************ Catechism Sermon on Lord's Day 44 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on September 16, 2018
Lord's Day 44
1 Timothy 6:6-10, 17-19
"The Tenth Commandment"
Have you heard of the Tulip Bubble in the Netherlands in the 1630s? Tulips were bought and sold like we sell stocks and bonds. At the peak of the market, a person could trade a single tulip for an entire property, and, at the bottom, one tulip was the price of a common onion.
In 1593 tulips were brought from Turkey and introduced to the Dutch. The novelty of the new flower made it widely sought after and therefore fairly pricey. After a time, the tulips contracted a non-fatal virus which caused "flames" of color to appear upon the petals. The color patterns came in a wide variety, increasing the rarity of an already unique flower. Thus, tulips, which were already selling at a premium, began to rise in price. Everyone began to deal in bulbs, essentially speculating on the tulip market, which was believed to have no limits.
The true bulb buyers (the garden centers of the past) began to fill up inventories for the growing season, depleting the supply further and increasing scarcity and demand. Soon, prices were rising so fast and high that people were trading their land, life savings, and anything else they could liquidate to get more tulip bulbs. The originally overpriced tulips enjoyed a twenty-fold increase in value -- in one month!
Needless to say, the prices were not an accurate reflection of the value of a tulip bulb. As often happens, some prudent people decided to sell and lock in their profits. A domino effect of progressively lower and lower prices took place as everyone tried to sell while not many were buying. The price began to dive, causing people to panic and sell regardless of losses.
Dealers refused to honor contracts and people began to realize they traded their homes and futures for a bulb. Panic struck the land. The government attempted to step in and halt the crash by offering to honor contracts at 10% of the face value, but then the market plunged even lower, making such intervention impossible.
Does any of this sound familiar? Instead of tulips we can say stocks and bonds in 1929 and 1987, or the Asian crisis of 1997, or dotcoms in 2000, or the housing and credit crisis of 2008. Will we ever learn? Probably not.
You know what people needed to hear? The tenth commandment: "You shall not covet ... anything that belongs to your neighbor."
I No One is Perfect
A Let's start with how all the Lutheran and Reformed Catechisms extend or expand the meaning of the tenth commandment. Namely, they all see the tenth commandment as a summary of the previous commandments. In his commentary, Luther writes,
This last commandment, then, is addressed not to those whom the world considers wicked rogues, but precisely to the most upright -- to people who wish to be commended as honest and virtuous because they have not offended against the preceding commandments.Or, to put it another way, the tenth commandment is meant to deal the final blow to those who think they are left standing after hearing the previous nine commandments. This commandment is not addressed to those we usually put behind bars and consider the real criminals, but to the rest of us who think they have actually conformed to the Law.
The sound doctrine of the Heidelberg Catechism puts it this way:
God's will for you in the tenth commandment [is] ... that not even the slightest thought or desire contrary to any one of God's commandments should ever arise in my heart. Rather, with all my heart I should always hate sin and take pleasure in whatever is right.
Like Jesus in His Sermon on the Mount, the tenth commandment lets us know that the very desire to break a commandment is a violation of that commandment. The desire to commit adultery is a breaking of the seventh commandment. The desire to steal is a breaking of the eighth commandment. And so on. Similarly, Moses tells us that to desire or covet what our neighbor owns makes us lawbreakers as though we had stolen his life, his wife, his property, his honor. To sum it up: the tenth commandment drives home the point that none of us are perfect.
B The vast majority of Christians today -- like the Pharisees of Jesus' day, like the medieval church at the time of the Reformation -- would disagree with this. To repeat two of the survey questions I mentioned the last two Sundays:
God loves me because of the good I do or have doneMost evangelical Christians today do not think they bow before other gods or take God's name in vain or fail to honor their parents; they say they are guiltless of murder, adultery, theft; they believe they do not regularly lie. They don't think they are sinners; they certainly are NOT bad persons.
37% Agree strongly or somewhat
Everyone sins at least a little, but most people are by nature good
67% Agree strongly or somewhat
By the way, I kept hearing a word at the Right to Life Banquet this past week. At least three of the people at the podium repeatedly used the word "innocent" to describe children in the womb. As if that somehow makes abortion worse. I wanted to yell out, "What about Original Sin?" "Haven't you heard we are conceived and born in sin?"
