C.S. Lewis opened his sermon, “The Weight of Glory”, with the following famous statement:
If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.
Our problem is not that our desires are too lofty, but that they are too low. Humanity settles for far less than God offers. God doesn’t solve our problem by commanding us to get rid of our desires altogether. He teaches us to crave better things; things that are heavenly and eternal.
The tenth commandment parallels with the seventh and eighth commandment. Coveting your neighbor’s wife always precedes adultery, which is forbidden in the seventh commandment. Coveting your neighbor’s goods always precedes theft, which is forbidden in the eighth commandment. But, of course, the implications go deeper than a precursor to the seventh and eighth commandments. In a very real sense, breaking the tenth commandment is at the root of the other nine.
Technically, the Bible does not condemn coveting. Coveting is simply the act of craving or desiring something. The object of our craving is what determines whether or not we are violating the tenth commandment. The Hebrew word that is translated “covet” is also used several times to describe a positive desire. Coveting is only sinful when the object of our desire is forbidden, typically, because it belongs to someone else.
Therefore, the solution to removing a sinful desire is replacing it with a superior one. Last week I mentioned “The Expulsive Power of a New Affection” by Thomas Chalmers. His sermon was based on 1 John 2:15, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”
If we find that we love the world, we can respond by either considering the vanity of the world’s offer, or we can divert our attention to something that is more attractive. Based upon Lewis and Chalmers’ sound analysis, this latter option makes the most sense. My goal this morning is to show you that the antidote to a covetous heart is finding in Christ a superior satisfaction.
Read Exodus 20:17
Do Not Be Discontent!
Last week we considered what the commandment commends. If the fruit of an inward contentment is an outward charity, then one of the ways we discover our discontentment is by recognizing our selfishness. If we are typically stingy with our resources, whether time or money, we display a discontentment with our lot in life. A general pattern of stinginess reveals a general lack of contentment.
We can carry this train of thought further to understand what it says about our view of God. Discontentment reveals our presumptuous expectations that God has failed to meet. We might think that God is allowing us to suffer because He is no longer concerned for the good of our living arrangement, our marriage, our career, or our possessions. Oftentimes, the correction we need is interaction with someone who has much less than we do.
Michael Horton describes an occasion where he gathered for dinner with a pastor in a part of the world he had never been. He was hesitant to learn what they would be eating, simply hoping that he would be able to choke it down without causing any offense. He learned that his host had traveled forty-five miles in order to pick up a table and chairs to provide additional seating for his guests. And when he asked what kind of fish were caught in the murky waters, he learned they were eating lobster.
Horton Here was a brother showing hospitality beyond that I had ever remembered experiencing at home. I have never heard of a host traveling forty-five winding miles through the mountains simply to pick up a table and chairs for the meal. It was a meal fit for a king, in a situation in which I was simply expecting to “get through” the evening politely. My host’s hospitality shamed me.
What corrected Horton’s perspective was the charity of a host with far fewer resources, but a willingness to use them for the good of his neighbors. This pastor’s sacrificial hospitality revealed that he was far from discontent with God’s provision.
Moses led a wilderness generation that frequently revealed their discontentment. They complained about the danger of Pharaoh’s army. They routinely grumbled about their lack of food and water. Yet, in each situation, the Lord provided miraculously and abundantly for their needs. They crossed the Red Sea, received manna from heaven, and drank water from a rock!
1 Corinthians 10 teaches us that the rock from which they received their spiritual drink was Christ who followed them. Even though they wandered through an empty land for forty years, they had nothing to fear because God had promised to bring them to a place that was flowing with milk and honey. The Promised Land would be well worth the wait.
It was the presence of Jesus that secured that promise for them and all their future generations. That means, it is the ongoing presence of Christ that provides you and me—who are children of Abraham by faith—with the antidote to coveting. Instead of complaining about what we cannot have, let us have a mind of humility that places the needs of others above our own, which is a mind that already belongs to us in Christ (Philippians 2:5-8)!
But what about our attitude toward those who have more than us?
Do Not Covet Your Neighbor’s Success!
How often do we compare ourselves to the success of others? I’ve confessed that is a temptation of mine. Sometimes, even among friends, I want to know how their ministry is going so I can see whether I’m experiencing comparable blessings or challenges. There are times when it can be hard to hear how well things are going for others. Then, there have also been times where I have felt the pride of sharing our successes when others are struggling. I know this is not simply a problem among pastors. It is all too common to grieve the outward success of others than to celebrate it.
