The Tenth Commandment
The Ten Commandments • Sermon • Submitted
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I read a book this last week that was surprisingly good. It was a short book (less than 100 pages) on one of my favorite topics (the gospel).
The author, Walter Chantry, was the senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Carlisle, PA, where he began pastoring in the 1960s. He stayed with that same church for 39 years, and his little book – Today’s Gospel – has been reprinted almost 20 times since the 1970s.
Chantry examined Jesus’ evangelistic efforts with the rich young man of Mark 10. And he contrasted what Jesus said and did with the typical evangelistic efforts of many modern evangelicals. I probably don’t have to tell you that Christians today often don’t know how to do biblical evangelism, and sometimes they don’t even have a desire to do it at all.
I won’t get into that this Sunday, but Chantry’s book intersected with today’s sermon when he claimed that the tenth commandment (our primary topic of interest today) was the focus of Jesus’ evangelistic encounter with that rich young man.
You might recall the story…
A rich young man bowed before Jesus and asked a question, a more important question than the young man seemed to know. He said, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life” (Mark 10:17)?
Jesus responded by pointing the man to God’s moral law, the 10 Commandments. Jesus said, “You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud [which is a way of stealing], Honor your father and mother’” (Mark 10:19).
Notice that Jesus ran through nearly every command in the second table of the law, commands 5 through 10. He didn’t say them in order, but He did stop just short of the tenth commandment… at least directly.
The young man told Jesus that he’d kept all of these laws since his childhood, which is a warning to all of us about how easily sinners (like us) can be self-deceived into thinking that obedience is only an outward display or that obedience has only to do with the most heinous versions of sin.
Remember, the ten commandments aren’t just forbidding ten sins, but they are revealing entire categories of what is right and wrong, good and bad. All sexual immorality is sinful, and all forms of rebellion against proper authority are wicked, but adultery and disobedience toward parents are just the most obvious forms of such sins.
In Chantry’s book, he said that Jesus “translated the tenth of God’s commands – [“you shall not covet”] – into a practical test [for the young man] by demanding that he abandon his riches.” Jesus said to the man, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (Mark 10:21).
Of course, as you might know, the rich young man had “great possessions,” and he wasn’t interested in giving any of them up that day, so he was “disheartened” and “sorrowful,” and he walked away from Jesus (Mark 10:22).
Chantry wrote, “[Sin] did not show its colors on the surface of the ruler’s behavior.” Let’s not forget that the man was an obedient son, a faithful husband, an honest citizen, and a good manager of his resources. “But,” Chantry said,” in all its filth and ugliness, covetousness ruled his soul.”
Friends, today we are going to consider deeply the sin of covetousness. It’s possible that some of us are just like that rich young man. It’s likely that many of us take part in the same kind of covetousness which that man exemplifies. And it’s certain that we all have broken the tenth commandment; we are all covetous people in some fashion or another.
Our goals today will be to better understand this sin and our tendency to commit it, and also to ask for God’s help so that we might know the antidote for this sin and how to apply it in our lives.
May God help us indeed.
Let’s turn now and read Exodus 20:1-17 for our last Sunday in this series through the Ten Commandments.
Exodus 20:1–17 (ESV)
1 And God spoke all these words, saying,
2 “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.
3 “You shall have no other gods before me.
4 “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. 5 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, 6 but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.
7 “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.
8 “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, 10 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.
11 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.
12 “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.
13 “You shall not murder.
14 “You shall not commit adultery.
15 “You shall not steal.
16 “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
17 “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.”
Covetousness is the sin of desire which springs from corrupted affections, but sinners may trust God for forgiveness in Christ and provision in this life as they eagerly await the next.
What is the Tenth Commandment?
How do I Know When I’m Coveting Sinfully?
What Does Coveting Reveal About My Heart?
What is the Antidote for Covetousness?
1. What is the Tenth Commandment?
1. What is the Tenth Commandment?
On the one hand, we are not wrong to shorten the tenth commandment to the simple phrase, “You shall not covet.” There are many items listed in detail, but the general idea remains the same: “You shall not covet.”
On the other hand, this shortened version of the command can also be overly simplistic. The word translated “covet” here literally means to desire or to take pleasure in something. Therefore, coveting is not necessarily bad. As a matter of fact, some of us have probably said something like “I covet your prayers” when we’ve asked someone to pray for us.
