Story: Oseola McCarty passed away at the age of 91. She spent her entire life washing other people’s clothes; she toiled as a “washerwoman” for 75 years. In three-quarters of a century, she somehow managed to save $250,000 just from laundering and ironing. She never married or learned to drive a car. But she ended up giving away, out of that lifetime of savings, $150,000, to a scholarship fund for black students at the University of Southern Mississippi. She’d always wanted to get an education herself, to become a nurse, but quit after the sixth grade to support her mother, grandma, and a dependant aunt. But now she gave this huge sum of money, earned a dollar at a time, so that other people could receive the education she never had. So far, nine students have gotten the scholarships and three young people have their university degrees today because of that $150,000 endowment given by a woman who starched people’s collars and folded their underwear for a living.
Assumption: Most of us, in considering the Ten Commandments, stop at the ninth one. We think that if we can keep from dishonoring our parents, killing (or hating), committing adultery, stealing, and lying, we’re to the end of the line. We’ve arrived. “Coveting” the things our neighbors have isn’t something we focus on very much. Not to say we don’t DO it . . . we just don’t focus on it.
Suggestion: The Ten Commandments almost begin at #10; it may be a starting place, not an ending. It’s possible that the entire war between God and Satan, the beginning of this whole mess we call sin had its birthing with the idea of coveting.
Coveting is the first of two sins coming in pairs:
We want something . . . so we steal it
We desire someone else’s spouse . . . adultery happens
We feel a need for something that isn’t ours . . . we lie to get it
We are jealous of our own time and want to earn more . . . we ignore the Sabbath
#10 Updated (the original has a decidedly “Palestinian desert” ring to it): “Mister, you shall not covet, or want, or be jealous about your neighbor’s house, or the beautiful wife he’s got. Or the new Lexus he received as a company car. Or the big-screen HDTV entertainment center he has, his Blu-Ray DVD player, his Dolby theater, built-in surround-sound, 20-speaker system, his pool or his Jacuzzi. Or his ski vacations, his first-class plane tickets, the private school his kids attend in their Beemers and SUVs. And you shall not covet his stock market successes, the three-for-one Internet stock splits he’s always telling you about, the early retirement he’s planning.”
The Ten Challenges, by psychologist, Dr. Leonard Felder, explores the Ten Commandments from a rich variety of faith backgrounds, and illustrates them with amazing stories right from his practice. “Have you ever wished you could have the face, the figure, the good health, or the physical stamina of someone else? Have you ever desired to have as nice a home, a family, or social get-togethers as one of your neighbors, friends, or relatives? Have you ever looked at someone else’s financial security, successful creative project, or well-behaved children and felt a twinge of envy?” THAT is coveting.
Anonymous definition: “A severe craving for the possessions or life circumstances of others.”
1. “I usually felt pretty good about my appearance until my spouse began flirting with someone at work who’s a stunner, and then suddenly I started noticing everything that’s less than perfect about my looks.”
2. “I always thought I was smart enough to make it in the world until I got to graduate school and found myself jealous of how much these people knew and what superior training they had.”
3. “I never thought much about keeping up with the Joneses until my younger sister bought a house much bigger than ours and I started to notice little things I don’t like about where we live.”
4. “I usually don’t feel jealous of people except when I’m listening to other parents brag about their kids and I begin to feel uncomfortable about my two kids, especially how unmotivated and stubborn they are.”
5. “I know it’s not a good idea to compare one’s life to other people’s lives, because it’s only an illusion that other people are happier. But sometimes when my creative projects are stuck or when I feel stressed about money, I can’t help wondering if other people have it a lot easier than I do.”
Personal Testimony: Even Felder struggled with Tenth Commandment woes. He and his wife, Linda, tried for eight years to have a child; however, both were carriers of a rare genetic disorder, Tay-Sachs, and lost two unborn infants. A teen mother backed out of a promised adoption at the last moment; they flew home empty-handed. “A few weeks later I attended a Thanksgiving dinner at which several cousins and other relatives were playing happily with their kids, including an adorable infant and three energetic toddlers. More than ever before in my life, I felt an enormous pang of jealousy and resentment. I finally understood what single people feel like when they’re invited to a Noah’s Ark-like wedding reception of mostly couples. I began to realize what makes jilted lovers so furious and out of control.”
Challenge: This issue is all around us; it’s real. It sometimes hurts. No matter how much stuff you do have, someone else has more. Someone else has a prettier wife. Unless you’re Bill Gates, others have more money. Andrew Carnegie, a pauper compared to Mr. Microsoft, admitted: “How much money is enough? Just a little bit more.” To get your identity from comparing is a brutal dead-end street.
Good News: The Bible is filled with promises on this very point. The gospel is a powerful antidote to the sin of covetousness. We can learn to have an identity that’s based on what Jesus did for us, not on what WE have – OR our neighbors.
Paul learned this truth the hard way himself. “I have LEARNED to be content whatever the circumstances” (Phil. 4:11).
For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain (Phil. 1:21).
Conclusion: Our feeling of self-worth needs to be because God loves us with an infinite love and sacrificed His Son to die for our sins.
Submitted by David B. Smith. Better Sermons © 2005-2007. Click here for usage guidelines.