Keeping up with the Joneses - Deuteronomy 5:21
An audio recording of this sermon is available.
1) What is covetousness
Since we moved into our new home about a year ago we have been blessed with something not everyone is so fortunate to have a spare bedroom. To be more accurate it is really a playroom cum crroom.
Our children have the run of it most of the time but on other occasions like Tues mornings for the ladies Tues group or Thursdays for ParenTalk, other children are able to enjoy the incredibly large number of toys & games that have been given, bought or donated. There is something for everyone yet you've only to be in that room for a short time before the inevitable happens.
One child has the Barbie car or the life-size model of Po from the Teletubbies & another (probably our youngest) even though there are a million alternatives wants that one. It has to be that one, no other will do! The attraction it seems is that it is the toy someone else has!
As adults, we're just the same just a bit less up front! We want what we haven't got, the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, in the words of our title this evening, we strongly desire to keep up with the Jones's.
It's something of these kinds of attitudes that our 10th & final commandment addresses : Deut 5: 21"You shall not covet your neighbour's wife. You shall not set your desire on your neighbour's house or land, his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbour."
These ancient words actually sound very contemporary. Sure few of us long for another's Ox or Donkey or a servant but we can translate 21st C equivalents easily enough. What we see here is a clear pointer to humanity's lust for things, our continued yearning to possess more like others (even when there is no need for it), our discontent with our limited resources when we see those around us who have more.
Longing, craving, desiring what we want but cannot have displeases God & is forbidden by him for his rescued people.
In reaching the 10th commandment, have you noticed there is something about it that is different from the others?
The Commandments that people remember best are those that involve clearly doing wrong things stealing, telling lies, and committing adultery. Here in a way that anticipates the way Jesus taught, is a commandment that speaks of pleasing God by not having wrong attitudes. It's about what we're like on the inside.
2) Why is coveting forbidden by God?
[Coveting reflects our attitude to God] These 10 words we've been considering set out what God wants from his people as their response to his rescue of them. The 10 Commandments are God's instructions to his people who're now in a special covenant relationship with him.
What the command not to covet shows, is that God wants more from his people than simply mechanically keeping the rules.
God draws his people after him in relationship & wants our love love means living his way, involves our actions, but this commandment also shows us he wants our attitudes & desires to honour him too.
We have reached a climax in Commandment No10. It gets to the heart of the matter: God wants our hearts right.
Notice it is wrong, self orientated desires that are wrong, Desire, ambition & longing in themselves are not wrong many are good & part of the way God has made us so we rightly want to do our best, have ambitions to help others. We have desires for food, survival, friendship & so on. Coveting however is seriously wrong.
The Apostle Paul tells the Colossians (3:5) that "evil desires & greed" are idolatry. What is to be avoided to please God according to the 10th Commandment is the inner covetous attitude that sets itself on things that then take the place of God idolatry, so, we come full circle; to break the 10th Commandment is to break the 1st. God wants our attitudes right because coveting ultimately reflects our attitude to Him.
Coveting is dangerous for us; That most practical of NT writers Apostle James makes it clear; James 4:1f "What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don't they come from your desires that battle within you? 2You want something but don't get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight."
Covetous attitudes within are far reaching. Sinful thoughts so easily lead to sinful & damaging actions. Unchecked coveting will produce behaviour that breaks the other commandments dishonouring God & our neighbour.
Wanting something that is someone else's but not getting it, coveting, is dangerous for us.
Someone once 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. The person returned later to see how well the poison was working. Hundreds of the stinging ants were carrying the poison down into their hill.
Then the person noticed a hole in the circle of poison. Some of the poison was moving the opposite wayaway from the hill. Some smaller, non stinging ants had found this "food" and were stealing it from their ant neighbours. Thinking they were getting the other ants' treasure, they unwittingly poisoned themselves.
When we see someone with more than we have, we must beware. The hunger to beg, borrow, or steal our way into what is theirs may poison us spiritually. Covetousness can blind us to what is really important in life.
Jesus taught of the danger of covetous greed. Remember the parable of the barns in Lk12:13-21? The prosperous man whose business was flourishing built more warehouses for his produce ignoring God & eternity. He failed to realise that things are temporary & therefore covetousness is a lie. When he dies suddenly, he is left with nothing.
Such a life is all too easy to fall into. Jesus says; "Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions."
Covetousness is damaging to the individual & their relationships but also to society. Isn't this obvious particularly in our day & age? Indeed millions of pounds a week are poured into trying to increase our desires for things. The British evangelist J John has said; "Encouraging coveting is a major national industry; we call it advertising!"
We're forever being bombarded with adverts, be they on TV from Billboards or bus stops with expensive possessions & attractive bodies. What's more the free availability of credit feeds the covetous desire we naturally have "Buy now pay later", "take the waiting out of wanting".
What's more we don't simply have a market driven encouragement to covet, there is a state sponsored effort as well. The National Lottery with all its shallow pretence of raising money for good causes in practice feeds natural covetous desire.
The smiling fingers crossed image has become a modern icon of unfulfilled dreams & wasted resources.
Every year the British public spend billion on the Lottery & yet the odds of winning the jackpot are 14 million to 1.
