Summary: Answers to three questions: What is coveting? Why is it bad? How can we be free from it?
There’s a new religious cult in our community, and most of us haven’t even noticed it. This cult is far larger than the ones you’ve heard about on the radio or read about in most books about cults. I’m talking about the cult of consumerism, the false religion of more (Buchanan 63-64).
This cult of consumerism has its own litany of sacred words: words like "more," "new," "faster," and "the latest." Consumerism’s worship rituals include charging it, instant credit, shopping sprees, and no interest for three months. It’s preachers are ad men, pitchmen, and celebrity sponsors. Consumerism’s temples are the malls and superstores that dot the landscape. The message of the cult of consumerism is, "Crave and spend for the Kingdom of stuff is at hand." Those caught up in the cult of consumerism live endlessly for the next thing, the next weekend, the next vacation, the next computer upgrade, the next purchase. This is the false religion Jesus called "Mammon."
Back in 1955 retailing analyst Victor Lebow told his fellow advertising professionals, "Our...economy demands that we make consumption a way of life, that we convert the buying and selling of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfaction...in consumption." (Clapp 27). Well Victor Lebow’s dream has come true. We see it in bumper stickers proclaiming, "I shop, therefore I am." When the Berlin Wall came in the 1980s and East Germans were permitted to pass freely into West Germany, someone spray painted these words on the Berlin Wall: "They came, they saw, they did a little shopping." Back in 1976 the average American supermarket carried 9,000 different products; today it stocks over 30,000.
Advertising has moved from the communication of information, to the cultivation of unmet human desires. Instead of telling us how much a product costs, today’s advertising seeks to show us how incomplete and meaningless our lives are until we purchase certain products. Instead of selling us beverages, in Pepsi’s new ad campaign they’re selling us the joy of cola. Advertising links our deepest and most profound longings in life to products we can consume. The average American is exposed to 3,500 different advertisements each day (Clapp 20).
In today’s climate the American dream has become life, liberty, and the purchase of happiness (Moriarity 207). Although most of us are offended by obvious materialism, inwardly we wonder if the character from the recent movie Boiler Room is right when he says, "Anybody who says money isn’t everything doesn’t have any." Even though we condemn crass consumerism, we find ourselves drawn to watch shows like Fox’s recent gameshow Greed, where the contestants all turn on each other as they worship at the shrine of consumerism.Our world says it’s no big deal, so long as nobody gets hurt and no laws are broken. Our culture sees no connection between what we crave in our hearts and what we do with our hands and speak with our lips. In fact, in last April’s Business Week the cover story asked the question "Is greed good?" To even need to ask the question reveals something fundamentally wrong within our culture.
Today we finish our series through the Ten Commandments called LANDMARKS FOR A NEW MILLENNIUM. We started the new year back in January with this series to give us a series of unchanging focal points so we can get our bearings in a new millennium. Today we’re going to look at the last of the Ten Commandments, God’s command against coveting. In the tenth commandment we’re going to try to answer three questions: What is coveting? Why is coveting bad? And how can we live free from covetousness.
1. What is Coveting?
We begin by asking, "What is coveting?" We don’t use that word very often these days, so it’s important that we determine what we’re talking about. Let’s look at the text of the commandment together.
Deuteronomy 5:21—"You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife. You shall not set your desire on your neighbor’s house or land, his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor" (NIV).
Now it’s important to mention here that the Roman Catholic church and the Lutheran church both divide this verse into two different commandments (Douma 337). Because Roman Catholics and Lutherans combine what we’ve treated as the first commandment ("no other gods") and second commandment ("no images") into one commandment, this is how they end up with a total of Ten Commandments, by distinguishing coveting your neighbor’s spouse from coveting your neighbor’s stuff. But I’m inclined to follow the view that this is one commandment.
The actual Hebrew word "covet" means "to desire, wish for, crave, or long for" something (NIDOTTE 2:167). The object of this desire isn’t necessarily bad, but it describes a powerful inward disposition. Usually this particular Hebrew word describes desires that are sparked from things we’ve seen with our eyes, that as we see a shiny new Harley Davidson in our neighbor’s driveway that sparks a powerful inward disposition to want one ourselves.