10th The Second Commandment of the Soul
by Jack Wald | November 26th, 2006

Exodus 20:17

If you were able to obey the first and last of the ten commandments, you would never sin. All the law comes from these two commandments. The other eight commandments are just details to help us when we are unclear about the meaning of the first and last commandments.

If you were here on September 10th, you heard me preach on the first commandment
Exodus 20:2
You shall have no other gods before me.

This morning we come to the last of the ten commandments,
Exodus 20:17
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.

These two commandments bracket the others like bookends. They are distinctive commandments.

All the other commandments are punishable when violated. For seven of the other commandments, breaking them could result in a death sentence. For the other of the eight commandments, You shall not steal, while you would not lose your life, you would pay a penalty for stealing.

There is no punishment in the Mosaic Law for violating the first or tenth commandments.

The reason for this is that it is difficult to tell when someone is violating either of these commandments. How do you tell if someone is worshiping a god other than the Lord God?  You have to wait to see if an idol is worshiped or the Lord’s name is misused to see that the first commandment has been violated. The first commandment is a commandment of the soul and you have to look into the soul to see if this commandment is being violated.

The same is true with the tenth commandment? How can you tell if someone is coveting something? You have to look into the soul to see if this is the case.

When Jesus was asked by an expert in Mosaic Law what is the greatest commandment in the Law, he replied:
Matthew 22:37-40
‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  38 This is the first and greatest commandment.  39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

If I have no other gods before the Lord God, then I will love the Lord my God with all my heart and with all my soul and with all my mind. When I covet, I am not loving my neighbor as myself but wanting my neighbor to suffer by losing what it is I want.

These are commandments of the soul, commandments of the heart.

I can check off my behavior and see if I violate any of the other commandments but to see how I violate the first and last of the ten commandments, I need a heart check. Both of these commandments come at the same issue, from different perspectives. Who or what am I loving?

The apostle John wrote in I John 2:15-17
Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  16 For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world.  17 The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.

You cannot obey the first commandment and have no other gods before the Lord God and at the same time covet what your neighbor has. It is impossible to have two loves. You have to choose to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind or choose to love what the world offers that will one day pass away. One or the other. You have to choose. You cannot have both.

This is the great struggle for Christians. This is the source of all our frustrations, anxieties and difficulties in the Christian life. And this is the sermon. This is all you really need to hear. There is more to say, but this is all you really need to know. You cannot love the Lord your God and at the same time lust for the things of this world.

You can sleep or daydream now if you choose. For those interested in a bit more, let me go on.

There is a big difference between coveting and desiring. Coveting is harmful to our relationship with God but desire is a healthy, God-given part of us. God made us to be creatures of desire.

Eastern religions seek a goal of non-desiring. Buddhism teaches that desire is the cause of all suffering, so it seeks to put an end to desire. This is not the way of Christianity.

G.K. Chesterton wrote a series of detective stories with a priest, Father Brown, as the detective. In one of these stories, there is a Hindu guru who says at one point:
“I want nothing. I want nothing. I want nothing.”
“The Christian is more modest,” muttered Father Brown; “he wants something.”

We do want something. Christian faith has its feet firmly in the soil of earth. God has provided us with a world of good things and we are intended to enjoy and to benefit from these good things.

The desire for food reminds us to eat. The desire to do something useful motivates us to work. The desire for friendship draws us into community. The desire for intimacy draws us to marriage. And the desire for meaning and purpose draws us to God.

Desire is healthy but sin makes us desire the wrong thing in the wrong way at the wrong time and for the wrong reason. This is what the tenth commandment rules out, not desiring something but desiring it wrongly which is coveting.

This starts very early with us. Sit in the nursery sometime and watch the children. When is it a baby becomes interested in a toy? When it sits on the floor? No. But let another child pick the toy up and play with it and then it becomes the focus of the baby’s attention. If the baby was more articulate he would say, “Give me that toy and give it to me now!”

Adults are more subtle in their coveting. We see our coveting when someone else gets what we want. When my coworker gets the promotion I wanted, there is that twinge of disappointment underneath my congratulations. When my roommate finds romance and I am still single, I congratulate her or him but I wish it was my romance that was being announced. When a friend takes a vacation I can only dream of taking, I tell them bon voyage but am disappointed I could not take that vacation.

It is not wrong to desire a spouse, a house or a mouse (the computer kind) but when you desire your neighbor’s spouse, house or mouse, it is desire gone bad, it is coveting.

Coveting is not limited to material things. I can covet my neighbor’s personality, talent, popularity, social ability, reputation or physique.

It is good to desire to be more fit, to be more talented, to have more influence. This kind of desire makes me work hard to achieve what it is I desire. The problem, again, is not that I desire, but that I desire wrongly, I desire what I did not work for, what is not mine.

