August 14, 2022 . . .“Back to the basics: You shall not covet” Exodus 20:17

August 14, 2022 . . .“Back to the basics: You shall not covet” Exodus 20:17

August 14, 2022

“Back to the basics: You shall not covet”

Exodus 20:17

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus.

Tuesday, August 16th of 1977 was just an ordinary day as Dr. Jerry Devane was working the morning shift at Baptist Memorial Hospital in Memphis. He was serving his residency in Internal Medicine after graduating from the University of Tennessee.

But a little after 2:30 in the afternoon, near the end of his shift, there was a call for a code in the emergency room. Medics had just brought in a male in his early 40s, unresponsive. Moments later, when Devane came into the room, he was surprised to see how many people were already there! “It was absolutely packed,” he said. He had no idea why.

And as he came around the side of the bed to help save the man’s life, that’s when he noticed a gold chain with the letters TCB and a lightning bolt, hanging around his neck.

“TCB and a lightning bolt,” he thought. “Taking care of business in a flash.” Where had he seen that before?

That’s when it hit him! Elvis! The patient was Elvis and they were trying to save his life!

It’s easy to say that there had never been anyone like Elvis. As one author put it, his “unique mix of barking and crooning made him both a rebel and a heartthrob, changing the way the world thought about music, pop culture and celebrity.” And while some today might call Ain’t Nothing but a Hound Dog a relic from the past, when it first premiered, it was a revolution!

When Elvis was young, he could keep up with the stresses of work and celebrity. But as time passed, he began to rely more and more on prescription drugs to help keep him awake and make him relax. In fact, whenever he traveled anywhere, his doctor, George Nichopoulos, brought along three suitcases of pills to be sure to fulfill any of his needs. Over the last twenty months of his life, he had prescriptions for as many as 12,000 pills!

Finally, on that day in August of 1977, at a little after two in the afternoon, it all caught up with him. An hour later, it was clear that “The King” was gone.

Why am I telling you all this? Because it goes to show that no matter what the world can give you, it’s never enough. Elvis had a whole slew of silver and gold and platinum hits, 110 in all, more than anyone else in history--nearly twice as many as the Beatles. By the age of forty-two, he had it all--money, fame, wealth, power and success--all the things that people spend their entire lives seeking! Still, in the end, it wasn’t enough. And in spite of all the wealth and the glory and the fame, he died an empty and a broken man.

And that’s why God gave us the ninth and tenth commandments.

I’ll read the words of Exodus chapter 20: “And God spoke all these words, saying, ‘I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth…You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy…Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. 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” (Exodus 20:1-4, 7-8, 12-17).

In his book, The Ten Commandments: Still the Best Moral Code, author Dennis Prager writes: “No document in world history so changed the world for the better as did the Ten Commandments. Western civilization--the civilization that developed universal human rights, created women’s equality, ended slavery, created parliamentary democracy among other unique achievements--would not have developed without them.” And he wrote: “Imagine a world in which no one coveted what belonged to their neighbor; a world in which children honored their mother and father and the family unit thrived; a world in which people obeyed the injunction not to lie. The recipe for a good world is all there--in these ten sublime commandments.”

Or as President Harry S. Truman once said: “A person who is fundamentally honest doesn’t need a code of ethics. The Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount are all the ethical code anybody needs.”

So far in our time together, we’ve looked at the first three commandments that dealt with our relationship with God, and the next five commandments that spoke of our relationship with other men. Now finally, we’ll look at the last two: “You shall not covet.”

Luther wrote in the words of his Small Catechism: “We should fear and love God that we may not craftily seek to get our neighbor’s inheritance or house or obtain it by a show of right, but help and be of service to him in keeping it…And we should fear and love God that we may not estrange, force, or entice away our neighbor’s wife, servants or cattle, but urge them to stay and diligently do their duty.”

And he wrote in the words of his Large Catechism: “We must know that God does not wish that you deprive your neighbor of anything that belongs to him, so that he suffer the loss and you gratify your greed with it, even if you could keep it honorably before the world…For although you go your way as if you had done no one any wrong, you have nevertheless injured your neighbor…and although the judge and everyone must leave you in possession of it, yet God will not leave you therein: for He sees the deceitful heart and the malice of the world.”

So what does it mean to covet? Simply enough, it means “to ache for,” “to long for,” “to pine for,” “to lust after.” Or as I often say in Confirmation class, it means “to want something so bad, you’d do anything you could to get it.”

Imagine for a moment that you’re back in school. You’ve studied hard for a test in a subject that was pretty difficult for you. And after quite a lot of work, you got an 82, and you’re feeling good. But a few minutes later, you overhear someone else saying that they barely studied and got an 87.

So what happens in your heart? Hopefully, you still feel good about your 82, but probably not as good as you did a few minutes before. In fact, you might even start to feel bitter and a little angry toward the one who got the 87! And though, just a moment ago, you were perfectly happy with the fruit of your hard work, comparison suddenly sucked it all away.

So what’s the problem with coveting? It feeds on comparison and poisons our contentment and our calling.

And let me tell you, our world is good at that! You could buy new stockings on Amazon today, and for the next three days, every website you go to and every time you scroll through Facebook, you’ll probably be told that you need more stockings and more shoes to go with those stockings.

