“Keeping up with the Joneses” is a common phrase in America that refers to the idea of having to keep pace with your neighbors in terms of social status, material possessions, and just generally in how people perceive you. This phrase began as a joke, as it was originally the name of a comic strip in the New York Globe back in 1913 (origin of phrase found here).
But while it began as a joke, it seems to have become a way of life. Many in our culture seem to have embraced this idea as a perfectly acceptable way to live. If our neighbor or friend has a nice car, new TV, latest phone or tablet, brand new furniture, or best video game system, then we begin to feel the desire to have that as well.
It’s this never-ending cycle where our need to keep up with others begins to determine our pace of life, and sometimes even the direction of our life.
While this has become a way of life for many in our culture today, it’s not something that is exclusive to our culture or time. This is more of a human condition than it is a cultural way of life. In fact, the Bible speaks of this very idea…it just uses different terms to do so.
In Exodus 20:17 it says, “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 is your neighbor’s.”
If we were to change the phrase “Keeping up with the Joneses” to Biblical terminology, it would be “Coveting the Joneses”. And that is exactly what it is…it is coveting. Wanting what our neighbor has, wishing that we had it too. Desiring to measure up to our neighbors in terms of status and possessions is in fact coveting our neighbors.
God commands us to not do that. He commands us to not do that because he knows how we as humans are, and he knows that when we begin to covet our neighbors, it will lead down a destructive path.
When we covet our neighbors spouse, that will very quickly lead not being content with our own spouse, which will cause them to feel like they are not good enough. If our spouse begins to sense that we are comparing them to others, their self-image will be damaged…as will the marriage relationship. Coveting our neighbors spouse could also lead to adultery, because if we must have a spouse like our neighbor, then we are only a step away from wanting our neighbors spouse.
When we covet our neighbors wealth and possessions (what having servants and animals refers to), then we won’t be satisfied with what we have. It will quickly lead us to spending more and more money to have those possessions that we see others have. And if we don’t have the money, we will go into debt in order to still possess those things. That leads to making bad decisions financially, putting financial stress on you and your family, and causing you and your family to have to work more and more just to keep up with the pace of life you’ve set for yourself.
Consider what it says in 1 Timothy 6:9-10… “But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.”
That is why God commands us to not covet our neighbor…to not feel the need to “keep up with the Joneses”. It won’t lead us to happiness. Rather, it will lead us down a destructive path.
May we live a life of contentment. May we love our spouse, be happy with all that we have been blessed with, and live a life of thankfulness.