Coveting pulls us away from our relationship with God, but let me point out three other ways coveting harms us. The first is that coveting sees what the neighbor has but does not count the cost of getting there.

After a classical piano concert, an enthusiastic member of the audience talked with the pianist and said, “I’d give ten years of my life to play like that.” The pianist responded, “It cost me twenty years.”

Covetousness always looks for a shortcut. It seeks the easy, painless way to get what it wants. And in the age of instant gratification, covetousness thrives. We see someone who has worked all their life to get where they are and we want what they have without having to do all that work.

John Fischer wrote a song titled, Nobody Wants to Die.
You want to have wisdom
Without making mistakes
You want to have money
Without the work that it takes
You want to be loved
But you don’t want the heartaches

Everyone wants to get to heaven Lord
Nobody wants to die
Everyone wants to get to heaven Lord
Nobody wants to die

Covetousness looks at what it wants but doesn’t want to have to work to get it. We want to make our fortune by buying a lottery ticket. We want to solve our personality problems with a weekend seminar. We want peace of mind with a bottle of pills.

These are shortcuts that do not deliver what they promise but the bigger problem is that they seek to bypass the development of our character and faith. We are meant to work hard. We are meant to exercise spiritual disciplines that develop our faith. We work our way through difficult circumstances and develop our character. The development of our character and faith is a long process and short cuts do not get us there.

Covetousness tempts us with a shortcut that does not deliver what we want and bypasses what it is God wants to do in our lives.

A second way covetousness harms us is that it prevents us from appreciating and enjoying what we have. We don’t value what we have because we are too busy dreaming about what someone else has.

We wish we lived in our neighbor’s house so we are unable to enjoy the comfort of our own home. We wish we were married to another person and become unable to enjoy the delights of being married to our spouse. We wish we lived somewhere else and are unable to enjoy the pleasures of life where we are.

There is a famous sermon that Russell Conwell preached in the late 1800s over 6,000 times. It is called, Acres of Diamonds, and tells a story Conwell heard about a wealthy Persian farmer named Ali Hafed. A Buddhist priest told Ali stories of the immense wealth to be found in diamonds and so Ali deserted his fruitful lands to search for immense wealth in mythical diamond fields.

Far and wide Ali Hafed roamed, footsore and weary. Youth and wealth disappeared, and he died far from home, an old and disillusioned pauper. Not long afterward, acres of fabulous diamonds were found on Ali Hafed’s own land.

Conwell said: “Your diamonds are not in far-away mountains or in distant seas; they are in your own back yard if you will but dig for them.”

Don’t spend your life coveting what others have, look for the diamonds in your own life.

The third way covetousness harms us is that it leads us into other sins. Coveting is the key that opens the door into more and more sin.

James, the brother of Jesus, wrote in his letter
James 1:14-15
each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed.  15 Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.

You can see this in the life of Achan from the book of Joshua. Achan was among those who marched around Jericho seven times and then rushed in when the walls collapsed. Joshua had given strict instructions that all the gold, silver, iron and bronze was to go for use in the worship of God.

Although Scripture does not give a lot of detail, it is easy to imagine that Achan found these precious metals and dutifully handed them over to be given to the treasury of the priests. But then he asked himself, “Why not keep a bit of this for myself? Who will miss it?” And the more he thought, the more obsessed he became. He began to think about how he could hide the gold and silver and walk from the ruins of Jericho to his tent and then where he could hide it. He thought and thought and plotted and schemed.

This is how it works with us when we covet. We see something we want. We start thinking about how much we want it and why. Soon it dominates our thoughts until finally it becomes an obsession. By the time we reach this point, sin will have its way with us.

The story of Achan stands as a metaphor for us. He thought he was safe, the gold and silver was in his tent. Noone would ever know. But then tribe by tribe was brought before the Lord and his tribe was selected. The clans of his tribe were brought before the Lord and his clan was selected. You can imagine he was beginning to sweat a bit. Each family in the clan was brought forward and his family was selected. Now Achan knew his sin would be revealed. One by one, the men in the family were called and when he stepped forward, he was selected.

He coveted, he plotted and schemed, he stole and then lied to cover it up and finally God revealed his sin and he and his family were killed.

Evil desire gives birth to sin and finally to death.

Coveting is unhealthy spiritually because it pulls us away from God, it is unhealthy because it tempts us with a shortcut that does not deliver, it is unhealthy because it prevents us from enjoying the good things God has given to us, and it is unhealthy because it leads us into more and more sin. Covetousness is the path that leads to spiritual death.

So how do we desire without coveting? Paul wrote to Timothy in I Timothy 6:6-10
But godliness with contentment is great gain.  7 For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.  8 But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.  9 People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction.  10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

We need to learn to be content. Godliness with contentment is great gain. When I reflected on this verse this week, it struck a deep part of me and made me realize how much I desire this godliness with contentment.

