God says, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor” (Exodus 20:17).
Luther explains, “What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not entice or force away our neighbor’s wife, workers, or animals, or turn them against him, but urge them to stay and do their duty.”
Salvageable adds: Some things belong to our neighbors because they were bought with money. Other things, living things, are attached to our neighbors by loyalty and not only by money. Envying a relationship is as wrong as envying a possession, because such envy reveals that we neither love our neighbor nor trust God to give us all that is good for us.
If you are unmarried, you have the right to become married. But do not end another marriage to find for yourself a wife or a husband. Do not even think about what it would be like to be married to a person who already is married to someone else. You can be friends, if that person is willing to be your friend, but in your friendship continue to support that person’s marriage.
If you wish to hire a worker, advertise the job opening and choose your new worker from those who apply for the job. Do not target or recruit the workers of your competitors or hire someone for the purpose of robbing that person from the competition. Hire the best workers that apply for your job, and do not even think about how to steal away the people who are working for your competitors.
If you need work animals, such as oxen and donkeys, go ahead and obtain them honestly. Do not steal them from your neighbor or trick your neighbor into letting them work for you. Do not even think about how you can take away your neighbor’s ox or donkey. Instead, if your neighbor’s work animal is wandering, lead it home. If it is lost and you do not know who owns it, advertise that you have found a missing animal, and take good care of it until your neighbor arrives to claim it.
Of course this applies to pets as well as to work animals. You can be kind to your neighbor’s dog or cat or exotic pet. Do not try to win its loyalty away from your neighbor by your kindness or your treats. The old ploy, “This dog followed me home from school—can we keep it?” is dishonest. It is far better to tell that dog to “go home,” to stay with its owner and do its duty.
An additional relationship is not mentioned by God or by Luther, but I think it is covered also under “anything that belongs to your neighbor.” That relationship is friendship. We all need friends, but we should not try to steal friends away from other people, whether by lies and gossip or by promising better rewards for our friendship. Bitter competition for friendship peaks during junior high and senior high years, but the feelings that provoke that competition never disappear. Most of us simply become better at hiding our feelings, and the rest become better at manipulating people without their efforts being obvious.
One relationship we never need to avoid coveting: our relationship with Jesus Christ. He is the timeless God, so he has enough time for each of us. He also has enough love for each of us. He has enough forgiveness to cover all of our sins. No matter how tightly we cling to him, we cannot rob him away from anyone else. He is always with us, always quick to forgive our sins because of the price he already paid to remove them. He wants us to be content in our relationship with him. He even wants us to tell other people about him so he can have the same relationship with them. Although the devil and the sinful world try to entice or force us away from Jesus, they cannot succeed, because nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. J.