Exodus 20:1-2, 17b - The Tenth Commandment
Troubles of the Heart
Exodus 20:1-2, 17b And God spoke all these words, saying, 2 “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery… 17 “…you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.”
LSC You shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, manservant or maidservant, ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbour. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not entice or force away our neighbour’s wife, workers, or animals, or turn them against him, but urge them to stay and do their duty.
Dear friends in Christ, “the grass is always greener on the other side,” isn’t it? Having heard previously how we are not to covet (that is, sinfully desire) anything that belongs to our neighbour—ie, his possessions—we now hear that we are also forbidden to desire any personal relationships our neighbour may have—be it with family, friends, or workers. Now the root cause of all unholy desires in our hearts is found in our own desire to be God, just as Adam and Eve did in the Garden. They desired to be God and were then quick to disobey His Word, thereby plunging the world into darkness and sin and death. So, we must always bear in mind how coveting in the heart leads to other, more flagrant and obvious sins.
Take for example the greatest of all Israel’s earthly kings—David. David coveted Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba. This led to even further sin—adultery, lies, and murder—all from simple coveting. This is proven time and time again. And we don’t have to look all the way back to the Old Testament for examples—indeed, we have plenty of evidence for this in our own lives. We see men and women scheme to get other people’s spouses or boyfriends/girlfriends—attempting to seduce them and lead them astray. We may even give bad counsel and urge the break-up of friendships or marriages rather than reconciliation. We at times encourage people not to be completely faithful to their family, vocation, job or employees. We manipulate and strive to control people for our own benefit—to satisfy our covetous desires.
God calls us in this commandment to be content with what He has given us—whom He has given us. Yet we are constantly dissatisfied with His blessings—craving more and overcome by greed—we seek to get that which God has not given us and belongs to another, thereby destroying relationships with friend, family, and neighbour alike. We want more—we want to be in control—and we will get what we want—how we want—who cares what God says.
Perhaps this kind of attitude can be seen best in our jealous attitudes toward others—everyone else’s family seems to be so less screwed up than ours, doesn’t it? Oh, sure, we may put on a good front in public, but behind closed doors, we know how messed up things are—and we secretly desire the apparently perfect life of another—despising the life and the people and things that God has generously bestowed upon us in His mercy. “Her husband does so much more around the house than mine. His wife never burns dinner! Those kids sure are well-behaved—could we trade?”
Beloved, sin has clouded our eyes to the wondrous truth and blessings that God has given us, just as it has twisted our hearts to desire things...and yes, even people, that are not ours. Therefore, God in His mercy has set out to mend our broken hearts—how?—by restore the relationship that exists between us and Him.
Remember that our sin has resulted in eternal separation from God and His kingdom. Left to our own devices we would be forever lost and condemned—doomed to suffer in hell for all time. Yet God, in Christ, coveted us—our souls—so much—that He set a plan in motion to rescue us—to deliver us and bring us back into a right relationship with Him.
In Jesus Christ, our Saviour, this plan has come to full fruition. For “when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying ‘Abba! Father!’ So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God” (Galatians 4:4-7).
You see that in Christ God has reconciled you to Himself—making you heirs of all His blessings through the waters of Baptism wherein He adopted you and made you His own dear children through faith in Jesus. God has changed your heart by pouring His own Spirit into it—one that cries out to Him for every good thing—one that repents of sin and yet trusts in the mercy of God for Christ’s sake to forgive that sin. Indeed, “while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son” (Romans 5:10a).
Dear friends, as Paul says (2 Corinthians 17-19a), “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to Himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them…” You see, you are those who have been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, Jesus Christ, who gave His life on the cross to pay the punishment for your sinful/covetous desires. In Christ, covered in His blood, you are clean—your sin is removed—and in its place you now have life and righteousness to the full—as God’s gift through faith in Jesus.
Now, to be sure, this side of heaven your hearts are still corrupted by sin. We still desire things that are not rightly ours and scheme to get them in any way possible. Yet remember that God in Christ Jesus has put to death the Old Adam within you—drowned him in your Baptism—that by His grace a New Adam may arise and live within you—one who desires to do God’s will. When tempted to do evil—when your heart begins to stray—remember all that Christ has done for you—remember that He, too, was tempted, yet resisted Satan with the Word of God. That weapon of the Spirit is yours as well—to skewer Satan and to curb sinful lusts and desires.
For the Word of Christ is living and active and powerful. The Word creates and sustains faith in your hearts—leads you to repentance and faith for the forgiveness of all your sins. For the Word is the very cradle of Jesus Himself—come to you to redeem and heal, to restore and lift up. His Word declares in no uncertain terms that by Jesus' ultimate suffering and death on the cross and by His rising again—your sin is paid in full—you are completely forgiven and so also receive His eternal life and salvation. For “you were bought with a price” (1 Corinthians 7:23a) and belong to God. The chains of the slavery of sin that so captivated your heart have been broken by His sacrifice and you have been set free.
In the Holy Supper our Lord Jesus Himself comes to you to strengthen and restore you after a long week of having been tempted by sin, suffered evil, given over to evil in your hearts again and again. His precious body and blood that you eat and drink purge your soul from sin and revive you with His own life-giving Spirit—beating back the assaults of the devil—He builds up your faith in Him by forgiving you your manifold sins. For He covets you like no other. He has gone to great lengths to purchase you back from the hell you were living in and has brought you to His own heavenly kingdom. This is all done by grace. No merit or worthiness on your part at all. For in Christ Jesus you are freely given everything that your heart could ever need, want, or desire. Thanks be to God in Christ Jesus. Amen.