Contentment is not a lack of desire. Contentment is a sense of satisfaction with what I have. Some years ago someone told me that if you consider a pie as being all that the world can offer you, people in their 30s are eager to get as much of the pie as they can. In their 40s, they become discouraged at how little pie they have and go into a mid-life crisis. And then, if they are fortunate, in their 50s they become content with the amount of the pie that is theirs.

I have seen the wisdom of this observation. Contentment is the wisdom that says that although I may not have all I imagined or wanted, what I have is sufficient for me to enjoy my life. And a deeper wisdom comes from knowing that regardless of what I have, I can be content because of what cannot ever be taken from me.

The writer of Hebrews wrote
Hebrews 13:5-6
Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said,
“Never will I leave you;
never will I forsake you.”
So we say with confidence,
“The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.
What can man do to me?”

Be content because God has said he will never leave you. What is there this world can offer that can make that claim? When I was married, I told Annie I would be faithful to her for as long as God gave us life together. I did not tell her I would never leave her or forsake her. None of us can make that claim. There is no earthly relationship you have that will not one day come to an end.

When you finally get the house you have always dreamed of having, can it say to you, “I will never leave you or forsake you?” Will your house never burn in a fire, get destroyed in a flood or get taken from you when your financial world collapses? Will the car you buy never break down, get into an accident, or get stolen? Will your family heirlooms never get broken or destroyed?

In the apostle Peter’s first letter he wrote
I Peter 1:3-5
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,  4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you

Everything in this world will perish, spoil or fade. Nothing in this world will last forever. One of my favorite verses in the Bible is I John 2:17 that I read earlier in the sermon. This verse sums up the wisdom of the book of Ecclesiastes.
The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.

The world and its desires pass away, so why covet what will not last?

Each of us as Christians have one foot in the soil of the earth and one foot in heaven. We put most of our weight on the foot in the soil of the earth, but as we grow in Christ, more and more of our weight is put on the foot in heaven and as we do that, our contentment grows.

Our contentment grows when we realize that the world and its desires pass away but it is God who has said, I will never leave you or forsake you.

This is why Paul was able to write that he was content in any and every situation.
Philippians 4:11-13
I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  12 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.  13 I can do everything through him who gives me strength.

Paul had his heart set on what was eternal that will never perish, spoil or fade. He had learned the hard way, with beating after beating that this world does not deliver what we most want. Paul had learned that the only treasure that was worth having and that would last is the treasure he was building in heaven in his relationship with God.

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind. This needs to be your single minded focus.

Fix your eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. With godliness and contentment, enjoy the things of this world. Don’t waste your life coveting what is not yours.

I am exhorting you this morning to have a pure heart focused on God but I need to tell you that you will never be successful in this. You may master commandments 2-9 and be able to say, like the rich young ruler who came to Jesus, “All these I have kept,” but you will stumble and fall on these two commandments, #1 and #10.

Francis Schaeffer wrote about the tenth commandment.
‘Thou shalt not covet’ is the internal commandment which shows the man who thinks himself to be moral that he really needs a Savior. The average such ‘moral’ man, who has lived comparing himself to other men and comparing himself to a rather easy list of rules, can feel, like Paul, that he is getting along all right. But suddenly, when he is confronted with the inward command not to covet, he is brought to his knees.

We are brought to our knees by these two commandments.

As long as you have breath, you will struggle at this point and as you struggle, hopefully, you will fall to your knees and cry out in desperation to Jesus and ask for his help.

The more you know of God’s love for you, the more deeply you will be aware of your own fickleness and faithlessness.

You will never not struggle, but you will be able to live with hope when you call out to Jesus for help.

Don’t give up. Fight the good fight of the faith.

When I was preparing this sermon, this song came to my mind. It is printed n the bulletin.

This Is My Desire
This is my desire, to honor you,
Lord, with all my heart, I worship you.
All I have within me I give you praise
All that I adore is in you.

Lord, I give you my heart,
I give you my soul;
I live for you alone.
Every breath that I take,
Every moment I’m awake,
Lord, have your way in me.

I have never sung this song without feeling that I do not measure up to what I am singing.

Lord, with all my heart, I worship you?
All I have within me, I give you praise?

My heart is divided. I want the words of this song to be true but I know my own double-mindedness.

I would like to sing this with you this morning but I ask you not to sing this as a statement of who you are but as a statement of who you would like to be. Sing this as a declaration of your intention that with all your heart you want to worship God.

Next Sunday begins the four Sundays of Advent that prepare us for the coming of Christ.

Sing this song with me as a prayer and ask that God will help us open our hearts to a deeper experience with God’s gift to us of Jesus.