Exodus 20:17

Sermon preached on June 15, 2008 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2008. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at http://www.cantonnewlife.org/.

I love Apple stores. Have you ever been in one? I'm not talking about the tiny ones, like the one in Syracuse—but one of the bigger ones, like Albany or Toronto. They're fantastic. They have iPhones, iPods and every type of Mac they sell. They're all on display and hooked up to the internet and you can play with the computers, fall in love with the huge 30 inch monitors or listen to the iPods. It's fantastic. Plus they have a lot of accessories and software for sale. It's a really great experience to go to an Apple Store.

Going to an Apple Store reminds me of the apostle Paul's words in Romans 7:7-8.

"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.'"

I could almost say that I didn't know what it meant to covet until I went in my first Apple Store.

But it's not really coveting if you just go in there to look around and are able to keep yourself under control. It would be coveting if I went in there to steal. It would be if I went in there and bought things that I couldn't afford. It would be if I was totally obsessed with Apple products. But we all know that's not the case.

It's easy to covet. A lot of today's advertising encourages it. Advertisers will tell you that you deserve the good life and all the things that go with it.
Philip Ryken suggests that much of today's advertising is so successful because of, (Written in Stone, p. 204)

"our inability to keep the tenth commandment."

Over the last two holiday seasons the Wii game console was in short supply. While most think that this past year's shortage was due to poor forecasting on Nintendo's part, some have suggested that they deliberately kept the supply short in order to drive up demand. I not sure that's true, but isn't it interesting that so often people want what they can't have.

What is it about us as human beings that the minute we are told that we can't have something—that's the one thing we really want. Adam and Eve were told that they could eat of any plant or tree in the whole world—except for one. God said, (Genesis 1:29)

"I give you every seed-bearing plant
on the face of the whole earth
and every tree that has fruit with seed in it.
They will be yours for food."

There was only one they were not allowed to eat from. In God said to Adam, (Genesis 2:16-17)

"You are free to eat
from any tree in the garden;
but you must not eat from the tree
of the knowledge of good and evil,
for when you eat of it you will surely die."

The fruit of one tree from forbidden. Which fruit did Eve want? The one that was forbidden. She had probably never even tried a fraction of all that the fruit that she was allowed to have. None of the stuff they were allowed to have was exciting enough for Eve. No, when Satan tempted her all she wanted was the one fruit that she wasn't allowed to have. We read, (Genesis 3:6)

"When the woman saw that
the fruit of the tree was good for food
and pleasing to the eye,
and also desirable for gaining wisdom,
she took some and ate it."

Eve coveted the forbidden fruit. She was told that she wasn't allowed to have it—and that's the fruit that she desired.

Coveting comes naturally to most of us. It's something that we have to be very much on our guard against. But we must resist and overcome it. Our text reads,

"You shall not covet your neighbor's house.
You shall not covet your neighbor's wife,
or his manservant or maidservant,
his ox or donkey,
or anything that belongs to your neighbor."

We are not to covet.

But what exactly does it mean to covet? If we are going to avoid covetousness, we need to know exactly what it is.

The Hebrew word that is used here literally means '
to desire'. The word is sometimes used in the Bible in a good sense. For example, in Psalm 19:11 it says that the ordinances of the Lord,

"are more desireable than gold,
than much pure gold;
they are sweeter than honey,
than honey from the comb."

And in Isaiah 53:2 it says of the coming Messiah,

"He had no beauty or majesty
to attract us to him,
nothing in his appearance
that we should desire him."

It would have been good to desire Him, but sin held many back.

But in other instances it refers to
a very bad desire, like lusting after something evil. (Ezekiel 23) It's used in Joshua 7:21 of Achan, who brought tragedy on Israel by disobeying the Lord's command that they were not to take any of the plunder from Jericho. In his confession of his sin Achan said,

"When I saw in the plunder
a beautiful robe from Babylonia,
two hundred shekels of silver
and a wedge of gold weighing fifty shekels,
I coveted them and took them.
They are hidden in the ground inside my tent,
with the silver underneath."

He wasn't allowed to take any plunder or set his heart it. But he did. He desired something that God told him he wasn't allowed to have.

So the Hebrew word itself is neutral. It merely refers to a desire. However, most times in the Bible it is used in a very negative way—to refer to a desire that we shouldn't have.

So the key to understanding the prohibition in this command is the word '
neighbor'. You are not to desire your neighbor's house, your neighbor's wife, his servants, his livestock or anything else that belongs to your neighbor. Philip Ryken says of coveting, (p. 202)

"It's not simply wanting something we don't have; it's wanting something that someone else has."

Thus, at its core

coveting consists of desiring something that you don't have a right to—other people's things.

Don't desire other people's things. You'll remember that when David first saw Bathsheba he didn't know who she was. So he sent someone to find out. The man came back and said, (2 Samuel 11:3)

"Isn't this Bathsheba,
the daughter of Eliam and
the wife of Uriah the Hittite?"

