“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.”Exodus 20:17, ESV
Webster defines the word covet:
1: to wish for earnestly 〈covet an award〉
2: to desire (what belongs to another) inordinately or culpably verb intransitive: to feel inordinate desire for what belongs to anotherInc Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster’s collegiate dictionary., 2003.
So, the first thing to note concerning the word covet is that it can be a good sense or it can be in an evil sense. In the Creation story we see it in both uses. When Man is placed in the garden, God’s work is described, “And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” (Genesis 2:9, ESV) The Hebrew word translated covet in the tenth commandment is here translated “pleasant.” The addition of “good for food” makes us aware that the “pleasant” creation of vegetation is to be desired, even strongly desired.
However, once the first couple are in the garden, they are instructed not to eat of a certain tree. Yet, “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.” (Genesis 3:6, ESV) Here, the Hebrew word is translated “to be desired.” The problem is, how did Eve know that the tree would make one wise? Only by listening to the chief of liars, the serpent. And here is the conflict. Eve was told she should desire every other plant and tree. But God said not to eat of this one. Who was right, God or the serpent?
Before we answer too quickly, I present this dilemma to illustrate the difference between good coveting and evil coveting. By listening to the devil, Eve began to desire the forbidden fruit. This desire became so powerful that it drove her into action. She ate the fruit ignoring what God had said. If anyone thinks choosing to listen to any voice opposed to God is good, then they are in serious trouble. Someone may say, “But just listening is not really bad.” It is, though, because listening to falsehood plants a seed of desire in one’s heart that will eventually grow into action. So, God commands us to not covet, and he lists a number of things to not desire: anything that belongs to your neighbor.
We may first note that the forbidden fruit of coveting is property. Everyone has a right to their own property. (Do not be confused in regard to a man’s wife. It is not the woman per se that is property but the love and devotion which was vowed to him in marriage.) Unfortunately, the American culture is deeply rooted in coveting. You may not end up actually stealing from your neighbor, but to “keep up with the Jones'” is to covet a lifestyle based not in what is good, but what is mere appearance. The result is often serious indebtedness from which many cannot recover. Yet we approve of this behavior by giving the person in debt and easy out with bankruptcy.
Now, some may think that this is the fault of Capitalism. I think the fault lies within our sin nature, thanks to Adam and Eve. Socialism is the system based on covetousness and envy. No matter how it is presented, the root of socialism is that it is wrong for people to have too much property because then those who are poor will have less. This, then, is second. The desire to have because others have is erroneous thinking. That some people are extremely wealthy and others are not is not the economic system, but only he envious desire to be like the rich. However, it is far more than that because the desire mutates into thinking that says, “If I can’t have what you have, they you can’t have it either.” This results in theft and harm done to your neighbor.
This is exactly the same as our representative parents faced in the garden. If God has it, so should I. A Socialist economy has failed wherever it has been implemented. So why do politicians play the envy card so often? Because if they say it long enough and loud enough, people will begin to believe it. When people believe enough, they elect and re-elect people to office. These elected officials work hard to gain control over you and me. An example? Under the guise of helping the poor, they decide to redefine healthcare. Now, in principle, no one should be turned away from the care they need because they don’t have the money to pay the bill. Everyone must have the same access to healthcare. So now, the government controls what healthcare costs and who can receive what care.
Third is that Socialism is founded on a wrong view of wealth in the world. The presupposition is that there is only so much wealth in the world and everyone deserves equal access to that wealth. On the face of it, such an idea seems wrong. How can it be that there is more wealth in America today than there was 100 years ago? In contrast, a free market allows anyone access to wealth and the world will not run out of it. The issue comes when the conditions to gaining wealth in a free market are more stringent than in Socialism. To get rich takes diligence over sloth, work over sitting around in a city park spending the free money that is handed out on liquor, Cigarettes, and drugs.
I do not deny that there are people who have become trapped in the endless cycle of addiction, mental illness, physical limitations, and more. All of these people and more need help, but that is where charity (not charities) comes in. How can real charity be done when one third or more of your income is taken by the government and redistributed to the “needy” without accountability? Giving money is not charity. Giving life is, and that can only be accomplished through building authentic relationships with others. The good Samaritan knew that there was no government program that would take care of the wounded stranger. He knew that he had to act. Nobody forced him into it. And the money the Samaritan used to care for the man was not watered down by government administrative costs, corruption, or just plain waste. All that he gave was useful and effective.
As I mentioned earlier, power and control are the name of the game. The government forces control over you by claiming your property for “the common good.” The government wants control over how much you earn and how much they take from what you earn. The government lays claim to all of your property, all in the name of “the common good.” How does the government create a populace willing to accept this illegitimate right of theirs? Covetousness.
Covet that which is good. What is good? There is only One, Jesus Christ, the Word of God. Covet a righteous relationship with him.