Commandment 10: Thou shall not covet thy neighbor’s goods.
In our last article, we covered coveting your neighbor’s wife. In this one we will talk about our neighbor’s possessions.
It is very natural to want what someone else has. We are beings of desire and even as children we see a new toy or a sweet dessert and we want it for ourselves. There is nothing wrong with seeing your friend’s new iPhone and wishing that you could have one too.
But we fall into sin if we let this negatively affect our behavior and our interior disposition.
When I was a child my older brother and I worshipped Bruce Lee. We watched all of his movies and we acted out all of the fight scene while we watched them on our old VCR. We would even tie our socks together in a knot and pretend they were nunchucks. And then on my brother’s 7th birthday, my cousins got him a plastic replica of the nunchucks Bruce Lee used in Game of Death. And I was so filled with jealous rage that I cried and shouted at the injustice that he should have them and I shouldn’t, even though it was his birthday. To shut me up, my cousins ran to the store and got me a pair as well. As you can imagine, this did not make my brother happy, nor should it have.
This is the key to understanding this commandment: we must learn to be happy for others.
Do you rejoice in another’s good fortune in the same way you rejoice in your own? Or do you dismiss their blessings because they don’t concern you? Or worse, do you harbor jealousy because of the good they have received?
As a child, I could not simply be happy that my brother received so great a gift. I could only selfishly think of myself and how I wanted his good fortune for my own. Of course you might excuse this as the actions of an immature kid. But how often in our adult lives to we behave in this same way?
At work, when someone gets a raise or a new office do you feel a happiness for their success or do you turn inward and think, “Where’s my raise?” or “I wanted that office!”
Of course things get complicated because there may be issues of justice at play in these scenarios. If I am being cheated and someone else’s good fortune is at the expense of my own or others, there is nothing wrong with being angry at the injustice. But we must proceed down this road with extreme caution. Even if we are in the right, we must keep our conscience clear to make sure we are not acting out of selfish desire. It may be just to demand a work raise, but my motivations may come from simple envy.
But if we nurture our internal disposition to rejoice for the good of others, then this will be less of a problem. Envy gets angry at the good fortune of others. But it also rejoices at other’s misfortune.
Imagine you know someone on whom life seems to smile. They have many material and social blessings. Perhaps you wish that you had some of what they have. Again, this is not a sin. But how do you know if you envy them?
Do you get angry at them simply because they have what you do not?
Do you get happy when they lose any of these blessings?
Think about how obsessive we are about the lives of celebrities. We see their expensive homes and lifestyles. We look at them and are filled with desire. But how often do we look down on them with disgust at their largess? We critique them for their extravagant behavior in lavish luxury. And then we read about some scandal involving affairs, divorce, drugs, or bankruptcy and we eat it up with glee at watching them fall.
This would be a good example of envy. It does not hurt me in the least if Ben Affleck has mansions and cars. I should rejoice in his success. And it should bring me no guilty pleasure to hear about the heartbreak of his divorce to Jennifer Garner. My heart should have empathy for them.
And in our own lives, when good things happen to those around us, we must nurture a feeling a joy that is harmonious with their: a joy that is selfless and compounds their joy. And when others suffer misfortune our hearts should extended to them all the support and sympathy they need to lighten their burdens when we can.
God is just. In the parable of the Workers in the Vineyard, Jesus warns against this sin. Even if others are given more than us, He will not cheat us. He owes us nothing and yet He gives to us. And yes others are given some things more than us, but as long as we are not cheated, what concern is that of ours. As the Master puts it, “Do I not have the right to do with as I please what is mine? Or are you envious because I am generous?” (Matt 20:15)
If I can be satisfied with what the Lord has provided, if I can be happy for others, and if I can be sad for the misfortune of others, then I will arm myself against the sin of envy and increase the joy in my life.
Otherwise you will be like a crying brat who is miserable over his brother’s nunchucks.
Copyright 2017, WL Grayson