November 24, 2019

Exodus 20:17: You Shall Not Covet

Preacher: Josh Tancordo Series: The Ten Commandments Scripture: Exodus 20:17

Exodus 20:17: You Shall Not Covet

This morning, we’re going to return to our sermon series on the Ten Commandments focus our attention on the last of these commandments, commandment number ten, found in Exodus 20:17. It states, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; 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.” 

In just a few days, we’ll officially be plunged into the busyness of the Christmas season. And one of the distinguishing marks of the Christmas season in America is a lot of money spent on various consumer products. Retailers across the nation are working overtime to make sure we know all about the amazing deals they have on many different kinds of products—TVs and phones and gaming systems and laptops and even hoverboards. And I’m sure you know as well as I do that even if you didn’t previously have a desire for a certain product, it’s very easy to begin to develop a desire as you see that product dangled in front of your nose in one advertisement after another. It’s funny how that works, isn’t it? You might have been perfectly content with your 48-inch 1080p TV, but then you see the brand new 65-inch 4K TV advertised for a lower price than you’ve ever seen before, and before long you begin asking yourself whether it might just be time for an upgrade. I mean, the TV you have now might be okay, but how much more amazing would it be to have that new TV? Your life will be so much better, right? That’s the way people are often tempted to think—myself included. And that’s kind of the point of marketing, right? Companies want us to think that way. They spend billions of dollars annually to try to figure out how to get us to think that way. And that’s probably why the average American has so much credit card debt. As of January of this year, the average cardholder in America owed a staggering $6,028 in credit card debt. $6,028. I would say that we, as a country, have a problem. And I believe that the tenth commandment gets right to the heart of our problem. 

Let me read it again. Exodus 20:17: “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; 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.” Now, if I had to guess, I would say it’s a pretty safe bet that no one this room has ever coveted their neighbor’s male servants or female servants—or oxen or donkeys, for that matter. Of course, if you have looked over the fence into your neighbor’s back yard and seen an ox standing there and coveted that ox, you obviously should repent of that. But assuming you haven’t struggled with that lately—or ever—let me nevertheless assure you that there’s still plenty for you and I to draw out of this commandment that’s very relevant for our lives. The fact is that this commandment prohibits any kind of coveting—including the kinds of material goods that we often find ourselves dying to have. 

In fact, this commandment brings us to a crossroads. As we read this commandment, it becomes apparent that there are two ways to live. We have a choice between two options: a covetous life and a satisfied life. So let’s look at each of those and really pick them apart and examine them. 

The Anatomy of a Covetous Life

First, let’s look at the anatomy of a covetous life. This is the path that all of us are on by default. Ever since the first humans, Adam and Eve, rebelled against God in the Garden of Eden, our hearts are naturally inclined to be covetous. Now what exactly does that mean—what does it mean to be covetous? One definition of coveting that I’ve heard and found especially helpful is from John Piper. He says that coveting is desiring something so much that you lose your contentment in God. It’s desiring something so much that you lose your contentment in God. That means coveting is, in a fact, a form of idolatry. We see this taught quite clearly in Colossians 3:5, where Paul writes, “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” We also find coveting referred to as idolatry in Ephesians 5:5. Paul writes, “For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.

So in both of these verses, coveting is essentially equated with idolatry. We’re seeking satisfaction in that-which-is-not-God rather than in the true God. And over and over again in the Bible, we see that doing that leads to misery. From the very beginning, when humans have looked to that-which-is-not-God to satisfy them, they end up becoming profoundly unsatisfied and empty and miserable. A few moments ago, I referred to Adam and Eve rebelling against God in the Garden of Eden. That rebellion came about because of covetous desires. God had told Adam and Eve not to eat the fruit of a particular tree in the garden, but in Genesis 3:5 Satan planted the idea in Eve’s mind that she could actually become “like God, knowing Good and evil.” Then verse 6 it says that “when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.” So Adam and Eve disobeyed God outwardly because, in their hearts, they coveted some good-tasting food as well as God’s status and God’s knowledge. Then the rest of the Bible records the terrible fallout of that decision. Coveting leads to misery. We could draw the same conclusion by looking at the story of Achan coveting the treasures of Jericho in Joshua 7 and David coveting Bathsheba in 2 Samuel 11. Over and over again in the Bible, we see coveting leading people to misery. 

