Tim Kreider gets to the heart of our need to be busy exploring what lies behind our endless activity in this penetrating New York Times piece.
Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day.
(HT: David S Harvey)
J. John summarised it like this; Whether it is desserts, clothes, houses, salaries, talents, lifestyles or cars, we want what other people have.
How true he is; my wife always picks the better dessert, I always regret buying my latest phone becuase a new one is just ready to be launched. For some wanting what others have should be regarded as a really great thing. Advertising guru Charles Saatchi in a recent book Be the worst you can be wrote;
Coveting is all everyone does, all the time, every day…it’s what drives the world economy, pushes people to make a go of their lives, so that they can afford the executive model of their Ford Mondeo to park next to their neighbour’s standard model. And who would want to married to someone who nobody coveted?
So is coveting a good thing? What is it that others have that you most want? Why do you think we focus more energy on what we haven’t got rather than what we have got? Where do we think contentment is to be found and why?
The 10th commandment – Do not covet
In Exodus 20:17 we read “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 neighbour.”
The word covet is a word for desire – it means to want or crave something. What the command forbids is not desiring something in itself (a more reliable car, a slightly bigger kitchen, getting married one day) but rather desiring what belongs to someone else. It’s striking how much detail there is in the command too. The commandment goes to great length to warn us that we should not covet anything that belongs to our neighbour; house, wife, possessions, anything at all.
Why is coveting wrong? As we will see coveting is really the gateway sin through which all other sins flow.
In essence coveting is a failure to love God because it is the way we doubt his care and express our discontent with his provision and it’s a failure to love our neighbour because it begins it is destructive of our relationship with others. From coveting comes envy and from envy a heap of other sins. Coveting is stealing in the heart. As hate is to murder and lust to adultery so coveting is to stealing.
Why do we have the 10th commandment?
We covet because we doubt God’s sovereign provision for our lives
In Genesis 3:6 we find the same word translated ‘covet’ in the commandment used to describe Eve’s motivation in eating the fruit. Before Eve took the fruit, because she found it ‘desirable’ (NIV), it’s exactly the same Hebrew word (hmd) as in our commandment. It could just as easily read ‘she coveted it’. She coveted because she wanted something that did not belong to her. What was that? It wasn’t a piece of fruit she desired but the very thing that Satan tempted her to want ‘to be like God.’ The first sin was to covet what belongs to God and we have been sinning this way ever since.
At it’s heart then coveting a sign of discontent with God. Like Eve we demonstrate our lack of contentment in God when we covet. DeYoung comments: Contentment and covetousness are opposites. If you aren’t content , you’re almost certain(ly) coveting.
And that means when we covet we show how we all do break both of the two great commandments to love the Lord our God and to love our neighbour as ourselves.
Tomorrow – how we break the command (even at church!) and how we can keep the command.
How to become a truth-teller
The 10 commandments could be called the 10 promises. In Jeremiah 31:31-32 the Lord promises to write the law on our hearts and so finally every one of the commandments we will delight to keep.
How we begin to keep the 9th commandment, here and now, lies somewhere in Jesus and the gospel. The gospel deals with our failure to keep God’s law but it also begins to produce in us a power to keep God’s law.
So how can the gospel transform me into a truth-teller?
It starts with what we saw earlier in our sermon that the very reason I lie, is the truth, that I can’t accept the whole truth about myself. There are things about me that I excuse, cover-up, and blame others for. I need to avoid the truth to feel good about myself.
But now as a Christian the gospel enables me to face the facts about myself without fear because I don’t need to fear my many faults and failings. The gospel invites me to take the truth about myself to Christ and therefore the truth holds no fear because it no longer condemn me.
If I lie because I have to cover-up what I don’t like about myself lies become a tool of self-defence (it wasn’t me) and self-promotion (it was her) and self-justification (I’m all ok really).
That’s why Dostoevsky said ‘lying to ourselves is more deeply ingrained than lying to others’ because the biggest lie I tell is that if I cover-up my sin then all is OK.
What is able to set you free from dark-secrets and hidden-truth that we mask with lies?
