"THE TENTH COMMANDMENT"

EXODUS 20:17-21 

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             Be honest.  Aren’t you glad there are only ten commandments?  I recall a scene from the Mel Brooks movie The History of the World, where Moses comes down from Mount Sinai carrying three stone tablets, and he says to the people of Israel, amidst all the smoke, lightening and thunder, “God has given us fifteen,” and then he drops one of the stone tablets and it breaks, and he looks down at the shattered tablet, and then he looks back up to the crowd and says, “God has given us ten commandments.” 

            Aren’t you glad there are only ten commandments, and not fifteen?  I am because these ten commandments give us enough to work on for a lifetime, and this morning we turn to the last one, and listen to it.

 

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

            When all the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking, they were afraid and trembled and stood at a distance, and said to Moses, “You shall speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, or we will die.”  Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid; for God has only come to test you and to put the fear of him upon you so that you do not sin.”  Then the people stood at a distance, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was.

 

            Pretty dramatic ending to the receiving of the ten commandments.  I was thinking about renting a smoke machine for today and getting a soundtrack of thunder, but  thought better of it.  Instead I simply want to end our series by telling you about a man named Bill and his father, named Harold.

            Bill is a pastor, and listen to what he had to say about his father.  When Bill was in college his father, Harold, completely out of character, bought a 1200cc Harley-Davidson.  Bill states,

 

            In order to realize how out-of-character this behavior was for my dad, you’d have to know something about his typical attitude toward material possessions.  Every time he bought a new car, he would put 40,000 miles on it without changing the oil or having it serviced, and then traded it back to the Ford dealer for a new one.

            Every time the Ford dealer would say, “Harold, can I talk you into some options this year?”

            “Just a heater,” Dad would say.

            “Well, what about a color?” the dealer would ask.

            “Cheap,” Dad would answer.  “Any color that’s cheap.  I like cheap colors.”

            Even Dad’s wardrobe reflected his indifference to the material world.  For one ten-year stretch, he wore nothing but black slacks and white shirts.  And he bought his shoes by the case - all the same style and the same color.  When people joked about it, he’d say, “It’s one less decision I have to make.  I reach into the closet and take the end shirt and the end pair of pants.  No muss.  No fuss.  That’s the way I like it.”

            He was so disciplined, so disinterested in frills, so hard to excite - except when it came to Harley-Davidsons.  Within two years we had six of them in the garage - two big ones for Dad, one each for my brother and me, and smaller models for my sisters.

            One time a close friend of Dad’s asked him if he could borrow his Harley to take on a short trip.  Dad had a reputation for being generous with what he owned, so this man - a competent biker - didn’t anticipate any problems.  However, an uncomfortable silence met his request.

            Finally Dad said, “ You can sleep in my house, you can drive my car, you can sail my boat - but please, please don’t ask to use my Harley!”

 

            Most of us are a little like Bill’s dad.  We have a weak spot.  Whether it’s a motorcycle, a home, a boat, clothes, books, electronic equipment, jewelry, furniture, art, music, whatever it is, most of have a weak spot that occasionally gives way to runaway desires. 

            The tenth commandment warns us about this passion to possess.  It warns us about coveting.  Let me define that word.  Coveting is an all-encompassing compulsion to possess something.  It’s not merely the act of admiring something.  We certainly can appreciate an object for its beauty, workmanship, power or function, and express that appreciation without coveting it.  No, coveting moves beyond saying “I like that,” to saying, “I have to own that.”  Coveting sets its sights on something and does not rest until it gets it.  As we look at it this morning I want to discuss three things associated with the tenth commandment: one, coveting accentuated, two, coveting what is our neighbor’s, and three, the art of contentment.

            Let’s begin with coveting accentuated.  Never in the history of civilization have people been pushed to possess as we are.  Marketing research is a billion-dollar-a-year industry.  Thousands of people across the country spend countless hours a week designing ways to trigger our buying mechanisms.  They use music, slogans, sights, sounds, and colors to inflame our passion to possess.  In short, they’re trying to make us covet.  And it seems to be working.  A recent survey revealed that 93% of female teenagers listed shopping as their favorite activity.  93%!

            Advertisers, however, are not the only ones guilty of this ploy.  Managers sometimes dangle attractive inducements in front of their producers in an effort to increase their output.  Some sales organizations encourage people to hang color pictures of their dream possessions or trips in their office or cubicle.  They hope these constant reminders will motivate them to sell more products.  I think of an owner of a company who loves it when his employees buy new, expensive cars.  He says, “They will have to work hard to pay for it.” 

