When we want what others have community begins to fall apart
Why do we prefer to compare ourselves with those who have more than we have rather than comparing ourselves with those who have less? When we choose to covet what others have we begin comparison becomes a destructive influence. Rather than love our neighbour, we become envious of our neighbour.
Coveting is a gate-way to all kinds of sin. We break commandments 5 to 9 because we have broke commandment 10 first. Why do we steal, lie, murder, commit adultery, etc. because we need to have what is not ours and will do anything to get it.
James has something to say in 4:1-2 about the relationship between coveting, envy and damage to the church; What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? 2 You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight.
James describes, in these verses, how wrong desires have the power to destroy Christian community. (It is important to note that ‘you kill’ in v.2 is not a reference to literal murder but a powerful metaphor to describe real anger and deep hostility.)
Philip Ryken comments: Arguments, factions, hatred & plotting revenge…you can trace them all back to the desperate desire to want more than we have, to want what God has chosen to give to others and not you..whether it be their position or their possessions.
Thomas Manton writes: Covetousness makes people have this sort of sour disposition. Covetousness may be known by its companions – fighting and envy.
In yesterday’s post Charles Saatchi wanted to suggest that coveting is harmless sin but the truth is that a preoccupation with what others have is a way of thinking that will harm us and it will harm the church. That is why God says ‘no’ to it.
We break the 10th commandment by coveting what others have
The easiest way to spot a coveting heart is how we use our money and how much debt we are willing to amount in order to have what others have. When we read the warnings of Scripture we see how deadly this is. Why not read 1 Timothy 6:6-11, Hebrews 13:5 & Luke 12:15 and ask yourself:
How does your use of money reveal the desires of your hearts?
How tempted are we to get into debt (or further into debt) so we can have what others have?
We break the 10th commandment by coveting who other people are
Much coveting is the coveting of the life-style of others or the gifts and aptitudes of others or perhaps the circumstances and situation of others. In the secular world we see it in all the celebrity lifestyle magazines and in the quest for fame in ‘X’ factor but there are plenty of examples from church life of how we envy and want what others have got.
In 1 Corinthian 12:14-20 Paul challenges Christians to stop comparing themselves to others. Calvin writes in his commentary on 1 Corinthians each member should be content with its own place and relative position, and not be envious of others.
Don’t you find it all to easy to want to be someone else at church, or in the wider church?
So, who do you want to be and why?
Do you want to learn from them or simply wish you could be them, even replace them?
How does this covetous desire affect our relationships with those other people?
Thomas Manton warns of the extraordinary power of desire to destroy a church; Self-love is the root of all three; it makes us covet and desire what is good and excellent, and it makes us envy others for enjoying it, and then to break all bonds of duty and love so that we may snatch it from them.
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.
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.
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.
In today’s Spectator Magazine the author Martin Amis is quoted as saying ‘years and years ago, someone defined pornography as hatred of significance in sex. That’s what pornography does.’ Below is the third part of my sermon from last Sunday evening on the 7th commandment ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ In this extract we consider how through lust we all break this command.
C: How we all break the 7th commandment
We saw last Sunday in Jesus’ sermon on the mount that God is as concerned with how we think as much as how we act. You shouldn’t measure obedience to God’s word by what you do or don’t do but by what we would like to do or not do.
We saw that ‘You shall not murder’ is not an excuse to hate because hate is really murder in the heart. So in that second reading we had this evening (Matthew 5:27-30) we saw that ‘You shall not commit adultery’ speaks to our hearts that are full of lust. And that really matters because Jesus won’t allow us to divide the room this evening into two categories of people; the sexually pure and the impure. No, for the reality is that when it is the attitude of our hearts that are held to account surely we are all sexual failures.
Kevin DeYoung writes: The 7th commandment doesn’t just forbid adultery and pornography. It forbids every action, look, conversation, thought, or desire that incites lust and uncleanness.
To lust is to look at a person in a way that leads to sexual arousal and so again we find God’s purpose in the commandment to reveal to us that we are all adulterers in the heart.
1. Be radical
Jesus warns us what a serious sin lust is when he says ‘ If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.’
Jesus wants you to know that there is a difference between being sorry and being repentant.
Being sorry means regretting sin, being repentant means running from sin. Joseph when seduced into bed by Potiphar’s wife ran for his life. He fled the house. A friend of mine I met with to read the bible each week left his job because of a growing attachment to someone at work.
Maybe we would run from an inappropriate relationship but the bigger challenge for some of us is that we naturally have a pretty forgiving attitude to inward sins, we’re just much less concerned about the sins of the heart not least because no-one else knows about them.
The pastor who looks at pornography then preaches on purity is a dangerous person.
