Guard Your Heart: The tenth command of the Ten Commandments is, “You shall not covet…anything that belongs to your neighbor.” Coveting means to desire something that is unhealthy, unhelpful, or unlawful. This command reminds us that all our problems are, first, heart problems. Obeying this command is especially difficult in an age of social media and expressive individualism. However, learning to guard your heart in Christ is the only way to find and enjoy true and lasting peace. Recorded on Apr 2, 2023, on Exodus 20:17 by Pastor David Parks. (Apologies, due to a technical issue, we lost the introduction to the sermon. However, it is included in the transcript below.)
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Ten Commandments: Learning the Law of Love is a sermon series on the most influential legal code in human history. Why should we learn about the Ten Commandments today? Because they reveal God’s will for how human beings ought to live: to love God with all our heart and love our neighbor as ourselves. Ultimately, the law of love points us directly to Jesus.
All year, the theme of our preaching ministry is Learning the way of Jesus. And today, we’re finishing a sermon series on the Ten Commandments. I hope this series has been helpful to you. Throughout this series, I’ve personally been struck by the beauty of God’s vision for human society in the spirit of these commands. It’s hard to even imagine what life would be like if we all truly lived according to God’s will/way. What a joy it will be to find out in the new heaven and earth. But through this series, we’ve said that the Ten Commandments, as part of God’s moral law, reveal how God wants people to live. And ultimately, this way of life can be summed up as learning to love the Lord your God, heart, soul, mind, and strength; and to love your neighbor as yourself — God’s law is a law of love. In this law, we discover that there is only one God, who is worthy of our worship and deserving of our respect, and we must find our rest in him. As a result, we must honor our parents, honor life, honor marriage, honor other people’s property, honor the truth, and today, finally, we must guard our hearts. This is God’s will for our lives. Well, if you have a Bible/app, please open to Exodus 20:12. We’ll read through the second half of the Ten Commandments and then unpack the tenth together today, focusing on the wisdom/goodness of this command, how this command connects to the heart, and how we might learn to guard our hearts in Christ.
Exodus 20:12-17 (NIV), “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you. You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor. You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” As we’ve said, the book of Exodus was written about 4,300 years ago by Moses, the great prophet and leader of ancient Israel. And Exodus describes a key turning point in history when God rescued the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt and entered into a covenant relationship with them, which included giving them the Law. The first four commands are focused on how we are to love the Lord our God, while the remaining six are about how to love our neighbor as ourselves. Well, today, we’re focusing on the tenth command, which addresses the problem of coveting, which means to desire or lust after things that are unhealthy, unhelpful, or unlawful. So first, let’s consider the wisdom/goodness of this command. Why should we want to obey this command? There are probably many benefits to obeying this command, but the main benefit, in my view, is how it relates to our internal and external peace. The older I get, the more I value peace. Not simply the absence of conflict, although that is, of course, very good. But the feeling of wholeness and fulfillment you get when you are in a right relationship with God and the people around you. That is true peace. But one of the things that steals our peace, and leads to all sorts of problems, is when we desire what isn’t ours. Now, it’s important to see that this command doesn’t forbid all desire but only desiring what is unhealthy, unhelpful, or unlawful. There isn’t anything wrong with desiring your own spouse, for example. In fact, that’s a very good thing! It makes marriage much more enjoyable. But to covet your neighbor’s wife (or husband) is not good or right or helpful for anyone. The Hebrew word translated house in this command can mean house or household. So this applies to anything in your neighbor’s house or household: to their income, abilities, possessions, children, house, car, health, job, or anything else that belongs to your neighbor. So, how might this steal your peace? Well, it’s hard to have inner peace when you aren’t content with what you have. It’s hard to have inner peace when you aren’t thankful for what you have but instead are constantly looking at what you don’t have. And it’s easy to see how coveting could lead to all sorts of problems or even violence. This is what James observes in James 4:1–3 (NIV): “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” Coveting doesn’t help us love our neighbor. In fact, it might be the pretext for doing them great harm. In the classic mob movie Scarface, when Tony Montana (played by Al Pacino) is a