That should have been it. She was another man's wife. David had no right to her. He should have pursed it no further. But he still desired her. It didn't matter to him that she was married. It didn't matter that she was off limits to him. He desired her even though he had no right to her. That's coveting.

We see the same thing in a story about
King Ahab. In 1 Kings 21:1-3 we read,

"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 fathers.'"

You see the sin? The sin wasn't in Ahab wanting a vegetable garden. The sin was in desiring Naboth's land after Naboth made it clear to him that he wasn't going to sell it. Ahab had no right to it. It belonged to Naboth.

But coveting doesn't just have to do with things that belong to our neighbor.

As we have seen with Achan, his desire consisted of

wanting something that the Lord told him he wasn't allowed to have.

The Babylonian garment, the silver and the gold that he took didn't belong to any human being. The city had been put to the sword and the owners were dead. It belonged to God and He had told the Israelites that they weren't allowed to take it. It was the same way with Eve. God told her not to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. That fruit didn't belonged to God and God told her that she was not allowed to have it.

So coveting has to do not just with things that other people have—but also with what God tells us we are not allowed to have. Anytime someone desires something that is sinful, that's coveting. We need to avoid it.

The second thing that we should understand about coveting is that

it has to do with your heart.

This commandment is different from most of the other commandments. They forbid outward actions. But coveting relates to our hearts.

What do you desire? What do you set your heart on? How you need to be careful there.
Proverbs 4:23 says,

"Above all else,
guard your heart,
for it is the wellspring of life."

Some people mistakenly think that coveting is a relatively minor sin. Phil Ryken quotes one commentator who wrote, (p. 204)

"It has occurred to me that whoever approved the final order of these commandments didn't have much of a sense of climax. He put all of those dramatic, intriguing sins like stealing, adultery, and murder first. Then he ended with coveting. It would have seemed more logical to begin with the bland, throw-away sin like coveting, and then work up to the big stuff."

But nothing could be further from the truth. Philip Ryken writes, (p. 205)

"Coveting can sink us down to hell as fast as any other sin."

Or perhaps faster than others. In 1 Timothy 6:9 the apostle Paul wrote,

"People who want to get rich
fall into temptation and a trap
and into many foolish and harmful desires
that plunge men into ruin and destruction."

Your desires can lead you to into hell.

People, beware of the beginnings of coveting.

Coveting has to do with your heart. It's the most fertile soil in the universe. If you plant a seed of wrongful desire there it will soon grow out of control.

I mean, one year we planted
squash in our garden. We made these little hills to the side of our garden and put some squash seeds there. The squash grew with such vigor that it soon spread and just covered our entire garden and threatened to choke out all the other plants. The squash even spread way out beyond our garden.

That's what coveting will do if you plant it in your heart. If you plant the seed of coveting in your heart it will soon grow out of control and consume your heart and all your actions. You won't control it—it will control you.

Once you set your heart on the wrong thing the desire can grow into something obsessive, blind, unreasonable and overpowering. You won't be able to control it, it will control you.

We see this with King Ahab. When Naboth refused to sell him his vineyard, (1 Kings 21)

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

The sin of coveting grabbed hold of King Ahab and wouldn't let go. It consumed him and overrode all other considerations. It led to his destruction. His wife Jezebel arranged for Naboth to be falsely accused and put to death. Ahab lost his kingdom, his life, his soul—over a vegetable garden.

We see the same thing in
Amnon, David's son. In 2 Samuel 13:1-2 we read,

"In the course of time,
Amnon son of David
fell in love with Tamar,
the beautiful sister of Absalom son of David.
Amnon became frustrated
to the point of illness
on account of his sister Tamar,
for she was a virgin,
and it seemed impossible for him
to do anything to her."

He was so consumed by his desire that one of his friends said to him,

"Why do you, the king's son,
look so haggard morning after morning?"

It made him absolutely crazy. With the help of his so-called friend he made elaborate plans to get her. His plans succeeded. But (2 Samuel 13:15)

"Then Amnon hated her with intense hatred.
In fact, he hated her
more than he had loved her.
Amnon said to her,
'Get up and get out!'"

How unreasonable his desire was. He was totally obsessed with wanting her and then when he got what he wanted he found that it didn't satisfy and that he didn't want it any more. His desire made him a complete fool and led to his destruction at the hands of his brother Absalom.

Coveting can take the wisest, most self-controlled man and make him act like an absolute fool
. Be careful what you desire. Be careful what you set your heart on. You may end up like Amon and get it but find that not only does it not satisfy—but that it destroys you.

Don't let the seed of wrongful desire get planted in your heart.

The third thing we should understand about this command is that it has a
positive side. Like all the other commandments, this commandment is framed in negative terms, but it also means that

you should have a great love for others and be glad that God has given them what they have.