Only the discovery that despite your sin, despite yourself, God accepts you as you are. So the 9th commandment not only reveals your God, reveals your sin, it reveals your Saviour – Jesus. When Jesus chose to go to the cross, he chose to bear your disgrace and in his death he died for your lies.
Isaiah 53:9 says he was assigned a grave with the wicked, though he had done no violence, nor was there any deceit in his mouth. Jesus was willing to be considered a liar, condemned as a liar, crucified as a liar for the lie of a life that each of us has led.
Matthew writes The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for false evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death. But they did not find any, though many false witnesses came forward.
Extraordinary as it is Jesus was keeping the 9th commandment even as we were breaking it! Now if Jesus has taken your sin, your guilt your shame then you are free and that means you are free to tell the truth about yourself and to tell the truth about others. No need to pretend, no need to be ashamed, no need to lie, or cover-up, or blame anyone else because above all else for the first time in your life you are free to fail, free to call yourself a sinner – because sin holds no fear.
Struck again by this remarkable section from CS Lewis’s Mere Christianity;
“The Christian way is different: harder, and easier. Christ says “Give me All. I don’t want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work: I want You. I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it. No half-measures are any good. I don’t want to cut off a branch here and a branch there, I want to have the whole tree down. I don’t want to drill a tooth, or crown it, or stop it, but to have it out. Hand over the whole natural self, all the desires which you think innocent as well as the ones you think wicked – the whole outfit. I will give you a new self instead. In fact, I will give you Myself: my own will shall become yours.”
A. What is the 9th commandment?
Exodus 20:16 ‘You shall not give false testimony against your neighbour’.
This commandment refers, in the first instance, to testimony in a court. As one commentator has noted, what God most specifically condemns in the 9th commandment is a witness who is willing to lie. In the ancient world without forensics, DNA testing or CCTV, a court case depended on the testimony of witnesses. To lie in court is lying in its worst form because if the charge were serious enough then in ancient Israel someone’s very life might be at stake all because of the testimony offered by a couple of witnesses. For justice to function at all in Israel, the innocent needed protecting and the guilty exposed by God’s people told ‘the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.’
With each of the commandments we see that the commandment can be thought of as a header of a particular kind of sin in its worst or most extreme form. When the commandment says ‘you shall not murder’ it is because murder is the worst kind of hatred, when the commandment says ‘you shall not commit adultery’ it is because adultery is the worst kind of sexual sin, but God hates all sexual immorality and tells us to flee from it. So the 9th commandment forbids what someone has called ‘the deadliest lie’ the one that condemns an innocent man for a crime he did not commit.’ But God hates all lies. In Proverbs 12:22 we read ‘The LORD detests lying lips, but he delights in men who are truthful.’ So the principle in the 9th commandment is that we are not to lie, to speak falsely, in any situation.
B. Why do we have the 9th commandment?
Behind this command stands the person and the character of God; the reality that God himself is truth and as such we worship a truth-telling God.
Romans 3:4 reads ‘Let God be true, and every man a liar.’ Titus 1:2 reminds us that God ‘does not lie’.
Jesus, is God’s word to us, and he is the embodiment of God’s truth ( John 1:14). He says in John 14:6 ‘I am the truth’ and also that all who are the side of truth listen to him (John 18:37). That God is a God who always and only tells the truth has massive implications for each one of us. If we are not Christians we may not be sure we can trust anyone enough to change our fundamental convictions but if the Bible is God’s truth then that changes everything. Philip Ryken summarises what is at stake: ‘Everything that God has ever said – including every word on every page of the Bible – is absolutely, unmistakably, and entirely true. Therefore, we can always take God at his word: ‘Your word is truth.’’
Everything that you believe as a Christian depends on your conviction that God does not lie. No wonder then that God demands that his people speak truthfully. We are to relate to God and then to one another on the same basis as God relates to us – with truth.
If someone grabbed your cash-point card from your bag and demanded you gave them your pin-number would it be sinning as a Christian to give them a made-up number? If it’s wrong to lie then as Charles Hodge point out are you not lying when you leave the lights on in your home to deter a thief when you’re away ?
Is it always wrong to lie or can it ever be right to withhold the truth or even lie?
The 9th commandment reads ‘you shall not bear false witness against your neighbour.’
