Kevin DeYoung / Dec 18, 2016 / Exodus 20:17
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Sermon Summary / Transcript
O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! Psalm 8:1
Lord, grant us ears to hear that we might receive your word, and that it might grow in us. Transform us to the praise and glory of your name. Amen.
Well, Christmas is in a week—so let’s turn to the tenth commandment. You might think, “Well, that’s a Scrooge-ish sort of thing thing to do—to preach on coveting a week before Christmas.” Remember, kids: it could be Christmas, but it’s not. It’s just the week before Christmas.
Today, as we come to the end of the Ten Commandments, we’ll just read one verse:
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. Exodus 20:17
“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house…” “Boy, she has a lot of nice stuff. I’m really tired of living in this neighborhood. It would be nice to have nice things like they do. Everything there is so beautiful—it’s decorated well and never a mess. But we live in a dump. How embarrassing. It must be pretty nice to live in a place like that for Christmas.”
“…you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife…” “Why did I marry my husband? Her husband is always so friendly. He’s good with the kids. He helps around the house. He fixes things, not just breaking them. Why am I stuck with my husband when there are other men out there?” Or, “Wow, she is beautiful. Why couldn’t my wife age like that? I wish I could’ve married someone like her. If I could, I would take her, and life would be easier. I’d finally be happy.”
“…or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey…” “Man, my car is a piece of junk.” “It’s not fair. All of our friends seem to be planning for great vacations. In the summer, they’re going to the Grand Canyon or Disney World. Some even go overseas! But we’re lucky if we can go to Grandma’s.” “Why am I stuck at this job?” “Why aren’t my kids more like their kids?” “Why aren’t my parents more like their parents?”
“…or anything that is your neighbor’s.” “I wish I could be smart like him. My life would be so much better if I looked like her. Why couldn’t I get a normal family? Why can’t I run, jump, throw, or be as strong as my friends? Why is everything in my life hard, but everything for them seems so easy all the time?”
The Bible speaks against the sin of coveting in strong terms:
And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips… Romans 1:28-29
Really, Paul? Evil, malice, and unrighteousness—and you put covetousness right there in the middle?
But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Ephesians 5:3
Coveting in the Bible is a serious sin.
What is Coveting?
What is coveting, exactly? I need to be clear here, lest I lay down a law or burden that the Bible does not mean give. Coveting is not the same as having desires. The tenth commandment does not prohibit every kind of longing, want, or thought of having something nice or better. Jesus knew what it was to be hungry—to want food. He knew what it was to be tempted (while in the wilderness). He knew what it was to be thirsty (while he was on the cross)—to feel abandoned and alone, as if all of his friends had left him. He knew what it was to suffer, and to ask God, “Is there some other way?” Yet he was not coveting.
Jeremiah Burroughs, a Puritan, wrote a book called “The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment” in 1648. It’s a good book, but it’s still a very hard book. If you don’t see your sin, the Puritans will make you see it in a hundred different ways. This book is challenging and (at points) maybe a little over the top. But he says that contentment is not opposed to:
- “…a due sense of affliction.”
- “…making in an orderly manner our moan and complain to God, and to our friends.”
- “…all lawful seeking for help in different circumstances, nor to endeavoring simply to be delivered out of present afflictions by the use of lawful means.”
Even a great Puritan didn’t say that you should never have a complaint or moan, or that you can never say, “God, I wish there was some other way.”
In the Bible, we see that children are a good desire. In the Song of Solomon, we see that sexual intimacy is a good desire. There are a number of proverbs which indicate that it isn’t bad thing to plan or to work hard in hopes of improving your lot. They command discipline, saving, frugality, and other hard working virtues. It’s also not wrong to long for God and desire more of his Spirit. There are a lot of Psalms about that. Paul even desired (in one sense) that he might leave his body and go to be with Christ. So don’t hear that all desire is bad.
There is a word for that kind of thinking: “Buddhism”. In the Buddhist worldview, our problem is craving and desire. In you had to take a world religions course sometime in your life, you may recall that there are four “Noble Truths” in Buddhism:
- Life is suffering.
- Suffering is caused by craving.
- Nirvana is reached and suffering is ended when we stop craving.
- The way to liberation from craving is by following the Noble Eightfold Path.