Not only do we sometimes simply forgive ourselves for our sin but we even use the gospel as an excuse to sin. We say well God has already forgiven me so I can sin anyway. Well it is true that the gospel does forgive sin but it is a dangerous thing to turn a truth into a half-truth because as Jim Packer has said ‘a half-truth, masquerading as the whole truth becomes a complete untruth.’
The same gospel that forgives our sin also teaches us (Titus says) to say ‘no’ to ungodliness so if there is no fight for purity in our hearts is there evidence of grace in our lives?
So are you ready to take urgent and radical action in battling sexual temptation in our lives. That might mean not having a TV license or having accountability software on our computers or changing gym membership or even job. It would certainly mean stopping sleeping with your boyfriend or girlfriend.
If you are here this evening as a non-Christian I want you to know how totally amazing is the grace of God through his Son’s death on the cross he has dealt with our sin whatever our sexual sins, however we have lived, no-one is too far from God. Grace is always amazing but it is never cheap.
The sign that God is at work is real repentance.
2. Be honest
We do need each other in the battle. Married couples we need to help one another think through how to keep investing in our marriages. To help us in the battle with sexual sin we should seek support and we should make ourselves accountable. DeYoung comments ‘No one fights a war by himself, and no one will get victory over sexual sin on his own.’
3. Be real
About your own vulnerability. Recognise that if a man like King David, a man after God’s own heart, could fall into scandalous sin then why not me or you?
I don’t know why guys wouldn’t want to put some kind of software on their computers to take away temptation. Maybe you need to honestly face up to the fact that you are not ready for a relationship because you know that you could not control yourself physically and would only damage the person you were dating. Maybe you need to recognise that you are flirting in a dangerous way with a housemate.
Being real means recognising that you and I are weak and that the sexual impulse is very strong. And being real means recognising that sexual temptation sometimes comes from an unexpected direction at a time when we least expect it and in a way we’ve not gone looking for it.
King David’s adultery with Bathsheba began with David simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time. He was at home when he should have been with his army he was on the roof of his palace when he stumbled across beautiful Bathsheba bathing on the top of a near-by building. The results of a man with time on his hands was scandal.
Preaching through a series on the 10 commandments on Sunday we reached the 7th . Yesterday I posted the first part of the sermon on the relationship between sex and marriage. Today the second part looks at God’s purpose in the 7th commandment.
What is the 7th commandment?
The seventh commandment reads ‘You shall not commit adultery’. Pretty much every Jewish adult who first heard those words of God would either have been married or engaged to be married. Every adult could expect to be married by the age of 20. So in that culture the biggest challenge to honouring God with your body was remaining faithful to your spouse. But the commandment clearly speaks against all kinds of sexual sin.
Paul in Ephesians says ‘ Among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality or any kind of impurity.’ The word there for sexual immorality is porneia and refers really to any sex outside of marriage.
So why is faithfulness in your marriage so important to God?
We’ve been learning over again in this series is that each of the commandments that call on us to ‘love our neighbour’ depends upon a more fundamental commitment to ‘love God’. There is a right and necessary ordering of the commandments. It is the nature of our relationship with God that compels us to remain faithful to our spouse.
Covenant faithfulness in marriage is an expression of our covenant faithfulness to God. As God is faithful to us and as we are to be faithful to him so we are to exhibit the character of faithfulness in all our relationships, especially marriage. As his people so we want to be like him, to say to the world how great it is to have God as our God and so being faithful to our promises is part of saying thank you to God for being faithful to his.
I was at a wedding a while back, chatting to a non-Christian couple. They asked how long my wife and I had been married and at the time it was something like 10 or 11 years. One of them was surprised that having married so young we had lasted so long and then the other commented ‘it’s only the Christians who stay married.’ Sadly, in a fallen world marked by sin that is not always the case but it often is.
Our faithfulness in marriage is a reflection of God’s faithfulness we reflect God’s character as the faithful one who loves us with a never-breaking love. A husband and a wife are in their marriage to model the exclusive relationship between God and his people.
What makes adultery so serious it is both one and the same time a betrayal of a spouse and a denial of our God.
In Genesis 39:9-10 Joseph refuses to betray Potiphar by sucombing to the advances of Potiphar’s wife. He refuses out of loyalty to an earthly master. But more fundamentally he recognises that to break a human marriage is to ‘do a wicked thing and sin against God.’
The 7th commandment is given by God to protect marriages, to protect children in marriages and to protect God’s own name and reputation in the world.
Jesus and marriage
No wonder then that Jesus in Matthew 19:3-6 issues a solemn warning that it is God who joins a couple together in marriage. Through marriage they are now to be considered as one person (v.6) and therefore Jesus issues a command ‘let not man separate.’ It is not that it is impossible but rather that it is should not happen.
