Christmas Can Teach Our Children To Covet

“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or his donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” (Exodus 20:17)

The Internet now guarantees that Black Friday and Cyber Monday are no longer days. They’re seasons. Nonetheless, I’d like to take a brief pause from Christmas buying to explore an important spiritual truth about Christmas. It may very well change the way we think about the Christmas season.

Christmas is a season when we often have trouble distinguishing our wants from our needs, but that shouldn’t come as any surprise. How many times did we hear our parents say, “What do you want Santa Claus to bring you for Christmas?”

The irony of Christmas is we spend the whole year teaching our children and grandchildren to separate their wants from their needs only to confuse them by giving them everything they want. And we wonder why they spend themselves into oblivion as teenagers and young adults. Are we the ones who are teaching them how to covet?

The word, covet, expresses the idea of an inordinate desire for something or someone for one’s own gratification. There is nothing wrong with wanting. As Herschel Hobbs once wrote, “When we control our wants, they are incentives to honest ambition and effort. When our wants control us, they destroy us and others. A wanting that is out of control becomes covetousness”.

There are a lot of Christians who believe that God’s admonition to us that we should not covet our neighbor’s manservant or maidservant emphasizes that the Tenth Commandment just doesn’t apply in today’s world. Since we no longer practice slavery, this warning has lost its appeal.

I don’t think God is talking about slavery. He’s talking about an uncontrollable desire that I continue to see in today’s world when we want something that we cannot have or do not need. How many young married couples do you know that justify the employment of a housekeeping service by sacrificing more important needs?

Likewise, I see a lot of couples take serious financial risks to keep up with their neighbors. As I’ve said before, yesterday’s donkey is today’s BMW, Mercedes, or Tahoe. And yesterday’s ox is today’s riding lawnmower, tractor, or personal computer. Is there any wonder why Jesus said to his disciples, “Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.”? (Luke 12:15) Indeed, God’s word continues to have relevance!

The most important quality about the Tenth Commandment is that it points to one of the main reasons why Jesus came. Only Jesus could keep all of the commandments. The rest of us have probably broken every one of them, including murder and adultery. If you don’t think so, read what Jesus said at Matthew 5:21 and 5:28.

I recently heard a friend refer to sins like covetousness as a “flesh attack”. The Apostle Paul talks about flesh attacks at Romans 7:15, “For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do.” He later realized that there is a struggle between good and evil that goes on within all of us, which compelled him to say, “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24) It was the Tenth Commandment, which revealed the destructive nature of sin to Paul.

Jesus once told us that the two greatest commandments are to love the Lord with all of our hearts and to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. “On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:40)

Jesus and Paul knew that the Tenth Commandment moved the understanding of the Law from an external, legalistic meaning to a spiritual one. It is the spirit behind the Commandments that God was emphasizing all along. I believe the same spirit defines the real meaning of Christmas.

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