Sermon on the 10th Commandment – “The Heart of the Matter”

April 28, 2024

Book: Romans

Sermon on the 10th Commandment -

SUNDAY PM SERVICE – 4/28/2024 – Romans 7

Introduction

A few years ago, I knew someone who was struggling to get rid of some itchy patches on their skin. They were trying all sorts of things by treating it topically but could not get them to go away. It took forever to get a doctor’s appointment, so when they finally saw a physician, it turned out that they actually had a kidney infection that had reached such a bad point that it was coming out through their skin.

What seemed like surface-level issues turned out to have deeper causes. The point is that what might seem like a skin-deep problem can turn out to be merely a manifestation of a much greater issue, one that runs below the surface and that has roots that are harder to treat. Sometimes we can mistake the obvious symptom for the actual disease when in reality it is only one sign of the more serious problem.

As we have thought about the ten commandments, we have seen several important aspects of God’s law. First, these ten commandments are a summary of God’s moral law. They are concentrated examples that demonstrate a core point about our moral obligations before the Lord and to one another. Those individual commands have implications about what is forbidden and required. The good and necessary implications of those commands are binding upon us just like the explicit demand of the command is.

Second, this summary of God’s moral law remains always binding on us as those made in the image of God. This moral law describes God’s own character. It is a portrait of his holiness. Because we are made to reflect God himself, we are supposed to imitate his holiness. The moral law, as summarized in the ten commandments, is our most crucial guide to that responsibility.

Third, we have seen that God’s law in the ten commandments is unified. The commandments build on one another and hold together. James 2:8–11 says, “If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it. For he who said, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ also said, ‘Do not murder.’ If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law.”

If we break any of the commandments, we break the whole law of God. It’s like a house of cards. There are lots of cards stacked together to make a house. Yet if you take out just one card, the whole house collapses. You can’t pull out one command from the law and leave the whole intact.

That unity is why each commandment among these ten builds on the ones that precede it. Commands 1-4 address our duties to God. They show that we must believe in the true God, worship him rightly, reverently, and with a devoted amount of time. 

Commands 5-10 address our duties toward one another. They show us how to love our neighbors. We need to learn to love our neighbors by protecting authority, protecting life, protecting love, protecting property, protecting honor, and – as we learn in the tenth and final commandment – we need to love our neighbor even from our desires. 

We should want the best for our neighbor rather than wish we could have all that is theirs. Notice after all that the tenth commandment addresses a specific set of issues. Exodus 20:17 says, “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.”

If we pay good attention here, we can see what the tenth commandment is really addressing. Because it does not forbid us from wanting stuff. Notice it doesn’t say that you shouldn’t desire to have a house. It doesn’t forbid wanting a wife of your own. It doesn’t say you shouldn’t desire to have any ox. The problem is when you want the specific things that belong to your neighbor. You can want your own but shouldn’t want your neighbor’s wife (or husband). The issue is when we want to take what belongs to someone else so that we have it instead of them.

The main point is that the tenth commandment teaches us to love our neighbor by being glad for what we have.

  1. Gifts
  2. Gladness
  3. Goodness

Gifts

What does the tenth commandment teach us about God? James 1:16–17 says, “Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”

Scripture reminds us to believe that God knows how to give the best gifts that his people need. Every good and perfect gift comes from the Father of lights, namely God. The implication here is that any gift that doesn’t come from God is not good or perfect. If we pry something for ourselves apart from God’s gracious will for us to have it – specifically by obtaining in sinful ways or by forcing it when God’s providence does not seem to be leaning that direction – then we have obtained it apart from God’s provision.

We need to realize in that case, that even though we got what we wanted, it is not good for us. It will likely be ruinous for us to some degree or other.

That teaches us that God knows how to give us exactly what we need and what is good for us. We do not need to long for what belongs to our neighbor as if to take it from them because God is kind to us in a personal and specific way. He takes care of you in the way that you need care. He gives to you exactly what he knows will help you.

The tenth commandment teaches us that God’s character is to take care of his people. We can be content with what he gives to us because every good and perfect gift comes from him. That means all the good and perfect gifts we have come from him. It also means that we have all the good and perfect gifts that we should have at the right time that will be good and perfect for us.

Gladness

How does the tenth commandment apply to us today? One famous rock musician, Gene Simmons, has described himself as like a great white shark when it comes to money, specifically, “I’ll never stop hunting more money, I’ll never have enough.” His point was that he will never be content and will do whatever it takes to get more.

That sort of incessant want is contrary to the spirit of the tenth commandment. Westminster Shorter Catechism 80 helps us see that, explaining, “The tenth commandment requires full contentment with our own condition, with a right and charitable frame of spirit toward our neighbor, and all that is his.”

Notice how the catechism points to our demeanor in these issues of contentment. We cannot begrudge our neighbor for having the thing that we wish that we had instead of him. That highlights what Christians have long recognized as an implication of the tenth commandment, namely that God’s law is not just about external actions but applies to our heart. 

Even within the ten commandments alone, we have this command that marks how we cannot be faithful to God if we focus on doing the right actions only externally. The tenth commandment highlights how God cares about the heart. This command is entirely about what is going on internally, at the spiritual and heart level.

There’s an anecdote about how a little piece of us dies every time a friend succeeds. That may not be exactly true if someone is in a very different field of work or something. But inasmuch as there is overlap in what we have going in life, often we struggle to rejoice when good things happen to our friends instead of us. We would rather end up with the promotion, the raise, the nice new car, and whatever. We when want to have the exact thing our neighbor has instead of our neighbor having it, we are coveting.

Westminster Shorter Catechism 81: “The tenth commandment forbids all discontentment with our own estate, envying or grieving at the good of our neighbor, and all inordinate motions and affections to anything that is his.”

I find it interesting how it notes that we might grieve at good happening to our neighbor. It also marks how we should not have any inappropriate affection or actions concerning what belongs to someone else. We should be thankful and content about how the Lord has given to us. The tenth commandment is really about gladness concerning what we have received in the Lord’s good providence for us.

Goodness

How does the tenth commandment point us to Christ? In Romans 7, Paul explained how the tenth commandment, which should have led to life, turned into his opportunity to sin. So, “sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness” with the result that “The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me.”

As he goes on to explain, though, the law still describes what is good. Sin, not the law itself, is the cause of death. The command about covetousness illustrates this point effectively because it concerns the heart level. We may be able to control our actions to some degree. We often lose control of our hearts, spiraling into sin.

As Christians, we find ourselves in a tension, wrestling with what we know is good and what we want to do according to our sinful desires: “Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.”

Hence, we come to see the fullest way that God’s goodness comes to us. It comes to us in Christ. Christ is the one who has paid for all our failures as we break every commandment. Christ is the display of God’s goodness to us as he died to forgive our sin. Christ is the example of God’s goodness to us as he lived and rose from the grave to secure our right to enter everlasting life.

This show of God’s goodness in Christ is also where we find new contentedness. We can rest easy knowing, as Ephesians 1:3 says, God “has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.” Spiritually, our neighbor can have nothing that is not already ours. We cannot let our eyes linger on this age as the season of satisfaction. We look to how we have already been given every good and perfect gift in the Lord Jesus Christ. In him we find rest and contentment because there is no greater gift we could receive than to belong to Christ by faith.