Rather than setting your heart on what others have and desiring that you have it instead of them—you are to be happy for them in what they have. John Calvin writes, (Institutes, II:8:49)

"The purpose of this commandment is: since God wills that our whole soul be possessed with a disposition to love, we must banish from our hearts all desire contrary to love." "no thought should steal upon us to move our hearts to a harmful covetousness that tends to our neighbor's loss." "whatever we conceive, deliberate, will, or attempt to our neighbor's good and advantage."

There is to no envy in you, desiring what others have. You are to love your neighbor as yourself, (Leviticus 19:18) therefore there can be no jealously, no wanting what they have. No, we are to love them. You should be rejoicing with others about how God has blessed them. Love others. Love others as you love yourself. That's the summary of this commandment.

But the great question is:

How do you prevent yourself from coveting?

A few suggestions.

First, recognize that your life is in God's hands and that He will take care of you.

He will give you what you need. You don't have to covet what others have. Trust God. He will take care of you.

When Abraham and Lot's tribesmen quarreled, Abraham said to Lot, (Genesis 13:8-12)

"Let's not have any quarreling
between you and me,
or between your herdsmen and mine,
for we are brothers.
Is not the whole land before you?
Let's part company.
If you go to the left,
I'll go to the right;
if you go to the right,
I'll go to the left."

We then read that Lot chose the plain of the Jordan because it was well watered, like the garden of the Lord. So Lot chose that area, the area of Sodom and Gomorrah. Lot went that way and Abraham the other. Was Abraham worse off? No. God took care of him. It was Lot who had trouble after trouble.

What you have, your lot in life, your possessions , is not by accident. God has given you these things. In His wisdom He has given you what you have and withheld other things from you. In
Jeremiah 27:5 God said,

"With my great power and outstretched arm
I made the earth and its people
and the animals that are on it,
and I give it to anyone I please."

So, don't covet. Be content with what God has given you. Trust Him to bless you. As we read in Psalm 37:4

"Delight yourself in the LORD,
and he will give you the desires of your heart."

Secondly, know and be convinced of the fact that the things of this world don't really satisfy.

The book of Ecclesiastes tells of Solomon's search for meaning and satisfaction in this life. He tried riches, pleasure, sex, power, work—but he found that none of it satisfied. It was all vanity—a chasing after the wind.

Be careful what you desire.
Amnon wanted Tamar. But when he got her he wasn't satisfied. It left him empty.

In April when we were traveling to Nova Scotia we stopped at a gas station convenience store and at one point Marg was looking at some little signs that they were selling. As we were leaving the store I noticed that she had a big smile on her face. I asked her what was so funny and she said that one of them said,

"My next husband is going to be normal."

Why would some woman say that? But even more to the point—why do you married women find it so funny? Why did Marg find it so funny?

Isn't it because so many woman get married and they have such high hopes and yet their husbands don't measure up? I also like the story about the wife who was asked if her husband lived up to what he said before they were married. She paused and said,

"Only one."

When they asked her what it was she replied,

"When he said that he wasn't good enough for me."

Anyway, the reason those sayings are so funny is because there's some degree of disappointment in even the best things in life. You shouldn't covet even the best things of this world. They don't ultimately satisfy.

The third reason you shouldn't covet is because

if you have Jesus, you have everything.

In 1 Corinthians 3:21-23 the apostle Paul said to Christians,

"For all things are yours,
whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas
or the world or life or death
or the present or the future
—all are yours,
and you are Christ's,
and Christ is God's."

If you have Jesus, you're an heir of everything. There's going to be a new heaven and a new earth. Because of Jesus and His work you're going to share in that. You're going to reign with Jesus.

So what this means is that you don't have to worry about anything in this world, what you will eat and drink and wear. As Jesus said in Matthew 6:33,

"But seek first his kingdom
and his righteousness,
and all these things
will be given to you as well."

Desire God. Desire His glory. Let Him be your all in all. In Psalm 73:25-26 the psalmist said to God,

"Whom have I in heaven but you?
And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength
of my heart and my portion forever."

Christian, are you desiring the things that God wants you to have? Desire Jesus, His life, His Spirit, the spiritual gifts He wants you to have. Don't desire the vain, worthless things of this world. Follow the example of Jesus. In 2 Corinthians 8:9 we read,

"For you know the grace
of our Lord Jesus Christ,
that though he was rich,
yet for your sakes he became poor,
so that you through his poverty
might become rich."

He came to serve, to make us rich with eternal life. Go to Jesus and receive true riches.

You who are not Christians, I ask you—what are you desiring?

You're ignoring the greatest thing and most worthwhile thing in the world—the service of Jesus—the one who loved sinners and who died for them.

If you're not a Christian, what you're focused on is vain. It won't last. It will disappoint you. Beware of what you set your heart on—you may just get it. How foolish to seek after something all your life and yet in the end find that it wasn't worthwhile. In Matthew 16:26 Jesus said,

"What good will it be for a man
if he gains the whole world,
yet forfeits his soul?
Or what can a man give
in exchange for his soul?"

You need Jesus. Without Him you have nothing. With Him you will have everything. Go to Him today.