Contentment, part two

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.

Advertisements

Contentment

God says, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house” (Exodus 20:17).

Luther explains, “What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not scheme to get our neighbor’s inheritance or house, or get it in a way that only appears right, but help and be of service to him in keeping it.”

Salvageable adds: Luther, like other Christians of his time, distinguished two commandments against coveting—one involving property bought with money, and the other involving relationships. (The prohibition against worshiping graven images was treated as part of the first commandment.) “Your neighbor’s house,” then, includes all the things in and around the house—your neighbor’s car, clothing, electronics, book collection, and so on. God makes certain property available to you, things you can buy with money you earned or received as a gift or inheritance. God has placed other property into the care of your neighbor. Each of you should take care of what God has given you, while also helping the neighbor to keep and maintain what is his or hers.

If your neighbor buys a new car and you admire the car but are happy for your neighbor, you are not coveting. You might wish you could afford a new car and regret that you are still stuck with your old car, but wishing and regretting is not coveting. When our neighbor’s good fortune annoys you and irritates you, then you are beginning to covet. Whenever it makes you unhappy to see someone else with a good thing you cannot afford, you are breaking God’s commandment not to covet. Envy toward the possessions of others is not part of the life God intended each of us to live.

Coveting is a sin against your neighbor. You cannot love your neighbor while you covet your neighbor’s property. Coveting is also a sin against God. You do not trust God while you remain convinced that he has not given you as much as you need. You cannot love God when you resent the size of the earthly property God has invested in you.

The opposite of coveting is being content. When we are satisfied with what we have—and thankful to God for what we have—we are not coveting. Paul wrote that he knew the secret of being content, whether he had a lot or only a little (Philippians 4:11-12). That secret is knowing Christ, trusting Christ, and being confident that Christ is caring for us in the way he knows is best. When tempted to covet, we look to Christ and not at our neighbor’s possessions. When we find that we have coveted, we ask Christ’s forgiveness and also seek his help to remain content. J.

Ten Commandments trivia

We have all seen the image of Moses—in paintings, drawings, and movies—carrying the two tablets of stone on which the Ten Commandments were inscribed by God. Like many of our religious traditions, the familiar picture is most likely inaccurate.

The Bible does not record the size of the tablets, although a maximum size is determined by the size of the ark built to contain them. The Hebrew word translated “tablet” (or, in the KJV, “table”) refers to the fact that the material—stone, wood, or metal—was polished; the word could be used to describe any such object, from a plate to a table. Rabbinic tradition says that each tablet was ten inches by twenty inches, which corresponds to similar legal documents of that time. (It’s also about the size of the tablets that people use today.) They also would have been rectangles with four sharp corners, unlike the shape usually shown in artwork. Rabbinic tradition further says that the stones were blue—either sapphire or lapis lazuli—taken from the floor under God’s throne as seen by Moses and the other leaders of Israel.

The Bible indicates that the stones were each inscribed on both sides by the finger of God. Many teachers describe the stones as if some of the commandments were written on one tablet and the rest on the other, but far more likely both tablets contained all the commandments. The two stone tablets were duplicate copies of a contract, similar to the two pieces of paper produced when you use a credit card at a store. The store keeps one copy you have signed and you keep the other copy. Because Moses was acting as a mediator between God and Israel, he was entrusted with both copies of the contract.

When God spoke the commandments from Mount Sinai to the people of Israel, before Moses received the same commandments in writing, he spoke “ten words” according to the book of Exodus. Because Exodus does not enumerate the commandments, different traditions count them in various ways. One tradition combines the prohibition of other gods with the prohibition of graven images; that tradition then closes the Ten Commandments with two prohibitions of coveting. In this tradition the Ninth Commandment forbids coveting your neighbor’s house, which includes any property that is bought with money alone. The Tenth Commandment forbids coveting your neighbor’s spouse, workers, or work animals, or anything that is your neighbors—anything bound to your neighbor by loyalty. (This would include pets and even friends.) Another tradition has a distinct prohibition of graven images—the Second Commandment—and closes with only one commandment against coveting. In the third tradition, both combinations are made, but the first “word” of God is the opening declaration, “I am the Lord your God.” Because of these different ways of numbering the commandments, mention of the Sixth Commandment without any context causes some people to think of murder and others to think of adultery.

When teachers or artists describe the two tablets as if they contained different groups of commandments, they separate the commandments into a vertical relationship—our relationship with God—and horizontal relationships—our relationships with other people. These relationships are summarized in the two greatest commandments: to love God wholeheartedly, and to love each neighbor as yourself. The first three or four commandments speak of other gods, graven images, God’s name, and God’s time; the remaining six or seven speak of parents and neighbors. In my opinion, the commandment to “honor your father and your mother” (as well as others in authority) should be counted with the vertical relationship. All figures of authority are pictures of God’s authority. The way we treat our parents, teachers, supervisors, and government officials represents our attitude towards God’s authority. After that commandment, the Ten Commandments continue with an orderly set of commandments about horizontal relationships, defending (in order) our neighbors’ lives, marriages, property, and reputations. Coveting is uniquely a sin both horizontal and vertical. We cannot love our neighbors while being angry that they have something good that we do not have. We cannot love God when we refuse to be content with the good things he has made available to us.

The Ten Commandments are an owner’s manual for our lives. They inform us why we were made, why we are alive today, and what we are supposed to be doing. When we break any of these commandments, we void the contract we have made with God; we void the warranty he gave us with these commandments. Yet Jesus Christ, the Son of God, obeyed these commandments in our place, setting us free from their burden. We live by them now, not to earn the blessings of God, but to imitate Christ since he has rescued us from the consequences of sin and made us free people, unbound by the commandments. Of course these facts are not trivia: the knowledge contained in this paragraph is the most important knowledge any person can possess. J.

Moses