Jesus once said, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:15). My mother used to say, “Wait till the ‘new’ wears off.”
It is a law of life. People who get their happiness from things keep moving from thing to thing, as they pursue the latest fad and fashion. And the next one has to be bigger, glossier, faster and newer, because “new” never lasts.
The apostle Paul says coveting is idolatry (see Colossians 3:5). Both coveting and idolatry are about “thing” worship.
But there is a difference: the second commandment—the one that speaks about idolatry—warns us not to make things more important that God. The 10th tells us we should also not make them more important than people.
It forbids us to put our selfish desires above the rights of others, or to value people and things in terms of the benefit we can get from them.
Superman has been a popular figure since he first appeared in the 1930s.
And why not? Faster than a speeding bullet, he leaps tall buildings in a single bound. And he is never wrong, never guesses, never misses and never fails.
He is the biggest, the brightest, the star—always the best there is.
Would you like to be Superman? It’s easy! Just send $50 to Costume Craze, and they will ship you a complete outfit, including flying cape and moulded plastic chest, showing immense muscles and perfectly sculpted abs.
Not many people would seriously consider wearing one of these to the office—but millions of people do try to live out the “Superman” dream in their lives.
Think of Christopher Reeve, the handsome actor who burst onto the Hollywood scene when he starred as the man from Krypton in the 1978 Superman movie. The success of the first film was repeated in Superman II, III and IV, and led to starring roles for Reeve in other major films.
Along the way, Reeve acquired a mansion, a private yacht, several aeroplanes and a passion for sailing farther, flying higher and pushing himself harder than anyone else. Twice, he flew solo across the Atlantic. An expert sailor, he often competed in racing events. He also loved to race sailplanes and once climbed to almost 10,000 metres in the powerful rising air currents over Pikes Peak in Colorado. In addition, he was an expert skier, tennis player and scuba diver.
For 10 years after making the first Superman film, Reeve lived with a British model, Gae Exton, who bore him two children. In 1987, he dropped her and took up with the beautiful Dana Morosini, who was 10 years younger.
Christopher Reeve never wore his Superman outfit on the street but he was convinced that a “Superman lifestyle” was best for him.
While playing a cavalry captain in Anna Karenina, Reeve discovered yet another world to conquer—horseback riding. Before long, he acquired a stable full of thoroughbreds and began regularly competing in the sport.
In May 1995, a cross-country jumping event took place in Culpeper, Virginia, and at the last minute, Reeve decided to compete. Dana was less than thrilled when she heard about it. “Chris, when are we going to spend some time together as a family?” she said to him.
“Maybe next year. Anyway, you can come along and watch me compete.”
Dana sat on the sidelines, watching her famous and dashing husband who, as always, was the star of the show, riding to enthusiastic applause from the admiring crowd.
For a man like Reeve, the values of someone like the apostle Paul must have seemed unfathomable—even bordering on lunacy. Nearing the close of a busy life of sacrifice and service, the aged apostle wrote: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3, 4).
That is what the 10th commandment is all about. What Paul expressed in words, he illustrated with his life.
giving and getting
One minute the crowds at Culpeper were applauding, thrilled at the sight of the famous actor on his beautiful horse, and the next, everything changed. At the third hurdle, instead of jumping, Eastern Express abruptly, and for no apparent reason, applied the brakes and put down his head. As Reeve went spiralling forward, his head struck the hurdle and he fell headfirst into the turf. The violence of the impact severed his spinal cord at the second cervical vertebra—just where the neck attaches to the shoulders.
In less time than it has taken you to read this, Reeve went from being one of the brightest stars and top-earning actors in the world to a man dependent on others and machines for every breath. From perpetual activity, he went to what he later described as “the perpetual stillness.”
It would be hard to imagine a greater transformation. But Reeve later said the most important change that took place that day was a profound realignment of values and purpose for living. If you contribute to the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation today, your money will not go to thoroughbred horses, racing yachts, or sailplanes but toward finding a cure for the thousands of people who—like Reeve—suffer spinal cord injuries each year. During the rest of his life, Reeve used his fame, as well as his immense creativity and money, for this cause.
Not many people have the particular combination of talents and opportunities that brought wealth and celebrity status to Christopher Reeve. But there are millions who, on their own level, are following the ethic he lived by.
Things clutter their houses. Living beyond their means, they find themselves heavily in debt, many of them teetering on the edge of financial ruin.
Harried and hurried by their “get more” lifestyle, they have little time to spend with their children—and none at all for helping others or having a meaningful spiritual life. It is hardly surprising that the number of people filing for personal bankruptcy continues to grow.
Coveting is love that is out of proportion, out of order and out of place.
It means placing our devotion where it doesn’t belong, putting “things”— money, success personal achievement— in the centre of our existence and believing that they are the foundation on which we can build happiness.
“Things” become more important than people and their needs.
Like the other nine commandments, the 10th commandment talks not only about specific acts but also values and attitudes. And this one, too, is not only prescriptive but descriptive—that is, it not only tells us how to behave but describes how things should be, revealing what God is like. He, above all, is the one who serves, the one who gives with unselfish, self-sacrificing love.
As we’ve noted already, the apostle Paul urges us to “do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit” but “with humility of mind” look out, not only “for [our] own personal interests but also for the interests of others.” In the next verses, he reveals the source and inspiration for such an ideal.
“Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!”
Jesus Christ is the supreme example for us. His was a life of humble service.
He “emptied Himself,” and poured Himself out on the altar of service and sacrifice. By doing so, He showed us an example of compassion for people—of practical love in action.
This is what a life focused on the wellbeing of others looks like. A Christlike person is both generous and loving.