99.9999% of people who play lose money. Why do people do it? Surely it's the wistful longing "If I win the lottery then all my problems would be over". Yet as the OT preacher in Ecclesiastes 5:10 puts it "whoever loves money never has money enough". John D Rockerfeller at one time the richest man in the world knew the truth too; He was asked; "How much money does it take for a person to be really satisfied?" he relied "Just a little bit more".
3) Coveting is a common yet extremely dangerous attitude to yield to so how can we overcome it? Are there any antidotes to covetousness? Let 's consider where the Bible points us.
Trust God. So much of desire for more is because we worry about our needs & how we are going to cope with what we have or without what we want. Yet for the Christian we have great promises of God's provision for us.
Remember that great NT reading we had earlier? Matt6 25"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wearV26Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? ..V32.. the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well."
God is faithful & true. If he looks after the birds how much more will he provide for us? Trusting in God & prioritising his concerns helps against covetousness God will give us what we need.
The 10 commandments are given for God's people to obey in thankfulness for what God has done to rescue us. The OT believers were to live thankfully after their rescue from slavery in Egypt at the Exodus. How much more do we have to be grateful for in Jesus & his rescue from sin & death thorough the Cross?
Christians are always being encouraged to be thankful in the pages of the NT: Indeed Paul tells the Thessalonians "give thanks in all circumstances for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus". Gratitude is God's purpose for us & it can change our attitude to things & therefore our tendency to covet. Rather than "I must have this" we thank God for what we have.
Our culture discourages us from being thankful. The adverts seduce us into wanting more "Because you're worth it" & "You deserve it!" In fact we deserve nothing & what we have are gifts from God, gifts we should be grateful for.
There was a little boy who lived in the Highlands of Scotland. The boy would look out of his bedroom window across a valley to a large house with golden windows. The boy thought the people living there must be superior to have golden windows & that he had better not go near the house.
But curiosity got the better of him & one day he set off to get a closer look at the house with golden windows. As he got nearer to the house he met another boy who asked him what he wanted. "I want to see your house with golden windows".
The other boy said, "What are you talking about? Where do you live anyway?" "I'm from over the valley." The 2nd boy said "Then you're the boy with the house with golden windows"
They turned & looked around. The sun had moved across the valley & was now shining in the windows of the other house!!
It is so easy to covet what others have & forget that what we have is really good, if not better. Learn to count your blessings, be grateful.
Coveting is a deep problem today because so few are happy with what they already have. A journalist writing about people in Sweden put it well; "Except for the climate, Sweden has everything. Money, education, peace, beauty, taste, full employment, welfare, weekend cottages, freedom, excellent food. These ought to combine to make the Swedes the happiest people in the world, but I found then to be discontented, restless with life, ridden with neurosis."
In contrast the Apostle Paul tells Timothy; 1Tim6. 6But godliness with contentment is great gain. 7For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. 8But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that" & to the Philippians he writes "I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need & I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any & every situation."
What is his secret? "I can do everything through him who gives me strength" (4:12-13)
Ultimate contentment in this life is found only in relationship with God through Jesus. If we know him then we have a perspective on this life & the things we might long for, that is different, & we have the presence of Jesus with us by his Spirit to give us strength to fight with temptation & obsession with wanting more.
Someone has suggested that Christians should now & again shout "Who are you kidding?" when we see TV adverts that encourage covetousness. That would be a reminder to us not to be taken in, not to have our contentment shaken. That's so often the danger - the continuous seemingly innocuous but actually powerful assault on our hearts. It's a reminder too to those of us with children that we need to help them see through the propaganda & to see how manipulative media influences are & instead to apply God's truth to what comes at us from all angles.
Trust God, be thankful & learn contentment in Christ & we'll be a long way to living out the 10th commandment.
As we close I want to ask how have we viewed these 10 commandments? If we have simply seen them as rules to keep, worse still as rules to keep to somehow make God accept us we've missed the whole point.
These words are God's guidance for living the good life - & generally if we live according to them our lives & our society will be more what they're meant to be. But the 10 Commandments also show us our greatest need.
We recognized earlier that this 10th command gets to the heart of the matter: God wants our hearts right. And yet so often we know our hearts are wrong. Our attitudes are questionable, our motives are mixed, our inner inconsistencies are revealed by God's purity, we stand condemned before a holy God from whom nothing in all creation is hidden & before whom we have to give account.
What can we do, where can we go to deal with our situation?
The Apostle Paul saw this problem as clearly as anyone has & he uses the 10th commandment to illustrate the truth.
Romans 7; v7 "Indeed I would not have known what sin was except through the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, "Do not covet." 8But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of covetous desirev10 I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death. 11For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to deathV13Did that which is good, then, become death to me? By no means! But in order that sin might be recognized as sin, it produced death in me through what was good, so that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful.
So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22For in my inner being I delight in God's law; 23but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. 24What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?
Then he tells us the answer v25"Thanks be to God--through Jesus Christ our Lord!"
In God's plan part of what the 10 commandments do is show us our need of Jesus - Jesus who perfectly kept all 10 commandments all the time. Jesus who gives to those who trust him his perfect record of obedience before God. Jesus who died on the cross bearing in himself the blame for our breaking of the 10 commandments if we'll accept him.
Without the 10 Commandments to show us our failure we would never come to Jesus Coming to this Jesus is the greatest need that we have.
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