Be Content – Identity and the Tenth Commandment

Contentment, Maxfield Parrish, 1927

Contentment, Maxfield Parrish, 1927

You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor. – Exodus 20:17

The Ten Commandments, given to the Israelites so they would remember their identity as the people of God, are related to us twice in the Old Testament. First in Exodus 20 and then again in Deuteronomy 5. They are identical with one curious exception.

When giving justification for keeping the Sabbath, in the Exodus passage God refers back to the creation and in the Deuteronomy passage God reminds then of the source of their newly experienced freedom.

This gives us two important reminders about our identity.

First, we were created to see our self as God’s. Our sense of self being defined in that way. Our lives have meaning in communion with our Creator. No other source of value will fit or satisfy.

Second, our identity as God’s is the source of freedom. Security for our self is found in God’s unchanging nature. We do not have to produce or consume to be valuable, that is an intrinsic part of who we are.

I mention that here because the last commandment is one that consumes our culture. Our entire economy is based on breaking the commandment. Advertising targets this part of our false self.

Remember the three questions of identity? (see Why Do We Adopt an Identity?)

The answers to these questions are where we get our false sense of value from:

What do I do? – What do I have? – What do people think of me? (see The Selfie for another example)

What do I have?

What do people think of what I have?

How does what I have compare to what someone else has?

By answering these three questions in bold, we are not basing our identity on being a consumer.

Rather that “you are what you eat”, it is “you are what you possess”.

Coveting is driven by the belief that wholeness is possible if I acquire the next thing.

And that becomes slavery. Which is not part of a healthy identity in Christ.

Coveting is always looking to what is next. Protecting turf by making sure I have more or better than those around me ensures I feel significant.

There is no rest as a consumer or possessor. Only discontent. And anger. And feeling like you don’t measure up.

Because there is always someone with more. There is always a new product. There will always be want.

Then you miss the gifts of God.

Maybe the greatest gift of God is your life is what you are not able to possess. Then you can sort through why it matters, and take off the cloak of needing to answer the question “what do I have”.

In his letter to Timothy, Paul gives perspective and what the fruit of identity correctly placed in Christ looks like:

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. – 1 Timothy 6:6-7

Coveting is a symptom. The cure is not to try harder to be content. The cure is to plant your identity on the foundation of Christ.

Then you can answer the question “what do I have” with the words “everything I was created to need”.

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