(Photo: Mars Hill Church/Will Foster)
Pastor Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Wash., concluded his sermon series, "Ten Commandments: Set Free To Live Free," on Sunday as he shared why the command "not to covet" is unique and how to crush the desire to do so.
"Coveting is ungodly, discontented desire... Passion, envy, craving, greed, jealousy, obsession, longing, or lust for someone or something that is not supposed to be yours," Driscoll preached while defining what coveting is, based on Exodus 20:17: "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."
The simplest definition of coveting is that, he explained, "God says, 'This is what I want for you,' and we say, 'That's not what I want for me,' and then there's conflict between what God desires for us and what we desire. That's where coveting finds its inception. That's where coveting starts to give birth to death."
The Mars Hill pastor then shared four ways the Tenth Commandment is unique.
One, it is internal and not external, he said. "Up until this point, the Ten Commandments have dealt primarily with the external... You can be coveting and no one else would know except for you... Coveting is something that is a private sin, it's a personal sin, it's an internal sin... What it reveals to us is that God not only sees our works and hears our words, he knows our hearts."
Two, it's unprecedented in other moral codes. "Some people will sometimes say that Christianity has the Ten Commandments, and this is the basis for morality and law, and that other cultures basically have the same moral framework and structure. This is untrue because this is a particular exception. You won't find other moral codes that are trying to govern the inward desires of people."
Three, it shows the difference between sin and crime. "Coveting is a sin, but it's not a crime. No government could pass a law that they would start enforcing anti-coveting laws, right? You couldn't enforce that." That's something that a person knows and the Holy Spirit reveals to them, he explained.
Four, coveting is the root of other sins. "Good desires lead to good actions, and bad desires lead to bad actions, and if all you're ever dealing with are the actions, you're not really helping people and you're not seeing them change. What you're dealing with then is behavior modification instead of salvation. You're trying to get people to be moral instead of born-again."
If a person deals with their heart problems, they deal with their behavior problems, Driscoll explained. "If you deal with a coveting problem, you end up resolving lots of other problems."
On why God put the coveting commandment as the last commandment, the megachurch pastor said, "Because ultimately, it truly gets to the heart of the matter. And if we are aware of our proclivity toward coveting, what it does is it reorganizes our heart, which then reorients our life, and it allows us to avoid the violation of the first nine commandments through obedience to the Tenth Commandment."
To understand the importance of the Ten Commandments, people must understand who God is, Pastor Driscoll told the congregation. "God is a loving, perfect, gracious, concerned Father. And if all you receive are the laws and you don't know the lawgiver, then the laws make no sense whatsoever."
Presenting the Ten Commandments to all the non-Christians will help only if we tell them about Jesus. "It just ends up in morality, and there are moral people that are going to hell because we're not saved by our good works but by Jesus' good works. We're not saved by keeping the law; we're saved by Jesus keeping the law."
When people break laws, they are not just breaking the Father's laws, they are breaking the Father's heart, Driscoll stressed. "It breaks the Father's heart when He gives us something to enjoy, and we're like the bratty kid who says, 'Well, that's not what I wanted,' and that's exactly what coveting causes. Coveting causes us to desire something other than what the Father has chosen to be our gift."
Parenting plays a key role in the commandment, the pastor said. Parents often train their children to covet, "which is a hard cycle to break when they grow up and get their own debit card."
Driscoll encouraged parents not to play favorites. "So, as a general rule, if you're going to go out and get ice cream for one kid, I've got five kids, it'd be really bad if I brought home one ice cream cone, amen? …I am setting up a coveting situation, right? So, as a general rule as parents, we should be generous toward all our children."
But there are times when you get a gift for one child and not every child, and those are opportunities for the other children to deal with their coveting, the pastor added.
When God doesn't give us something, it's not to punish us but to protect us, Driscoll told the church members.
Coveting not only hurts God, but it "also hurts you," Driscoll went on to say, quoting Luke 12:15: "Jesus said to them, 'Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness.'"
"Whenever there's security detail, it's around the clock, right? There's no such thing as nine-to-five security, because criminals come at 5:05. If you really want to guard something that's valuable, you're going to need continual security to guard it."
Pastor Driscoll said that in the passage, Jesus was anticipating something that the sociologists today may call "consumerism."
"Consumerism is its own religion. Consumerism is that your identity is based upon your possessions. Sociologists will also talk about something called 'conspicuous consumption.' This is where we spend money not for anything that we need but simply to make a statement about who we are."
A debt problem is actually a coveting problem in one's heart, Driscoll added.
Coveting also hurts the people we love, the pastor said. He quoted James 4:1–2: "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."
It's the heart, Driscoll pointed out. "Oftentimes, we covet the people we know... Can you have a good, loving friendship with someone that you are jealous of?"
He added that -f a person is jealous of someone else, the problem is not between that person and them, but between that person and God, as the passage in James says, "You do not have, because you do not ask."
Pastor Driscoll also quoted Acts 20:35: "In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.'"
The problem with coveting is that the person "thinks that the blessing is in the receiving, not the giving," Driscoll explained. "This is where I really do oppose prosperity theology."
Driscoll pointed out that Paul said coveting can be crushed with contentment. Philippians 4:11–13, "…I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength."
Pastor Driscoll then shared three things about contentment.
One, contentment is not wanting what we want, but wanting what the Father wants for us, he said. "See, coveting is when we want what we want. Contentment is I want what He wants."
Two, contentment is not nurtured by poverty or prosperity. "Jesus was rich in heaven, He was poor on earth, and He was content under both circumstances."
We live in a world that has made it about the poor and the rich, the pastor added, "and the Bible says it's actually about the covetous and the content. It's not an economic issue; it's a heart issue with economic implications."
Three, contentment is not crushed by seeking to cease your desires. "Let me say it another way: contentment is not crushed by ceasing desire."
Some believe covetousness is simply manifested in having a strong desire and they need to get rid of desire itself. But that's Buddhism, Driscoll pointed out. "That's not Christianity. Christianity is actually about passion, longings, appetites, and desires for God and for good."