Summary: The commandment against coveting is about contentment. God wants us to be godly with contentment
I recently discovered that I have a blind spot. In fact I have two. I had my eyes checked for new glasses a few weeks ago and while I was there they said I should have a field vision test. This is a test that checks whether there are parts of your retina that aren’t functioning properly. At the end the optometrist showed me the plot of the results. It was fine except for a very dark spot on each eye. She pointed out that these were my blind spots, the spots where the optic nerve enters the eye and where I have no sensors. Well that got me thinking about whether I had any other blind spots and when I started thinking about this sermon I thought that in fact this area of covetousness is a very common blind spot for many of us.
Jesus met a young man one day who had a blind spot. Luke tells us he was a ruler, that is he was one of the leaders of the Jewish people. And he had an important question to ask Jesus. He wanted to know how he could be sure of having eternal life. What good thing must he do to become worthy. Jesus’ answer is the orthodox Jewish answer: "Keep the commandments." But that’s not good enough for this man. That answer makes him look foolish. So he asks, "Which ones?" So Jesus tells him: "You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; 19Honor your father and mother." Then he throws in the ’catch all’ "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." "Phew" says the young man. "I’ve been obeying those since I was a youngster. So I guess I’m OK then?"
But as I said, he has a blind spot. And it’s a big one. It’s actually a blind spot that lots of people have; these days as much as in Jesus’ day. Jesus says "You still lack one thing. If you want to be perfect you need to go and sell everything you own and give the money to the poor. And instead you’ll find you have treasure in heaven."
This rich man’s blind spot was this: he thought his security and his self-worth were based on his material possessions, his no doubt considerable wealth. What he failed to see was that riches in heaven depend on something else. They depend on the attitudes of our heart.
Have you noticed how, as we’ve gone through this series on the 10 commandments, time and time again the issue has revolved around the hidden motives of the heart, Whether it’s been murder, adultery, stealing, truth, what’s mattered has been what’s in our hearts, what’s motivating us, where we look for satisfaction. And again coveting is about where our heart looks for satisfaction, for contentment. Are our hearts following the heart of God? Are we trusting God to provide for us.
You see, the rich young ruler was only thinking about outward conformity; what good thing did he need to do to be worthy of God. What God was looking for was inward purity of heart; in Jesus’ instructions, a desire to offer love and support to others rather than looking after yourself.
This is the problem with moralism isn’t it? Moralism is the practice of creating rules to define what constitutes a moral life or a godly life. It allows us to feel we’re in control. It sets up a grid through which we can judge whether we’ve done the right thing or not. At its worst Christian moralism, or religious moralism, uses God in order not to need God any longer. Paradoxically, moral codes allow us to become independent of God, even if he created the laws in the first place. This is what the rich young ruler was looking for: a grid to measure himself against. But all that does is reduce our need for a saviour. And in the end it makes us think we’re offering our righteousness to God as a gift so it generates in us a sense of self-righteousness.
What God wants from us isn’t a dead conformity to an external set of rules. He wants a transformed life on the inside. He wants us to stop craving what other people have; to stop looking to our possessions for self-worth and status; instead he wants us to trust him to provide for our material as well as our spiritual needs.
The difficulty for us is that we’re surrounded by forces that are urging us to covet. There are pressures on every side offering us every conceivable thing to make our lives better or to make us feel better about ourselves. I collected a couple of days’ junk mail a couple of weeks ago. Here it is. I hate to think how many trees were cut down just so I could be tempted to covet new kitchen gadgets, digital TVs, KFC hot & spicy chicken fillets, clothes, mobile phones, car accessories, videos, etc. And it’s not even Christmas time! How do poor people survive when they can’t afford to buy all these good things!?