Sermon: Coveting

[This sermon was delivered on Sunday, November 15, 2015]

Almost three months ago, we began a journey through the Ten Commandments. We began with one question: “What is God’s will for me today?” We explored, verse by verse, precept by precept, God’s will in each of the Ten Commandments. As we come to the end of the Ten Commandments, it is only the beginning. For these commandments are meant not just to be known, but lived. It is by grace we have been saved, through faith. God brought the people out of Egypt before he gave them the Ten Commandments. But having been forgiven, God has instructed us on how to live in light of this grace.

The Word of the LORD comes to us today from Exodus 20, verse 17. But before we hear God’s word this morning, please take a moment to pray with me.

Father, may your Word be our rule, your Holy Spirit our teacher, and the glory of Jesus Christ our single concern. Amen.

These are the very words of God from the book that we love:

You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor. (Exodus 20:17)

This is the Word of the LORD. Thanks be to God.

We are being guided this morning in understanding the tenth commandment by the words of the Heidelberg Catechism. I’d like to invite A and M forward to read Questions 113-115.

Q113. What is the aim of the tenth commandment?

A. That not even the slightest desire or thought contrary to any one of God’s commandments should ever arise in our hearts. Rather, with all our hearts we should always hate sin and take pleasure in whatever is right.

Q114. But can those converted to God obey these commandments perfectly?

A. No. In this life even the holiest have only a small beginning of this obedience. Nevertheless, with all seriousness of purpose, they do begin to live according to all, not only some, of God’s commandments.

Q115. Since no one in this life can obey the Ten Commandments perfectly, why does God want them preached so pointedly?

A. First, so that the longer we live the more we may come to know our sinfulness and the more eagerly look to Christ for forgiveness of sins and righteousness.

Second, so that we may never stop striving, and never stop praying to God for the grace of the Holy Spirit, to be renewed more and more after God’s image, until after this life we reach our goal: perfection.

Thank you M and A.

Say these words after me: You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor. 

Again: You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor. 

Coveting is a secret sin – a sin in the heart. We can covet – longing for another’s life, another’s possessions, another’s relationships – we can do it and no one else will know, no one else but God.

Murder, Adultery, Theft, False Testimony – these are all actions. These are sins that we commit with our hands. But the last commandment God gives here is different. Coveting is a sin of the heart.

Why end with coveting?

Perhaps God is not merely concerned with our outward obedience, but with our hearts. Perhaps God’s ultimate concern is for our hearts – that they would resound with his love and his life.

You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor. 

Perhaps the tenth commandment is about more than wanting the sleek donkey next door.

Before meeting Pastor Olga, I had been engaged. A relationship that had once been healthy had turned, frankly, unhealthy. My friends saw it, my parents saw it, but I couldn’t. They shared their concerns with me, set loving boundaries, but all I could see were rules that I couldn’t understand.

But as the relationship inevitably imploded, I began to realize something about parenting that I have carried with me into my own role as a parent. Sometimes, rules are an act of love. Wise parents have the best interests of their children at heart, even when the child doesn’t see it.

The command, ‘don’t be out past curfew’ is not a parent trying to be difficult, but parents know that as the night gets late our driving gets worse, and often things that would have appeared stupid by the light of day suddenly sound like a good idea. The command is born out of love.

Parenting involves rules with a purpose, with love, with the best interests of our children in mind. And if we, frail sinners that we are, love our children this way, how much more so our heavenly father? Jesus said it like this:

Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone? Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him! (Matthew 7:9-11)

Perhaps the tenth commandments, and the whole Ten Commandments, are about more than just outward obedience. Perhaps God has our best interests at heart. Perhaps his commands, in an even greater way than our parents ever could be, are designed for our good. Perhaps his commands are an act of love.

Perhaps God is not just saying, “Don’t covet because it is wrong,” but “don’t covet, because coveting will destroy you and others.”

Let me tell a story.

Come with me to Jezreel. King Ahab sits on a throne surveying the beautiful valley below. Just down from the palace, there is a small vineyard that has belonged to the family of Naboth for centuries – given to his family when God gave this land to the people of Israel. King Ahab sees the vineyard and he desires it. He covets the vineyard of Naboth. Listen with me:

Some time later there was an incident involving a vineyard belonging to Naboth the Jezreelite. The vineyard was in Jezreel, close to the palace of Ahab king of Samaria. Ahab said to Naboth, “Let me have your vineyard to use for a vegetable garden, since it is close to my palace. In exchange I will give you a better vineyard or, if you prefer, I will pay you whatever it is worth.”

But Naboth replied, “The LORD forbid that I should give you the inheritance of my ancestors.”

So Ahab went home, sullen and angry because Naboth the Jezreelite had said, “I will not give you the inheritance of my ancestors.” He lay on his bed sulking and refused to eat.

HIs wife Jezebel came in and asked him, “Why are you so sullen? Why won’t you eat?”

He answered her, “Because I said to Naboth the Jezreelite, ‘Sell me your vineyard; or if you prefer, I will give you another vineyard in its place.’ But he said, ‘I will not give you my vineyard.’”

Jezebel his wife said, “Is this how you act as king over Israel? Get up and eat! Cheer up. I’ll get you the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite.”

So she wrote letters in Ahab’s name, placed his seal on them, and sent them to the elders and nobles who lived in Naboth’s city with him. In those letters she wrote: 

“Proclaim a day of fasting and seat Naboth in a prominent place among the people. But seat two scoundrels opposite him and have them bring charges that he has cursed both God and the king. Then take him out and stone him to death.”

