Sacrament talk on coveting
I was asked to talk on the tenth and final commandment “Thou shall not covet.”
The Hebrew word translated "covet" is chamad (חמד) which is commonly translated into English as "covet", "lust", and "strong desire." The word means yearn to possess or have (something). In the tenth commandment we are warned not to year to possess or have things that others already have. Not their husband or wife. Not their house. Not those who work for them. Not their mode of transportation or the things they use to earn a living or anything else.
It is interesting that Elder Tom Perry stated that of the ten commandments, too often people dismissed the tenth as one that they do not find important. He warned that Coveting, or envying something that belongs to another, is damaging to the soul. It can consume our thoughts and plague us with constant unhappiness and dissatisfaction. It often leads to other sins and to financial indebtedness.
Traditionally in Christianity the commandment to not covet has been linked to with the command to "love your neighbor as yourself." That is, to long for things that are another’s is the opposite of loving them, to not covet what others have is the first step towards loving them.
In addition, not coveting is to avoid the first step that leads to other sins.
In traditional Judaism, coveting was seen as the first step that led to theft or murder.
Coveting also leads to entanglement in the world. Christ spoke on this very point in response to someone who interrupted Christ giving a sermon about relying on the Spirit. The man interrupted to ask about the man’s brother’s refusal to divide an inheritance with him.
Let me read from the scriptures to you, from the Gospel of Luke.
13 And one of the company said unto him, Master, speak to my brother, that he divide the inheritance with me.
14 And he said unto him, Man, who made me a judge or a divider over you?
15 And he said unto them, Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.
16 And he spake a parable unto them, saying, The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully:
17 And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits?
18 And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods.
19 And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry.
20 But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided?
21 So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.
22 And he said unto his disciples, Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat; neither for the body, what ye shall put on.
23 The life is more than meat, and the body is more than raiment.
24 Consider the ravens: for they neither sow nor reap; which neither have storehouse nor barn; and God feedeth them: how much more are ye better than the fowls?
25 And which of you with taking thought can add to his stature one cubit?
26 If ye then be not able to do that thing which is least, why take ye thought for the rest?
27 Consider the lilies how they grow: they toil not, they spin not; and yet I say unto you, that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.
28 If then God so clothe the grass, which is to day in the field, and to morrow is cast into the oven; how much more will he clothe you, O ye of little faith?
Christ warns against coveting because Coveting causes us to focus on things, and to treat people as things. Coveting causes us to not trust or follow God.
To better illustrate Coveting I am going to go to some stories in the Bible.
I will start with the story of Cain and Abel from Moses Chapter 5.
And Cain went into the field, and Cain talked with Abel, his brother. And it came to pass that while they were in the field, Cain rose up against Abel, his brother, and slew him.
There are many reasons why Cain slew Abel, but a key facet is that he gloried in the result, that he took possession of the flocks that were his brother’s. Coveting and greed were a part in what led him to murder.
There is another story.
There was a king. He had two generals. The grand daughter of one of the generals was the daughter of another general and was married to the equivalent of the king’s head of Seal Team Six. They called the elite of the elite something else in those days, but comparing them to our Seal Team Six captures the heart of what it meant to be the elite of the elite, a mighty man at the hand of the king.
The married daughter’s home was within the walls of the Inner part of the city, a hill top reserved for the king and those very important to him.
You probably know this as the story of David and Bathsheba. Not only did David have Bathsheba’s husband murdered, but as a result he turned two of his generals away from him, another of his sons rebelled against him, most of his wives were separated from him, and his reign was almost extinguished.
David’s son Solomon killed another one of David’s sons, Adonijah, for coveting the throne and David’s last wife. Coveting brought ruin and disaster upon most of David’s house, much of it in his life, and the rest not that long after his death.
God even called the prophet Nahum to chastise David for coveting.
Later, in the book of Micah, God called the Prophet Micah to chastise those who led the people of Israel for coveting. He said.
1 Woe to them that devise iniquity, and work evil upon their beds! when the morning is light, they practise it, because it is in the power of their hand.
2 And they covet fields, and take them by violence; and houses, and take them away: so they oppress a man and his house, even a man and his heritage
Coveting led the leaders to take action, the action included violence and oppressing through the governmental system so that they could take possession of what the common people had.
Looking to the New Testament, when the Apostles met and decided to focus on what was important to keep from the Old Law, Paul summarized the laws that were critical in Romans Chapter 13:
8 Owe no man anything, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law.
9 For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.
10 Love worketh no ill to his neighbor: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.
From these stories and that summary, we can take away the following points about coveting:
1 Coveting is a strong desire to possess something that someone else has rather than just to have something. Not “I want a car” for example, but rather “I want that car that belongs to someone else.”
2 Coveting is never satisfied, it never has enough.
3 Coveting goes beyond just desire to dwelling on the desire and seeking ways to fulfill it at the expense of others. All of the examples of coveting in the scriptures involve theft or murder or other methods of extorting results in order to have what the person is seeking—the property and relationships of someone else.
4 Coveting takes us away from God.
I would also note that coveting does not make us happy.
My undergraduate degree was in Applied Economics. A part of economics I always liked, even if it was all done by graduate students which I never was, is called experimental economics where economists try things out to see what happens.
So they might compare having someone pan handling outside a bakery and then panhandling next to a sewer to see how that affects the amount of money they make. Or they might see how paying tithing affects people economically. They might study what winning the lottery does for people and if it makes them happy.
Spoiler alert. Winning the lottery, even tens or hundreds of millions of dollars, doesn’t make people happier for longer than about a year.
Economists have also studied many factors that go into what causes happiness.
One result of this research is that we have an area of hard science that deals with happiness. One interesting outcome of that science is that it is now well established that people who live beneath their means are happier than people who live at their means or above their means.
We know that making more money makes people happier until they are making around $60,000.00 a year and then more money doesn’t mean more happiness.
And we know that the emotions and mental states that go into coveting the possessions and relationships of others makes people unhappy and that actually getting the things that were coveted doesn’t make people happy.
Coveting is a way to become profoundly unhappy.
So, what does the command to not covet mean, what is its significance?
Coveting is a gateway to sin, whether the sins be those of violence, theft or coercion.
Coveting leads us not to love God or our neighbors.
Coveting leads us to not trust or accept God.
And coveting makes us unhappy.
Avoiding covetousness makes us happier, more able to love God and our neighbors and more able to avoid other sins.
I leave you with this, in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.