Lent Mid-Week Five
March 28, 2007
Text: Exodus 20:1-6, 17
Beloved in Christ, this evening we conclude our meditations on the Ten Commandments with the ninth and tenth commandments and the close of the commandments. Both the ninth and tenth commandments address coveting what belongs to our neighbor. The ninth commandment forbids the coveting of our neighbors inanimate possessions, all of which are included under the summary word “house,” while the tenth commandment prohibits the coveting of our neighbor’s living possessions, including both people and animals.
To “covet” means “to desire wrongfully, inordinately, or without due regard for the rights of others.” Coveting is essentially a stealing with the heart, so that while you may not actually take your neighbor’s possessions wrongfully, in your heart, you desire to do so. And since God commands that you be holy not only according to your outward actions, but also according to the inmost desires of your heart, coveting is just as serious a sin in His eyes as actually stealing something from our neighbor. Our fallen human nature often thinks it can obey the Law of God outwardly and so merit righteousness before Him. But God’s Law searches the very heart. Thus Paul says, “I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, ‘You shall not covet’” (Rom. 7:7; ESV), for this particular commandment concerns itself not only with outward actions, but with the disposition of the heart. But even natural man, as he is, without the revealed Scriptures, having the Law written on his heart (what we call “conscience”), knows that there is something sinister about coveting. And so we have another word with a similar negative connotation called “envy.” Envy is “a fealing of resentful discontent, begrudging admiration, or covetousness with regard to another’s advantages, possessions, or attainments.” Even the world recognizes this as sinful.
Because our righteous God demands holiness of the heart, He has commanded us not to covet. So we have the ninth commandment, which, as stated, forbids us to covet our neighbor’s inanimate possessions:
You shall not covet your neighbor’s house.
What does this mean? We should fear and love God So that we do not scheme to get our neighbor’s inheritance or house, or get it in a way which only appears right, but help and be of service to him in keeping it.
The tenth commandment is like unto it, only dealing with the living things and beings that belong to our neighbor:
You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.
What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not entice or force away our neighbor’s wife, workers, or animals, or turn them against him, but urge them to stay and do their duty.
Once again in this commandment, the Lord is bidding us be content with what He has given for our good and for the good of our neighbor. For “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” (James 1:17). All good is from God, and He gives each one of us what we need, so that we have no reason to covet what He gives our neighbor, or resent our neighbor for the good things he enjoys. Remember, contentment is the secret of happiness. We should receive every gift from God with thanksgiving, and be satisfied with what we have, for we deserve none of it, but receive it all by grace. So also we should help our neighbor preserve and protect what belongs to him, giving of our abundance when he is in need, and rejoicing with him in his blessings.
God gives us these commandments for our good. In these commandments we learn what works are truly God-pleasing and salutary. God wants us to be holy, as He is holy, and to live lives of happiness in Him. Thus we have the close of the commandments. What does God say about all these commandments? He says, “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, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love Me and keep My commandments.” (Ex. 20:5-6) What does this mean? God threatens to punish all who break these commandments. Therefore, we should fear His wrath and not do anything against them. But He promises grace and every blessing to all who keep these commandments. Therefore, we should also love and trust in Him and gladly do what He commands.
Our fallen flesh is weak, and we cannot even begin to do what He commands. We cannot begin to live up to God’s perfect standard of holiness. God threatens to punish all who break His commandments. Our hearts are full of covetous desire, murder, lust, and all manner of evil, and to top it off, we have many other gods, especially ourselves. What, then, are we to do? God is jealous for us. He wants us to be His own. He knows that we cannot do anything about our fallen flesh. So He does it Himself. He takes the initiative. He gives His only Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, into the flesh to die for our sins. He sends His Son to take the punishment that we deserve, so that we no longer have to fear God’s wrath. The punishment that brought us peace was upon Jesus, that we might go free. Now the Law no longer threatens us. Rather, we live each day as the “thousand generations” upon which God showers His love in Christ. In Christ Jesus we have the full and free forgiveness of all our sins. And our risen Lord sends us His Holy Spirit who purifies our hearts with the holy desire to do what He commands, without fear of the threats of the Law. This is the gracious God that we have. Our Lord Jesus has fulfilled the Law, the Holy Ten Commandments, for us by His perfect life lived in our place. By the power of the Holy Spirit working in the Word and Sacraments, He now fulfills them in us. And we are confident that He who began this good work in us will bring it to completion at the Day of Jesus Christ (Phil. 1:6). In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
 Random House Webster’s College Dictionary (New York: Random House, 1992).
 Catechism quotations from Luther’s Small Catechism (St. Louis: Concordia, 1986).