Please open your Bibles at Exodus chapter 20; page 61 if you’re using one of our church Bibles. As we continue to work our way through the message of the Ten Commandments, we come today to the last of the ten, “You shall not covet.” Before we read the text in its context and consider its message, however, would you please bow your heads with me as we pray. Let us pray!
O Lord, would You send now the Holy Spirit to till the soil of our hearts that we might not be like the rocky path or the stony ground or the thorny ground, but that we might be good soil hearers as the seed of the Gospel Word is proclaimed to produce a wonderful harvest, thirty, sixty, a hundredfold, to the praise of the name of Jesus, in whose name we now pray.Amen.
Exodus chapter 20 at verse 1. This is the Word of Almighty God:
“And God spoke all these words, saying,
‘I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.
You shall have no other gods before me.
You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.
You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.
Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.
You shall not murder.
You shall not commit adultery.
You shall not steal.
You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
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.’”
Amen, and we thank God that He has spoken in His holy and inerrant Word.
In a fascinating book entitled, Affluenza: How to be Successful and Stay Sane, Oliver James analyzes the dysfunctions of contemporary western culture that have been generated by the relentless acquisitiveness and greed that is so characteristic of our age. “Consumption,” he says, “holds out the false promise that an internal lack can be fixed by an external means. We medicate our misery through buying things.” And then he illustrates his point by highlighting the shift in attitudes in the advertising industry after World War II. “People no longer bought soap to make them clean; they bought the promise that it would make them beautiful. In the virtual world of ads, toothpaste was not to kill bacteria but to create white teeth. Cars were for prestige rather than travel. Even food stuff, such as oranges, were for vitality, not nutrition. Needs were replaced,” this is a great phrase – listen to this – “Needs were replaced by the confected wants that people did not know they had.” One ad executive had this to say, “What makes this country great is the creation of wants and desires. The creation,” notice this carefully now, “The creation of dissatisfaction with the old and the outmoded.”
And fifty years later, nothing has changed. In the words of a contemporary executive, “Advertising at its best is making people feel that without their product you’re a loser.” You open up emotional vulnerabilities. That’s a telling analysis, isn’t it? Our culture, Mr. James is saying, is out of control in the constant creation of new dissatisfactions generating the confected wants people did not know they had. We’ve come to believe that an internal lack can be fixed by an external means. And so we medicate our misery through buying things. In other words, we inhabit a time and a place that badly needs to hear the voice of God speaking in the tenth commandment, “You shall not covet.” The tenth commandment speaks to our materialism and our dread that unless we have more stuff, or the right kind of stuff, or as the language of the tenth commandment explicitly says and acknowledges – the right relationship – “You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife” – unless I have “it,” whatever “it” is, I cannot be whole or happy or at peace. We are trying to fix an internal lack by an external means and the message of the last word of Moses’ ten words is that it simply will not work. Instead, the tenth commandment calls us to find our contentment elsewhere – in the Gospel of Jesus Christ!
I want to consider the Bible’s teaching on the tenth commandment under two headings. First, I want us to think about the diagnostic that God provides for us here in the tenth commandment. The diagnostic God provides. And then secondly, we’ll think about the dividend that God offers. The dividend, the payout, that God offers.
- The Diagnostic God Provides
First of all, the diagnostic God provides. The tenth commandment is set apart from all the others in one vital respect. I wonder if you’ve noticed this in the language of the tenth commandment! It explicitly addresses the motives of the heart. The other nine, while dealing as we’ve expounded them by implication and in our expositions dealing in general with a whole array of motives and actions and attitudes, nevertheless start and focus on behavior, on actions or failures to act, on speech or failures to speak. Other gods, idolatry, blasphemy, Sabbath breaking, dishonoring parents, murder, adultery, false witness, theft – they all focus on doing, and by implication, on the attitudes of the heart that stand behind and beneath them. But the tenth commandment starts not with doing but with the attitude itself, with the disposition of the heart itself. The tenth commandment, you see, focuses on what is beneath and behind our actions and it aims at our consciences and at our hearts.
Many of you have had medical scans over the years. They’re diagnostic tools to reveal what’s really going on out of sight, underneath, behind the symptoms that took us to the doctor in the first place. And no doubt it’s a shocking thing when you see upon a screen a cancerous mass or a blocked artery or a bleed in the brain. And yet hard as it is, that’s data that we need to know if we’re going to get the help that is so urgently required. And that, in many ways, is precisely what the tenth commandment is. It is, if you like, a spiritual MRI, a CT scan for the soul. It offers diagnostic insight into the deep structures of sin that motivate us and drive us to confuse in our heads inordinate and out of control wants for urgent needs. And when we notice the diagnostic itself, what it is that God shows us here, we discover that very often it is covetousness that stands behind each of the sins listed in the other nine commandments. That’s what 1 Timothy chapter 6 at verse 10 means when it says that, “The love of money,” covetousness, “The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.” All kinds of evil. All sorts of sin flows out of a covetous heart! So for example, both Ephesians 5:5 and Colossians 3:5 call covetousness idolatry. “Have you ever considered,” asks John Piper, “that the Ten Commandments begin and end with virtually the same commandment? ‘You shall have no other gods before me’ and ‘You shall not covet.’ These are almost equivalent commands,” he says. “Coveting is desiring anything other than God in a way that betrays a loss of contentment and satisfaction in Him. Covetousness is a heart divided between two gods.” So Paul calls it idolatry. That’s what you’re doing when you give place to greed or to covetousness. You’re committing the sin of idolatry.
