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.
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
‘Why are there so many unmarried, college graduated, serious-about-Christ, committed-to-the-church, put-together young women who haven’t found a groom, and don’t see any possibilities on the horizon?’
asks Kevin deYoung. Well worth a read.
For an interesting follow-up piece read this.
Thanks Lizzie for drawing my attention to these.
Kevin DeYoung has a very helpful piece on how when parents get stressed the health of our children suffer.
It’s a challenging read if you are a parent but the principle that being stressed has a damaging impact on our reaction to and our relationship with others works too. So whether married or not, with kids or without, here’s an opportunity to ask;
What impact is my stress having on my relationships (at home, work, etc.)? Do I see the impact that is having?
What is causing stress in my life? Is it anxiety over the future, needing to be in control, tiredness, overwork….
How do I need to remember the gospel, to enable change, so that I can be a blessing to others instead of a burden?
DeYoung tells us why he’s written it in his introduction;
No doubt, the church in the West has many new things to learn. But for the most part, everthing we need to learn is what we’ve already forgotten. The chief theological task now facing the Western Church is not to reinvent or to be relevnat but to remember.
The Catechism is made up of 129 questions and is based on the Apostle’s Creed, the Ten Commandments, and the Lord’s Prayer and in his book DeYoung provides a commentary on the questions in 52 chapters.
By way of taster here is DeYoung on question 25 and his chapter ‘The Most Important Doctrine you Never Think About’
Q. Since there is but one God, why do you speak of three: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?
A. Because that is how God has revealed Himself in the Word: these three distinct persons are one, true, eternal God.
First, what does the doctrine mean? The doctrine of the Trinity can be summarised in seven statements
1. There is one God
2. The Father is God
3. The Son is God
4. The Holy Spirit is God
5. The Father is not the Son
6. The Son is not the Holy Spirit
7. The Holy Spirit is not the Father
All three persons of the Tinity share the same ‘Godness.’ One is not more God than another. None is more essentially divine than the rest [but also] the persons are not three Gods; rather, they dwell in communion with each other as they subsist in the divine nature without being compounded or confused.
Why does any of this matter?
DeYoung mentions three to get us thinking;
1. The Trinity matters for creation. God unlike the gods in other creation stories, did not need to go outside Himslef to creat the universe. Instead, the Word and the Spirit were like HIs own two hands (to use Irenaeus’s’ famous phrase) in fashioning the cosmos.
God created by speaking (the WOrd) as teh Spirit hovered over the chaos. Creation, like regeneration, is a Trinitarian act.
2. The Trinity matters for evangelism and cultural engagement.
Islam emphasizes unity – unity of language, culture and expression – wihtout allowing much variance for diversity. Postmodernism, on the other hand, emphasizes diversity – diversity of opinion, beliefs, and background – without attemtplting to see thigns in any kind of meta-unity.
Christianity, with it’s understanding of God as three in one, allows for diversity and unity…It is possible to hope that GOd’s creation may exhibit stunning variety and individuality while still holding together in a genuine oneness.
3. The trinity matters for relationships.
Without a plurality of persons in the Godhead, we would be forced to think that God created humans so that He might show love and know love, thereby making love a created think (and God a needy deity). But with a biblical understanding of the Trinity, we can say that God did not create in order to be loved, but rather, created out of the overflow of the perfect love that had always existed among Father, Son and Holy Spirit who ever live in perfect and mutual relationship and delight.
Imagine (horrible as it sounds) a fire breaking out in a church kids club that your children are in. You rush into the building. Who are you desperate to get out of the building? Who is it that you’re looking for? Your kids, right?
Through this illustration Kevin DeYoung raises the issue of moral proximity when it comes to our obligations as Christians to helping others.
In conversation with Matt Chandler, Trevin Wax and Jonathan Leeman during TFTG’11 DeYoung uses it to inform a discuss the issues that surround social justice and church mission.
What was most helpful for me was DeYoung’s recognition that whilst the whole world might be my neighbour I am not under exactly the same obligation to the 6 billion and more people on the planet.
In fact unless and until we recognise that Scripture does differentiate on the matter we will find ourselves under an ‘impossible burden that will beat us up’ and a sense of obligation that no-one lives up to.
According to DeYoung Moral proximity describes ‘the different moral obligation we have on us in different situations’.
