Obedience from the Heart

April 30, 2017 / No. 3878

Dear Radio Friends,
In our radio messages, we have been considering the Ten Commandments of the law of God, and today we come to the last of those in Exodus 20:17: “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s.”
As we have been looking at the law, we have seen that the law shows us our sin; it shows our need of Jesus Christ so that, as a schoolmaster, it brings us to Christ, seeking forgiveness in Him, and praying for the grace of the Holy Spirit to be changed so that we are more like our Savior. This commandment does this especially because it deals not with behavior but with desire. It deals with a heart issue: the issue of coveting.
What is coveting? It is any inappropriate desire for what belongs to somebody else. It is to very strongly want something that we do not have. Now, not all coveting is wrong. In I Corinthians 12:31 we are encouraged to “covet earnestly the best gifts.” There is a proper yearning and a proper desire that should be in the heart of every believer. There are things for which we hope as believers and things we must seek. But the commandment is talking about wanting something that is not meant or not intended by God to be ours. So we wish for the possessions, or we wish for the position or the personality, of somebody else. This leads to jealousy and a deep envy and, in the end, a hatred for the neighbor. Not only is it a sin against the neighbor, but it leads towards discontentment and is, in the end, a rebellion against the sovereignty of God. Colossians 3:5 says that covetousness is idolatry. Idolatry is to worship something or someone in the place of God. When we covet, we put ourselves not only before the neighbor, but also before God. We worship ourselves—that is selfishness—and we challenge the sovereignty of God.
The tenth commandment is penetrating. It is penetrating in its form. In its form it is different from the preceding commandments. The preceding commandments say simply: “Thou shalt not commit adultery, kill, steal, or bear false witness. But this commandment adds more. There is a repetition: Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house; thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife. The repetition is necessary in order to uncover this deeper sin in the heart. We make excuses; we deny our sin. So the commandment comes twice to tell us: Thou shalt not covet.
Then it mentions seven things that we are not to covet. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house, wife, manservant, maidservant, ox, or ass (six things), and then the seventh: nor any thing that is thy neighbor’s. So, it is comprehensive. It covers the totality of what is not ours. Then, three times it mentions the neighbor: Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house, thy neighbor’s wife, nor any thing that is thy neighbor’s. It puts this commandment in the context of our relationships, examining not just what is in our hearts and desires but our heart and desires in relationship to our neighbor. This commandment has to do with love for the neighbor. It is penetrating.
It is penetrating also in its requirement. It addresses not simply behavior, but also the heart. Coveting—a desire. Proverbs 24:9 tells us that “the thought of foolishness is sin.” This commandment addresses the entire thought world of man—what goes on in the mind. When no words are said, when we are sitting still, when our eyes are closed, even when we are sleeping, there is still something going on in our mind. And we are responsible before God for our thoughts. Jesus makes this very clear in the Sermon on the Mount when He says in Matthew 5:28 that whosoever looks on a woman to lust after her has already committed adultery in his heart. You see, God’s view of sin, what God sees of our sin, is much deeper than what we see or understand.
That is brought home to us by what we could say is the positive requirement of this commandment, indeed, the positive requirement of the whole law of God, and that is that we have a perfect heart before God; that we hate all sin; that we love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength; that we love our neighbor as ourselves; that we rejoice when our neighbor prospers; that we are thankful that God has given things to him; that we are glad about his success or position; that we encourage him; and that we are perfectly content with our lot in life, trusting in God in whatever our situation. This commandment is penetrating in its requirement.
How are you doing with this commandment? Where are your desires and your thoughts? Do you long for a relationship that another has? Do you desire the respect and the position that God has given to your neighbor? Are you jealous of the material resources and possessions that another man has? Are you determined to get something simply because you want it and are willing to go into great debt in order to achieve it? Do you long to be in a different set of circumstances than your present one? If any of those things is true of you, then you are coveting, and God is concerned about your coveting as much as your deeds. He is opposed not simply to adultery and theft, but the very thought of adultery and the thought of theft, and He cares, He is concerned about, what is in our heart.
