The Tenth Commandment: The Internal Commandment
March 1, 2009
Introduction: There was a king who was suffering from a persistent sickness and was advised by his wise men that he would be cured if the shirt of a contented man were brought for him to wear. The search began for a contented man, but none could be found. So, emissaries were sent to the edge of the realm, and after a long search a man was found who was truly content. [Pause] But he had no shirt!
Luke 12:15 (NKJV)
15[Jesus] said …, “Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.” The tenth command addresses the natural man and his desire to spend and be satisfied. The only problem is that rather than finding satisfaction in what we have, we just desire something bigger and better. Covetousness is the antithesis of contentment.
Exodus 20:17 (NKJV)
17“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s.”
The tenth commandment is different from the nine that precede it in the sense that it speaks to an internal drive that few can see. Coveting anything is to desire it even though it is not rightfully ours. It is not a tool that God has provided for us. There always seems to be a hint of envy in our coveting.
Lyn Sehested wrote in the recent Frontline (Jan/Feb 09 - Ladies’ Circle):
Many years ago there lived a woman who, you could truly say, had it all. She lived in the most beautiful home in her area. Her husband was the most handsome man in the world, and his job allowed him to spend a great deal of time with her. His income allowed her to have whatever she wanted - the best foods, every comfort imaginable, the most beautiful decorations for her home, and whatever her heart desired. He literally denied her nothing, and she loved him completely. Because she loved him so much she was never too tired or too busy to help him or to meet his needs. Their life together was ideal. That is … until one day when a neighbor struck up a converstation with her and casually pointed out that, perhaps she didn’t really ‘have it all.’ It took only a moment for her to fall, but that moment changed her life completely. Not only did it change her life, but it changed every life that came after her. Eve lived in Paradise, but even Paradise didn’t satisfy her.
I can see clearly when my boys are covetous because it’s so blatant. As adults we are a bit more subtle when it comes to expressions of covetousness; perhaps you can relate.
- A little twinge of disappointment when a coworker get the promotion
- When a friend finds romance and we remain single
- When a family takes a dream vacation and we can’t afford one this year
This covetous attitude can lead to great problems. Note what the Apostle James taught…
James 4:1-2a (NKJV)
1Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? 2You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain.
We usually covet things or material possessions. Houses, oxen, and donkeys are good ancient examples. We still covet homes - we just want them bigger and grander. My family grew up in Michigan. All seven of us in a 1000 square foot home with one bathroom. Today, we need 3500 square foot homes with three bathrooms and a media wing. Now let me be careful…
Illustration: Several years ago, Millard Fuller of Habitat for Humanity addressed the National Press Club on public radio, and he recalled a workshop at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary with 200 pastors in attendance. The assembled pastors quickly pointed toward greed and selfishness as the reason the church never had enough money to assist others creatively.
Millard then asked this seemingly innocent question: “Is it possible for a person to build a house so large that it's sinful in the eyes of God? Raise your hand if you think so.”
All 200 pastors raised their hands.
“Okay,” said Millard, “then can you tell me at exactly what size, the precise square footage, a certain house becomes sinful to occupy?”
Silence from the pastors. You could have heard a pin drop.
Finally, a small, quiet voice spoke up from the back of the room: “When it is bigger than mine.”
Frank G. Honeycutt, Preaching to Skeptics and Seekers; submitted by Bill White, Paramount, California
Consumerism has brought our country into its current state. It’s simply greed. And before we condemn the politicians, we might want to take a look at ourselves. We chase the American dream, but we are actually coveting.
Material possessions aren’t the only thing the command points to. God warned against coveting your neighbor’s wife. This is where all sexual sin begins. We begin to fantasize or imagine scenarios in our minds. If fed long enough, such inordinate desires become very powerful. It is not long before we will do whatever it takes to gratify them.