And you can also see it happening today as well. As many of you know, I go to the Allegheny County Jail every week in order to talk with some of the inmates there. And lately, I’ve been talking to a guy that we’ll John. That’s not his real name; it’s just what we’ll call him. And John, interestingly enough, is a pastor’s kid. His dad is a pastor not too far from here. And not only did John have a religious upbringing but he also had a relatively good job before he was incarcerated. He was working as the general manager of a restaurant making around $60,000 a year. However, one day, John discovered that his bank had made an error and had accidently deposited $350,000 into his account. So what do you think he did? Well, given the fact he’s sitting in jail right now, it’s probably a safe assumption that he tried to take the money and run. And indeed that is what he did. He transferred the money to an offshore account and bought a one way plane ticket to Ecuador. Unfortunately for him, though, the authorities discovered what had happened and where he was planning to go, and they arrested him before he boarded the airplane. So what happened here? Well, John didn’t need the money. He was already making good money as a restaurant manager and wasn’t in any trouble financially or anything. However, he had a covetous heart. He just couldn’t resist trying to steal the $350,000 that he had accidentally been given access to. Coveting brings misery. 

And it brings misery even if your covetous actions don’t land you in a cell in the Allegheny County Jail. Don’t think that you’ll be spared from the misery coveting brings just because you never do anything illegal or unethical. Listen to what Paul writes in 1 Timothy 6:6-10. After describing the way in which false teachers in the church view their supposed “godliness” as a means of financial gain, Paul says this: 6 But godliness with contentment is great gain, 7 for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. 8 But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. 9 But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. 

Let me read that last verse again: “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.” So coveting actually has the potential to lead you away from your faith in Jesus and from Christianity and bring a world of suffering into your life—so that, just like these people Paul was talking about here, you also will pierce yourself with many pangs. Jesus himself also teaches this truth that coveting can result in you being excluded from heaven. In Luke 8, he tells a parable about seed being scattered on four different kinds of soil and says that the seed that falls among the thorns represents those who hear the gospel but “as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature.” The clear implication, if you look at the context, is that they don’t go to heaven.

And the great tragedy in all of this is that earthly things can’t satisfy you anyway. In Luke 12:15, Jesus issues a warning to a covetous man and says, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” Did you hear that? “One’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” So often, we assume otherwise. The covetous heart assumes that life does indeed consist in the abundance of possessions. And that’s why so many people spend so much of their lives looking for satisfaction and fullness in earthly riches but never finding any no matter how much stuff they manage to accumulate or how many nice vacations they manage to go on or how much money they manage to save in their 401(k). Even if they have it all, from an earthly perspective, they still feel strangely empty inside. Do you know why that is? It’s because Jesus is right. “One’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” Solomon, the great king of Israel, said it like this in Ecclesiastes 2:10-11: 10 And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil. 11 Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun. 

So, going back to the terminology of the tenth commandment, what are you coveting this morning? To what are you looking to give you life? What do you want so badly that it’s, for all practical purposes, eclipsing God in your life? Then… will you turn from your covetous desire and choose God instead? 

The Anatomy of a Satisfied Life

And that brings us to the anatomy of a satisfied life. Having looked first at the anatomy of a covetous life, let’s now look secondly at the anatomy of a satisfied life. You may remember me mentioning a helpful guideline several weeks ago for interpreting the commandments that Jesus himself employs and that’s articulated quite well in the Westminster catechism. The catechism states that “where a duty is commanded, the contrary sin is forbidden; and, where a sin is forbidden, the contrary duty is commanded.” So whenever one of the Ten Commandments tells us to do something—to perform a certain duty—it’s implying that we need to avoid the contrary sin. And whenever a commandment forbids us from doing something—from engaging in a certain sin—it’s implying that we need to perform the contrary duty.