When we turn the good of our neighbor into a selfish comparison, we fail to show them the love that we are commanded to show them. Maybe you don’t struggle comparing the success of our church, but do you find yourself envying your neighbor’s worldly success?
Christians have repeatedly failed to keep an appropriate distance from the praise of this world. We envy the applause that others receive. We crave success in the eyes of the world. If that means we have to mute the harsh truths of Scripture in order to get what we’re after, we will comply without hesitation. But, as far as that goes, the success is superficial and short-lived. Eventually, the lack of depth compels true believers to find a church that is willing to declare the whole counsel of God’s Word.
This does not mean the Church should disengage from the culture entirely. We tend to wildly swing the pendulum from one side to the other. Just because the Church has often compromised in her cultural engagement, does not mean we should abandon it altogether and huddle up in isolated monastic communities. No, the Church has a responsibility to engage the culture. We should persevere in that endeavor even when our efforts are repeatedly rebuffed.
Now, more than ever, we recognize the risk of being canceled. But the truth is, the One whose praise we ultimately seek, has promised never to cancel us. The Israelites envied their neighbor’s perceived stability, when the pillar of cloud/fire ought to have constantly reminded them of their security and protection within God’s covenant. It is our security as children of God that motivates us to persevere.
If you’re a Christian, you have God’s covenant promise, “I will never leave you nor forsake you,” (Hebrews 13:5). That promise was secured by the death of God’s Son who commissioned His disciples to make disciples of all nations. Jesus sends them out into a world that had just crucified Him, commissioning them to teach all that He had commanded. In other words, what just got me killed, I now commend to you!
Just before He was caught up into heaven, Jesus told his disciples, “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age,” (Matthew 28:20). Just over a week later, the Spirit descended upon the disciples on the Day of Pentecost. That same Spirit fills every believer now, enabling them to rest secure within the grace of God as the guarantee of their inheritance (Ephesians 1:14). It is the Holy Spirit who empowers us to rejoice in our neighbor’s success rather than envy it.
But it goes beyond their success…
Do Not Covet Your Neighbor’s Goods!
This commandment forbids the desire of anything that we cannot rightfully have. God knows our internal longings better than we know them ourselves. We are all left condemned under the scope of this command. The list of examples is not meant to be exhaustive, it’s meant to show how high and wide our desires oftentimes reach.
When David saw Bathsheba bathing on the roof, his covetous heart led to stealing another man’s wife (8th Commandment), committing adultery with her (7th Commandment), and arranging the murder of her husband, Uriah (6th Commandment). Similarly, Judas stole money (8th Commandment), betrayed Jesus handing him over to the authorities with the hypocritical kiss of a traitor (6th Commandment and 9th Commandment) in order to gain thirty pieces of silver (10th Commandment). This is the domino effect of inordinate desires.
Coveting is a sinful tendency that begins at an early age. One minute toddlers are content with their pacifier until they see something else that looks tasty. As they get older they tire of their own toys and want the toys of their siblings or friends. Then they mature into adults who crave the perfect home with the white picket fence, the perfect spouse with Hallmark charm and glistening teeth, the perfect children who never need to be warned because they are alwaysready to obey, and the perfect stress-free career.
We may (naively) think that we can keep the other nine commandments, but all of us have to admit that we never figure out how to overcome this one.
Morgan The study of the Decalogue must therefore be closed with a confession of hopelessness. In it there is found the law of life, but not life. We are undone…Thus the commandments bring men into the light of Divine requirement, and draw from them the confession of guilt, and leave them waiting for the Deliverer. The commandments without the Cross utter a sentence of death.
Christ never coveted the status or possessions of another person! He remained content in every circumstance. Yet, he bore the wrath of His Father for all the coveting that his spiritual siblings would ever commit. And, as He hung on the cross, bearing that weight, He prayed that His Father would forgive those who were killing Him. Even in His death, Christ was content to practice perfect obedience!
That is why it is only in Christ that we find a superior satisfaction. As we are united to Him, He trains our affections more and more to love what He loves and hate what He hates. We learn to desire the things of heaven.
The tenth commandment teaches us to consider our internal desires. What are they driving us to think about and prioritize? Are we endlessly craving the success and goods of others? Or do they lead us to a quiet contentment in the blessings of communion with Christ? The antidote to a covetous heart is finding in Christ a superior satisfaction. Then, from a place of personal contentment, we can rejoice in the blessings God pours out upon our neighbors.