“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.” (Exodus 20:17)
“Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’” (Matthew 20:14-15a)
Five weeks ago I had full knee replacement surgery, and I am encouraged by those whose surgery was years ago. Many people tell me how much they can do now and how easy it was after having the surgery. As much as I try just to be happy for them, I confess that I covet their freedom from stiffness and tiredness. I wish I could have gone on a short-term mission trip. I wish I could do more for others that requires physical stamina. I am like the workers in the vineyard who are comparing their work and earnings with what others have received as if God has given me less than what is right and proper. Coveting is a sin of the heart, starting with our eyes, and usually involves comparing ourselves with others. Instead of celebrating the success and blessings others enjoy, we complain about it, as if it is not fair.
God’s grace and generosity are never fair. If God were fair, none of us would have anything from him since we have done nothing to deserve his blessings. But God, in his “unfairness” pours out grace upon grace upon us. In the parable about the workers in the vineyard, God’s generosity is highlighted—only the first worker received what he earned. After that, the other workers received more than they had earned, having come late to the vineyard. But the first workers complained saying, “These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.” (v. 20) These workers were unable to celebrate the good fortune of their friends because they were jealous of it. Coveting robs others of joy and good fellowship, affecting relationships within the body of Christ. It also robs us of our peace and contentment with what God has given us, making us less likely to see the needs of others and give generously. Coveting is me-first, grabbing, seizing entitlement. Generosity is others-first, a life-giving celebration of others’ advances. No wonder Paul advises us to “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you…covetousness, which is idolatry” (Colossians 3:5).
Jesus used parables to teach spiritual truths. At the end of the parable of the workers in the vineyard, he declared, “So the last will be first, and the first last” (Matthew 20:16). There are important spiritual applications of this truth, but my purpose here is to see that our attitudes and management of our finances reflect our spiritual state. Either we are content and ready to be generous to help meet the needs of others, or we are self-centered, thinking we deserve even more than we have. It is impossible to hold both views—either God has given us more than we deserve (to help others) or God has withheld what we are owed. The latter is impossible, since we are owed nothing, and everything is a gift for our stewardship.
God has blessed me with a good surgeon, an excellent recovery, the ability to exercise twice daily, being retired, friends who encourage me, and the reports of others who have enjoyed the benefits of their “new” knees. With this in mind, perhaps I can be more generous in my happiness for those who are enjoying the benefits of their surgery. This frees me from my self-centeredness to see how I might be able to help others out of my blessedness.
Is there something you covet that others have, that is robbing you or your peace and the ability to be generous? Will you confess it, repent, and give out of your generosity of spirit?