But we don’t talk about it.
I’m reading through Romans every day in preparation for a book I’m writing. Recently I made the connection between Romans 7:7 and 13:9:
Well then, am I suggesting that the law of God is sinful? Of course not! In fact, it was the law that showed me my sin. I would never have known that coveting is wrong if the law had not said, “You must not covet.” (7:7)
For the commandments say, “You must not commit adultery. You must not murder. You must not steal. You must not covet.” These—and other such commandments—are summed up in this one commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (13:9)
First, I find it fascinating that Paul majors on this particular sin. Second, I love the juxtaposition of coveting versus love in the second passage. When you covet, you lack love for another.
Let’s look at coveting:
HOW CRAZY that there’s a root of CUPID in the word. I had no idea. Which shows that coveting does have a connection to our affections.
Bible.org elaborates: “The coveting which the Tenth Commandment condemns is the desire to have something which one does not have, or which one does not think he or she has enough of. In brief, coveting wants more. It is not content with what it already has, no matter how much that might be. As Habakkuk put it, “He enlarges his appetite like Sheol, And he is like death, never satisfied” (Hab. 2:5).”
So to covet means to want something you can’t have so much so that it consumes your affections, hurts other people, and wounds your relationship with God. We see this perilous tendency in the pre-Gollum Sméagol who lusts after the ring of power to the extent that he kills for it. And as his covetousness consumes him, he becomes a shell of his former self. It’s not pretty, what he becomes.
And we are not pretty when we chase the rabbit trail of coveting. We are unsatisfied people, seldom content, often looking for what we think we need for true happiness.
The reality is, we truly only need Jesus for to experience the joyful life we long for. And the greatest joy, oddly, comes from surrendering our “rights” to have what we believe we deserve. When we empty ourselves, we find that Jesus is enough, and giving to others trumps any sort of crazy pursuit of someone else’s position, wealth, looks, status, platform, etc.
All this sounds ethereal and detached until I look myself in the mirror.
And I think, “Why don’t I have this thing I want? This portion of recognition? That guy’s success? Her sense of style?” It’s ugly. And it’s in me.
I’ve been reflecting on my own tendency toward dissatisfaction, and I’m finding a sweeter level of contentment. How? By confessing my sins in this area. By looking at my own tendency to even TALK about my covetousness with others, all veiled in good, biblical language of course. The truth is, I have life. I have breath. I have Jesus. And I truly need nothing else.
I confess here that coveting has, at times, taken hold of me. And I’m sad about that.
Instead of ending this discourse with woe, though, I would rather finish with practicality. How do we get rid of this insidious Gollum sin in our lives? WE GIVE THANKS.
Sitting in bed awaiting my bronchitis to go away (please!), I’ve had some time of reflection, to look back on my life with gratitude. And let me just say, I am blown away.
The more I recounted the amazing things God has done, the people I have had the privilege of meeting (just ordinary folks with extraordinary stories) and praying for, the opportunities I’ve experienced, the more coveting dies in me. The more I think about the goodness of God in the land of the living, the less I press for more, more, more of stuff and fame. When I focus on God’s expanding kingdom, then serve others in humility, the less I think about the portions of the kingdom that are not mine. And, to be honest, the less I poke around social media and instead socialize with humans in my town, the better off I am in my battle with coveting.
So if you’re hurting today because you can’t keep your mind off that one thing or person or trait or goal that you seemingly can never have, take heart. There is a cure. It’s called gratitude. It’s called listing the things you’re thankful for right now, and taking a moment (or two or ten thousand) to thank God for all He has done and is doing. Trace His handiwork in your life, friend. Seek to see His work. Instead of acting adolescently, whining that God isn’t giving you everything you want, be mature and grateful that He is as good Father who sometimes doesn’t give us what we think we deserve.
In another portion of Romans, it encourages,
We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love” (Romans 5:3-5 NLT).
Perhaps not getting what we crave is part of God’s endurance plan for us, where He replaces our perceived “needs” with His presence instead. And in that place, we grow beyond coveting toward character. That’s my prayer for me. And that’s my prayer for you too.