Why does this matter? Well quite simply if Jesus tells us that the whole world is my neighbour and I am under an obligation to love my neighbour, indiscriminately, then what does it mean to fulfil this command? How is it possible, to love every man, woman and child equally?
What would it mean for my personal priorities and our corporate church programmes?
DeYoung argues that the notion of moral proximity is not an excuse to avoid responsibility but is clearly demonstrated in the New Testament and life of the early church. Whilst the whole world may be my neighbour I have particular responsibilities to some by virtue of their relationship to me ie their proximity to me and me to them.
Where in the Bible do we find moral proximity?
He touches on a number of examples in the Scripture (and I’ve added a few others!)
We have a particular obligation to our biological family – so much so that to fail to provide for family is to behave worse than an unbeliever and also to place an inappropriate burden on the church. c.f 1 Timothy 5:3-4, 16.
We have an obligation to our local church family – so 1 John 3:11 the call to love one another is best understood in the context of the local church.
We have an obligation to our wider church family – so Jesus in Matthew 25: 34-40. Paul, in Galatians 6v.10 differentiates a particular obligation to the people of God when he says ‘Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.’
The collection of money for the church in Jerusalem, 2 Cor. 8&9 would be a further example.
Does that mean that these statements negate the teachings of Jesus that the whole world is my neighbour and that I therefore cannot put limits on my love? Not at all.
But even Jesus’ parable suggests something more. Snodgrass in Stories with Intent writes
One cannot define one’s neighbour; one can only be a neighbour. We cannot say in advance who the neighbor is; rather nearness and need define ‘neighbor’.
I guess what that means is that as individuals and churches we are willing to respond to all in need but geographical nearness and urgency of need suggest a greater obligation.
Geographical nearness may mean choosing some social justice project in our community to join with or establish.
Urgency of need may mean collecting money to meet for example a famine in east Africa.
Snodgrass also cites Kierkegaard
‘To love one’s neighbour means, while remaining within the earthly distinctions allotted to one, essentially to will to exist equally for every human being without exception.’
To my mind every human being without exception but not every human being without distinction serves as a helpful summary.
A few take home points for me;
1. No-one lives as if they owe the same obligation to every member of the human race. DeYoung’s argument helps liberate us from a sense of guilt or hypocrisy.
2. The Bible gives us a framework for assessing who we owe what to. It would seem to me that we are to be proactive in seeking to provide for our biological family and the local church and that we are to reactively respond to need as we discover it in the wider world on the basis of nearness and need paying particular attention to the needs of believers.
3. We need to identify some social justice projects that we think it wisest to support. Not because we dismiss all others but because of our limitations and that moral proximity will help us decide.
4. We need to watch our hearts that are quick to avoid the awesome obligations that Jesus puts us under. Am I really ready to be a neighbour to even my enemy?
Why not follow the whole conversation or listen in to Kevin’s answer at the 40 minute mark.
DeYoung’s book What Is the Mission of the Church?: Making Sense of Social Justice, Shalom, and the Great Commission addressing these issues will be available (in the US) from September.
This sunday morning I’m preaching on Psalm 137. It’s my own fault because I chose to do so. The reason I’m a little bit concerned is because this Psalm is a psalm full of the spirit of vengeance. It’s a hymn of praise that celebrates the thought that God will destroy his enemies;
O Daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction, happy is he who repays you for what you have done to us –
he who seizes your infants and dashes then against the rocks.
It’s not called the ‘baby-bashing’ Psalm for nothing! So I’d appreciate your prayers as I prepare.
In my preparations I came across this blog post by Kevin deYoung Is it Okay for Christians to Believe in the Doctrine of Hell But Not Like It? It asks and answers some of the concerns I’ll be covering this Sunday.
The sentence that stood out to me became the title for this post; It’s never safe to dislike the truths God has revealed.
The more I think about that the wiser it seems to be! Why? Because deYoung is hihglighting that to accept God’s word whilst disliking it is still to say ‘I wish God were other than he is’. It is to prefer a God of our own making to the God of the Bible.
It forces us to consider the real issue which is ‘who should change?’ when we come against something in the Bible we don’t like (even if as evangelical Christians we are willing to accept it).
The natural inclination of my sinful heart is to make God in my image. God’s plan and purpose is to remake me in his image. Every sermon is an opportunity therefore to demonstrate our willingness to change not just in our thinking but in the affections of our hearts as we discover why it is good not only to agree with what God says but to learn to love what God loves, to be grieved by what grieves God and to glory in what God glories in.
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