And the consequences for those who do break this commandment are serious. In the book of Hebrews Christians are reminded of the seriousness of honouring God with their marriages. 13:4
Marriage should be honoured by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.
Yesterday we saw that sex outside of marriage damages ourselves. Today that it dishonour’s God and we are warned judgement awaits those who dishonour God through adultery or sexual immorality.
Tomorrow’s post looks at how we all break the 7th commandment and how through Jesus we can keep the 7th commandment.
Preaching through the 10 commandments I sought out some advice from friends and family on what it means to honour our parents. Here’s what we came up with.
20 practical ways to honour your father and mother
- Show gratitude for the ways they have shown love – however imperfectly — thank them for their love in sacrifice, commitment, care, concern.
- Visit often
- Phone home. One guy said to me ‘ I phone both of my divorced parents at least 3 times a week during my walk home from work it’s because I know that communication and keeping in touch is important to them and makes them feel valued. This doesn’t come naturally to me (difficult relationship with my parents sometimes) but I continue because honouring is important.’
- Continue to seek out and then listen well to their advice – even if you choose a different path. Mark Twain once said ‘When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished by how much he’d learned in seven years.’
- See they are well cared for in their old age (that may mean saving for their future, moving your home, etc.)
- Pray for them (if they are Christians ask how you can be praying for them).
- Tell them how great Jesus is (if you and they are Christians they will be blessed more than you can imagine…if not their salvation!)
- Say you’re sorry if you can look back and see ways in which you did dishonour them and thank them for their patience with you
- Repent of any attitude that wishes they were out of the way…to free up more time or because you want your inheritance now!
- Encourage and facilitate active grand-parenting! Let them in to your lives even more as grand-parents.
- Don’t talk negatively about them behind their backs or grumble against them to others.
- Speak positively about them to others
- ‘Value your parents as most parents give their best to their children. I know this isn’t always the case but as a mum myself, I know we do the best we can’
- Expect the relationship to improve. ‘The beautiful thing about growing older is that my mum and step dad have become my friends.’
- Ask her Dad’s permission before you propose.
- Value what is most important in them especially if they prayed for you and encouraged you in your faith.
- Remember important dates…birthdays, anniversaries, Mother’s day, Father’s day
- Place photos of them in prominent places in your room
- Accept them for who they are even if you wish they were different.
- Don’t take what you have been given for granted – a secure, loving, lifelong relationship
Ask yourself: ‘would we be happy if our young children treated us like we, now grown, treat our parents?’ Kevin DeYoung
The Bible contains surprising verses, even offensive verses, passages of the Bible that seem to be at odds with our understanding of the way the world should work and God behave.
Exodus 20:5 is one such verse;
I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me.
If you’re a Christian you probably, like me, find a verse like that a little unsettling. What can such a verse mean?
1. It can’t mean that God actually punishes innocent people for the sins of an earlier generation. After all Deuteronomy 24:16 makes clear that ‘Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their fathers.’
2. Rather through this verse God warns Israel that as Stuart comments;
‘God will indeed punish generation after generation if they keep doing the same sorts of sins that prior generations did. If the children continue to do the sins their parents did, they will receive the same punishments as their parents.’
Ryken notes that;
‘God never condemns the innocent only the guilty. Here it is important to notice something that is often overlooked — namely, how the threat ends. God says that he will punish three or four generations “of those who hate me” (Exod. 20:5). The children hate God as much as their fathers did (which, given the way they were raised, is not surprising).’
And here is his sobering conclusion
‘As parents plan for the future, they should be more concerned about the second commandment than they are about their financial portfolio. This commandment contains a solemn warning for fathers. When a man refuses to love God passionately and to worship God properly, the consequences of his sin will last for generations.
The guilt of a man who treasures idols in his heart will corrupt his entire family, and in the end they will all be punished.’
The second commandment in action
And then in the news today we find something that seems in every way to be a fulfilment of this warning in our own times. Dr Helen Wright, President of the Girls’ School Association, in a speech to be given tomorrow warns that the consequences of parents not knowing right from wrong are falling on their children.
‘I have a deep worry that some parents have been so deprived in their own lives of education and values, that they no longer know right from wrong and that they are as a result unwittingly ‘indulging’ children in some parallel universe where it is acceptable to let young children wear make-up and provocative clothing.
“If parents can’t see anything wrong in dressing up their children in ‘Future WAG’ T-shirts and letting them wear make-up, high heels and ‘mini-me’ sexy clothing, then something is intensely wrong in our society.’
Cecil B. De Mille the director of the Hollywood blockbuster, The Ten Commandments, described the folly of ignoring God’s 10 commandments in this way – he said ‘It is impossible for us to break laws; we only break ourselves upon them.’
- Church Planting
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