At Christmas time, there is an old game at parties that adults play with gifts. Up north it's called a Yankee Swap, sometimes White Elephant, and in the south it's known as Chinese Auctions.
I was not familiar with these kinds of gift-giving games until two years ago, when I attended my Sunday School class's annual Christmas party and was told to 'bring a gift for under the tree.' After dinner, the game began. Here, Wikipedia describes it:
"At a Chinese auction, though not really an auction at all, each participant contributes wrapped prizes of roughly the same value to a pool of prizes. Participants draw numbers to see who gets to choose a prize from the pool of prizes first. The second person may choose their prize from the remaining prizes in the pool, or may take the prize from the first person who chose. The third may take a prize from the pool, or from the first or second person and so on until all participants have chosen. People choosing prizes are not required to open them, so the prize contents may remain unknown to all but the contributor until all participants have chosen."
This breaks the Tenth Commandment. The Tenth Commandment is found in Exodus 20:17: "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 belongs to your neighbor.”
I can hear people now, saying that I'm 'too picky', 'why not have a little innocent fun at Christmas', 'it's a harmless game', 'I take the bible way too seriously'...all those things. But I can't be too picky when it comes to direct commandments from God. Not only do I owe Him my allegiance because He is God, but because He saved me from eternal punishment, also. I owe him everything. So let's take a peek underneath all that harmless fun and look at the sin-festival that Chinese Auctions are.
My apprehensions about this game were solidified when I heard a good sermon last week on it. Phil Johnson at Grace Life pulpit expounded on the Tenth Commandment in a sermon called "Why covetousness is no small sin." (transcript here). It was perfect timing for me to understand what it really means to covet and what other sins grow out of that. ALL other sins grow out of that, as a matter of fact. What was the first sin? Eve coveted that which God said she should not have.
Regarding a Chinese auction we could say "You shall not covet the ornament on your neighbor's lap".
The Tenth Commandment "requires full contentment with our own condition, with a right and charitable frame of spirit toward our neighbor, and all that is his." (Phil Johnson). Chinese auctions are the opposite of that.
Chinese auctions are a breeding ground for discontent. Coveting is a desire for something we are not supposed to have and in order to get it, we steal it. Now, not all coveting is evil. "There is a kind of covetousness that is not evil. It's when we covet that which God Himself esteems worthy of our desires. Desire in and of itself is not wrong; but make sure that you only desire for yourself what God desires for you."(Johnson).
Does God desire for us to steal our neighbor's goods from their very lap? Does He desire that we should look with covetousness eyes at $2 trinkets and breed discontent with what we have? Does He desire for us to allow a small root of bitterness that our neighbor took something from us?
We are born with desires, and because we are born sinful, our desires are evil. We can't tell ourselves NOT to have the desires that we have. We like what we like and we want what we want. Satan knows that. He tempted Jesus in Matthew 4. He had the brazenness to tempt Jesus to covet! Jesus resisted, "was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin." (Hebrews 4:15). So Jesus understands that satan will tempt us, making mincemeat out of us, easily. He'll bring desires and coveting to our mind that we must resist. With the Holy Spirit, desires can be resisted. Therefore I don't want to put myself into a situation where it makes it harder for me to resist. It's hard enough already!
I attended an auction of this sort last week. The auction was excruciating because I'd heard part of the Phil Johnson sermon before I went and I knew that I was going to be sinning. But I didn't know what to do or how to get out of it without being rude to the people who were gathered there, who are fine, good people I love very much. It will take some prayer and forethought to determine what to do next year when these auctions come up again. But that is the nature of this sin, most of the time you don't even know you're coveting when you're doing it. And compared to murder, it seems like a small sin. But remember, it is the original one. Therefore coveting is no small sin, and one to be avoided.