Illustration: In a quiet suburb east of Phoenix, Ric sits at his computer with the blinds drawn, smoking a cigarette. While his wife, Sue, watches television in the living room, Ric chats online with what appears on the screen to be a tall, slim redhead.
He's never met the woman outside of the computer world of Second Life, a well-chronicled digital fantasyland with more than eight million registered “residents” who get jobs, attend concerts, and date other users. He's never so much as spoken to her on the telephone. But their relationship has taken on curiously real dimensions. They own two dogs, pay a mortgage together, and spend hours shopping at the mall and taking long motorcycle rides. This May, when Ric needed real-life surgery, the redhead cheered him up with a private island that cost her $120,000 in the virtual world's currency, or about $480 in real-world dollars. Their bond is so strong that Ric asked Janet, the 38-year-old Canadian woman who controls the redhead, to become his virtual wife.
His real wife, Sue, is not amused. “It's really devastating,” Sue says. “You try to talk to someone or bring them a drink, and they'll be having sex with a cartoon.”
Sue [has since] joined an online support group for spouses of obsessive online gamers …
“It's avalanched beyond repair,” says Sharra, Sue daughter. She and her two brothers have offered to help their mother move out of the house.
Sue says she's not ready to separate though. “I'm not a monster; I can see how it fulfills parts of his life…He's a good person. He's just fallen down this rabbit hole.”
“This other life is so wonderful; it's better than real life,” she [adds]. “Nobody gets fat, nobody gets gray. The person that's left can't compete with that.”
"Virtual Infidelity," The Week (8-31-07), condensed from Alexander Alter's "Is This Man Cheating on His Wife?" The Wall Street Journal (8-10-07); submitted by Kevin Miller, vice president, Christianity Today International
The list of things in v. 17 is by no means exhaustive. Remember that the last part of the verse warns us to not covet anything that belongs to our neighbor. This pretty much covers it. We cannot covet …
- A youthful age
- A beautiful complexion
- A higher IQ
- The talents of others
- Marriage - By the way, marriage does not remedy lust. If anything, it complicates the problem by introducing a new set of difficulties.
- A life without children
- A prominent place in Fundamentalism
- A bigger church
- Better ability to preach
God makes it plain: We cannot covet anything at any time. Paul wrote…
1 Timothy 6:6-10 (NKJV)
6Now godliness with contentment is great gain. 7For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. 8And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content. 9But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. 10For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.
Paul offers two lessons for the covetous Christian…
1. Godliness is gain (1 Timothy 6.6-8)
“Now godliness with contentment is great gain” (6.6).
What kind of gain does Paul have in mind? He certainly is not thinking of financial gain, but rather spiritual gain.
Ecclesiastes 5:10 (NKJV)
10He who loves silver will not be satisfied with silver; nor he who loves abundance, with increase. This also is vanity.
The rich never say, “Enough!” The drive never dissipates when our love is for money. Solomon teaches that the pursuit and love of wealth is futile and empty. On the other hand, contentment is a constant feast for the believer. Those that require the least in life are the richest in life. This was certainly true of the shirtless, contented man that I spoke of in the introduction.
Note too, that for Paul, contentment and godliness are inextricably linked. Notice what he wrote to the Philippian believers…
Philippians 4:11-13 (NKJV)
11Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: 12I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. 13I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
The point is that we might be shirtless, shoeless, and even homeless; but if we have the life Christ gives, it is sufficient. Christ gives His godliness and His sufficiency; therefore, we are all very rich! This is why we are able to sing, “Thou, O Christ, art all I want; more than all in Thee I find!”
Paul continues in 1 Timothy 6.7:
“For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.”
Our birth and death certificates often serve as markers between which we will appraise our material wealth. But how much will Bill Gates or Oprah Winfry leave behind? Of course, the answer is that they will leave it all behind.
Job 1:21 (NKJV)
21[Job] said: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” It’s rather simple: we have a possessionless entrance into this world and a possessionless exit from it. So, greed for Christians is senseless. The alternative is found in v. 8 of 1 Tim 6:
And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content.
