17 You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.
As a child growing up in the church, my understanding of coveting focused more on not wanting or taking someone else’s property. In other words, I should not want anything that already belonged to another person. I felt that as long as I wasn’t interested in taking things from people, I would be good. However, as I’ve grown older, I began to understand that coveting is significantly different than stealing. When we covet, we don’t actually have to take things from people to transgress against God. Coveting is really an internal issue—a disposition, attitude, or negative emotion toward another. It produces a level of competitive jealousy that does not want other people have or achieve. Indeed coveting was at the root of Cain’s anger with Abel that led to Cain killing his own brother. Cain wanted the same favorable response from God that Abel had received. By coveting Abel’s blessing, Cain convinced himself that he had somehow been wronged. God tried to remind Cain to focus on himself, but Cain could not.
Unfortunately, I think the current dominance of materialism has given coveting a very dangerous resurgence in 21st century America. Americans of all walks of life are overly concerned with what their fellow citizens have. The popular phrase “keeping up with the Joneses” is all about coveting. Coveting is frequently used as marketing and sales tool with advertisers showing how good other people look with their products. In addition, coveting sadly seems to now guide several of our public policies. Indeed several local, state, and federal lawmakers are more concerned with what citizens have than what citizens actually need. Currently political dialogue stresses making sure people who are already struggling somehow don’t ever have too much. We are literally withholding easily available necessities and resources from our fellow Americans largely based on covetous ideologies that they either too much already or that the necessities don’t belong to them. It’s the same competitive spirit of jealously that allows legislators to call programs like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Food stamps, and SNAP entitlements instead of earned benefits. Somehow the fact that citizens, and in some cases illegal aliens, literally pay for these programs themselves is ignored. Tragically, many Christian leaders have joined with elected officials in decrying these programs and demonizing their recipients. I find this deeply troubling and ironic because Christianity is supposed to be about helping people without any conditions. Jesus constantly ministered to people’s needs and encouraged his disciples to do the same. Christians should be focused on what people need and not what they have. As Christians, we should never support policies that limits people access to aid, health, or simply happiness. To do so is simply coveting what people may have.