The 10th Commandment: Covetousness Is Our Problem, God's Remedy Is the Gospel.
Matthew Leighton, July 17, 2005.
But sometimes desire turns bad. One way in which it does so is when it sets its sights on things that rightfully belong to others. This is coveting. Notice the wording of the text: "Do not set your desire on your NEIGHBOR'S wife." Here is the problem- when I covet I set my desires on something that belongs to my neighbor, something I cannot acquire licitly. Take an example:
- Read our text for this morning: Ex 20:1-17
- Ease into the sermon by asking a question: how many commandments are there here?
- The religious institution that has historically predominated in Spain, the RC church says that here we have TWO commandments. And why not? After all, the text says, "you shall not covet" TWICE! If we follow the pattern established up to this point in the Decalogue, perhaps we ought to conclude there are two commandments here. After all, we read "you shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, etc." and we count each of those as separate commandments- why not count the two "you shall not's" in verse 17 as two commandments? Thus goes the RC argument.
- But the Catholics are not the only ones with an opinion on the subject. Things get a bit more complicated if we consult with our Lutheran friends. You see, they also find two commandments here, but in a different order: "you shall not covet your neighbor's wife" is number 9, then "you shall not covet your neighbor's house, etc." is number 10. Why? Because they follow the order of Deuteronomy 5, not Ex 20. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife, nor his stuff..
- It would seem like the Lutherans and Catholics have a bit of a problem. It's a little strange to memorize the 10 commandments in the Ex order, then open up one day to Deuteronomy to find the order is different. So which is number 9 and which is number 10?
- After recognizing that the texts do say "thou shall not covet" twice, they and seeing that the texts have different orders, the majority of protestant commentators have concluded that what we have here is one commandment, not two separate ones. In the end it really does not matter if the list starts with your neighbor's wife or his stuff, either way God prohibits you from desiring that which is not yours but instead belongs to your neighbor. The point is "THOU SHALL NOT COVET YOUR NEIGHBOR'S ANYTHING!" (Jared Thornburg, 8 yrs old)
- And I think we have inspired confirmation of such an interpretation in the apostle Paul who, when citing the 10 commandments cites these prohibitions as one: Romans 7:7 and 13:9 – "Do not covet"
- So here we have one commandment: Don't covet your neighbor's anything.
- What does it mean to covet?
- Covetousness is a desire. I think we all know that. As it turns out, one could actually translate the text of Ex 20:17 as "do not set your desires on your neighbor's house" (this is how J. Douma translates it in his commentary on the 10 commandments. Douma's book is very helpful; many of the ideas in this sermon come from him). So coveting has to do with our desires.
- But not all desires are bad, right? Not at all. In fact, the Bible tells us there are many things that are good to desire. For example:
- We ought to desire God.
- "As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?" Psalm 42:1-2
- Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. Psalm 73:25-26
- These inspired declarations and others show us we ought to desire God.
- We ought to desire growth in virtue and maturity.
- "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable-- if anything is excellent or praiseworthy-- think about such things" Phil 4:8
- It can be permissible to desire material things.
- 8th commandment is about private property (can I say that in the pulpit?) God would not legislate to protect our property if it were something evil.
- Riches in and of themselves are not bad things, they can be considered a blessing from the Lord (Proverbs 10:4,22)
- The Bible does not critique rich people for being rich, rather for not giving thanks to God in their hearts, and not being generous with those in need.
- It can be good to desire being a better athlete, a better person, to move up in your company, to achieve certain goals.
- It is a good thing to desire office in the church.
- Here is a trustworthy saying: If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task. 1 Tim 3:1
- Many desires can be God glorifying. Desire in itself is not wrong.
At what level does covetousness function?
- Men- it is a good thing to desire a wife. But only one. Which one? YOURS! In fact, you would be doing your wife a disservice if you did not desire her. Wives, how would you like it if your husband spent time with you for obligation, duty, ritual. You want him to desire to be with you, to know you, to fellowship with you. Men, we ought to desire our wives.
- But that's just it. We ought to desire OUR wives. Until death do us part.
- To desire the wife of your neighbor is not only to not desire your own wife as you ought, but it is the opposite of loving your neighbor. How could you have his wife? The only way would be to take her from him. Clearly you would not be loving him.. And therein lies the problem.
- Coveting is setting your desires on things that God in his providence has made to correspond to your neighbor. Now, let's define it a bit further..
In the first place, it is interior. It is a desire; it is something begins on the inside.
Not only are they sinful, but they are dangerous! Internal coveting is closely linked to external actions. The OT especially draws the link between the desires and the actions.
