Friday, August 25, 2006

Mother of All Sins

“Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is his neighbour’s.” (Exo.20:17)

Thomas Watson refers to covetousness as “a mother sin, a radical vice,” because it gives birth to all nine of the other commandments. It was Lucifer’s desire to have God’s place that precipitated his attempt to mount an insurrection in heaven; and it is man’s desire for supreme authority that causes him to become a god unto himself, fashion personal tokens of holiness, and invoke the name of God in pretence. Covetousness would deny respect and remuneration to parents who gave us life and love, as well as room and board; it would take the life, spouse, or possessions of another, for personal gratification; and it loosens the tongue of the slanderer. No wonder Paul categorizes the covetous individual with whoremongers and idolaters in Ephesians 5:5, and Peter describes them as having “eyes full of adulteries,” who “cannot cease from sin, who “[beguile] unstable souls,” and whose hearts are virtually “exercised with covetousness” (2Pet.2:14). G. Campbell Morgan paints a vivid picture of covetousness: “…fever which makes the eye glisten with a false luster, the cheek flush with deceitful color, the muscles twitch with unnatural activity, the nerves throb with restless desire.”

Covetousness is, of course, an internal sin, which, in the final analysis, the worst kind. This last commandment comes closest of the ten to Jesus’ elaboration of the Decalogue in the New Testament, where He goes past the outward to the root. We cannot see covetousness, but it will subsequently rear its ugly head, just as the virus that causes chicken pox, herpes, or shingles can lie dormant in the body for many years before manifesting itself outside the body. Covetousness is so much a part of us that Paul says in Romans seven, we would not even recognize it to as sin, if God had not told us in the Bible. And when we do find it out, we say, “Who can conquer it then?” To which the obvious answer is, “No one,” which is Paul’s point exactly in the book of Romans. If one would be foolish enough to rattle through the Ten Commandments, claiming immunity, he or she would come to a screeching halt at number ten. The fact that within all of us lies the sin of wanting more than what is enough, is proof that we must look for justification before God elsewhere. And here we see the truth of Galatians 3:24: “Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.” The law cannot justify us. In fact, it will testify against us, so that the wise man or woman will cry, “I need a lawyer!” And, thank God, One steps in (1Tim.2:5).

The opposite of covetousness is contentment. That is why Paul says, “[G]odliness with contentment is great gain” (1Tim.6:6). Those individuals who are content with who they are, where they are, and what they have, are less likely to succumb to the pangs of desiring what is beyond their legitimate reach. As long as you and I are in these mortal bodies, covetousness will never be cured; but it can be greatly contained. Thomas Watson, in his wonderful work on the Ten Commandments, suggests the best way:

The root of covetousness is distrust of God’s providence. Faith believes that God will provide; that he who feeds the birds will feed his children; that he who clothes the lilies will clothe his lambs, and thus faith overcomes the world. Faith is the cure of care. It not only purifies the heart, but satisfies it; it makes God our portion, and in him we have enough. ‘The lord is the portion of mine inheritance, the lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places; yea, I have a goodly heritage.’(Psa.16:5-5) Faith, by a divine chemistry, extracts comfort out of God. A little with God is sweet. Thus faith is a remedy against covetousness.

This concludes God’s holy law, as given to man through Moses. They are what they are: commandments, not suggestions; and when God says, “Thou shalt,” and “Thou shalt not,” He is really saying, “Don’t hurt yourself.” They were not given as an explanation, for we would have been accountable to Him, if He had never given them, simply because of who He is. He gave them to help us understand His holiness and our deficiency. They were part of wooing us to Himself, finding out how badly we need Him, and what He was willing to do to make Himself accessible. We should take these commandments as seriously as He does. And, if we love Him, we will (Jno.14:15). But just before we close the door on this mini-series on the Decalogue, I think we should consider one more commandment. The one Jesus called, “a new commandment.”

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