How not to covet

February 2nd, 2016

I try to not to covet, as it is the tenth commandment. But every time Apple releases a new product (or anyone rolls out anything new, really) my want somehow turns into need.

Sometimes, the wanting gets a bit more serious (and dangerous) like when I covet my colleague’s job over mine.

Years ago, I met a great guy through a church leadership program. At the time, he was planting a church in Alabama. Not only is that church doing well, he also became the campus pastor of a college.

It was destined that we’d get along when he started talking about Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV series. I couldn’t help but feel envious of all the new and great things that this guy was doing, not only for his church, but also for his community.

I never resented my friend for his ministry, but it’s surprising how coveting can lead to resentment.

“How does he have that job?”

“How is she always getting the promotions?”

“How is it that they can afford those vacations?”

We sometime think that if we had what they had, we’d do so much more and so much better than they are doing with their resources, jobs, etc. This can lead us to start becoming unhappy and discontented with our situation. We may start believing that our life would be so much better elsewhere; anywhere but here.

The grass is so much greener on the other side. There’s so much life; so much innovation; so much more money; so much love; so much joy —  over there. But here? Meh.

I was once told, “The grass isn’t really greener on the other side, it’s greener where you water it.”

Lawrence Kushner writes in God Was in This Place and I, I Did Not Know that some rabbis believed that the tenth commandment, the one that tells us to not covet, is more of a reward than a commandment.

They believed that we should read the Ten Commandments as a progression. That if we were to live a life where we don’t just add God, but where God is the source of life; that if we were to always focus on and seek God’s kingdom first; that if we were to live in harmony with God’s plans; we wouldn’t want to be in any other place. We wouldn’t want to covet because we’d have all we need.

Perhaps that’s how Paul was able to write “I have learned the secret to being content in any and every circumstance, whether full or hungry or whether having plenty or being poor” (Philippians 4:12b-13) while he was in prison possibly facing a death sentence.

Maybe the secret is perspective. Far too often I operate out of an attitude of scarcity. I never seem to have enough. Not enough time, money, energy, hands, feet, resources.

But instead of focusing on what I lack, perhaps it would be good for me to focus on what I already have. In Scripture, Jesus often challenges us to view the abundance in our lives. The disciples felt that they could not feed the multitude of the crowds, that all they could find were a few loaves of bread and a couple of pieces of fish, nowhere near enough to feed everyone. Jesus, however, saw that and basically said, “That’s plenty.”

We would do well to count our blessings more often than we count what we lack.

A great place to start is realizing that we have enough; that we live in abundance; that we're blessed beyond measure. And in our abundance and blessings, we already have something that somebody needs.

Not wanting to keep up with the Joneses — not coveting — that does sound like a worthy reward to obtain. I’m not there yet. Because I know the iPhone 7 is right around the corner and I can’t help but wonder how much better it’ll be than my iPhone 6.

Joseph Yoo is pastor of St. Mark United Methodist Church in Santa Barbara, California. He is the author of Practical Prayer and Encountering Grace. He blogs at

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