That’s not Christianity. Our problem is not that we desire things, but rather that we either desire the wrong things or desire good things in the wrong way. As C.S. Lewis famously described, the problem is not that we desire too much, but that we desire too little. “…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.” We want fleeting worldly pleasures. But God doesn’t say to us: “Shame on you for wanting things.” He says, “I can give you something so much better and more lasting than all of those trivial trinkets.”
Coveting: Desiring Someone Else’s Things
what makes coveting sinful, if it’s not the desire itself? First, we covet when we desire what belongs to someone else. It isn’t just thinking, “It’d be nice to have a nice house,” or “I’d like to have a better job.” It’s thinking, “I want their house. I want his job. I want their TV, their car, and their life, and I’d be very happy to take it from them.”
One way of looking at this commandment is to see that the tenth commandment is the internalization of the eighth commandment. It moves from “Do not steal” to “Don’t even desire to steal or trade places.”
…when I saw among the spoil a beautiful cloak from Shinar, and 200 shekels of silver, and a bar of gold weighing 50 shekels, then I coveted them and took them. And see, they are hidden in the earth inside my tent, with the silver underneath. Joshua 7:21
Just as lust is the first internal step to adultery, and is sin itself, so coveting is a sin on the way to theft. Even if it doesn’t go to actual theft, it is still a sin of the heart.
You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. James 4:2a
Those two sentences stand in parallel. Coveting is desiring something or someone that is not yours to have. Sex may be a good thing. Possessions may have their place. But they’re both bad when the thoughts are illicit—when you want what does not belong to you. A thought of recognition—“My, oh my. What a fantastic vehicle that is!”—turns to gazing, then fantasizing and cultivating an illicit desire for these things.
Coveting is a violation of the second great commandment. Remember how Jesus summarized the two tables of the law:
And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. Matthew 22:37-40
Coveting fails to love your neighbor as yourself. When we’re covetous, we think only (or supremely) of what is good for us: what we would like, what would make us happy, and how our lives would be better, regardless of how others are affected.
Children (and adults can listen in), I bet that sometime in the next week, you’ll get a present. If you don’t, don’t tell the elders. Talk to your parents, or Santa, or something. But you know what? You’re also going to see someone else get a present—maybe it’s your cousin, your friend, or your brother or sister. You may even think that they got a better present. What do you do then? Well, this commandment (which is for all of us, adults and children alike) says that we should be content with what we have, say “Thank you” for what we receive, and not covet what other people have.
“Why did you get something I didn’t get? That’s not fair!” Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all of us, kids especially, could make a commitment to not say those words over the next week? Besides, kids, mom and dad might get into a really good speech: “You want to know what’s fair?!” You don’t want to go there. They’ll tell you about all the people who don’t have this stuff, and about when they were kids—how they got coal for Christmas (and liked it!).
So coveting is not just saying, “I would like something.” That’s okay. We all have wishlists. No, coveting is saying, “Why did you get that? I wanted it! It’s better, and I’m angry because you’re happy.” Coveting wants what other people have. That’s the first way in which it’s sinful.
Coveting: an Expression of Discontentment
Second, we covet when our desire leads to (or is an expression of) discontentment. Coveting is not simply having a desire! We have all sorts of desires, and the Bible understands that. Jesus constantly speaks to us as people with desires. He says, “You want to be rich? Okay, I’ll tell you how to really be rich: store up treasures in heaven!” “You want to have security? That’s good. I’ll tell you how to have a lasting, eternal inheritance.” It’s not that desires are bad. It’s that coveting leads to an expression of discontent.
The Westminster Shorter Catechism says:
The tenth commandment forbiddeth all discontentment with our own estate, envying or grieving at the good of our neighbor, and all inordinate motions and affections to anything that is his. Westminster Shorter Catechism, A. 81
This is where it gets even harder. Some of you may have listened to the first point and said, “Yeah, coveting is wanting to take what other people have. But they can have all of their nice stuff. I don’t want to take it from them. I just won’t be happy if I don’t have it as well.”