            The problem, of course, is living in a climate of covetousness distracts us from other concerns.  It’s not uncommon for us to overlook important spiritual practices in our efforts to acquire the objects of our passion.  Sometimes we pursue our passions to the point that our health suffers.  Or we neglect our spouses or families.  Or we step on or over people for the sake of selfish ends.  Some even lie and cheat to get what they want. 

            And we will spend so much time acquiring we won’t have time for bible study or prayer or service.  Or we’ll be unable to offer financial support for ministries in our community because so much of our resources have gone to acquiring.  So as far as coveting goes, we live in a dangerous age.

            That brings us to section two: coveting what our neighbor has.  When we covet something “out there,” something that is available and waiting to be claimed, we limit much of our destruction to ourselves.  When we covet what belongs to others, however, we jeopardize our relationships with them. 

            I'm sure some of you have seen the movie, "The God's Must Be Crazy."  It came out back in the eighties and is on my list as one of the funniest films of all times.  The opening of the movie is in the genre of a documentary—you think you are watching National Geographic or something similarly serious as the narrator introduces you to a primitive tribe in Africa.  Everyone is living in perfect harmony as they share everything. These folks have not had contact with the outside world.  They've not been corrupted; they're happy and content, but all that changes.  One day a bush pilot is flying over their meager village and after chugging down a bottle of Coke, he drops the empty bottle out of the plane.  Those on the ground think the empty soda bottle is a gift from the gods, and they find many uses for the bottle.   It improves their lives.  It is used as a hammer; the sun reflecting through the glass allows them to build fires.  You get the idea; the bottle quickly becomes a handy tool.  But soon, since there is only one bottle, the harmony of the tribe is destroyed.  They begin to fight over who has the right to the bottle and finally, the elders gather and they decide the gods must be crazy to have sent them such a dangerous gift and one man is chosen to take the bottle back to the gods—in other words back to civilization.  The movie continues with his journey and you'll have to watch it to find out what happens.             

            Coveting what our neighbor has is a serious offense on two accounts.  First, it indicates a lack of love for our neighbor and typically leads to disharmony.  Second, coveting another person’s possessions is serious because it unmasks our dissatisfaction with God’s provision for us.  When we covet, our heart says, “God, you’ve not been fair with me.  I deserve a nicer spouse, or a more lucrative position, or a bigger house, or higher status.  You’ve shortchanged me, God.  You owe me something better!”  While we may not verbalize those words, and may not be consciously aware of the, they underlie every covetous thought, word, and action. 

            Then, finally, let’s take a quick look at the alternative to a covetous life.  Let’s take a quick look at contentment.

            Contentment is a condition of the heart.  One can be relatively poor and contented.  One can be very rich and contented.  And one can fall somewhere in between and be contented.  The Apostle Paul put it like this,

 

            I have learned to be content with whatever I have.  I know what it is like to have little, and I know what it is like to have plenty.  In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need (Philippians 4:11-12). 

 

            Unlike the covetous person who thinks God has dealt him or her an unfair hand, the contented person is grateful to God for whatever he or she has.  The contented person knows that if he has Christ as Lord and Savior, then he or she has everything one needs, and far more than one deserves.

            You see, I have only to reflect back on this sermon series to find out what I deserve.  I’ve broken every one of these Ten Commandments to some degree, at least when taking Jesus’ expansion of them into consideration, and because of that I deserve God’s wrath.  That’s what I deserve.  I deserve that and nothing else.

            But what has God given me?  God’s given me health, home, family, and friends.  God’s given me forgiveness and the promise of eternal life.  God’s given me a purpose. God’s given me his day-in and day-out presence.  How dare I ask for more?  Instead of coveting more, I ought to be asking myself why I have so much. 

            When we are tempted to complain to God by saying, “Why did you bless Harry more than you blessed me?”  we might do well to stop and desist right on the spot.  We’d do better to admit to God that we are sinful men and women who forget to be grateful. 

            Let me close our series with this.  Turn with me to Romans 5:20.  Listen to what the Apostle Paul says about the Law.  He writes,

 

            But the law came in, with the result that the trespass multiplied; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more. 

 

            In other words, the Law, the Ten Commandments, points out our sin, multiplies our sense of it if you will, so that we can see our need for a Savior.  If this series has been a difficult and frustrating series for you, as it has been for me, then it may be that the Law has succeeded in doing exactly what it’s supposed to do.  It’s forced us to our knees in humble repentance.