- Douma notes that the state punishes outward crimes like homicide, the church disciplines outward sins like adultery. But just because you don't get caught by either of these two institutions does not mean you are righteous before God. He looks on our hearts, he knows our secrets.
- Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. Psalm 137:23-24. Offensive way INSIDE of me, my heart my thoughts. God gets in there, he knows.
- But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. Matthew 5:28
- An implication of this reality is that our "daydreaming" about certain things, or our "fantasies", are not innocent. Even if our covetous desires never manifest themselves externally, they are sinful and displeasing to our Lord.
It's origins- Coveting is internal, it can lead to external actions, but where is its origin? Something deeper that Calvin and others comment on.
- One example: Ex 34:24. What is the Lord promising Israel in this passage? Only that the surrounding nations would not in their hearts desire to invade the Promised Land? In order for this promise from the Lord to be a meaningful blessing to Israel, I would say that it must have meant something more.
- ________, your car is really cool. Let me ask you a question: do you really care if, as you are driving down the road, others covet it? Probably not. What would bother you is if they do something to try to get it!
- What mattered to Israel was not that the pagan nations bordering them lusted after their land, but rather that they didn't try to take it back! This is a promise that the surrounding nations won't desire their land in such a way that would lead them to try to come in and take it for themselves.
- Implication: Don't let covetous desires get a foothold! Many who set their desires on their neighbor's whatever end up taking steps to get it. Douma says that desire is like a fire that grows. What is living in our hearts only with great difficulty stays there hidden.
- Jesus said in Luke 6:45 that out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. What is inside comes out.
- It's like those "closed meetings" businesses or corporations have. Sooner or later what was discussed in those meeting leaks out. In the same way, our coveting leaks out of the secret places of our hearts and finds its way into our actions.
Why is this commandment in the text? So, why did God give it to Israel, and see to it that it was preserved for us in our Bibles? Part of the answer is to be found in Galatians 3:24: "so the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith." The 10th commandment, and the rest of the law, has as one of its purposes to show us our sin, and our need for the Savior. It grabs us by the hand, as it were, and leads us to Jesus to be justified not by our efforts, but by his. This is not hard to see.
- Our little covetous "fantasies", where do they come from? How do they start? Seemingly from spontaneous thoughts. Stuff just "pops" into our minds as it were. Might not even need an outside stimulus. Those beginnings, those spontaneous thoughts, are they our fault?
- Here we can use the example many of you have heard which compares temptation to birds. Birds fly over your head all day long. There is nothing you can do about that. But you can prohibit them from landing on your head and building nests! The same could be said of temptation. There are many things that pop into your mind during the day. Those are the birds flying overhead. That's not bad. What is bad is when you start to meditate on those thoughts- letting the birds build nests!
- I would say, however, that the 10th commandment prohibits even the flying of the birds. It prohibits our spontaneous thoughts, those things that pop out of our subconscious without warning. Why?
- Because the Bible tells us that bad desires come from bad hearts.
- Jesus calls us to love God with ALL our hearts, souls, MINDS, and strength. That means that all the birds in our minds ought to be subject to Christ. ALL our thoughts ought to give him glory! In heaven, the birds will not be flying! In the meantime, the responsibility for those thoughts God leaves on our doorstep. They would not come out of our subconscious if our hearts were not sinful.
- This commandment reaches deep! It prohibits this tendency we all have to fix our desires on our neighbor's whatever, it condemns those desires, and even the spontaneous thoughts that are the origin of our coveting. When you stop to think about it, the 10th commandment does not flatter us.. That is on purpose.
Why am I telling you all this? To make you feel so bad about your coveting that you pull yourselves up by your bootstraps and try to quit? No. My purpose, the law's purpose, is to convince us again of our need for Christ. Covetousness is our problem; God's remedy is the gospel.
- On the one hand, the 10th commandment shows the depth of our sin. The Israelites should have known that if it is wrong to murder someone, it is wrong to want to murder someone. If it is wrong to commit adultery, it is wrong to want to do so, even if you never get around to actually doing it. The NT confirms these truths:
- Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer 1 John 3:15.
- But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully (to covet her) has already committed adultery with her in his heart. Matthew 5:28
- This commandment has as part of its purpose to make sure that Israel did not miss the interior implications of the law, as the NT makes explicit.
- Jesus- kinder gentler law. no! Shows how deep our sin is.