So the first way of sinning by coveting is through violating the second commandment. You’re not loving my neighbor as yourself, because you don’t care how it affects them. You just want that too. You don’t care if they’re going to cry about it. It makes you happy, so you take it. The second of sinning is a violation of the first great commandment: to love God with all of your heart, soul, strength, and mind. It expresses, both to the world and to God, “God, you’re not enough. I’m not happy with you. You have not treated me as I deserve.”
Coveting is such a fitting summary of the Ten Commandments, because it can be a serious violation of both tables of the law. It can seem strange that the Ten Commandments start with monotheism, seeming so big and grand—“I am the Lord your God. You shall have no other gods before me!”—and then feel like they ends with a whimper: “Eh, don’t look at the other guy’s donkey.” Really? We’ve gone from monotheism to “Don’t look at the donkey”? But do you see how the two are connected? God is saying, “You shall have no other gods—even this guy’s donkey, house, wife, friends, abilities, kids, or job. Let nothing else capture your gaze and affections ahead of me!”
Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. Colossians 3:5
There it is, spelled out for us. Coveting is idolatrous. It’s saying, “I need that, or I can’t live. If I don’t have that place, person, or possession, I cannot be happy. Without that, God is not a good God.” It’s defining God by our own terms.
So don’t think the tenth commandment is an afterthought—that it’s a little anticlimactic or a lame add-on: “Don’t murder. Don’t commit adultery. Don’t steal. Don’t lie. And don’t be after another person’s stuff either.” It’s far from an afterthought. It’s actually the summation and culmination of these commandments.
Even though we understand from Jesus and from the rest of the Bible that the commandments all have an eternal dimension, it can be easy to miss that until we get to the tenth commandment. When you look at the first nine commandments, they almost seem possible, don’t they? “Don’t kill people. Don’t sleep around. Don’t lie under oath. Try to honor the Sabbath. Don’t swear. Don’t have any statues in your house.” But when you almost feel like they’re possible, just to make sure, God says, “You’re going to see that this is utterly impossible. You didn’t kill anyone? You don’t sleep around? How about your heart? Don’t covet.”
There are parallels to many of the commandments in the ancient world. Other nations and people had commandments against murdering, being unfaithful, not telling the truth, and stealing, but there is no parallel to this sort of written national code: “You shall not covet.”
Signs of Coveting
The tenth commandment makes explicit what the other commandments imply: obedience is a matter of the heart. How do you know if you’re coveting? What are some of the outward manifestations of this inward condition of the heart? Let me give you four ways.
You Hurt Others to Get More
You might be coveting if you’ve hurt others in order to get more for yourself. That hurting could be actions, but (more likely) it will be words, attitudes, looks, sneers, sighs, etc.
You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. James 5:5
James is rebuking employers who have cheated their employees of their due wages. He’s speaking to covetous, greedy people. Do you have a “do whatever it takes to get ahead” attitude?
In arrogance the wicked hotly pursue the poor; let them be caught in the schemes that they have devised. For the wicked boasts of the desires of his soul, and the one greedy for gain curses and renounces the LORD. Psalm 10:2-3
A greedy man stirs up strife, but the one who trusts in the LORD will be enriched. Proverbs 28:25
Have you hurt others in order to get more for yourself? Maybe you haven’t even had your eyes opened to the way that you’re neglecting your family—to the way that you speak to and treat others—to the way that you run your business. It’s cutthroat. It’s about the bottom line. It doesn’t matter if they need that or not, or if that hurts them or not. That’s an attitude of covetousness.
Preoccupation with Accumulation
You might be coveting if you’re preoccupied with making and accumulating more. Remember Jesus’ famous parable about the sower and the soil. And the seed that fell among the thorns seemed to be bearing fruit. It was almost growing! It’s like the person who looks like a Christian—like there’s something spiritually good going on in their life. But Jesus says that when the thorns choke it out, it’s like the deceitfulness of riches and the worry of life choking out the word, proving it unfruitful.
You get the picture from Jesus that it wasn’t like these people woke up one day and said, “It doesn’t matter. I’m going to cheat, lie, steal, and get my way to the top.” No, it was all the stuff that they wanted, and all the time that it took to maintain what they had. They didn’t say, “You know what? I’m through with God. I don’t care about his word anymore.” They just got too busy for it. They had all sorts of things that they had to take care of. They had possessions, and more and more possessions—and once you have enough, they start to possess you.
