Is the 10th commandment impossible to keep?

If we didn’t have to make a living, wouldn’t life be so much easier? We wouldn’t have to worry about making enough money to survive, or be tempted into shady practices when money is tight. We wouldn’t have to take any job available to get by, or be saddled with huge debt from the cost of a competitive education. Dads wouldn’t have to spend so much time on the road away from home, and Moms wouldn’t have the conflict between home and job. We could relax more, spend more time with each other and do what we really enjoy doing.

But the story of Israel in the Old Testament shows us that even when God provides everything and there are no money worries at all, it doesn’t stop people coveting. Israel always wanted more. They coveted what the gods of other nations had to offer. They wanted their own king. They wanted to be free to do as they pleased, while expecting God to keep providing for them. And they complained bitterly when he didn’t come through as expected. No matter what God did for them, or how much he blessed them, they could never keep the 10th commandment.

But what’s wrong with coveting? Surely our desire for more, bigger and better is what makes our economies grow and living conditions improve. Take away coveting and what would get us up in the mornings to work hard and improve ourselves? Where would our world be without the incentives of self-interest, self-worth and self-gratification driving people to put their creative minds and talents to work?

Imagine people’s reaction today, therefore, to what Jesus told the young man in Matthew 19 – to give up all his hard-won wealth and give it to the poor. “Are you mad?” is one likely response, because what’s a life without gain to oneself? Life, even for Christians, is about the reward we get for our works, isn’t it? Why do anything if there isn’t some sort of reward in the doing, or reward at the end of it? – like leaving a legacy that tells of all the good we’ve done or what wonderful people we were, or the “feel good” sensation we get from serving, or the promise of the best seats in heaven. Take away the chance for a bigger and better reward and why be a Christian?

No wonder Jesus zoomed in on coveting in verses 16-24, because it’s the 10th commandment in particular that’s so impossible to keep. “But with God all things are possible,” verse 26, meaning life becomes so much easier with God – because the endless drive to want more is gone.

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