Examples of Coveting in The Ten Commandments
Or think about Amos 8:4-6 that we looked at last Lord’s Day where God condemns people who grow impatient with the Sabbath out of a desire to make a quick buck. When the Lord’s Day becomes an inconvenience in our drive to make money, covetousness has begun to fuel our breach of the fourth commandment. Then there’s Luke 15, the famous parable of the prodigal son. You remember how that story goes where the son asks for his inheritance from his father “right now.” He looks him in the eye and says in effect, “I’d rather have the money than to have you around.” And what is it that drives this disrespect and dishonoring of his father? It’s covetousness, and so he breaks the fifth commandment. In James chapter 4 at verse 2 we read, “You desire and you do not have, so you murder. You covet and do not obtain, so you fight and quarrel.” Covetousness lurks behind breaches of the sixth commandment. Or right here in Exodus 20 at verse 17, as we’ve seen already, it’s immediately clear, isn’t it, that the sin of adultery forbidden in the seventh commandment is often motivated by sheer covetousness – “You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife.”
And then in Joshua 7 there’s that sobering tale of Achan’s sin. Israel have triumphed over the city of Jericho and Achan has stolen some of the spoil from their conquest. And when it’s time to do battle against the city of Ai, Israel are soundly defeated. It’s clear the Lord is disciplining them and He’s disciplining them because of Achan’s theft. But what lies behind Achan’s theft? Joshua 7:21. Listen to Achan’s own confession; “But I saw among the spoil a beautiful cloak from Shinar and two hundred shekels of silver and a bar of gold weighing fifty shekels, then I coveted them and I took them.” That’s what was behind his theft! Theft is the fruit of which covetousness is the root. Or Proverbs 21:6, “Begetting of treasure by a lying tongue is a fleeting vapor and a snare of death.” Covetousness often drives bearing false witness in breach of the ninth commandment.
And we could go on multiplying Biblical examples and examples from our own experience of the various ways in which covetousness is behind and is the fuel for all kinds of transgressions of God’s law in different ways. The tenth commandment here unmasks us, doesn’t it? It shows us the selfishness and greed that fuels the waywardness and sin of our lives. James chapter 1 verses 14 and 15 explains how that happens; “Each person,” James says, “is tempted when he is lured away and enticed by his own desire,” by his own covetousness! “Then desire,” covetousness, “when it is conceived gives birth to sin, and sin, when it’s fully grown, brings forth death.” Covetousness, greed, is one of the great engines of our heart rebellion. It is the underlying cause of so many of the symptoms of our spiritual disease. We confuse our inordinate wants for absolute needs and we begin to tell ourselves we must have “it” in order to be whole or happy or satisfied or complete.
Like our first parents back in the Garden, you remember, who “saw that the tree was good for food, that it was a delight to the eyes and desirable for making one wise,” we take and eat forbidden fruit. We want “it.” We have no rest until we have “it.” Our discontentment festers and begins to find objects to latch on to and it begins to whisper to us some version of the age-old lie first heard by Eve from the mouth of the serpent in the Garden that day that, until we are in that relationship, until we have the approval of our parents, until we have the house and home we always dreamed of, until our children excel at sport or at school, until we meet a partner, until we have the body type we always dreamed of, until, until, until,” and slowly but surely those two deadly words begin to sound from our lips on a regular basis – “If only. If only I had…If only I looked like…If only they thought about me this way.” How we need to be aware of the “If only…” words. Far from motivating us to find true contentment, they will always, always lead to a dissatisfied life and an idolatrous heart.
I came across a poem in my studies this week that I think gets at the bankruptcy of a life lived in the grip of “If only…” Listen to this:
“It was spring, but it was summer that I wanted. The warm days and the great outdoors. It was summer, but it was fall that I wanted. The colorful leaves and the cool, dry air. It was fall, but it was winter that I wanted. The beautiful snow and the joy of the holiday season. It was winter, but it was spring I wanted. The warmth and the blossoming of nature. I was a child, and it was adulthood that I wanted. The freedom and the respect. I was twenty, but it was thirty that I wanted. To be mature and sophisticated. I was middle-aged but it was twenty that I wanted. The youth and the free spirit. I was retired, but it was middle-aged that I wanted. The presence of mind without limitations. My life was over, and I never got what I wanted.”
Beware of living your life for “If only…” It is the whisper of the serpent and it will always leave your heart empty. “If only…” The diagnostic God provides. He wants to expose the bankruptcy of an, “If only…” life.