Pretty soon, “I really don’t have time for church. It’s been a while since I’ve read my Bible. I’ve got a lot of things to take care of. I have places I need to go and other things I need to do.” “I bought this, and I better make sure I use it.” Over time, the deceitfulness of all of those worries choke the seed out, and you just think, “How can I get more?” It’s not wrong to have desires. It’s not wrong to look and think, “That’s nice.” What’s wrong is thinking: “Hmm, now what? How can I get that?” What’s wrong believing the lie: “If I had that, I’d finally be happy.”
I’ve said before that just about the only two things on our TV are sports and HGTV. You can watch both to the glory of God, I believe—even though my wife might think every football game is exactly the same, to which I reply, “And House Hunters is very different?” It’s always the same! You never get to the end of a show where the people say, “Hey, we bought a clunker. We hate our house.” No, they always love it. It’s on in our house, and that’s fine.
Last night (and this probably shows my heart), someone was buying a house, and I said, “I like people who are buying houses that I can’t afford, not the ones that I can. I don’t want to see things I could have. I want to see things I don’t have. I want to see how other people live. I want to see what that’s like.” It can be fun and interesting, and there’s an aesthetic and personal element, but we have to guard our hearts and think about what sort of things are being stirred up: “If I had that, that would be it. If I came home with that, I’d be happy.” We begin to covet and think that life is about the accumulation of things.
You’re Unwilling to Give Up what You Have
Third, you might be coveting if you’re unwilling to give up what you already have. Some people just aren’t wired to think, “I wish I had that.” They aren’t into that. They don’t care about the big house or car. They just know that they have their nest egg, and nobody is touching it. It’s safe and secure.
Again, there’s a fine line here. There are many things in the Bible about the wisdom of saving and being responsible. But are you willing to give up what you have? The covetousness man or woman may not want more, but may be completely unwilling to share.
You know the story that the gospel writers tell about the rich young man who came to Jesus and asked, “What must I do to inherit eternal life? What must I do to be a good person?” Do you remember what Jesus said? He started rattling off the second table of the law. And the man said, “I’ve done all of these things.” “Don’t murder. Honor your parents. Don’t steal.” The guy is just going through and checking off all the boxes. “That’s right. That was possible. That was possible. I did it! Okay, Jesus!”
As you have probably heard before, when you read that account carefully, you’ll notice that Jesus left out one commandment from the second table: the tenth commandment. But then he comes around and says, “Okay, I want you to go and sell all that you have, give the money to the poor, and follow me.” Jesus is pretty smart. He comes around the back side to this rich man: “Okay, you did that. Good, good.” He doesn’t just say, “Remember the tenth commandment? You shall not covet!” He says, “Okay, let me give you an application. Would you be willing to give this up?”
We can read through the Bible and understand that that isn’t the exact call upon all of our lives. The Bible talks about giving a tithe, Zacchaeus gave away half, and that rich man had to give away everything. So I’m not telling all of us to go and divest ourselves of everything this very moment. What Jesus is asking is: “Are you willing to let go—to let that slip through your fingers, to write a check, to put your money ahead—and store up treasures in heaven? All of this stuff is going to leak, rust, and be eaten by moths. It’ll be destroyed. You want something beautiful that will last, right? You want something that’s going to be a good investment? That’s great. I will make you the best investor ever. It yields an amazing return, and it’s never let anyone down: store up your treasures in heaven.” But the rich young man loved his stuff more than he loved God. Are you willing to give up what you have?
Fourth, you might be coveting if you’re frequently discontented with your house, your spouse, the quality or quantity of your possessions, and the general state of your life.
Let me add that important caveat from Jeremiah Burroughs: God’s not saying that you cannot offer a complaint, a moan, or a lament. The Bible is full of those. Many of you have hard circumstances that you’re enduring, and the Bible gives us voice to express those cries of pain. This is something a little different. Do you always want the next thing or the last thing? Is it always, “Ugh, it was so much better then,” or is it always, “It will be so much better then”?
