Thou Shalt Not Covet and Capitalism

If we followed God’s command to leave off coveting, or the NT comparison of covetousness to idolatry, could we still live in a capitalistic society?

Capitalism is based on coveting, or at least it seems it’s a pretty tough thing to operate without coveting. Supply and demand are what are to run the economy, if we don’t covet there’d be far less demand! Our leaders told us during our recession that we need to spend our way out of it. Coveting is the basis for economic recovery!

Throw on top of this our obsession with following our dreams and getting paid for doing what “we love,” isn’t that the essence of coveting? Aren’t we to be content in whatsoever state we are in?

Am I now a Communist or socialist for having brought this up?

Just another one of those things that shows how difficult it is to be of this world and follow God’s Word. I’m sure most capitalist Christians believe they are either

1) free of coveting so this doesn’t really apply or
2) don’t really worry about that coveting bit because of those grace bits in the Bible as well.

Seems to me our whole way of life makes it difficult to follow Scripture. What’s the solution? I’m not really sure, but I believe we’d benefit from thinking on it.

One thought on “Thou Shalt Not Covet and Capitalism”

  1. One of the problems of coveting is that it puts ME above my neighbor. I’m more important, my life is more valuable, therefore I take more than what I actually need, so that my (more valuable) life can be assured and preserved. After all, it is a “more valuable” life, so shouldn’t I preserve it for the good of society?

    This kind of self-exaltation takes many forms: the mentally-gifted seek to cultivate their mind so that they can exercise superiority over others through mental persuasion and cleverness; the physically-gifted cultivate their physical powers, so that they can exercise superiority over others through physical persuasion and force.

    This kind of thinking leads to prejudice, bigotry, and injustice. The rich are counted as “more valuable” to society, and therefore are allowed some degree of lying, stealing, and coveting, for the sake of the “greater good” (which generally means the amount of money they produce). A simple and obvious example is the financial bailout of Wall Street institutions.

    I’ve seen something like this happen recently in our small town. A new large chain hotel was built in the community and was granted immunity from the normal land taxes for many years. Probably the town council reasoned this way: “well, the Hotel will bring in more money to the community than the taxes would, so we make it more attractive for them to build here by removing their taxes for a while.” Financially, it makes sense, at least in the short term.

    The problem is that any kind of unrighteousness, while causing prosperity at the beginning, eventually leads to greater poverty. This is a lesson that is believed by very few people in our world today. We are so obsessed with the short-term gain that can be gotten by breaking a few principles of righteousness, that we do not see the harvest of destruction that lies at the end of the road we have chosen. “When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith in the world?” Faith would teach us to see the end from the beginning.

    In granting equal rights to all, we do not restrict talents. Some have the talent for organizing and for running businesses. Not all can do this as well. Then let those who have such talents exercise them. But let them never forget that they hold these talents in order to bless others, especially the weaker ones.

    But talents do not equate with intrinsic worth. A righteous parent can easily see this: a father or mother would never value one of their children over another, no matter how gifted the one may be. When God instituted the tithe, He did not exclude the rich. Likewise, if the rich man or ruler sinned, they were to bring an offering of greater value than the poor man. In these examples there is a nice balance between rights and talents. All have the right to bring offerings and receive forgiveness; all have the privilege of returning a tithe to God. But greater talents mean greater responsibilities for the work of God, and for others.

    That fine document, the Declaration of Independence, has this wonderful line:

    “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men…”

    It is easy to interpret this in a selfish way, ie, “I have these rights to life, and I elect the government to protect my rights.” How it should actually be understood is that “all men have equal rights, and I elect the government to protect the rights of all men. (especially others)” The difference is that one approach is self-centered, the other is an expression of selfless love. A righteous man will be more concerned about the rights of others, than about his own rights. “Love seeks not her own.”

    So there are two things: the inalienable rights, and the possession of certain talents or gifts. Our value is based upon our inalienable rights, which we all possess equally, by having natural life. We believe these rights come by the gift of God, who gave man life in the beginning. It is His life, therefore it is sacred and to be respected (even though it is quite corrupted in it’s natural form).

    So likewise with the crucifixion. Christ died for all men, therefore all have an equal value or right in God’s sight. Those who accept the death of Christ receive His new spiritual life in exchange for their old one, which again brings with it a new set of natural rights (the right to the resurrection, and new earth, for example).

    The mistake of some forms of socialism is that it puts equality in the wrong area. It mixes up the realm of talents, and natural rights. The poor, while they have an equal right to life and justice as the rich, do not have the right to administer the talents or rewards of the rich. It is up to the rich to learn to administer their talents. The role of “justice and judgement” is to make sure that natural rights are respected, so that the rich do not oppress, and the poor do not rebel.

    God also respects these two areas. While all true Christians receive eternal life through repentance and forgiveness, and therefore receive equally the reward of eternal life, not all receive the same reward when it comes to responsibilities in the new kingdom. Those who have many talents, receive more responsible positions. These higher positions are meant for greater service, not for greater self-exaltation. “Whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant.” (Matt. 20:27).

    The division of the ten commandments into two parts, also speaks a bit to this division between rights and talents. The first four commandments deal with the connection to God…which is the right of each man’s conscience: the “inalienable” and equal right to life. The last six commandments deal with the relationship of man to man, which is the area of talents, where gifts are used for service, not for advantage.

    Sorry, I’ve rambled on so long, but it’s something I’ve thought a lot about lately. I find the Bible to be the best guide and most fruitful field on the topics of natural rights, and government. “I have seen an end of all perfection: but thy commandment is exceeding broad.” (Ps. 119:96).

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