So this means that the tenth commandment is directing us not only to avoid coveting but also to be content with what we have and to be satisfied in our present condition. And I’d like to unequivocally state this morning that the only way to be this way is if our souls are satisfied in Jesus—in a relationship with him. Listen to this testimony from Paul in Philippians 4:12-13 (NIV). He says, 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength. So how can Paul be content? What’s the secret to him being content regardless of his circumstances? “Him who gives me strength.” Paul’s contentment is in Jesus and in him alone. 

The early church father Augustine famously stated, “You have formed us for Yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.” God created us for a relationship with himself. That’s the purpose for which we were made. So it makes sense that the only way we’ll escape that restlessness Augustine speaks of and be truly full and satisfied is if we make God the center of our lives. Our hearts will indeed be restless until they rest in him. That’s why John 7:37 says this: “On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.’” Notice there that satisfaction is found not only in what Jesus does for us but in Jesus himself. Forgiveness and escape from hell are amazing blessings, but even those blessings don’t compare the blessing of Jesus himself—being close to him, knowing him, beholding his glory. That’s far and away the greatest blessing of all. That’s how wonderful Jesus is. 

And the best part about this satisfaction that’s found only in Jesus is that nothing can take it away from you—if you’re a Christian. In Romans 8:38, Paul says that nothing in all creation “will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Nothing in the entire universe can steal or diminish your satisfaction if your satisfaction is rooted in Jesus. That means it’s possible for us as Christians to have real joy even in the midst of the most difficult seasons of our lives—because we understand that, regardless of what happens to us or what trials we may face, none of those trials can ever take away what we possess in Jesus. So, through Jesus, we have access to a joy and satisfaction that’s not in any way dependent on our earthly circumstances but rather transcends them all. 

The seventeenth-century pastor Jeremiah Burroughs wrote a very helpful book entitled The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment. Isn’t that a good name for a book? The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment. And in it, Burroughs gives this illustration that I’ll paraphrase. He says that being content because of your external circumstances is like warming your clothes by the fire, whereas being content through what he calls “an inward disposition of the soul” is like the warmth your clothes have from the natural heat of your body. Burroughs then explains that when you first put on your clothes on a cool morning, the clothes feel cold but then warm up as you wear them. The natural heat of your body warms them up. However, Burroughs says, someone who’s very elderly or sick and lacking in body heat might have to put his clothes by the fire in order to get them warm. And even after he does this and puts them on, they’ll soon be cold again. And that’s the way it is with contentment as well. If your contentment comes from within you and is rooted in Jesus, an affliction that comes upon you may at first seem a bit cold, but after a little while, Burroughs says, the very temper of your heart makes the affliction easy. You’re full. You’re satisfied. The clothes, as it were, are warmed from your natural body heat. But when someone whose contentment doesn’t come from within encounters an affliction, that affliction is very cold and troublesome to them. Maybe if they have some good friends to cheer them up or frequent appointments with a therapist, they might get by okay for a while. That’s kind of like the fire warming the clothes. But if they lack the contentment that comes from Jesus within them, the warmth they acquire won’t last for long. So again, it’s only through Jesus that we enjoy lasting contentment and satisfaction even in the midst of trials. 

The Old Testament prophet Habakkuk says it like this in Habakkuk 3:17-18: 17 Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, 18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. Are you able to have that kind of joy—the kind of joy that allows you to “rejoice in the Lord” and be satisfied even in the midst of immense difficulty?  Matthew Henry writes this in his commentary on this passage. He says, “Destroy the vines and the fig-trees, and you make all the mirth of a carnal heart to cease. But those who, when full, enjoyed God in all, when emptied and poor, can enjoy all in God. They can sit down upon the heap of the ruins of their creature-comforts, and even then praise the Lord, as the God of their salvation.” Think about what he’s saying there. Think about that line, “Those who, when full, enjoyed God in all, when emptied and poor, can enjoy all in God.” In other words, if you’re the kind of person whose main enjoyment—even when you have abundant earthly blessings—is God, then when those earthly blessings aren’t present, it’s totally fine because it simply gives you an opportunity to look to God for your satisfaction in an even deeper way and to delight yourself even more in him. So here’s the point: for the person whose satisfaction is truly in Jesus, trials can actually be some of the sweetest times of our lives because they drive us and propel us closer to him. 

We can see a wonderful example of this in the journal of John Paton. Paton was a missionary in the 1800’s to a group of islands off the coast of Australia known as the New Hebrides. And the notable thing about the New Hebrides is that the indigenous people on these islands were cannibals. In fact, 19 years before prior to Paton’s journey to the New Hebrides, two other missionaries had bravely traveled there only to be killed and eaten by the cannibals just minutes after they set foot on shore. So Paton faced unbelievable dangers on these islands and came within inches of death time after time. And he records one of those near-death experiences in this way in his journal. The islanders were pursuing him with the intent of taking his life, so he climbed up into a tree in order to hide from them. And he writes this about his experience in that tree: “The hours I spent there live all before me as if it were but of yesterday. I heard the frequent discharging of muskets, and the yells of the Savages. Yet I sat there among the branches, as safe as in the arms of Jesus. Never, in all my sorrows, did my Lord draw nearer to me, and speak more soothingly in my soul, than when the moonlight flickered among those chestnut leaves, and the night air played on my throbbing brow, as I told all my heart to Jesus. Alone, yet not alone! If it be to glorify my God, I will not grudge to spend many nights alone in such a tree, to feel again my Savior’s spiritual presence, to enjoy His consoling fellowship. If thus thrown back upon your own soul, alone, all alone, in the midnight, in the bush, in the very embrace of death itself, have you a Friend that will not fail you then?”


And that’s actually a great question for you to ask yourself this morning. Do you have a Friend that will not fail you then? Is Jesus so precious to you that even your trials are sweet because they drive you closer to him? Maybe, if you were honest with yourself this morning, you’d have to say that, no, you’re not really there right now—that’s not what life is like for you—but you’re feeling drawn to that kind of life. What can you do? How can you acquire that?

Well the first thing you have to understand is that that kind of closeness to Jesus is only possible because of what Jesus has done on the cross. The fact is that, in our natural condition, you and I are alienated from God because of our sin. Our sin separates us from God and brings upon us his wrath. But in his great love, God has sent us a Savior in the person of Jesus. Jesus lived a perfect life and then died on the cross in order to take the wrath we deserved on himself. He bore our sin and suffered for it so we wouldn’t have to. Then, he triumphantly rose from the dead three days later and now stands ready to save everyone who will put their trust in him. That can be you this morning. Just turn away from your sins and look to Jesus to rescue you, and he will. He’ll cleanse you of your sins and adopt you into his family and give you an inheritance in heaven. And from that moment on, you’ll have a relationship with him, and you’ll be able to enjoy the satisfaction we’ve been talking about this morning to a progressively greater degree. Life won’t be without trials, but you’ll discover that even those trials can be sweet if you’ll view them as opportunities to draw closer to Jesus. And that’s really the only way we can keep the tenth commandment. The only way to free ourselves from the covetous desires that rule our hearts is for those desires to be eclipsed by a greater desire—a desire and delight and satisfaction in Jesus himself made possible through the gospel. 

other sermons in this series

Nov 3


Oct 20


Exodus 20:15: You Shall Not Steal

Preacher: Josh Tancordo Scripture: Exodus 20:15 Series: The Ten Commandments

Oct 13