Well today we’ve finally made it. This morning we are going to look at the tenth commandment in Exodus 20:17. This is the final commandment. And God says: "You shall not covet”
So what is that? What is it to covet something? The apostle Paul explains it this way in Romans 7, where he says, “I would not have known what sin was except through the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, "Do not covet." But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of covetous desire” (Romans 7:7-8).
And what Paul is saying is that coveting is when you look at what you don’t have, but would like to have, and it awakens in you a discontent, a covetous desire, a desire not for what you have, but for something else. So he says, within the context, that the commandments point out sins that he had never even thought of or considered; and then all of a sudden he found himself tempted and attracted, because the law had awakened his sinful covetous desire.
And so here is the definition of coveting. Let us begin here as we deal with this final commandment in Exodus 20:17. Let me define coveting for you. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines covet as “to wish for earnestly; to desire (beyond reasonable limits) what belongs to another.”
On Christmas I got everything I wanted. But you know, when I was a young boy, I remember getting everything that I had wanted. I remember thinking, "This is the best Christmas ever!" Then I went over to a friend's house, saw what he got, and suddenly, I was miserable, because he had something that I wanted. All of a sudden, the gifts that I had received, the gifts I had asked for, were no longer good enough, because my friend had something that I wanted more. That is what coveting is.
Have you ever felt that? That ungodly, discontented desire, envy, craving, greed, jealousy, obsession, longing, or lust for someone or something that is not yours. You see the bottom line is this, coveting is when you’re discontent with or don’t want what God wants for you. Coveting is when there’s clash between what God desires for you and what you desire. Yet in the world in which we live, coveting is seemingly inescapable. Our entire economy is dependent upon coveting. It’s marketing and advertising. It’s the constant, continual attack on our senses… the temptation to covet.
And yet God tells us in Exodus 20:17… lets read the whole thing: "You shall not covet your neighbor's house. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor."
What the Lord is talking about here is a list of things that would be culturally and contextually understood and are examples for us to examine in our own 21st century lives. And therefore when he speaks of your “neighbor’s house,” what he’s really talking about is their household, their possessions, their family, and maybe their business. You see everything that is connected to you is part of your household. So when the Lord says, “Anything that belongs to your neighbor” if you like their truck or John Deere, then that’s your version of “his ox”. And so anything that belongs to your neighbor, would include their home, their car, their Kindle Fire HD, Samsung Galaxy S5, Wii U, or any of their possessions. It includes their children, their spouse, and even their appearance. Everything has the potential for coveting. And therefore anything that you are discontent with, opens the door, or as Paul said, it seizes the opportunity to produce in you “every kind of covetous desire” (Romans 7:8).
Now as we get into this, the first thing I want to point out to you is the distinctive nature of this commandment. You see, up to this point, the Ten Commandments have dealt primarily with things on the outside. Things like, there’s one God, don’t steal, don’t murder, and don’t commit adultery. These are things that are all outside of the body. But this commandment, “You shall not covet…” is entirely in the heart, it’s not outside; it’s inside. You can be coveting and no one else will know, but if you’re murdering, stealing, or lying, other people will know that, right? So coveting is a private sin, it’s a personal sin, an inner secret sin. It’s something that only you know and that makes it distinctive, separating it from the other commands.
This command also reveals to us that God not only sees what we’re doing and hears what we’re saying, but he knows our hearts. He knows the very thoughts of our minds, the desires and longings of our hearts, and God considers all of that. God knows your heart and he knows when we’ve broken his laws both in principle and in practice. And so this command is unique in its comparison to the morality of other faiths and cultures. Many other belief systems have a similar moral structure; like do not kill, do not steal, etc. but the tenth commandment is the exception because it is directed toward the heart… the inner desires.
So God here, is not just concerned about your behavior, but also your desires, because if all you ever do is correct the action, it’s not leading to lasting change. It’s trying to get people to be good instead of born-again, instead of knowing the salvation of God. And so we are to get to the root of the problem so that as Jesus says, “Every good tree bears good fruit…” (Matthew 7:17). And so the point is that good desires lead to good actions, and the source of our morality must begin in our hearts, where only God has jurisdiction.