So, coveting (or desire) itself is not what’s in focus in the tenth commandment, but a the desire or craving for what rightly belongs to someone else.
Exodus 20:17 says, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house… [or] 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.”
The tenth commandment, then, is forbidding a kind of discontentedness with what you have and the desire for what is not rightfully yours.
The concept of envy is very close to what we’re looking at here. So too is greed. Biblically speaking, envy is looking at someone or something with a jealous eye, and greed is the unquenchable thirst for more.
One commentator argued that the ten commandments actually begin and end with envy. Idolatry is a kind of theological envy (wanting other gods) and covetousness is a kind of anthropological envy (wanting other peoples’ stuff).
Kevin DeYoung says, “our problem is not that we desire things but that we desire the wrong things or desire good things in the wrong way.”
Indeed, that’s the very point the Bible is making in James 4. Scripture says, “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. You do not have, because you do not ask [i.e. pray]. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions [i.e. your sinful and worldly desires]” (James 4:1–3).
Friends, covetousness (desiring the wrong things or even desiring good things in the wrong way) is arguably the root of all sin.
What did Adam and Eve do in the Garden but covet what God alone has the authority to possess?
What spurs us on to all manner of sinful rebellion and disobedience toward God besides our own covetous desires for that which does not belong to us?
Like our first parents, we see what God has declared off-limits, and we are overcome with desire for those very things!
As we shall see in more detail later on, the opposite of covetousness is contentment and gratitude, and these are what the Bible says are utterly absent in natural or fallen humans. Romans 1 tells us that all children of Adam refuse to “honor God” and to “give thanks” to Him (v21).
The Scripture goes so far as to say that humans are naturally “filled” with ingratitude and covetousness (v29).
And these are what the tenth commandment are all about.
2. How do I Know When I’m Coveting Sinfully?
2. How do I Know When I’m Coveting Sinfully?
As I’ve said earlier, coveting itself is not sin. It’s right for us to desire good things. It’s appropriate for us to work hard with the goal of gaining what we don’t yet have. Anyone who has experienced the transition from youth to adulthood knows the feeling of gaining more possessions, greater freedom, and increased responsibility.
But, how can we know when we’ve moved past the point of desiring good things for good reasons and entered into covetousness? How do we know when we’re breaking the tenth commandment?
Kevin DeYoung offers two indicators in his helpful little green book. He says, “First, we covet when we want for ourselves what belongs to someone else.” And, “Second, we covet when our desire leads to, or is an expression of, discontentment.”
Let me say that again. “First, we covet when we want for ourselves what belongs to someone else.” And, “Second, we covet when our desire leads to, or is an expression of, discontentment.”
Now I’m going to take a moment to key in on that second one.
The first indication that we’ve started sinning with our desire is that our eyes are on someone else’s stuff, but the second has to do with a lack of contentment (i.e. happiness and gratitude) in our present situation.
We move into the realm of sinful coveting when our desire begins to exercise the muscle of discontentment – our desire may arise from discontentment or it may encourage us to be discontented. Either way, this is covetousness.
Do you want a better job? Fine; work hard where you are and look for good opportunities elsewhere.
Do you want a nicer car? Fine; consider what your budget can afford, seek the wisdom of godly friends with regard to how you spend your money generally, and go make an informed purchase.
Do you want to be healthier? Do you want to earn more money? Do you want to travel for a vacation? Fine! None of these desires are necessarily bad. In fact, they all can be very good – God-glorifying even!
But… and you knew a “but” was coming… when these desires spring out of a discontentedness with what we already have, or when these desires stimulate our feelings of discontentment, then they are very, very bad. They are sinful.
In his book, DeYoung reminds us, “There’s nothing necessarily wrong with noticing what other people have, but most of us don’t stop and notice so that we can give thanks to God for his blessings to others. We notice and then stop being thankful for all that God has given to us.”
Friends, covetousness is the opposite of contentment and gratitude toward God. It’s the idea that God has made some kind of a mistake: “He’s given what I want to that other guy over there.”
We don’t just want a better job; we wonder why God ever gave us this one! We even get angry with God because we know three other guys who have better jobs even though they are less qualified.
We don’t just want a nicer car; we get frustrated when someone else drives up in something bigger or more powerful or more luxurious than what we’ve got.
We don’t just want more money, or improved health, or better-behaved children, or a spouse who’s more considerate. We want someone else’s stuff!