As we understand the depths of this commandment, we see how important it is, and how important it is also in our understanding the requirement of all of the Ten Commandments of God’s law.
This commandment teaches us these five important truths. First, it teaches us that the law is spiritual. Externals may be enforced by the state; they may be enforced by parents. But here is something that really cannot be enforced by man, but it is still important before God. In Matthew 15:8 God says, “This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips [that is, externals], but their heart is far from me.” God deals with the whole man. He examines and requires things in our love, in our desires, in our goals, in our hopes, in our fears, in our feelings, in our motives, in our anxieties. We must examine those heart things before the law of God. I learn, as I come to this commandment, that I must not live simply by an external set of rules, but love God from the heart.
The second truth that this commandment teaches us has to do with repentance. We tend to make excuses for our sin. We especially try to cover up and excuse sin in our hearts and in our attitudes. If ever somebody questions our motives, we get very defensive. We see our heart as our personal territory and nobody else’s business, and we think it is not fair that someone should question our motives. But we see in this commandment that, as we stand before God, the motives of our heart are fair game. So, in repentance, we must repent not only of our sinful deeds but also of our evil thoughts and desires, and we understand the depth of the atoning death of Jesus Christ. He died on the cross not only for sinful deeds and words, but also for the sins in our heart.
In the third place, this commandment teaches us something about sanctification—that the battle with sin is total; that we struggle against sin not just in deeds; that our fight for holiness is not just external; but that we must fight against the power of sin in our heart, in our nature. I Peter 2:11 teaches us that the struggle against sin is in the soul: “Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul.” This is where the battle begins. So, as we desire holiness, we must seek and pray for it within. In Psalm 51 the psalmist says, “I am evil, I am born in sin. But God, you desire truth within.”
The fourth truth that this commandment teaches us has to do with our relationship to others and how we judge others. What we tend to do is judge others by externals and compare ourselves. We do that in order to justify ourselves. Then we really do not understand the depth of our own sin. Jesus speaks of taking the beam out of your own eye when you think of the brother. If we honestly compare ourselves with others, then our conclusion should be “that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief” (I Tim. 1:15), because, examining sin, I know my own better than anybody else’s, so I will be humble in my relation to others.
Then a fifth important truth that this commandment teaches us is that, as we raise our children and we must teach them to examine and analyze the motives of their own hearts, the duty of a parent is not simply to control the behavior of his child. The duty of the Christian parent is also to teach heart issues to the child. So, we must ask them the questions about their motives. We must teach them to live out of a heart of love and faith and not simply to live to an external standard.
This commandment requires something that has to do with our desires, our heart. “Thou shalt not covet.” Also behind this commandment there are important truths that should motivate us against this sin of coveting.
The first is the truth of the sovereignty of God. This truth is at the heart of the Reformed faith. But as we come to this commandment we must understand that this truth (the sovereignty of God) tells us not only that God is sovereign in grace and in our salvation, but especially that God is sovereign over all the events of our life and that we trust in a God who, in His sovereign rule, works all things for our good. If we understand that, if we confess that, then we will learn to be content and to rest in quiet faith in Him rather than coveting. We forget this, and when covetousness springs up in our heart we are denying the sovereign control of God. We are saying something like this: God does not understand; God is not good to me; God is doing me wrong by withholding things from me; does God know what He is doing? This is discontentment. If I find myself coveting, that is what I am saying. I am not content, I am not happy with what God is doing. Then, if that is you, you need to understand the truth of the sovereignty of God. What a comfort it is to know that God is sovereign. What an encouragement in contentment. This is the answer to all covetousness. Not to get the things that I want and desire to have bigger and better things, but to look today at where I am at, in whatever situation I am and confess that God is sovereign. Covetousness, this desire for more and for what God withholds from me, comes from within. Contentment is a state of mind that is not determined by outward circumstances. Paul says in Philippians 4:11, “I have learned, in whatever state I am, therewith to be content.” So we confess the sovereignty of God. And that motivates us in our desire to be content.