Whatever we have above food and clothing should be enjoyed. I like a new tie or another book. Asceticism is no virtue. I think we ought to enjoy what God gives and note Paul’s attitude in Phil 4.12:
Philippians 4:12 (NKJV)
12I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.
We should follow our Lord’s clear teaching:
Matthew 6:25-34 (NKJV)
25“Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? 26Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? 28“So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; 29and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31“Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. 34Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.
The writer of Hebrews said,
Hebrews 13:5 (NKJV)
5Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”
Real contentment and material wealth have nothing in common; it is godliness that is great gain!
Transition: While 1 Timothy 6 is clear about the gain of godliness, it is equally clear about the grief of greed….
2. Greed is loss (1 Timothy 6.9-10)
But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition (6.9).
Greed drives us in directions that we might not otherwise go. Pursuing riches causes us to even turn away from ethical questions in life. We fail to think things through and it drowns us. The price of a pursuing that which God never intends for us to have is awful. We lose our values and what was once unthinkable becomes natural!
For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows (6.10).
Money is not the root of all of evil but of all kinds of evil. That is, all evil does not have money as its root. While greed is a snare for the rich, we should also remember that it’s a snare for the poor and everyone in between as well. All who want to be rich fall into temptation. You don’t have to be rich to fall to greed. Some of the greediest people in this world are the poorest. This is why the state lotteries and casinos make so much money.
Greed impales believers upon many griefs. A father loves money but his children hate him. A mother has a beautiful home and a fancy car but a useless family. It’s a terribly deceptive snare.
But remember, it’s more than material things…
· People covet a certain body type and go through endless surgeries to achieve it.
· People believe they could serve the Lord more effectively if they didn’t have a certain disability.
· Sometimes we want recognition for what we do. If only they saw how important my ministry is! If only they’d let me use my gifts the way they ought to be used!
· If only I found someone to marry, it would make all the difference in life! Then we marry and say, “If only my spouse would meet my needs!”
· The problem is an internal one not an external one!
How can we defeat the internal problem of covetousness? We must learn the secret of contentment!
If God wanted you to have a tool to serve Him, it should be pretty clear by now that He would have provided it. Whatever the situation and whatever the circumstance, we should determine to live for the glory of God right now! We should want what God wants not what we want. Be satisfied with God and what He provides. The psalmist Asaph put it this way…
Psalm 73:25 (NKJV)
25Whom have I in heaven but You? And there is none upon earth that I desire besides You.
Since Jesus Christ is all we need, He ought to be all we truly desire. Jesus is not the best way to get what you want contra prosperity gospel preachers. Jesus is all we really need. It starts when we come to Jesus who paid the penalty for our sins and purchased a place in Heaven for us. He did this through His death on the cross and resurrection from the tomb.
We have eternal life with God. Jesus will never leave us nor forsake us. If that doesn’t help us through adversity in life, nothing will. The answer to our discontented lives is found in believing that if we seek first His kingdom, all the things we need will come our way as well (Matt 6.33). If they don’t, we don’t need them.
Conclusion: A man laid a small circle of poison around a hill of stinging ants. Thinking the tiny granules of poison were food, the ants began to pick them up and carry them throughout the colony. He returned later to see how well the poison was working. Hundreds of the stinging ants were carrying the poison down into their hill.
Then he noticed a hole in the circle of the poison. Some of the poison was moving the opposite way--away from the hill. Some smaller, non-stinging ants had found this “food” and were stealing it from their ant neighbors. Thinking they were getting the other ants’ treasure, they unwittingly poisoned themselves.
When we see someone with more than we have or something we want, we must beware. The hunger to beg, borrow, or steal our way into what is theirs may poison us spiritually. We must not covet anything that is our neighbors!
Bob James, Paint Rock, Texas, Leadership, Vol. 7, no. 4.
352 - Jesus, Lover of My Soul (esp. v 3)