November 18, 2018
One of the temptations for an imperialistic leader is overreach. In 1804 when the Pope came to Paris to crown Napoleon Emperor of France, Napoleon snatched the crown from the Pope’s hands and crowned himself. That’s overreach. But on June 22, 1812, when Napoleon invaded Russia, it was such an overreach that it soon brought down his empire. Obviously Napoleon coveted power.
Coveting is a serious problem. Coveting is addressed in the 10th commandment. When you think about it, obeying the first commandment involving worship will help us keep the other nine. But breaking the 10th commandment will cause us to break many of the previous nine. This morning as we look at the 10th commandment let me say that coveting lies at the root of sin.
I. CONSIDER THE DESTRUCTIVE NATURE OF COVETING. Ex.20:17; Dt.5:21
In Ex.20:17, we read, “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." When you read the tenth commandment it sort of takes you by surprise. All the other commands involve external actions, but the tenth command is internal and unseen. The Hebrew word for “covet” means to desire earnestly, to long after. When this command is restated in Deut.5:21, we find another Hebrew word which “often refers to an ‘evil desire’ that is contrary to God’s will.” The verse reads, “And you shall not covet your neighbor's wife. And you shall not desire your neighbor's house, his field, or his male servant, or his female servant, his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor's.”
There is nothing particularly wrong with desire, but in the tenth command God is referring to sinful, self-centered desire. It’s the kind of desire that enslaves the soul and leads to sinful acts. Interestingly enough, the two Hebrew words, “covet” and “desire” show up in Gen.3:6. There we read, “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.” Eve and Adam coveted the fruit because of what they thought eating the fruit would give them. They thought it would enhance their lives in that they would be like God. Instead sin and death entered into the world. They became sinners, estranged from God.
And coveting has had the same result in all of our lives. In Jms.1:14-15, we read, “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” In Jms.4:1-2 we read, “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel.” Clearly we see that coveting, sinful desire is what drives people to actually break the other commandments.
In Mt.15:17-19 Jesus says, “Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.” This command against coveting has no parallel in the surrounding ancient near eastern cultures. This command is unique. And it shows us that God is always interested in the condition of the heart and not just in our outward performance.
In Lk.18 we read about a wealthy ruler who came to Jesus and said, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus replied, “You know the commandments: 'Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother." The rich man replied, "All these I have kept from my youth." And when Jesus heard this, he said to him, "One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me." But when the rich man heard what Jesus said, “he became very sad, for he was extremely rich.” Had the rich man kept the commandments? Well, yes. But clearly in his heart he coveted wealth. He could not part with it. His wealth weighed upon his heart and mind so that he could not follow Jesus. In the words of Paul, “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.” Even a poor man can covet wealth and miss Jesus.
It is good when a person can say, “I have kept the Sabbath. I have honored my parents. I do not take the Lord’s name in vain. I have never murdered anyone or committed adultery. I have never stolen anything. I have never born false witness.” But if their heart is filled with sinful desire, they have broken the law of God.
In Phil.3, when the Apostle Paul summarizes his pre-conversion life he says that as far as righteousness under the law is concerned, he was blameless. In other words he kept the Ten Commandments, except for one thing. In Rm.7:7 he writes, “Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, "You shall not covet." Paul looked blameless from the outside, but there was plenty of sinful desire in his heart.
A Rabbi by the name of Yakum, makes an interesting observation. He points out that there is a relationship between the first and the last commandments. He says, “not only are social sins such as adultery and theft committed because the person desires what a fellow human possesses, but “religious sins” between humans and God, are committed because a person covets being God or having divine power/authority.”
Ultimately that is what coveting is about. It is harboring a desire that does not honor God. When these desires take the place of God they become idols and the longer we worship idols the more apt we will be to act on our desires. O we may not visibly break any of the other Ten Commands, but you can be sure that when sinful desires are harbored in one’s heart, those desires will impact your behavior and your relationships because they have a hold upon us. Usually sinful desire is acted upon in one way or another, if only in secret.
