“Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s…I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.”
The law reveals us to ourselves. The law is a revelation of what is just. God’s standard of justice. It’s holy, just and good. Ponder this: The tenth commandment is violated even when you practice it through your elected representatives. Farming out your covetousness is actually worse when you hire armed public officials to do your dirty work. You might as well go next door and steal your neighbor’s stuff by gunpoint – why not, you too chicken?
In America today we frame covetousness into a law. America today says “Stolen waters are sweet” Proverbs 9:17. Now the rich may be saying “amen” here. But guess what? You are given your riches to be good to the poor. Elected officials wouldn’t steal your money if you weren’t covetous yourselves. To withhold is as evil as to steal. The rich in this country could eliminate social security and government welfare if they wanted to.
Because Americans love covetousness we have laws legalizing theft, which in turn creates multiple public offices, which in turn raises taxes, which in turn drives up prices, which in turn widens the gap between the rich and poor. Paul says that the commandment “not to covet” was ordained for life, but it actually brought him death. Death here is figurative. It means to be unresponsive. Paul wasn’t living a life of love to God or his neighbor – he was unresponsive to both. The commandment not “to covet” was ordained for life. Why? The law protects the basics – your life and property. The Bible teaches to separate a man from his property is to deprive him of his life. Why? Because his property is an extension of his talents. To take away the fruit of one’s labor is to take away his life.
The law is right. Covetousness is wrong. The law is holy, just, and good. God didn’t redeem us by grace so we could practice covetousness without a guilty conscience. God saved us by grace so that we would love our neighbor, seek his good, and delight in his prosperity; and when he is in need to extend our loving hands to him. Grace makes practical lovers out of us all.