Scripture: Exodus 20:17
I like newspaper cartoons. Dennis the Menace has been a favorite for a long time. One comic strip has a picture of Dennis looking at a catalog and saying, “This catalog’s got a lot of toys I didn’t even know I wanted.”
The Wizard of Id has a comic strip where one monk is putting up a sign on the bulletin board in front of his church while a visiting monk watches. The sign read, “Do not covet.” The visiting monk said, “Boy, I wish we had a signboard like that at our church.”
We come to an end of our study of the 10 commandments. I hope it has been interesting and informative for you. It has for me. The last of the 10 would seem to be the least threatening, the least dangerous. Simply stated it says, “Do not covet.” Many of you may think, “That one doesn’t bother me.” Or, “Even if I covet what’s the big deal? Who’s hurt by it?”
Well, the Bible clearly says it is wrong to covet. One good definition that I read for coveting is: “The uncontrolled desire to acquire.” We’re not talking about an ordinary desire to have things. Material possessions by themselves are neutral, neither good nor bad. The bigger issue today is how we can be content without desiring things uncontrollably.
Read the verse. God gives us three categories here. It is wrong to desire: First, your neighbor’s house. Second, your neighbor’s people (wife, male or female servant). Third, your neighbor’s possessions (ox, donkey, nor anything else). Somebody once desired my pickup truck, so they took it from my driveway.
We will look at two kinds of hearts today. The coveting heart and the contented heart.
The coveting heart is not innocent. In God’s eyes, it is corrupt and corrosive.
It is corrupt in that it disregards the Laws of God. That it is corrupt is obvious because God would not have included it in the list of The Ten Big Ones. Just because it is last doesn’t mean it is least. I think it has an effect on all the other ten. For instance: How many of us have put money and possessions ahead of God? Don’t think so? The Bible requires a tithe – 10% - of our possessions being given to God. The last study I saw says that dedicated church goers give 2%! That is putting money & possessions ahead of God.
How many of us have bowed at the altars of materialism and greed while refusing to bow at the altar of the Lord? Don’t think so? Take a look at your bank statement for a month. Where you spend your money will tell you a lot about your priorities & what it is you truly worship.
Have you ever desecrated the Lord’s Day to make – or spend – money? Don’t think so? What priority does worshiping the Lord have in your life? I’m considering changing the day for worship in order to reduce the conflicts for some of you.
Many parents are treated poorly and cast aside by children too busy making money to be bothered with them. Many people are dead today because somebody wanted something that belonged to them. Lots of marriages are torn apart because, as one preacher said, “He was so caught up in earning his salt, he neglected his sugar!” A coveting heart is behind adultery. Coveting and lust are first cousins.
It goes without saying that stealing is the end result of a covetous spirit that has gone too far. And often, people will lie about another person, gossip about them because they are envious and covetous of that person’s life.
Listen to what Paul writes in Romans 7:7-8: So what are we going to say? That the Law is sin? Absolutely not! But I wouldn’t have known sin except through the Law. I wouldn’t have known the desire for what others have if the Law had not said, Don’t desire what others have. But sin seized the opportunity & used this commandment to produce all kinds of desires in me.
A coveting heart also denies the lordship of Christ. Paul wrote in Philippians 4:19: My God will meet your every need out of his riches in the glory that is found in Christ Jesus.
A coveting heart is corrosive because it becomes excessive & destructive. Listen to Luke 12:15-21: Jesus said to them, “Watch out! Guard yourself against all kinds of greed. After all, one’s life isn’t determined by one’s possessions, even when someone is very wealthy.” Then he told them a parable: “A certain rich man’s land produced a bountiful crop. He said to himself, What will I do? I have no place to store my harvest! Then he thought, Here’s what I will do. I’ll tear down my barns & build bigger ones. That’s where I’ll store all my grain & goods. I’ll say to myself, You have stored up plenty of goods, enough for several years. Take it easy! Eat, drink, & enjoy yourself. But God said to him, ‘Fool, tonight you will die. Now who will get the things you have prepared for yourself?’ This is the way it will be for those who hoard things for themselves & aren’t rich toward God.”
Howard Hughes was a billionaire. But he wanted more so he went to Hollywood and became a film maker and star. He wanted more sensual pleasures, so he paid large sums to indulge every sensual urge. He wanted more thrills, so he designed, built and piloted the fastest aircraft in the world. He wanted more power, so he secretly dealt political favors so skillfully that two U.S. presidents became his pawns. All he ever wanted was more. Yet, this man ended his life as a pitiful sight. He lived in darkness, his arms covered with needle marks from drug addition, his finger nails were inches long and curled up in a grotesque way, his teeth were black and rotten. He had hair to his waist, & a long beard. He lived like a hermit. He wore rubber gloves all the time and wouldn’t leave his apartment. He died weighing 95 pounds as a billionaire junkie.
The side effects of a coveting heart are most often: Fatigue, debt, worry, conflict, & dissatisfaction. No wonder families are being destroyed today by the desire for more.
A coveting heart can become exploitative. We read in Micah 2:2: They covet fields & seize them, houses & take them away. They oppress a householder & those in his house, a man & his estate.
A great example is David and Bathsheba.