- On the other hand, the 10th commandment shows the extent of our sin. It does so by summing up the first 9 commandments. In effect, it is a summary of the law (Douma, Calvin). Here's why I say that:
- Colossians 3:5 - Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Greed and covetousness are two intimately related concepts, almost synonymous. In fact, the word translated as "greed" is often translated as "covetousness", and in fact is translated that way in the New King James. If we take that translation, what is Paul saying? He is saying that covetousness is idolatry! Have you ever thought about that?
- Where is idolatry prohibited in the 10 commandments? In the first (and the second). Bookends!
- Coveting seeks other gods. It's not content with what God has given, so it looks to trust in something that is not the one and only true God for security, joy, comfort. The last commandment prohibits the same thing as the first!
- There is more- 1 Tim 6:10- For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith, and pierced themselves with many a pang. This "longing" is translated as "coveting" in the Spanish. What does the love of money do? It covets! And the love of money in its activity of coveting is the root of all evil. Right here we see that coveting is at the root of breaking all the commandments!
- One more: How does Jesus sum up the law? (Read Mt 22:34-40) This is a positive summary of the law. I would suggest to you that the 10th commandment is a summary as well, a negative one- because coveting is the OPPOSTIE of love.
- Coveting is the opposite of love for God. It indicates that you are not content with what the Lord has given you, you are not content with who he is for you. So you set your desires on other things you think will fill your soul. It is idolatry.
- Coveting is the opposite of love for your neighbor- because it is setting your desires on something that is not only not yours, but belongs to him. It really means desiring to take from your neighbor what is rightfully his.
- The 10th commandment is a summary of the law. It is designed to show that we break not just some of the law, but we break the whole thing. When we covet, we are not loving God, we are not loving our neighbor.
The law tells us that in our sin we are idolaters. We are coveters. The compensation we deserve for setting our desires on our neighbor's stuff is condemnation. But the gospel tells us that there was one who did not covet, one who loved God and his neighbor perfectly, so much so that he died in obedience to the Father he loves, for the sake of those neighbors he loves, so that they might be his brothers.
But the law does more than just show us our need for Christ. It shows us how we ought to live in obedience to God as believers. We've been saved, justified, forgiven. How ought we to show our gratitude to God for this sure salvation? We ought not to covet! I would love to quit coveting. where do we find the resources to fight against the old man? The answer is the same: in the gospel. The gospel is the key to forgiveness, and it is the cure for our covetousness. Concretely, the cure is contentment.
- Have you trusted in this one, the Lord Jesus Christ? This is where the 10th commandment wants to take you! Only in him can you find forgiveness for your covetousness. Only in him will you be clothed with righteousness. Only if you are trusting in him will God treat you as if you had not coveted but rather had loved perfectly your entire life. This is what we need! This is the remedy for covetousness.
- The law shows us our need for Christ. IF you see that need and you have not come, do so today. You need to be cleansed, you need to be forgiven for setting your desires on your neighbor's things.
I'll define contentment, hopefully I won't contradict Curt who preached on contentment a few weeks back. Contentment is a feeling. It is a feeling of satisfaction. It is being satisfied with what you have, being satisfied because you have enough.
That is exactly what the apostle Paul did. He learned to be content. Philippians 4:11-13. He learned the secret to being content.
- That is just the opposite of covetousness, isn't it? Why do we covet? Because we are not satisfied, we are not content, we want more, we want something else.
- If we want to quit coveting, we must learn to be content.
We are back to the gospel! Paul says a few verses earlier that he counts all the things he had as rubbish that he may gain Christ and be found in Him, having HIS righteousness.
You see, having Christ, Paul had everything. He had the forgiveness of his sins, perfect righteousness, and acceptance before God. What more could he want? What more could you want?
Do you want to quit coveting? It is a tough battle. It is to be fought right here. You and I can learn to be content. We can be content regardless of our earthly circumstances. We can feel like we have enough because in reality we have enough! God has promised in Christ never to leave us, never to forsake us. And that is enough. With that we can be satisfied.
- Paul lived through many circumstances, including some tremendous suffering. Paul learned how to be content in whatever his circumstance: how could he be content when he was being persecuted, almost to the point of death?
- v.13- I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Paul does not write this text to tell us that we can all win a gold medal if we have Christ on our side, as some posters would suggest to us. It is not to tell us that we can be who we want to be with God's help, rather, it tells us that Paul could do all things, even be content when they were whipping him, because he had Christ.
We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.
- Meditate on the gospel. Think about what God has done for you, what he is doing for you today, what he will do for you in the future. Pray that he would cause you to delight always more in that.
Douma The 10 Commandments
Calvin Institutes, Commentaries
Keil and Delitzch Commentaries
Ryken Written in Stone
Williamson Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism