Wanting and coveting
Here is a picture of a man, living in a small bronze-age village, beginning to work out what it means to be the people of God. He looks over his fence at his neighbour's household and 'desires' the land, the animals, the servants or even the wife. The Hebrew word implies more than just wishing for something, but actually seeking to acquire it. This desire strikes at the heart of this new society by showing discontent with what God has given and by threatening neighbour love.
How do we translate this into today's complex world? What about career ambition, competitive tendering, canvassing for votes, striking for more pay and better conditions, peer pressure leading to expenditure on clothes and cosmetics, or directors awarding themselves massive pensions? If these are signs of desire and discontent, of wanting what others have, is this also coveting?
Coveting is not simply a problem for those who lack things. Two Old Testament stories show coveting as also a sin of the rich. David coveted Bathsheba and Ahab coveted Naboth's vineyard. These two very rich kings had the power simply to take what they wanted, regardless of legality or morality. They coveted and the abuse of power led them to adultery, murder, false witness and the betrayal of subordinates. Even when we don't have the power to take what we want, coveting can still lead to the poisons of resentment and bitterness.
'I have learnt to manage with whatever I have. I know how to live modestly, and I know how to live luxuriously too. In every way now I have mastered the secret of all conditions: full stomach and empty stomach, plenty and poverty' (Philippians 4:11-12, NJB).
Is this the kind of contentment, whatever our situation, that we should seek? Nevertheless, if we practise contentment whatever the circumstances, as Paul did, there is surely room for actively seeking justice and a better deal for others, even when we benefit as well.
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