The opposite of the coveting heart is a contented heart. Paul learned contentment. Listen to him in Philippians 4:11-13: I have learned how to be content in any circumstance. I know the experience of being in need & of having more than enough; I have learned the secret to being content in any & every circumstance, whether full or hungry or whether having plenty or being poor. I can endure all these things through the power of the one who gives me strength.
But contentment must be learned. Here’s some steps in learning contentment:
First, resist comparing yourself to others. 2 Corinthians 10:12 reads: We don’t dare to place ourselves in the same league or to compare ourselves with some of those who are promoting themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves, & compare themselves with themselves, they have no understanding.
Whether it is houses, cars, jobs, looks, or clothes, we must learn to admire without having to acquire.
Why do we compare ourselves, anyway? Because that’s the way society keeps score, by possessions. But, your possessions have nothing to do with your significance or importance. You can be a millionaire and be a jerk, & you can be poor and be a wonderful person.
Next, you must learn to rejoice in what you do have. Ecclesiastes 5:19 says: Whenever God gives people wealth & riches & enables them to enjoy it, to accept their place in the world & to find pleasure in their hard work – all this is God’s gift.
There’s the trap of “When/Then” thinking: When I get married, then I’ll be happy. When I get divorced, then I’ll be happy. When we have kids, then we’ll be happy. When I get another job, then I’ll be happy. Happiness is not getting whatever you want. Happiness is enjoying whatever you have. 2 Timothy says that God has richly given us everything for our enjoyment.
A rich man found a man lazily sitting by his boat. “Why aren’t you fishing?” asks the rich man. “Because I’ve caught enough fish for today.” “Why don’t you catch more fish than you need?” the rich man asks. “What would I do with them?” the fisherman answered. “You could sell them for money. You could buy a better boat, go into deeper water, catch even more fish and make lots of money. Soon you could have a fleet of fishing boats and be rich like me.” The fisherman asked, “Then what would I do?” “You could sit down and enjoy life.” “What do you think I’m doing now?”
To learn contentment, you also must release what you have to help others. Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 6:17-19: Tell people who are rich at this time not to become egotistical & not to place their hope on their finances, which are uncertain. Instead, they need to hope in God, who richly provides everything for our enjoyment. Tell them to do good, to be rich in the good things they do, to be generous, & to share with others. When they do these things, they will save a treasure for themselves that is a good foundation for the future. That way they can take hold of what is truly life.
Who here today is rich? All Americans are, no matter what you make. We are all in the top 2% of income in the world. There are 4 warnings for us in these verses: First, don’t become proud of your wealth. Don’t think you are better than anybody else. Second, don’t put your trust in money. Security is not found in your bank account. Third, use your money to do good. Don’t waste it. Finally, give cheerfully. Giving is a cure for materialism. The opposite of getting is giving. The benefit is that you are storing up treasure in heaven.
This reminds me of a story I heard about a guy who died and went to heaven. When he got there he saw a friend there driving a Mercedes. “What’s that?” he asked. Peter said, “The transportation you are given in heaven is based on how much you’ve given, sent on ahead. That guy was very generous.” The guy asked, “What about me?” “Well,” Peter said, “You weren’t so generous so you get a Moped.” He was pretty sad until he saw his former pastor come by on roller skates.
A final lesson in having a contented heart is to focus on what’s going to last. Paul told the Corinthian church: We don’t focus on the things that can be seen but on the things that can’t be seen. The things that can be seen don’t last, but the things that can’t be seen are eternal.
If we do these 4 things we’ll be OK: Resist comparing yourself to others, rejoice in what you do have, release what you have to help others, & focus on what’s going to last.
One of my favorite preachers, Fred Craddock, put it like this: They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Wrong. If you believe in God, you can teach an old dog new tricks. I’ve never been to the greyhound races, but I’ve seen them on TV. They have these beautiful, big old dogs – I say beautiful, but they’re really ugly – big old dogs, & they run that mechanical rabbit around the ring, & these dogs just run, exhausting themselves chasing it. When those dogs get to where they can’t race, the owners put a little ad in the paper, & if anyone wants one for a pet, they can have it, otherwise they’re going to be destroyed. Craddock says: I have a niece in AZ who can’t stand that ad. She goes & gets them. Big old dogs in the house; she loves them.
I was in a home not long ago where they’d adopted a dog that had been a racer. It was a big old greyhound, a spotted hound, lying there in the den. One of the kids in the family, a toddler, was pulling on its tail, & a little older kid had his head on that old dog’s stomach, used it for a pillow. That dog just seemed so happy, & I said to the dog, “Uh, are you still racing any?”
“No, no, no, I don’t race anymore.” I said, “Do you miss the glitter & excitement of the track?” He said, “No!” I said, “Well, what’s the matter? You got too old?” “No, no, I still had some race in me.” “Well, did you not win?” He said, “I won over a million dollars for my owner.” “Then was it bad treatment?” “Oh no, they treated me like royalty when I was racing.” I said, “Then what? Did you get crippled?” He said, “No, no.” I said, “Then what?” And he said, “I quit.” “You quit?” That’s what he said, “I quit.” I said, “Why did you quit?”
And he said, “I discovered that what I was chasing was not really a rabbit. And I quit.” He looked at me & said, “All that running & running & running, & what I was chasing was not even real.”