You see coveting is a sin, but the police won’t arrest you for coveting. It’s not enforceable right? Coveting is something that is solely judged by God, because “God knows our hearts” (Luke 16:15). And God invites us to judge ourselves, God tells us not to covet, because we know our hearts, our desires, and our motives; and God the Holy Spirit will help us to examine ourselves (1 Corinthians 11:28-32). It’s something you can do, because it’s something that you know and the Holy Spirit reveals to you.
So God tells us not to covet, and it’s distinctive, because its an infection that begins in our heart and spreads to the rest of the body. That’s why Proverbs says, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life” (Proverbs 4:23). You see, life flows forth from our hearts (Luke 6:45). The heart is the core and the essence of our being. And so coveting is really a heart problem and if we deal with it, then we’ll end up resolving a whole lot of other problems, because coveting is destructive in character.
Coveting begins in our heart and is the root of all other sins, because there’s only one God. However, time after time we unseat him… we dethrone God… and we covet God’s authority. When we seek to be independent and self-governing. When we have fights with God over his will, his Word, and his way… we’re really coveting his authority and sinning. When we want people to know who we are… to be thankful for what we do… to fear us, honor us, or at the very least respect us, we’re guilty of coveting the glory that is God’s. Coveting is destructive, because it begins with a longing for, a desiring, of someone or something that we’re not supposed to have. It becomes an obsession, an inclination, reorganizing our priorities, and reorienting our lives away from God’s best for us.
So when God tells us to not covet, He is telling us this as a loving, concerned Father in the same sense as Proverbs 23:22, where it says, “Listen to your father who gave you life”. The father’s instructions and warnings are for our good and if we believe that, and heed them, then our lives will be better because of it. We’ll know exactly what to do to please God, how to get along with our neighbors, and to experience life in all its abundance. So the Father is saying, if you obey you'll enjoy the goodness of life, and if you don't you'll suffer the consequences. It's as simple as that. And so, the Bible teaches us the ways in which we hurt ourselves and we hurt others when we disobey this commandment.
You see, when we disobey, we’re not just breaking God’s Laws, we’re breaking His heart. So coveting hurts God. To violate the Law is to grieve the Father, because He has given us good things, not just for our needs, but also for our enjoyment. And it breaks his heart when he gives us something to enjoy, and we’re like, “Well, that’s not what I wanted.” You know its like the bratty kid on Christmas morning. Coveting causes us to want something other than what he has given.
That’s all that it is. That’s the heart of coveting. That’s where it comes from. So, coveting hurts God, but it also hurts you and the people you love. In Luke 12:15, Jesus warned, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man's life does not consist in the abundance of…” What? “…his possessions.” Now most of us don’t believe that, but your Creator, Jesus, knows exactly what he’s talking about. So he reminds us of the tenth commandment, he connects the desires of the heart with possessions, and he says, “Watch out!” because you’re going to need to be on guard 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. That’s the economy we live in today isn’t it? The world in which we live attempts to meet your covetous desires, your demands, instantaneously, 24/7.
Jesus’ brother James asks, “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don't they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don't get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God” (James 4:1-2).
You see, the source of much of our divisiveness and contention come from our desires that battle within. It’s the heart. You want it, so you kill and covet… you quarrel and fight... you hurt the people you love. You know, its like they get a raise, a promotion, get married, buy a house, and all of a sudden, you want what they got, and so we become jealous. Now it’s personal.
But the Bible tells us, to “Rejoice with those who rejoice…” (Romans 12:15). However, coveting doesn’t allow that does it? You know, your friend is pregnant but you’re still infertile. Your friend is engaged… but you’re still single. Your brother just got a raise… and you just got laid off. So, it’s a big problem.
Coveting hurts the people we love. But here is the bottom line… if you’re jealous of someone, the problem is not between you and them, the problem is between you and God. That’s what God says. “You don’t have, because you don’t ask” (James 4:2). Coveting hurts God, it hurts ourselves, and it hurts the people we’re supposed to love so we’re directed to be content. To be satisfied in Jesus Christ!
