Ten possible ways to mess up? Or Ten Invitations into a new life?
I’m sure many of you have preached on them. The first four focus on Yahweh. Honouring him, worshiping him. The second six focus on humankind’s bodily life and how to live well. It looks like that, doesn’t it, until, hold on . . . the last one.
Number 10. Do not covet.
What’s that one doing tacked on at the end? Covet isn’t a word we use much nowadays. You don’t see it in the news. You don’t hear it much in church. ‘I’m struggling with my coveting, brother. Can you help me?’ Nope, not going to happen.
Commandment 10, however, might just be the one which makes sense of all the others. How can that be? Well, after the first four, we shouldn’t really need the others. If we honoured God with all we are and all we have, we wouldn’t end up murdering, stealing and lying. But there they are. God clearly thought we needed them.
However, there is a problem with 5-9. They’re the kind of commandments that you can put a check against and say, ‘not me.’ Jesus, you’ll remember, goes to the heart of their meaning in his Sermon on the Mount. But we’re still tempted, aren’t we? Murder? No. Adultery, not that either. I’m doing fine.
Until you arrive at Commandment 10.
5-9 have to do with behaviour. Outward behaviour. But number 10 drives a skewer right through the self-righteous. It goes for the heart. Number 10 tells us we can sin before we even get out of bed. We are in need and we haven’t actually done anything at all.
So what’s special about number 10?
It tells us how we’re doing with the first four. Because when God is right at the centre – honoured and worshiped as he should be – we’ll live lives of joy and contentment, thoroughly satisfied with who God is, and what he supplies. Coveting has its source in our discontent with the sufficiency (and worthiness) of God.
Which brings us to Covid.
Commandment 10 talks about oxen, donkeys, wives and neighbours. I love the end of verse 17 in Exodus 20, ‘or anything that belongs to your neighbour.’ Oxen, donkeys, wives, servants, you know, I don’t even know why I’m drawing up a list here . . . I mean the whole shebang. Everything!
So today, why don’t we include ‘my neighbour’s church?’
Ever coveted your neighbour’s church?
My friend, Pastor Bill, he doesn’t have to put up with Komplaining Katie, who sends an email every Monday morning, moaning about something from the Sunday service. And Terry on leadership team? Can that guy be any more irritating? As for these Covid-secure rules, no one can agree on how to implement them. I bet Rev. Bigger-Church-Than-Mine doesn’t have to put up with all the arguments.
Well, dear reader, others may not have Katie or Terry, but they have other problems. The grass isn’t greener over there, it’s the same shade of ‘panicky pink’ and ‘overwhelmed orange.’
So what’s the answer to coveting? Today, in thoroughly evangelical fashion, I will give you three responses with the same letter. Just like your sermons.
Grace – Receive it, extend it to others. Live in it. Delight in it. Allow it to fill you up with wonder. For God is worthy because of who he is. He is gracious towards us.
Gratitude – Thankfulness turns us outward from our worries and reminds us of all we have. I love this verse from 1 Chronicles.
But who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able to offer so willingly in this manner? For all things come from Thee, and from Thine own have we given Thee. (1 Chron. 29.14)
From thine own have we given Thee. Such beautiful words. So be grateful.
Generosity – This is perhaps the most important of all. Coveting derives its power from a sense of insecurity and fear about the sufficiency of God. Instead of looking at all that we have, we play the comparison game, and that never ends well. By contrast, generosity drives the boat in the other direction. It’s a way of demonstrating our gratitude; it’s a means to express how wonderful God’s grace is, by extending that grace in generous giving to others.
When I say ‘give’ I mean all three T’s. Time, treasure and talent. Be generous with all that you are and have, because God has been generous with all that he is and has. We enjoy his generosity every single day and when we’re grateful, we receive it as an act of his gracious hand.
I hope these brief reminders will encourage you as you navigate the world of Covid. Strike that. It isn’t the world of Covid. And we won’t feel safer by putting the word ‘secure’ on the end.
It’s the world that God has made.
Our all-sufficient Creator, who is gracious, generous and good.