One of the things I almost always pray with the groom and his groomsmen before a wedding is, “God, would you give to this man and woman the rare gift of delighting in this moment, right now?” We’re so often waiting for the next thing to fulfill us. You think: “If I had a boyfriend or a girlfriend…” Then it’s: “If I could just get engaged…” Then: “If I could just get married…” Then: “If I could just get through the ceremony…” Then: “If we could just get through the honeymoon…” It’s always about what the next thing is. It’s hard for us to look at now and think: “This is a good gift that God has given me. There are things to enjoy right now—be it food, family, friends, or (certainly) salvation in the Lord Jesus Christ, with songs that we’re going to sing, prayers to be prayed, the warmth of fellowship and hospitality, and a good thick glass of eggnog. God, you’ve been good to me.”
For so many of us, it’s always the next thing or the last thing. When we’re young, we just want to be older. We want to be teenagers, and then fully adults. But then, when you get a little older, you think, “Oh man, isn’t youth wasted on the young? If only I could go back to when I could run and have the energy to do that!”
Maybe you’re in the middle of your job, and you just want to be retired; and then you retire, and you miss when you were working. Maybe you have your kids in the house, and an empty nest sounds like a beautiful nest. Empty nests are clean, quiet nests. But then your nest is empty, and you say, “It’s too quiet. Where is everyone? What are we doing?” It’s always something else—always wanting to have the last thing or the next thing.
The antidote to the sin of coveting is 1 Timothy 6:6: “But godliness with contentment is great gain…” Do you see what the Bible does there? Coveting is about gaining. Isn’t that why you covet? “I want to gain a possession, a friend, or a house.” And God says, “Good! You want gain? I want you to have gain. I want you to have joy. I want to bless you. But you won’t get it by coveting. You get it through contentment.”
What do you love? What are you chasing? What do you think about in the shower, on your way to work, on the drive, or folding laundry? What is the one thing you think you need in order to really, truly be happy? If the answer is anything other than God, you’re an idolater. God understands that our health and marriage matters; that we don’t want to be alone; that family health and purity matters; and that we want peace, tranquility, relationships, a roof over our head, clothes on our back, and food to eat. He is not ignorant of those things, and he knows what we need.
“If only I had _____, I would finally be happy.” What’s in that blank? That’s your god. When we covet, we are believing a lie about who God is and how he loves us. We must fight this temptation with faith. We must remember two things in particular to fight the fight of faith and beat back the temptation to covet.
Remember How the Story Ends
He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity. Ecclesiastes 5:10
Wealth will not make you happy.
Remember Psalm 73? In it, Asaph says, “I was envious of the arrogant. My foot almost slipped, and I began to say to myself, ‘The arrogant, proud, and disobedient have everything. God doesn’t care.’” Do you remember what turned his mind? “…until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end.” He remembered the end of the story. He remembered what was coming later for the arrogant, the unrighteous, and later for God’s people.
But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Matthew 6:33
Remember Who is With You Now
Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. Philippians 4:11-13
That doesn’t mean that you can run a 4-minute mile if you’re a Christian, just by praying. It doesn’t mean you can throw the football farther. It doesn’t mean that you get the best job or best grades, because Christ is all. It means that God will be more than enough in your abundance and your adversity.
Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. John 6:35
We need to remember who is with us right now: the friend who sticks closer to us than a brother—the one who will never leave us or forsake us—the high priest who loves to intercede for his people. He hasn’t forgotten you. You aren’t alone. How can you say you have nothing? You have him! “My beloved is mine, and I am his…”
How do we begin to make progress in obeying the Ten Commandments? By turning to Christ, trusting that this Immanuel is the way, the truth, and the life; that he tells us the truth, so we listen to him and believe him; and that he is the only way to be forgiven, so that when we fall short of these commandments (and we will) we can run to him for mercy. We believe that he is the life, and that his commands are meant to give us life—that we may follow him and have an abundant life.
Let’s pray. Our Father in heaven, we thank you for saving and adopting us. We thank you for your law, and delight in it. It is good. It is solid ground beneath our feet. We thank you for the word in these ten commandments, and for the Word made flesh that dwells among us, and now within us by the Holy Spirit. We look to Christ for all that we lack. We look to him when we stumble and fall. We look to him for new life, new hearts, new power, and new strength to obey these commands. We look to him so that we do not need to covet, knowing that we already have the pearl of greatest price. In Jesus’ name, amen.
Transcription and editing provided by 10:17 Transcription
Unless otherwise noted, all scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.