But, how do we do that? Well, here’s what Paul says, “If you want to be more than conquerors… if you want to be victorious… ‘Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ’” (1 Corinthians 11:1). And what an example that is!
Jesus Christ who came down from the splendor and riches of heaven to be born in poverty. Jesus, who left the presence of angels for the praise of shepherds. Jesus, who loved the fellowship of friends, yet wept alone in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus, who commanded the stars in their orbits, but refused to change the circumstances of His own execution. Jesus, who delivered many from pain, but himself suffered agonizing pain. Jesus, who shared all that he had, pointing men to the Tree of Life, and the glory of Heaven, yet was nailed to a tree on a hill. Jesus, who walked out of heaven, pure and perfect, only to return beaten, mutilated, and nail scarred. He is our example, Jesus Christ, the crucified Son of the living God.
Paul says: “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ’” (1 Corinthians 11:1). In Philippians 3:17, he says, “Join with others in following my example...” And here is what Paul tells us in Philippians 4:11-13, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”
So, the cure for coveting is contentment. The Bible says, “Godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Timothy 6:6). So here’s the secret. The secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need… is to “do everything through him” …through Christ.
You see, one of the most destructive tendencies we have as Christians is to take our eyes off of Jesus and focus on what we want instead of what we have. But here is what the Bible teaches us: if you start thinking more about what you have, than what you want, your life will start looking better than ever before. This is what Paul referred to when he said: "I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances" (Philippians 4:11). He learned that contentment is simply knowing "him who gives me strength" (Philippians 4:13). Contentment is knowing that I have the presence of Jesus Christ in my life and through him I can face anything that comes my way (Richard Carlson, Don't Sweat the Small Stuff).
Worship leader, Rita Springer, said it this way, "You won't know that God is all you need, until you endure a season, in which God is all you have."
This is the secret of being content: knowing that you already have everything you need and his name is Jesus Christ. “The secret of being content is desiring Christ first and wanting him most in your life” (Steve May). Contentment is wanting what the Father wants for you. Contentment is being satisfied with God’s gracious provision. And when we’re content in him, we’ll treasure the little things, every blessing, every comfort, every friendship, and every opportunity.
So as we wrap up our series “The Ten Suggestions???” I have prayed that you wouldn’t see the Ten Commandments as a list of rules, but that you would see the complete sufficiency of Christ to fulfill every letter of the Law. And that is the desire of your Heavenly Father for you. His commands are so amazing. They deal with every area of life. He’s willing to speak to us about the very practical matters of life showing us what a great Dad we have.
But not only that, our God came down into human history, lived our human life, but never sinned. Jesus never broke any of the Commandments. He never committed adultery, never lusted, never stole, never coveted anyone’s stuff, but instead he gave his life as a gift, a sacrifice, and a love offering. I pray that as we have examined the Commandments that you realize, as I have, just how much we fall short of his example and how much we need him to forgive us and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
God the Father is all that we need. He has given us his Son and through faith in Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection, you and I can have a new heart. If you’ve trusted Jesus, if you’ve given yourself to Him and been born again, the Holy Spirit lives in you, you have a new nature, and God is changing your desires. You see, He is all you need, and he wants you to know that, and to desire Him more than anything else.
I find this to be truly amazing, that the One who inspired the writing of the Bible, who convicts us of sin through the law, would also give to us the righteousness of Jesus Christ. And not only that, but would remain with us, causing us to be transformed day by day, to become more like Jesus, and to be content in Jesus. That very fact, that the Holy Spirit would work at that level is just amazing to me, because that means that God loves us so much that he wants us not just to obey his laws, but he wants us to have his heart, that we would desire what he desires for us. And that as we yield to those desires, we would become more and more like Jesus and we would know true lasting contentment in him.
Pastor John Talcott
Christ's Community Church
303 West Lincoln Avenue
Emmitsburg, MD 21727
December 28, 2014