Given that God is a God of truth (John 14:6, Romans 3:4) and who does not lie (Titus 1:2) can it ever be right for Christians to lie? Over the centuries Christians have wrestled with the question of whether we are always required to speak truthfully. Do we owe everyone not just the truth but the whole truth?
When we read stories in the Bible we do find passages where God appears to praise those who deliberately deceive others. One famous example is in Exodus 1:15-21 and the story of the Hebrew midwives. In the account Pharaoh tells the midwives to kill the Hebrew boys but Shiphrah and Puah let the boys live. When questioned by Pharaoh they fabricate a story about the Hebrew women giving birth before they arrive.
Twice in the story we are told that their motive behind their action was that they ‘feared God’ in v.17 and v.21. Indeed they risked a great deal to cover-up what was really going on and faced extreme punishment in their attempts to protect the children.
The principle we find at work in the Bible is that God’s people are commended for their deceit when they use deception to a) protect innocent lives and b) prevent evil such as murder.
So is it a sin to lie? The passage suggests that not all deceit is ‘false testimony’ because not all deceit should be thought of as a failure to ‘love our neighbour as ourselves’. When we lie to promote ourselves or inflict harm on our neighbour we are sinning but some deceit is a necessary action to show that we are willing to love and protect our neighbour in the face of evil. Just as we saw earlier in our series that not all killing is murder because for example killing in self-defence was allowed by God so now we see that not all deceit is false testimony.
It is surely worth remembering that although these cases offer fascinating case-studies of what it actually means to lie it is not likely that we will ever need to use deception in such a way in the course of our own lives (unless our role is in the military!)
But such stories do suggest that it might be necessary and appropriate to withhold information where that information would be used in a harmful way. We do not therefore have an obligation to speak all that we know when asked to reveal it if to do so would promote evil or fail to protect someone. Indeed when someone asks for information in order to commit a crime or to inflict harm they have forfeited their right to the truth.
In the final part of my sermon last Sunday on the 8th commandment we looked at how the gospel has power to transform us from being ‘on the take’ to ‘giving it away’.
What the commandment reveals is that there are, in fact three attitudes to money not two.
1) What’s yours is mine and I’ll take it,
2) what’s mine is mine, I’ll keep it,
3) what’s mine is yours, I’ll share it.
Good manners may be enough to move you from the first attitude to the second. Respecting peoples property is an honourable thing but it is in essence the rule of the classroom. But morality won’t take you to generousity for that it takes the power of the gospel.
The gospel has the power to take you from ‘what’s mine is mine, I’ll keep it’ to ‘what’s mine is yours, I’ll share it.’ Why? because in the gospel that is what God has said to us.
We start to keep the 10 commandments when our living is shaped and directed by the gospel. So how do we learn to be generous? How do we begin to be so utterly transformed that we say ‘it is more blessed to give than to receive’
We look back to both the transforming power of the cross of Jesus Christ and the resurrection of Jesus.
The death of Jesus moves us to be generous givers
The apostle Paul in the middle of 2 chapters teaching about the grace of giving put’s Jesus death at the centre. In 2 Corinthians 8:9 Paul writes:
I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others. 9 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.
When it comes to keeping the 10 commandments we’ve seen through this series that the Bible teaches us that we can’t. But Jesus did and by his Spirit he begins to live them in us now.
As we look back to the cross we find that Jesus, the one who delighted to give and who gave so freely giving everything away, was willing to be considered as a thief. In Matthew 27:38 we read ‘ Two robbers were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left.’ In Isaiah 53:12 we read that ‘He was numbered with the transgressors.’ Martin Luther wrote ‘When the Law found Him among thieves,it condemned and executed Him as a thief’
How can you be a generous person? Understand just how generous Jesus has been to you and it will, as Paul says, test and prove the sincerity of our love.
How does the resurrection help us become generous givers?
The resurrection helps us overcome the fear of being generous. You see what often stops us from being generous with our time, our possessions, our money, in big part it is fear about the consequence for me in being generous.
- Fear that I give away my time I might be missing out on opportunities elsewhere.
- Fear that if I give away my money I may not have enough for the future
How can you deal with your fears about being generous?