small-time crook, a nobody really, there’s a scene where he’s driving home with his partner, Manny. They’re talking about their future, and Manny says, “I say, be happy with what you got.” But Tony says, “You be happy. Me, I want what’s coming to me.” Surprised, Manny says, “Well, what’s coming to you, Tony?” and Tony replies, “The world, Chico, and everything in it.” (“Scarface.” Universal, Columbia Tristar Home Video, 1983.) All the rest of the violence and evil that comes in the film starts with breaking the tenth command, just as James said. Now, obeying this command is especially difficult for us in the age of social media. Studies have shown that the more time you spend on social media, the more depressed you tend to be. And this is especially true for teen girls. Why? Because social media isn’t real life; it’s only the parts of life that people want to share. It’s a curated version of life that leaves out all the boring or bad bits. So when you scroll through your feed, you’re only seeing the part of other people’s lives they are willing to share. And this can be depressing if you aren’t aware of what’s happening. Because you’re comparing your seemingly boring life to everyone else’s, and everyone else seems to be doing so much better. Of course, they’re not actually doing better. Even if they’re doing something exciting at that moment, they have boring and difficult times, too. Everyone does. We just tend not to share those moments. Now, social media can be a good thing, but only when it enhances our real, face-to-face relationships. My fear is that most people consume social media without thinking about it all that much. And this directly leads to breaking the tenth command and stealing the joy and gratitude and contentment that comes with true and lasting peace. So the goodness and wisdom of God in the tenth command is that it leads to peace.
Now, I said that this peace is both internal and external. Let’s drill down a level or two on the internal side and see how this command connects to the heart. First, we saw the wisdom/goodness of God in the tenth command, now second, how it connects to the heart. The tenth command is a very strange law when you think about it. Because there’s really no way for us to judge when someone is guilty of breaking it. We can tell if someone’s coveting leads, as James said, to quarreling and fighting. We can tell if coveting leads to breaking other commands, such as the commands against theft or adultery. But we really can’t tell what’s going on in someone else’s heart. Only God can know for sure. So this is a curious command because it would seem that it has no way of being enforced. If you can’t tell that someone is coveting, how could a judge find them innocent or guilty? So why did God include this in the Ten Commandments? Why is this the conclusion to the most famous legal code in human history? Because God doesn’t want superficial obedience. God doesn’t want people who honor him with their lips while their hearts are far from him. God doesn’t want people to love their neighbor in what they do but not in the thoughts and attitudes of their hearts. God wants all of our lives to be transformed into the likeness of Christ! And this must include our hearts. The tenth command forces us to examine our hearts and deal with the unhealthy, unhelpful, and unlawful desires that we might find there. Furthermore, it reinforces what we’ve emphasized throughout this series that underlying each negative prohibition of the Ten Commandments, there is a positive principle that is rooted in the character of God. For example, we shouldn’t murder (negative) because God deeply values human life (positive). So we can’t stop at the letter of the law; we must go deeper to understand and live out the spirit of the law, which has to come from the heart. In the Bible, the heart represents the whole inner person: mind, will, and emotions. And the Bible says (and any psychologist would say) that everything external, every word and deed, comes from the heart. Look at what Jesus says in Luke 6:43–45 (NIV), “No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers. A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” What Jesus is saying here is that all our problems are, first, heart problems. Sometimes I hear people say, I know he said that or did that evil thing, but he has a good heart. False. Now, that doesn’t mean that one evil word or deed means that someone is entirely evil. Not at all. Our hearts are complex. We have competing desires and motivations. And it can be so difficult for us to even understand what’s going on in there even when we are trying to understand! There are a few things in my life that took years of careful thought and prayer, and discussion before I felt like I had even started to understand what was really going on in my heart. But if this is true, then if we fail to address the heart, either in our life, marriage, parenting, or our desire to learn the way of Jesus, we will ultimately miss the root of our issues. This is why Proverbs 4:23 (NIV) says, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”