We fantasize about having someone else’s bankroll, or someone else’s physical abilities, or someone else’s children or husband or wife!
And all of this either rises up out of the swamp of our discontentment or it pours new sludge right into the middle of it. At any rate, we find ourselves wallowing and struggling in that bog with a monster of our own making.
Friend, is this where you are today?
Are you coveting someone else’s stuff?
Are you unable or unwilling to count all of the good things God has provided in your life?
I’ve already borrowed heavily from Kevin DeYoung, so I don’t feel bad about borrowing just a bit more. In his chapter on the tenth commandment, Kevin offers the reader four signs that he or she might have a problem with coveting. I want to walk through these signs this morning in the form of 4 practical questions.
I’d like you to think about these questions now, but I’d also like you to discuss them with someone else later on (maybe your spouse or a fellow church member). You could do this over lunch today, or maybe over coffee later in the week. Conversations like this are the basic building blocks of meaningful relationships among Christians.
Let’s consider these four questions together…
1. Have I been, or am I now, hurting others in order to get more for myself?
We break the tenth commandment when we care more for the stuff we want than we do for the people around us. If we’re willing to overlook the hurt we cause to others as long as we gain, then we’ve got a coveting problem.
2. Have I been, or am I now, preoccupied with accumulating more?
As I’ve labored to say already, adding to our current possessions is not necessarily a bad thing. But when accumulating more becomes a preoccupation – when it consumes our time and energy – then is reveals a coveting problem in us.
DeYoung said, “Oftentimes, the sin is not the purchase of stuff but the time, energy, and effort required to maintain the stuff that shrivels the soul.”
3. Have I been, or am I now, unwilling to give up what I already have?
Friends, this was where the rich young man stopped all forward progress in his conversation with Jesus in Mark 10. The young man didn’t just have a lot of stuff, he also loved the stuff he had. Affluence, toys, property, and financial status can all become objects of our love and joy; and when that happens, we can know we have a coveting problem.
4. Have I been, or am I now, frequently grumbling about my house, my spouse, my job, my health, my kids, the quantity or quality of my possessions, and/or the general state of my life?
This question really cuts to the heart of the matter when it comes to coveting. It’s not just that we want more or other than we have. It may indeed be greedy hunger that motivates us to chase after all sorts of material gains. But often, coveting is rooted an unhealthy restlessness in our current circumstances.
May God help us to see our sin, to admit that it is sin, and to war against it.
3. What Does Coveting Reveal About My Heart?
3. What Does Coveting Reveal About My Heart?
I’ve argued that covetousness is the opposite of contentment and gratitude, and both of these concepts deserve a little more unpacking.
When you and I covet – when we want to trade our own situation or stuff for someone else’s – we’re acting on the basis of a false belief and a competing love. We probably don’t realize we’re doing it, but we are just the same.
Contentment and gratitude are two sides of the same coin. Gratitude is thankfulness to God for what He has provided, and contentment is a mindfulness that God has provided exactly what He knows we need.
Christians (those who truly love God) can be thankful and content in any situation, because they are satisfied in God, even if they have nothing else.
When our affections for something else besides God – say power or health, wealth or prestige, pleasure or security – when any of these become higher than our affections for God, then we will break the tenth commandment… and the second commandment as well.
DeYoung asked, “What do you love? What are you chasing? What do you think about… on your way to work… or [when you’re] folding laundry? What is the one thing you think you need in order to be really, truly happy?” Then he wrote, “If the answer is anything other than God, you’re an idolater.”
Friends, idolatry is the worship of anything or anyone other than the one true God. And when I say “worship” think love and serve with time and effort.
When we covet, it reveals a worship problem in our hearts. It reveals that our love for the things of this world is competing with our love for God. And, if we’re coveting, then our love for God is losing at the moment.
4. What is the Antidote for Covetousness?
4. What is the Antidote for Covetousness?
Well, if you’re not a Christian, then all of this may be sounding a bit ridiculous to you. I mean, what’s wrong with wanting other people’s stuff?! This is a dog-eat-dog world, and some folks are always going to have more or better than others. Our biggest concern is only that we come out on top.
This kind of thinking is perfectly appropriate for someone who lives only in and for this world. But I think we all know; we all feel at least a sense that there is more than just this world. And the Bible teaches us that this world is passing away, and God’s wrath is coming for everyone who breaks His laws.