Understand that the resurrection of Jesus moves us to be generous givers. The resurrection teaches us that we have an incredible future. It reminds me that in the light of eternity giving up time now is of no consequence. It reminds me that in heaven I have an inheritance that can’s spoil or fade so does it matter if I do have a little less than others now?
Do we think for one moment that Jesus regrets his generousity on earth now that he is in glory? No. And so as we look to him so we are moved to be generous givers.
I enjoyed a twitter debate earlier today with a couple of friends on the issue of whether Christians should avoid paying taxes. Here’s my conclusion:
Should Christians avoid paying tax?
It really depends on what we mean by avoid. In some senses the answer is ‘yes’ in others ‘no’.
1. Yes because the government encourages us to pay less tax by, for example, offering tax-breaks to encourage us to save for retirement through personal pensions and tax-free savings investments such as ISAs.
2. Yes because it raises more money for gospel work. For every pound we give to the church the Government gives back the tax!
3. Yes where expenses are legitimately incurred that are tax deductible
4. No where an unintended tax loop-hole is being exploited to avoid paying tax especially if this is being aggressively exploited to avoid paying any tax.
5. No where we simply don’t like the way our taxes are being spent.
What did Jesus mean when he said “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” in Matthew 22:21?
R.T. France notes that the verb Jesus chooses to use for ‘to give’ is the verb ‘give back’ apodote in v.21b. It is a different verb from the one his accusers use in v.17.
Jesus’ word ‘give back’ ‘indicates either the return of something borrowed or the payment of what is due. The tax is thus presented not as an arbitrary imposition but as due payment for the benefits received from the imperial government, which they have acknowledged by using the imperial currency.
Craig Blomberg makes the same point about Jesus’ choice of the verb ‘give back’ and his conclusion is that according to Jesus’ teaching ‘Reasonable taxation is a legitimate function for all governments, even totalitarian regimes; how much more so with more democratic governments! ‘
What does it mean for the Christian to recognise that the state is a servant of God?
It must mean being a dutiful citizen as part of our worship of God. Blomberg argues that Jesus’ teaching makes clear that ‘Christians who avoid taxes, or who avoid paying the full amount of their taxes,sin against God even just as surely as in more obvious ‘moral’ arenas.’
For Montegomery Boice ‘they should obey the speed limits, pay their taxes honestly…’
For the Christian is there then a fundamental distinction between tax avoidance (where unintended but legal loop-holes are exploited) and tax evasion?
It seems to me therefore that Jesus would say (and see also Romans 13:1-7, 1 Peter 2:13-17) a deliberate attempt to get around the law and avoid paying taxes –even through legal means – is sinful because it is immoral for two reasons. It is a failure to love God who has put government in place for our good. It is a failure to love our neighbour who has to meet the shortfall in tax created by my dodge.
A deliberate attempt to evade paying taxes – through illegal means – is both a crime against the state and a sin against God.
So Jimmy Carr has hit the headlines for his decision to use a tax loop-hole to avoid paying income-tax. In a twitter post this morning he wrote ‘I now realise I’ve made a terrible error of judgement’ and is promising to put his house in order. It may be a pretty blatent form of breaking the 8th commandment but as we’ve been seeing in our series at City Church there isn’t one of us who hasn’t also broken the 8th commandment.
How we break the 8th commandment
We might not be armed robbers or highway man but how then do we break the commandment?
1. Whenever we take something that does not belong to us
What are you like when it comes to other people’s property? One of the issues with stealing is that we don’t call it that we just ask to borrow things without any plans to return them (intentions maybe but no plans). Maybe it is time to put things right – some kind of church amnesty on returning things.
Employer’s time is also one of the ways we take something that doesn’t belong. JI Packer asks whether we ’start late, finish early, stretch coffee, lunch, and tea breaks, and waste time in between’ . Maybe that means avoiding Facebook during working hours.
Money. It’s not just MPs who are tempted to fiddle the expense claim with slight exaggerations here and there.
2. Whenever we are lazy – we steal time
Not from an employer but from the time God has given us to use. It is easy to waste time which is really stealing God-given time. The Sabbath principle reminds us that this is no mandate for overwork but 1 Thess. 4:11,12, 2 Thess 3:10 there is a call for Christians to be careful stewards of time.