II. AVOID COVETING BY PRACTICING CONTENTMENT.
Coveting involves having a deep desire for something. What makes the desire sinful is that we put it in the place of God. The desire orders our life. Desire is experienced in our thoughts and feelings. When we act on sinful desires we reveal or express those sinful desires in destructive ways. A man may desire his neighbor’s wife. That is a sinful desire for it makes his neighbor’s wife an idol. So he sins against God and his own wife. And if he acts on his desire he sins against his neighbor and his neighbor’s wife. If we are going to make progress in having our desires ordered by God, we must learn to be content.
How do we learn contentment? In Ps.37:4 we read, “Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” In Ps.23:1, we read, “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” Contentment in life comes from cultivating a trusting heart. We trust in God. We trust that God is holding our life. We trust that God knows what we need. We trust that God is giving what is needed for the present day. But it goes deeper than this. When we trust in God we delight in him because we see that God is the giver of all good gifts. When I am trusting in the Giver of all good gifts then I will begin to long for the good gifts that God wants to give. The desires of my heart sync up with his goodness and love.
Some of you have smart watches. You can get emails and texts. You can track your sleep and your steps with your watch. But you have to sync your watch with your phone or computer in order to have an ongoing record. Well, our desires need to sync up with God on a regular basis. How do we do this?
We do this by spending time in the presence of God in prayer and thoughtful reflection on his word. We spend time with God by cultivating the awareness that God is always fully present with us and around us. In him we live and move and have our being. The other day I had lunch with a friend. I had just been reading about Mary’s response to the angel. Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word." Well, we discussed that for much of our lunch. What do Mary’s words have to do with our lives? That is one way of reflecting on God’s word. But all of us need to allow God’s word to settle into our hearts and minds in one way or another. And it cannot be done quickly! And it cannot be done sporadically. Do you have to read your Bible every day? Not necessarily. But our thoughts need to be daily oriented in and around God’s word. I believe it is important to have designated times for prayer. But I also believe we need to live in a prayerful way. I am beginning to think that when I hear about mass shootings and fires and floods and I grieve in my heart, I am praying because I am grieving in the awareness of God and his presence.
In 2Cor.12, Paul writes about a thorn in his flesh. He prayed that God would take it away, but God said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” And then Paul writes, “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” Paul did not learn this overnight. He learned this by pleading with God in prayer and by surrendering to God and his good will. In Phil.4, Paul says, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.” And finally, in 1Tim.6:6-8, Paul writes, “But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.” Are you learning to be content?
One way to discern how content we are is to consider where we are discontent in our lives. Where do we struggle to trust in God? We may discover that our areas of discontent can actually be addressed by choosing to live in a godly way. For example, if you are discontent in your marriage, you can ask yourself, “How do I contribute to the dysfunction of my marriage? How would God want me to live with my spouse?” If you are discontent with your work, you can make that a matter of concerted prayer and ask God to help you be content by doing your work to the glory of God. You can also pray about getting another job. Any kind of coveting and discontent needs to be brought into our life-with-God and his Son, Jesus.
In 1967 the song, “What a Wonderful World,” was released. Listen to the lyrics. I see trees of green, red roses too; I see them bloom for me and you; And I think to myself what a wonderful world. I see skies of blue and clouds of white; The bright blessed day, the dark sacred night; And I think to myself what a wonderful world. The colors of the rainbow so pretty in the sky; Are also on the faces of people going by. I see friends shaking hands saying how do you do; They're really saying I love you. I hear babies crying, I watch them grow; They'll learn much more than I'll never know; And I think to myself what a wonderful world. Well if we only consider these things, in many ways it is a wonderful world. But as far as I can see, it is a terribly broken world, filled with broken people who struggle to order their lives. The disorder of their lives is largely the result of disordered desires.
The only hope for healing and wholeness is found in Jesus Christ, who is God in the flesh, who died for our sins and rose from the dead. Only when we enter into a relationship with Jesus by faith, receiving his forgiveness of sins and eternal living in his Kingdom, can our broken lives become ordered and whole. Do you know Jesus? Are you learning to be content as you follow Jesus? Amen