So first, we saw the wisdom/goodness of God in the tenth command. Second, we saw how it connects to the heart. Third, how can we actually obey this command? As Christians, how can we guard our hearts in Christ? Well, first, incidentally, this teaching is similar in some ways to Buddhism. Buddhism also teaches that bad/corrupt desires are the root of our problems, the source of our sins. These desires are the root of all pain and injustice, all oppression and abuse in life. Our desire for pleasure or power or even for life itself is the root of all suffering. But the Buddhist solution is to detach yourself from the world so as not to experience these desires anymore. This enlightened state is a state without any desire, good or bad. There is no more sin because there is no more desire. But as we’ve seen, not every desire of the human heart is corrupt; some desires can be really good! The Christian solution isn’t to detach from the world but to repent and turn from your bad desires and learn new desires which no longer conform to the pattern of this world but are transformed by the renewing of our minds into the likeness of Christ. The Christian agrees with the Buddhist that the root of our problems is a heart problem. However, the Christian believes that, ultimately, we need a new heart! We need the regenerating work of God, the Holy Spirit, to take our hearts of stone, hearts hardened against God, and give us hearts of flesh, hearts that are open and willing to follow the will/way of God, hearts that love God and love our neighbors. This is what Jesus meant when he said, “…no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” (Jn 3:3). We receive the regenerating work of God in our hearts when we put our faith and trust in the person and work of Jesus — when we welcome Jesus into our hearts and lives as the redeeming king that he is. And this doesn’t just make a minor improvement to our lives. This conversion doesn’t just change our external behavior and make us better people. It’s as radical and as transformative a work as if we were born again. In fact, when you become a Christian, when you put your faith in Jesus, you go from being spiritually dead in your transgressions and sins to being made alive in Christ. And this spiritual renewal works itself out in life from the inside out, from our hearts out to every area of our lives. So how can we guard our hearts? How can we help guard the hearts of our kids or our loved ones? I’ll leave you with three thoughts. First, we can guard our hearts against coveting and all manner of evil by being born again and receiving a new heart from God: a new heart with new desires. This new heart is not one that is detached from reality, not ruled by our covetous desires, but one that is sensitive and controlled that can appropriately think and feel according to what is healthy, helpful, and true. All our problems are first heart problems, so we need a new heart. Second, we must be aware of the influence of our culture. We do not live in a neutral spiritual environment. We live on a battlefield, and the heart is a central focus. We already discussed the problem of social media. But we could also mention the power of marketing. It’s so hard to feel content and grateful for what we have; it’s so hard to find and enjoy true and lasting peace when every ad we see tells us we’ll never be satisfied until we buy their thing. Forbes magazine reported that in the age of digital advertising, people see an average of 4,000 to 10,000 ads per day. Is it any wonder that it’s hard for us to obey the tenth command? But the last thing I’ll mention about our culture is really the spirit of our age. It’s been described by sociologists and philosophers as expressive individualism. Expressive focuses on the emotional nature of people today, and individualism places the emphasis on the individual as opposed to the group or tribe, or family. So many people today are ruled and mastered by their emotions. We’re constantly told, “Just follow your heart!” as if the fact that we desire something/someone means we ought to have it/them. We’re even told that we are how we feel, that our identity is created by our emotions/desires/attractions, and any desire of our heart that is not fulfilled will prevent us from being our authentic selves. My friends, this is really not good. If the Bible is true, then these cultural beliefs are ultimately destructive. Why? Because, as we’ve seen, our hearts are a mixed bag of good and bad. Sometimes we desire what is right, but sometimes we desire what is wrong, and sometimes we can’t even really tell what’s going on in our hearts. How could that confused, jumbled mess coherently guide us, much less define us? So third, after receiving a new heart by the grace of God and faith in the person and work of Jesus, especially in his death and resurrection, and after seeing clearly the battle raging all around us, we must be committed to learning the way of Jesus. His way is the only way of ultimate and lasting safety, security, truth, beauty, goodness, justice, life, and, yes, peace. His way is the only way to truly guard our hearts and minds, and lives. So may we be people who are careful not to covet. And may we be people who are careful to guard our hearts, for everything we do flows from them. And may we be people who follow the way of Jesus in every area of our lives and so fulfill the law of God. A law of love. Let us pray.