Students just finishing exams you now have 3 months ahead of you. Who’s time is it you have? Who will set your priorities?
3. Greedy – Stealing in the heart
As someone has said ‘coveting is to stealing what lust is to adultery’. Stealing things in our hearts (inside/outside rule) is a very subtle way of undermining the commandment. We’ll return to this when we look at the 10th commandment ‘You shall not covet’.
4. Whenever we are wasteful – we fail to put to use what God has given us
We steal what could otherwise have been put to good use Squandering what we have been given– That’s at the heart Jesus’ teaching in the parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30. We learn from the parable that every Christian has received something from God that is to be put to use. We are stewards of what God has given because you and I are God’s servants. We have ‘talents’ entrusted to us. JC Ryle says ‘Our gifts, our influence, our money, our knowledge, our health, our strength, our time, our senses, our reason, our intellect, our memory, our affections, our privileges as members of Christ’s church – all, all are talents’
Two of the servants take what the master has given them and put it to use but the third refuses to use what God has given him and instead buries it in the ground. What is being highlighted in the parable is that it is possible to talk as if we are God’s servants and yet fail to serve him by do nothing.
Jesus tells of the masters return, a picture of his return at the end of time, when every Christian will give an account of what we have done with what the Lord has given us. Those who have sought to work with all that God has given them there is the promise of great reward but for those who claim to be God’s servants and do nothing, only a fearful judgement.
Now if you are here and looking into Christianity then please don’t think that we are saved by what we do. We are saved by faith alone in Christ alone. We are saved by what Jesus did in his perfect life and death but when we claim to have put our trust in him it should make a difference. Faith saves alone but is never alone but begins to work. The apostle James says a similar thing in his letter and chapter 2v.14, 18b.
If you were to die tonight what do you think that the Lord Jesus would say to you? How would he judge your faithfulness? JC Ryle again ‘We are not told that the unprofitable servant was a murderer, or a thief, or even a waster of his Lord’s money: but he did nothing.’ Jesus tells the parable with a very clear purpose we are to be faithful in obedience until his return. What we have been given we have been given by him and we have it for a purpose which is to put it to use. Remember the lie of consumerism? That what you have is yours then remember the truth from this parable; what you have has been given to you and given to you for the sake of others.
Wasteful with our wealth
So what might that mean for your use of your wealth? Our wealth This story doesn’t mean that it’s wrong to have money or possessions but it does radically alter our use of money. This is what Paul says in 1 Timothy 6v.17-19 where he calls on Christians to be generous and willing to share.
What does it mean for you to be generous with the money God has given you. It must mean giving the first of it back to God. Some of us here are about to start work – have you already committed to give the first of it back to God? Before Christ came God’s people gave 10% of their income back to a God who had given them so much, living this side of the cross it is hard to imagine that we would be less generous in our thanks to God.
Wasteful with our possessions
Paul also urges us to be generous not just with our money but with our possessions. So, are we willing to share? I think one of the great opportunities to demonstrate the power of the gospel at work is in our sharing of possessions. I have been so blessed by the generousity of others Ever since our children have come along Jane and I have not had the money to pay for a holiday but generous Christians have provided just what we have needed. This summer we will be spending a week in a cottage in North Wales courtesy of a friend.
At City the amount of stuff that people have shared with us when kids came along has been remarkable. Someone told me of a Christian guy who gave him his car keys to use car in day time if needed as he commuted by rail to work.
Wasteful with our gifts
One of the ways we break the 8th commandment is when we are wasteful with the gifts that God has given us. If you are a Christian then God has given you gifts for the sake of others. When we float form church to church or when we are very sporadic in our attendance or when we come to consume is to be a Chrsitian who steals from God. Not to use your gifts to bless others is to steal the blessing that could and should be theirs.
Wasteful with our time
There are many who have retired from work who are members of City Church and demonstrate a remarkable example of how to be good stewards of the time God has given them. So many give so much of their retirement time to the Lord rather than pottering in the garden.
It is so much easier to spot sins I have committed rather than duties I’ve omitted to do. I am far more likely to be troubled by what I do than what I don’t do and yet Jesus’s teaching in this parable is a reminder that we sin as much by what we fail to do.
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