- The Dividend That God Offers.
But then secondly, let’s think about the dividend that God offers. Remember, there are not only sins forbidden here but there are also duties commanded. We’re not only being warned about dissatisfaction and discontentment and avarice and acquisitiveness and covetousness and greed, we’re being called to, summoned to find true contentment and genuine satisfaction of soul. 1 Timothy 6 verses 5 and 6 warns, where Paul warns Timothy, his young protégé, about those who imagine that “godliness is a means of gain.” There were people then, as there are people still today, who think they can get rich from religion. And Paul is warning Timothy about them. But then he says, “We also need to understand, Timothy, even though there are those who think that godliness is a means of gain, the truth is, godliness with contentment is itself great gain. Godliness with contentment is great gain! It’s riches, and it’s for such riches that you must aspire.” In other words, there’s an investment we can make that will pay constant dividends that will never fail to satisfy our hearts.
Satisfaction in Christ
Paul talks about it in Philippians 4 and verse 11 and following. “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low and how to abound in any and every circumstance. I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.” Well what’s the secret, Paul? “I’m content! I’ve learned the secret.” What’s the secret we want to know? Our discontented hearts want to know the secret. He tells us, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. My God shall supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” It’s Paul’s version of David’s prayer in Psalm 73 verse 25, “Whom have I in heaven but You? And earth has nothing I desire beside You. I am satisfied when I have You. You are enough for my heart! There’s riches in You that satisfy. And when I have You I’m content.” It’s Paul’s articulation of the same truth that Saint Augustine expressed in his famous prayer, “O Lord, thou hast made us for thyself and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee.” When we get Him, our hearts at last find rest, find repose, their disquiet is stilled. Our longing for “it” evaporates because we’ve found satisfactory treasure in Jesus Christ.
Consumption, James said, holds out the false promise that an internal lack can be fixed by an external means. It can’t! Of course it can’t! It can’t plug the gap with stuff. “A man’s life does not consist in the abundance of things.” No, “My God shall supply all your needs according to His riches in glory” – where? “In Christ Jesus.” Jesus Christ is satisfactory treasure. Hebrews 13:5 says, “Keep your lives free of the love of money and be content with what you have,” and then supplies the motive, the fuel for contentment. “For,” he says, “it is written: ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you,’ so that we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper. I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?’” If the Lord is my helper, if the Lord will never leave me, if He’s with me, if Jesus Christ and His presence becomes my treasure, then I can learn to be content in every circumstance and fend off the love of money and deal with my covetous heart.
Christ is the Cure for a Discontented Heart
The throbbing discontent of your heart is a signal to you this morning that you need Jesus Christ; that you’re looking in all the wrong places for satisfaction. You have not yet learned in whatever circumstance you are to be content because you’re not resting on Jesus Christ in the midst of them. But the tenth commandment is a call and an invitation to silence the serpent’s whispered “If onlys,” and to take the riches that are offered to you in Christ Himself instead. We need to learn to say to our discontented hearts, “Heart, you’re discontented because you’ve been looking with hope in all the wrong places. The contentment that you are seeking, you never find, because the wells from which you drink are full of salt water.” That’s what lust is, and theft is, and pride is, and insincerity is. That’s what greed and covetousness are – salt water! It looks like it’s going to satisfy. It looks like it’s going to quench your thirst. But the more you drink, the thirstier you become. “O, but there’s good news for you, discontented heart! A fountain has opened of Living Water, and if you would come and drink there, you will never thirst again.” That is Christ’s promise. He will give us streams of living water and if we will drink from Him, we will never thirst again!
“So what are you doing, discontented heart of mine, complaining that you never arrive and you never make it, that you never have what you claim is your entitled due? God has given His dearest treasure, His Son. ‘How shall He, who did not spare His own Son but freely gave Him up for us all, how shall He, not also along with Him, graciously give us all things?’ So heart, seek first His kingdom and His righteousness. Get Christ, the infinite treasure that is Christ! Come to the fountain and drink of Christ and all your needs will be supplied and your heart will be satisfied and you will never thirst again.”
The diagnostic that God provides. Here’s what lies behind so much of the sin and misery of your life – it’s your discontented heart. It’s covetousness. But here’s the dividend that God offers, the payout that can satisfy – it is contentment in every circumstance when you come to possess Jesus Christ for yourself. May God help us then to find our rest only in Him. Let’s pray together!
Our Father, forgive us, please forgive us, for turning aside to pursue the broken and failed promises our world offers us telling us, “Here is where contentment may be found. Here is what will satisfy your heart. Have this. Buy that. Become like this. And the more we drink from those wells of salt water, we only find ourselves becoming thirstier and thirstier, our sin and misery compounded. Please forgive us our idolatry and as we repent now before You, we would come to the fountain of Living Water Himself, Your Son, our Savior, the Lord Jesus, and there drink til our thirst is slaked and our hearts utterly satisfied. Bring us, please, to Him, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.