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By Ted Schroder,
November 20, 2016

The tenth commandment: "You shall not covet your neighbor's house. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor."(Exodus 20:17)

Desire is natural to human life. Not to desire is to be apathetic, and to have no goals. To love is to desire. To covet, however, is to want to have something which is not ours to have -- to take away from someone what is theirs. It is sinful desire, greedy desire, selfish desire, avarice, cupidity. Wars are started by national leaders coveting the territory and resources of other nations. Takeovers occur because companies covet their competitor's business. Sometimes that is healthy, and sometimes it creates a monopoly. Advertising is designed to provide information about a product so that it stimulates our desire to possess it. Availability of credit encourages the satisfaction of our desires. Jesus said, "Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions." He told the parable of the Rich Fool to illustrate the folly of taking rather than giving. (Luke 12:13-21) You can't take it with you.

The book of Ecclesiastes describes the search for satisfaction. You can have money, possessions, lovers, success in life and still be dissatisfied. Happiness does not come through acquisition. Wealth does not equal satisfaction or contentment.

Money can buy medicine, but it cannot buy health.
Money can buy a house, but not a home.
Money can buy companionship, but not friendship.
Money can buy entertainment, but not happiness.
Money can buy food, but not an appetite.
Money can buy a bed, but not sleep.
Money can buy a crucifix, but not a savior.

In 1969 Peggy Lee recorded the song, "Is That All There Is?" Nothing was big enough to satisfy her desires. There was always something missing. "Is that all there is? If that's all there is my friends, Then let's keep dancing...."

Covetousness reveals how deeply we need to feel good about ourselves, and how we think that acquisition (of a spouse, a family, a house, a vehicle, a hobby, clothing, property, or other investments) can make us feel significant, to feel above average, to allay our fears about insecurity, about the future. This deep need, this addiction, is a substitute for trust in God's love, grace and destiny. Covetousness is a form of idolatry (Colossians 3:5). It can only be overcome by finding a deeper satisfaction, a more lasting object of desire.
The rich young ruler is a case in point. He had everything that this world could offer him. He was rich, he was young, and he was attractive. He wanted to know how he could possess eternal life and the fulfillment it brings. Jesus listed the commandments as a way of testing his desire. He claimed to have kept them from his childhood. Jesus loved this man and saw through to his heart, and what he lacked. He saw life as the acquisition of assets: of spiritual as well as material resources. The inheritance of eternal life was going to be the capstone of his endeavors to live the good life, which Jesus had reminded him, was impossible for any human being to attain (Mark 10:17-21).

By listing the commandments Jesus hoped that the young man would see his need for grace, for humility, for forgiveness. Instead, blinded by his own enthusiasm, and zeal for success, he blurted out an expression of his complacency. "Teacher, all these have I kept since I was a boy."

He had spent his life investing in his own security, his own need to feel good about himself that he had succumbed to an idealism that can only be called hubris: the insolence of the immature. This may be forgivable in the young, even attractive, but if it is not corrected it can result in destructive self-centeredness. You see this hubris in some successful athletes, who, when asked by the interviewer what gave them the edge in the competition reply, "I believed in myself. I knew I could do it if only I believed in myself!"

The only remedy for such cocksureness was a bucket of cold water: "One thing you lack," Jesus said. "Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." Jesus did not say this to all those who were wealthy. But he did say it to this young man. He was testing his loyalty and direction in life. He had to make a decision about the way he lived: how important was his desire for eternal life? Did he want treasure in heaven where moth and rust do not corrupt? Was he prepared to follow Jesus or was he going to continue to be preoccupied with his great earthly wealth? He had to make a choice. Was he going to take seriously the claim of Jesus: "I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty... I am the living bread...Whoever eats of this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world." (John 6:35ff.) This is the bread broken for us on the Cross so that we might be forgiven and receive the gift of eternal life.

Following Jesus means letting his costly love so fill our hearts that it overflows into the lives of others. The only way we can fulfill the commandments is to let the Spirit of Jesus, the revelation of the sacrificial love of God, govern the desires of our hearts. This is what St. Paul meant when he wrote: "Don't run up debts, except for the huge debt of love you owe to one another. When you love others, you complete what the law has been after all along. The law code -- don't sleep with another person's spouse, don't take someone's life, don't take what isn't yours, don't always be wanting what you don't have, and any other 'don't' you can think of -- finally adds up to this: Love other people as well as you do yourself. You can't go wrong when you love others. When you add up everything in the law code, the sum total is love." (Romans 13:8-10 The Message)

Tim Keller writes about the Christian view of satisfaction: "Don't love anything less; instead learn to love God more, and you will love other things with far more satisfaction. You won't overprotect them, you won't overexpect things from them. You won't be constantly furious with them for not being what you hoped. Don't stifle passionate love for anything; rather, direct your greatest love toward God by loving him with your whole heart and loving him for himself, not just for what he can give you. Then, and only then does the contentment start to come" (Making Sense of God,p.94).

When we do that we shall find the satisfaction that comes through loving the God who has given us everything in Christ. We will have treasures in heaven.

"Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you.
I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands.
My soul will be satisfied was with the richest of foods,
with singing lips my mouth will praise you." (Psalm 63:3-5)

The Rev. Ted Schroder is the pastor of Amelia Chapel on Amelia Island Plantation, Florida

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