So the elders and nobles who lived in Naboth’s city did as Jezebel directed in the letters she had written to them. They proclaimed a fast and seated Naboth in a prominent place among the people. Then two scoundrels came and sat opposite him and brought charges against Naboth before the people, saying, “Naboth has cursed both God and the king.” So they took him outside the city and stoned him to death. Then they sent word to Jezebel: “Naboth has been stoned to death.”

As soon as Jezebel heard that Naboth had been stoned to death, she said to Ahab, “Get up and take possession of the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite that he refused to sell you. He is no longer alive, but dead.” When Ahab heard that Naboth was dead, he got up and went down to take possession of Naboth’s vineyard.

Then the word of the LORD came to Elijah the Tishbite: “Go down to meet Ahab king of Israel, who rules in Samaria. He is now in Naboth’s vineyard, where he has gone to take possession of it. Say to him, ‘This is what the LORD says: Have you not murdered a man and seized his property?’ Then say to him, ‘This is what the LORD says: In the place where dogs licked up Naboth’s blood, dogs will lick up your blood – yes, yours!”

Ahab said to Elijah, “So you have found me, my enemy!”

“I have found you,” he answered, “because you have sold yourself to do evil in the eyes of the LORD. He says, ‘I am going to bring disaster on you. I will wipe our your descendants and cut off from Ahab every last male in Israel – slave or free. I will make your house like that of Jeroboam son of Neat and that of Baasha son of Ahijah, because you have aroused my anger and have caused Israel to sin.”

“And also concerning Jezebel the LORD says: ‘Dogs will devour Jezebel by the wall of Jezreel.’

“Dogs will eat those belonging to Ahab who die in the city, and the birds will feed on those who die in the country.”

(There was never anyone like Ahab, who sold himself to do evil in the eyes of the LORD, urged on by Jezebel his wife. He behaved in the vilest manner by going after idols, like the Amorites the LORD drove out before Israel.)

When Ahab heard these words, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and fasted. He lay in sackcloth and went around meekly.

Then the word of the LORD came to Elijah the Tishbite: “Have you noticed how Ahab has humbled himself before me? Because he has humbled himself, I will not bring this disaster in his day, but I will bring it on his house in the days of his son.”

 

That was 1 Kings 21. One of the first things we notice in this story is that, while coveting begins in the heart, it doesn’t always stay there. King Ahab’s envy spills over until, because of his desire, most of the rest of the Ten Commandments lay shattered upon the ground.

Coveting.

Murder.

Idolatry.

Theft.

False Testimony.

We see in vivid fashion how what starts in the heart often works its way out.

We can notice this and recognize that we rarely break just one commandment when we sin. But perhaps even more significant for us is Ahab’s encounter with Elijah. After his desire is worked out by Jezebel and Naboth lies dead and Ahab seizes his land, God commands his prophet Elijah to confront the king.

And here’s where it gets interesting. When Elijah arrives, Ahab greets him, “So you have found me, my enemy!” Ahab called Elijah his enemy, but Ahab’s real enemy was himself. It was Ahab’s desire, Ahab’s envy, that brought destruction upon him.

You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor. 

Not simply because it is wrong, but because the seed of envy in your heart will destroy you, Ahab. The lust, the longing, the overwhelming desire for another’s life, another’s possessions, another’s relationships will destroy us.

At the heart of the tenth commandment is our hearts. Coveting is a sin done in the secret recesses of our hearts, but it is there that God’s commandment greets us. It is there, in the depths of our hearts, that the tenth commandment confronts the very root of envy.

Mistrust.

Mistrust of God.

We envy, we covet, because our hearts are not sure God has placed us in the right place, with the right people. We envy the good of others, because we don’t trust the good God is giving us, we wonder if he is holding out. Will he really provide for all I need in this life and the next? Will he really carry me through to the end?

Does he really love me? Look at what he is doing for them. Look at how their children behave. Look at how their church is thriving. Look at the machines, the acreage, the harvest, they had.

You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor. 

How do we trust?

How can we trust that God will provide everything we need in this life and the next?

How can we trust God and not long for another’s life?

Look to Christ.

In Christ, we know the trustworthiness of God.

In Christ, God has kept all his promises.

In Christ, all God’s gifts have been poured out – life, forgiveness, holiness, fellowship with God.

Can we trust God? Look to the Savior, who came down, took on flesh, was rejected, crucified, and died, out of love for us. Look to Christ, who was raised, and know the sweetness of life in God.

In looking to Christ, in our fears and our doubts,

we learn the truth of what the psalmist wrote when he said…

Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion,

which cannot be shaken but endures forever.

As the mountains surround Jerusalem,

so the Lord surrounds his people both now and forevermore. (Psalm 125:1-2)

In looking to Christ, envy melts away, for when we behold him, we see what David saw,

The Lord is my shepherd,

I shall not want.

He makes me lie down in green pastures,

he leads me beside quiet waters,

He restores my soul.

He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,

I fear no evil,

for you are with me.

Your rod and your staff, they comfort me. 

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies,

you anoint my head with oil,

my cup overflows,

surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,

and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.  (Psalm 23)

In looking to Christ, we learn to trust.

we learn what Paul meant when he said,

I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage that I may gain Christ and be found in him. (Philippians 3:8-9a)

In looking to Christ, we learn to see what Stephen saw, when he faced death, he looked up toward heaven and proclaimed,

Look! I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God. (Acts 7:56)

God desires our hearts. He has given us these Ten Commandments as an act of love. You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor. 

Instead, look to Christ, long for his kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven, and taste the sweetness of of life in Christ.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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