There is coming a day when Jesus Christ Himself will not only bring salvation and blessings to all those who have turned from their sin and trusted in Him, but Jesus will also judge “the secrets of men” (Rom. 2:16). Jesus (the Son of God and God the Son) will open up every dark place in the recesses of our souls, right down to our motives and desires. And He will judge us, not only for what we’ve done, but also for why we did it.
And yet, at this very moment, this same Jesus offers us a full pardon from facing such a judgment. The good news of the gospel is that Jesus has endured the wrath of God against sinners! God sent His own Son to live and to die in the place of all those who would trust in Him.
Friend, if you are realizing that you’re a covetous sinner, and you are not turning from your sin and clinging to Jesus, then your only hope is that God may show you grace today. Don’t hide in the darkness one more second, but go directly to God, confess your sin, and ask that He may grant you faith and repentance.
So, the first answer I’m giving to the question “What is the antidote for covetousness?” is: We must confess our sin, run to Jesus, and find forgiveness for sin and joy everlasting in Him.
Now, for the Christians in the room, for those who do now have genuine love for God and a desire to obey Him, what medicine may we apply to our disease of covetousness?
How can we strive to obey the tenth commandment? How can we aim to obey the New Testament command upon us, to “put to death… what is earthly in [us]… [including] covetousness, which is idolatry” (Col. 3:5)? And How can we strive to live up to the New Testament expectation that “covetousness must not even be named among” Christians (Eph. 5:3)?
Let me offer two remedies (and I’m unable to resist the urge to say, take two of these and call me in the morning).
First, we must remember and trust God’s good provision; and second, we must view all of life with one eye always on the Last Day.
1. We must remember and trust God’s good provision.
The Bible teaches us that everything we have comes from the Lord (Rom. 11:36; cf. 1 Chron. 29:12-14). Every molecule in the universe is upheld this very moment by the word of the Lord (Heb. 1:3), and that means every detail of our lives is set exactly as it is because God has intended it so.
We must remember the reality that God is the providential governor or director of every circumstance of our lives, even when (especially when!) we can’t understand why God would do it this way. And we must trust that His provision for us, whatever it may be, is good – it is ultimately good.
An old English Puritan, John Flavel, wrote about how we sometimes only see the goodness in our circumstances after we have passed through them.
He said, “What a transporting pleasure it is to behold great blessings and advantages to us wrought by Providence out of those very things that seemed to threaten our ruin or misery! … Little did Joseph think his transportation into Egypt had been… to his advancement there; yet he lived with joy to see it and with a thankful heart to acknowledge it (Gen. 45:5). Wait and observe, and you shall assuredly find [God’s] promise (Rom. 8:28) working out its way through all providences. How many times have you been made to say as [the psalmist did], ‘It is good for me that I have been afflicted’ (Ps. 119:71). O what a difference we have seen between our afflictions at our first meeting with them, and our parting from them! We have entertained them with sighs and tears but parted from them with joy, blessing God for them, as the happy instruments of our good.”
Brothers and sisters, if we are to put to death the monster of covetousness within us, then we must first learn to believe and trust that God has always and will always provide for us. He has given us and will give us exactly what we ought to have. We will be best served, not by desiring what others have, but by using what we have for God’s glory and our joy in the Lord.
2. We must view all of life with one eye always on the Last Day.
It seems to me that all contentment (Christian contentment) really centers on our ability to keep the Last Day on the front of our minds.
Why is it that the Christian can suffer the loss of every earthly treasure? How can the Christian face the loss of life itself and still possess contentment enough to endure?
Is it not that the Christian knows what no other earthly sinner can recognize?!
Doesn’t the Christian have in his or her mind a hazy vision of that Last Day?!
Doesn’t the Christian hold fast the hope that soon he or she will see Christ face to face and enter into eternal glory that is not worthy to be compared with anything in this present world?!
Yes! That’s the stuff of Christian contentment!
That’s what will make us see the treasures of this world as the tarnished and fading scraps they are.
If we will always keep one eye on that Last Day, when the shine of worldly glories will be totally obscured by the brilliance of eternal glory, then we can come to know Christian contentment.
Jesus said, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” And He said, “Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done” (Rev. 22:12–13).
Brothers and sisters, may God help us live and to work with that day in our sights! May God grant that we might have a taste for eternal pleasures, so that the stuff of this world will no longer appeal to us in the way it once did.
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