The second truth that we must understand in order to be motivated in obedience to this commandment is that the world in which we live is passing away. It is fleeting. It is temporary. We forget this. And yet the Bible is very clear and very plain on this. Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world, for everything in the world passes away (I John 2). II Peter 3:10 says that this world will be melted with a fervent heat. Not only this world, but also our lives will come to an end. James says that our life is a vapor. The Scriptures teach that man’s days are like a shadow, they are like a dream that is forgotten. They are vanity, and everyone who is born will die. Everything—your body, your position, your possessions—all of it will be taken from you in a moment. So, what are your goals? What are your desires? What are your hopes? What are your loves? For what do you live? If our life is motivated by covetousness, then our life will end in the disaster of the rich fool whose life was required and then God said, “Whose shall these things be?” That is the truth. That is not a disappointing truth for the child of God, for we live for a heavenly city, a better country. And we treasure the things that will not fade, where the gold will not grow dim. And what a motivation. We are pilgrims and strangers here in the earth who seek a heavenly city.
The third truth that motivates us in keeping and obeying this commandment is that God has already given us much more than we deserve. That comes out of the commandment itself. Who are you? The commandment exposes you as a sinner who is corrupt in your nature. What do you deserve? Nothing. One thing: the judgment of God. And the things that we have, we do not deserve. The things that we have are all a gift from God. II Corinthians 4:7 asks the question: What do you have that you did not receive? Everything is a gift. If we would really understand this, then we would be thankful for what God has given and not be covetous. We would recognize that God has given us more than we deserve. And that is true not only with regard to earthly things but especially heavenly things and the blessings of salvation that are ours in Jesus Christ. What a wonder, what a grace God has shown to us in giving us salvation in Jesus Christ. If we would understand that, then we would learn to be content.
But what do we do? We compare ourselves with the neighbor. We say, “I work harder than him. I’m a better person than him. I deserve more than him. I have rights as a human being.” We should understand that as far as God is concerned and standing before God, we really have no rights. Everything is a gift. Then, not only will we not be covetous, but we will be generous with what God has given to us. Do you understand that? The amazing grace of God in what He has given to you? How remarkable that any one of us should have anything from God.
That brings us to the purpose of this commandment and, indeed, the purpose of the whole law. It is to lead us to Jesus Christ. We cannot keep the law, we cannot keep the high standards of the law, especially in this commandment which has to do with our heart. This commandment exposes our sin before God and it leads us to look at Jesus Christ, who did no sin, who knew no sin, who could not be condemned. In John 14:30 Jesus, as He is going to the cross, says that the prince of this world hath nothing in Him. Satan comes accusing. He accuses us in our conscience, and we say, “Yes, we’re guilty.” But he can find nothing in Jesus Christ. We all falter, but Christ remains standing, holy, blameless, undefiled, separate from sin, the Lamb without spot of blemish. And the Father says, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” There is our deliverer. And we must confess our sin and trust His righteousness and set our mind on Him and find our treasure and life in Him.
What a Savior, what a salvation. He delivers me from my sinful self. He forgives me all my sinful inclinations. He renews me in the inward man and gives me different, new, heavenly desires and loves. He overcomes the sins of my heart. He pays the price for my sinfulness and my sinful nature. In gratitude I seek not the treasures of this earth, but the things above that will never fade, the treasures of heaven.
This is where the law leads us. It is a schoolmaster to bring us to Jesus Christ. As we see our sin, may God work in us a true repentance to look to His Son for our salvation.
Let us pray.
Father, we thank Thee for this commandment, and we pray that as we consider the sins in our hearts we will learn to look away from ourselves to Jesus Christ for all our salvation. We thank Thee for the grace that we have in Him. And we pray, work that grace in our hearts so that we are renewed in our minds and transformed from within by the power of Thy Holy Spirit. We pray it for Jesus’ sake, Amen.