You must not covet your neighbor’s house. You must not covet your neighbor’s wife, male or female servant, ox or donkey, or anything else that belongs to your neighbor.” (NLT)
Most of us have not spent a lot of time coveting our neighbour’s ox or donkey. But we may have crossed other boundaries of covetousness. We may have been consumed by a desire to have certain things that other person has. We may even have had thoughts of wanting some of the people who belong to that neighbour.
So we can understand why coveting is forbidden. We are to be thankful for what we have, not envious of what others have. We are to respect the right of others to have what rightly belongs to them and not plan to plunder what they have.
And yet, there can be a good side to coveting. I may covet, or earnestly desire, another person’s self sacrificing service in the community. I may covet a person’s ability to manage their money well. In such cases, I am not preoccupied with getting something that is not mine to have, or having examined my heart, not failing to be thankful for what I already have.
This commandment does not mean I ought not admire another person and seek to emulate their good qualities. It does not even forbid seeking for myself what they possess. No great problem if I reckon their nicely renovated home is an incentive for me to get cracking on my own home improvements. No problem if I am inspired to get involved in the community as a result of seeing my neighbour’s involvement.
The key to correct coveting is to be thankful for what we already have, and not to become enviously preoccupied with what others may have. It is not focussed on what is happening with my neighbour, but on what is happening inside myself.