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  • Writer's pictureRev. Izzy Harbin

10th Commandment: You shall not covet...Love God, Love neighbor, Love self!

Exodus 20:17


17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, male or female slave, ox, donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”

Matthew 22:34-40


34 When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, 35 and one of them, an expert in the law, asked him a question to test him. 36 “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 37 He said to him, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”

Romans 13:8-10


8 Owe no one anything, except to love one another, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9 The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; you shall not murder; you shall not steal; you shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.

I know this is crazy, but I am tying all three of these passages together this week. So, buckle up for the ride.

As we wrap up our series on the 10 Commandments, it was always my intention to end with Jesus’ words to the Pharisees, “Love God, love neighbor, love self.” When Jesus provides them with a summation of the law, everything falls in place. The first four commandments are all about how we are to live in relation to God. The last six commandments are all about how we are to live in relation to each other and ourselves. As we have seen, the commandments regarding community aren’t just about how we treat others, but also how we treat ourselves. Self-love makes community love possible.

The last commandment instructs us to not covet. There is a laundry list of things that we aren’t supposed to covet – pretty much anything belonging to anyone else – but most importantly, anything that doesn’t belong to us. Covet goes deeper than just wanting, though, it is an intense, wish-filled desire. The word desire strikes me because in both the Buddhist and the Hindu tradition, there is special attention paid to desires of the heart; that is the path to suffering.

God’s admonition to not covet is God’s final attempt to refocus the attention of the people on what is most important in this life. Over and over again, God wants the people to build a foundation where God is at the center of all their activities and that the community becomes the realm where God’s love gets lived out. When we spend our time coveting what others have, our attention is no longer on God or even the necessities of the community, but on our own wish-fulfillment.

In the New Testament, Jesus makes it clear that love is the whole point of the law. It is important to note that without self-love, love of our neighbor is not nearly as likely. Additionally, love, according to Jesus, is not optional. Paul puts it this way, “10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.”

What we must ask ourselves, though, is how far do we extend this love? It is important to remember that in addition to loving one’s neighbor, Jesus also calls us to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us. If we take the challenge of loving our neighbors as ourselves seriously, then we must have an equally serious conversation regarding the question, “Who is my neighbor.”

I am personally challenged to apply the concept of neighbor to those who I think are behaving abhorrently in the world. How do we do this? Are there certain behaviors that we can all agree upon that are violations of community? Are we willing to drill down deep enough into our own behavior to discover the ways in which we are violating our communities?

If we know that self-love is a primary component of how we love others, then this is probably one of the most important places to start. Self-love is not selfish! Self-love is defined as 1. An appreciation of one’s own worth or virtue, and 2. Proper regard for, and attention to, one’s own happiness or well-being. What is most important about these definitions is that they still require the individual to look at themselves from a “right-sized” perspective, not from a narcissistic or grandiose perspective. When I begin to overvalue my own worth or virtue, or only desire happiness and well-being for myself and no one else, then I have skewed the entire commandment.

Self-love is not an easy trait to nail down. We most often miss the mark because we undervalue or overvalue ourselves. It takes extraordinary effort to do enough self-evaluation to get this right. It’s as if our vision of ourselves is always slightly, or in some cases, dramatically distorted. This is where the community can rescue us. If we are doing our best to live in community and love in community, the community can help hold us accountable. When we are disengaged from the whole community, we are more likely to have a skewed opinion of ourselves and of other communities.

This commandment to not covet pushes us to re-evaluate everything we know about how we engage with one another. It calls us to remember who we are in God, who we are to each other, and who we are to ourselves. It is easy to invite suffering into our lives when we are fixated on gaining that which never belonged to us. As I have worked with this commandment, it reminded me of our earliest days in this country. When we first encountered indigenous people, we talked about land ownership and boundaries that cordoned us all off into our separate spaces. Indigenous people, however, did not adhere to the same land ownership ideas. The Great Spirit allowed them to occupy the land. The land was a gift to the people, and in return, they must be caretakers of the land. The more they cared for the land, the more the land cared for them. They lived in manageable sized communities and shared all of their resources because they understood the value of communal living.

God’s establishment of the people of Israel was essentially in the same vein. So much of what God tried to teach the people, though, we tossed aside when we decided that Jesus was disconnected from this message. The commandments were never meant to fall by the wayside, nor were God’s instructions to live in community. Interestingly enough, all people of faith, from every religious tradition around the world, understand what it means to live in “community” and what the consequences are of not doing so. In the west, we have lost our focus. Our communities consist of only people who look like us and act like us. God’s definition of community was much broader and much more inclusive.

As we continue to contemplate the impact of the 10 Commandments on our lives, it is imperative that we re-evaluate how we live in community, how we share our lives in community, and how we nurture that community. Our need for self-love is paramount. We must be able to love ourselves and love others in the same way that we proclaim that we love God. They all go hand in hand.

Reflecting on the 10 Commandments and walking through this series of services has allowed me to remember what God ultimately requires of us:

He has told you, O mortal, what is good, and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God?

(Micah 6:8)

This should always be our goal, justice, kindness, and humility. Each of these provides a framework for self-love, love of neighbor, and love of God. If we are just and kind, we will not covet. If we are humble, we will live and share in our communities as is necessary for the whole of that community. This isn’t about imposing our beliefs on others; it is about bringing our best selves to the table. We are more likely to find common ground when we are willing to just love because love is the better answer. I would like to believe that Love Wins; that love always wins. This is only true, though, if we nurture it and watch it grow.

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