practice time.
Once Nicole found out about the challenge, she began to show up early for school to get some extra practice in. Abby felt she was losing ground. So she decided to tell some people about Nicole’s desire to have her old boyfriend back, hoping that it would steal some practice time away from Nicole. The story quickly spread around and definitely lead to some drama between Nicole and her ex-boyfriend and between Nicole and the new Girlfriend.
When it came time for tryouts, Abby’s plan seemed to have worked perfectly. Nicole was a disaster during her tryout, in fact she did so poorly that the director moved her down to 3rd chair. Meanwhile, Abby won 1st chair. She had achieved her goal. However, it didn’t feel as great as she had hoped. As she began to take her attention away from her goal, she started to feel terrible for the mess she had caused on her way to the top.
- How did Abby use people to get the thing she valued?
- How could things have gone differently in this story if Abby didn’t covet the 1st Chair position?
- In what ways do we use people to get the things we want?
Coveting changes how we see people. It starts when we turn the success of another person into a loss for us. Then it causes us to forget the fact that they are a real person and can end up reducing them to simply the object we desire. Finally, we can end up valuing the thing we want and using people to get it rather than valuing the people around us and using things to help them.
The opposite of coveting is being able to genuinely celebrate with others. When we’re not focused on what other people have, we can see both them and ourselves as God does. This allows us to appreciate and understand what we have been given. The ninth and tenth commandment go beyond telling us not to covet and call us to actually do our best to benefit those around us and help to lift everyone to their full potential.
One of the areas of our world where coveting comes into full light is the idea of money. It’s easy for us to get caught up in the thinking that if we just had more money that everything would go better and we’d enjoy life more. However, this is not what the Bible has to say about money. So to better understand what the Jesus thinks about this subject, use the passages and questions below to explore what Jesus has to say on the topic.
Parable of the Rich Man (Mark 10:17-25)
- What does Jesus have to say about making money in this parable?
- Why do you think Jesus would tell someone to give away all their possessions?
The Parable of Talents (Matthew 25:14-30)
- What does Jesus have to say about making money in this parable?
- Why do you think Jesus would tell someone that it’s important for them to use what they’ve been given?
In the 9th and 10th commandments, God calls us to turn away from the idea that life is a zero sum game and towards an attitude of abundance. When we think in this way we begin to see gifts as not only fun blessings which we are given to enjoy, but also as responsibility. Even when we feel like life’s not fair, we are called to trust God and remain content with what we have. Beyond that, we are called to actively seek to help out the people around us, especially those who are incapable of looking out for themselves. The ultimate example of this is Jesus’ death on the cross.
Tonight’s small group activity gave the youth a chance to acknowledge the gifts each of us has been given. When we turn our focus to what we’ve been given, we no longer need to spend time wishing we had something else. Youth have been asked to take home the list of gifts and work together with their parents to decide on one or more ways they can use the gifts that others recognized in them in their everyday life.