Or think of TV commercials. While a Lexus is a beautiful car, the commercial isn’t really about a Lexus. It’s about being cool, sophisticated and confident, just like that person in the commercial. Or buy Old Spice and you won’t just smell nice--you’ll be masculine and the ladies will love you.

You see, when advertisers sell a product, it’s not just the product they’re selling. It’s a lifestyle, a chance to be a step above everyone else!

And who wouldn’t want exactly that? I mean think about it--Hollywood stars and rock stars, football players and baseball players have all the glitz and glamor that anyone could possibly want!

So what’s the danger in wanting a better lifestyle? If you can’t afford it, there’s quite a lot of danger! According to the Federal Reserve, current consumer debt is now approaching $16 trillion, far higher than it’s ever been, and the average American is carrying a credit card of debt of more than $6,000 and paying interest on it at a rate of 16.78%.

And with all that debt comes bankruptcy. This past year, more than four thousand people declared bankruptcy here in Wisconsin alone, with an average age of 45.

So why do some of the wealthiest people in the history of the world have such a problem with debt? There are any number of reasons. But at the root of it all is commandments nine and ten.

In the words of Alistair Begg: “Our society thrives on materialism, cashing in on the sin of covetousness. Its modus operandi is to create within our hearts a longing for things we do not have. Not only a longing, but also an attitude of need and entitlement. We need it. We deserve it. Especially if someone else has it.”

The Bible’s pretty clear about coveting. The apostle Paul wrote to the Colossians: “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire and covetousness, which is idolatry” (Colossians 3:5). He wrote to Timothy: “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. It is through this craving that some have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs” (I Timothy 6:10). And Jesus said in the book of Luke: “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:15).

And the Bible’s quick to give us plenty of examples of those who coveted. In the book of Joshua, a man named Achan wanted what he couldn’t have. King David took another man’s wife and King Ahab stole another man’s vineyard. Judas slipped coins out of the disciples’ money bag and Eve plucked fruit from the tree--coveters all the same.

And as much as I hate to say it, none of us are any better! How many times have you ever said to yourself, “If only I had…” then fill in the blank with your latest dream.

“If only I had a new house…or a new job…or a new school…or a new car…or a new start in life. Why aren’t my children more like their children? Why aren’t my parents more like their parents? How much happier I would be and how much better life would be…if only!”

Ever heard the poem? “It was Spring, but it was Summer I wanted: the warm days and the great outdoors. It was Summer, but it was Fall I wanted: the colorful leaves and the cool, dry air. It was Fall, but it was Winter I wanted: the beautiful snow and the joy of the holiday season. It was Winter, but it was Spring I wanted: the warmth and the blossoming of nature. I was a child, but it was adulthood I wanted: the freedom and the respect. I was twenty, but it was thirty I wanted: to be mature and sophisticated. I was middle-aged, but it was twenty I wanted: the youth and the free spirit. I was retired, but it was middle-age I wanted: the presence of mind without limitations. Finally, my life was over, and I never got what I wanted.”

If you think about it, coveting is a sinner’s attempt to improve on God. When I covet my neighbor’s house, I’m saying God hasn’t provided adequate shelter for me. When I covet my neighbor’s wife, I’m expressing my discontent with the spouse God has given me. When I covet my neighbor’s children, I’m suggesting that God should have given me better ones. When I covet my neighbor’s wealth, I’m saying that God has failed to adequately provide for me.

When you covet, you doubt God’s wisdom, God’s goodness, God’s justice, God’s timing, and ultimately God’s love. It’s an attack on God Himself!

Even more, it’s not only the last commandment, it’s the sum of all the commandments! A man who covets wants a different God of the Bible, and so he breaks the first commandment. He covets to use God for his own purposes, and so he breaks the second commandment. He covets the freedom to do whatever he wants on God’s holy day, and so he breaks the third commandment. He covets to be free of the burden of respecting his parents, and so he breaks the fourth commandment. He covets the death of another, and so he breaks the fifth commandment. He covets the wife of another, and so he breaks the sixth commandment. He covets the possessions of another, and so he breaks the seventh commandment. He covets to turn the “truth” to his own advantage, and so he breaks the eighth commandment. Every single sin the commandments forbid start with a covetous heart.

And that’s why God gave us the ninth and tenth commandments.

So where’s the solution in all of this? The answer’s found in the book of Psalms 73. It’s where a man named Asaph wrote this: “I was envious of the arrogant. My foot almost slipped, and I began to say to myself, ‘The arrogant, proud and disobedient have everything. God doesn’t care” (Psalm 73:2-3).

So what changed his mind? Later he wrote: “When I tried to understand all this, it troubled me deeply, until I went into the sanctuary of God” (Psalm 73:16-17).

“Until I went into the sanctuary of God,” he said. Only when he came to the place of worship, to the very presence of God, then he began to remember His strength, His plan, and His purpose. That’s when he began to understand.

And it’s here, in this sanctuary, that we too learn that God not only loves us, He came to live with us. He experienced the same heartache and heartbreak as us. He suffered for us. See the nails, the cross, and the crown of thorns. See the open tomb.

Then, and only then, can you begin to understand.

Lord Jesus, You have given so much to us. Give us one thing more--a grateful heart, for Your sake. Amen