People want to deny their total depravity. People want to claim a righteousness they cannot claim. God bursts our bubble in this final command. As the Catechism puts it,
In this life even the holiest have only a small beginning of this obedience.Take the holiest person you know -- grandma or grandpa, John Calvin, Billy Graham, RC Sproul -- and they don't measure up. None of us do. All of us are sinners. All of us have thoughts and desires contrary to any and all of God's commandments.
You can look holy and act holy. You can stack up charity, virtue, spirituality, obedience. You can fool the people around you with your righteousness. But God knows better.
(Isa 64:6) All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags ...None of us are righteous, all of us are sinners. That's what we learn in the tenth commandment.
II Our Covetous Desires
"You shall not covet ... anything that belongs to your neighbor."
Have you ever envied the prosperity of a neighbor? Are you hurt and disappointed that a fellow worker gets a raise and promotion even though you have been employed there longer? What do you really think of childhood friends who have achieved success and prosperity while you can barely pay your bills? When your brother lives in a bigger and better house than you, are you happy for him or sad for yourself? Do you secretly desire your neighbor's new Jaguar or BMW while you drive a handyman's special? Do you rejoice in your neighbor's success or are you envious of him?
What am I describing? I am describing how we can so easily break the tenth commandment.
But now a correction to how we often think. It is easy to make the mistake of thinking only the poor covet; however, the rich can covet as much as the poor.
A Each of the commandments places a value on something. The third commandment, for instance, places value on God's name. The fifth commandment values authority. The sixth commandment values life. The seventh commandment values marriage and family relationships.
So what does the tenth commandment value? The tenth commandment values contentment. Do you know what God wants? God wants us all to be able to say with the Apostle Paul in Philippians 4,
(Phil 4:11-12) I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. (12) 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.Or, listen to the opening verse of our Bible reading:
(1 Tim 6:6) But godliness with contentment is great gain.
Wow!! Contentment? When I am in a nursing home? When I have cancer? When I am a widow? When I lost my job? When I hate my work? When I think my husband is having an affair? When I don't have a dollar to my name? When I have heart problems?
Contentment? With all of life's problems and concerns, how can any of us possibly reach this point? Let's go one verse further in Philippians:
(Phil 4:13) I can do everything through him who gives me strength. If you walk and live with Christ, if your goal in life is godliness instead of money or things, then contentment is possible. But the key is life with Christ. Apart from Him you cannot be content. Apart from Him you can only envy and chase what others have.
Again, a correction to how we often think. It is easy to make the mistake of thinking only the rich are content; however, the poor can be and should be as content as the rich.
B "You shall not covet ... anything that belongs to your neighbor." Instead, be content.
God has given your neighbor his life, his wife, his property, his honor. God has given this to your neighbor. That's the perspective of the tenth commandment. That's the perspective of Paul to Timothy. It is God Who provides. Paul uses the phrase, "richly provides" (1 Tim 6:17).
When you envy, you are saying you don't like how God in His providence has provided. You don't like that God has given your neighbor something that you want. And, you are saying you aren't content with what God has given you.
I've mentioned the word "providence" already. The idea of providence underlies the tenth commandment. Don't forget, congregation, that we live in a world ruled by God. God so rules heaven and earth and all creatures that
leaf and blade,
rain and drought,
fruitful and lean years,
food and drink,
health and sickness,
prosperity and poverty --
all things, in fact, come to us
not by chance
but from his fatherly hand.
(Catechism, A 27)
C I need to come out swinging at the prosperity gospel here, the health and wealth gospel, the name it and claim it gospel, the enlarge my territory gospel. There are preachers and teachers and churches that say if you believe in Jesus all your problems disappear and you will be healthy and wealthy. Joel Osteen, for instance, believes that prayer can make you rich. Born-again baseball players tell us how Jesus improved their RBI statistics, and beauty queens are testimonies to the worldly success that follows those who love Jesus.
All of these people market a false gospel. They don't call people to repentance and faith. They actually encourage the coveting the tenth commandment forbids. They end up creating idols that men and women live for and chase after. What we end up with are lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.
The prosperity gospel confuses redemption with providence. In His providence, God causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous (Mt 5:45). That is an act of providence, of what we call common grace. Special grace, saving grace, is something entirely different and is given only to the elect children of God.
No, God does not promise health and wealth to His children. Joel Osteen -- and everyone like him -- are flat out wrong. Look at some of the godly men and women in the Bible. How come Jeremiah ended up shivering and starving in a cistern? How come Joseph was in prison? How come Daniel's three friends got thrown into a fiery furnace? How come Paul was beheaded? How come Naomi lost her husband and her two sons? How come Israel was in Egypt? No, God does not promise health and wealth to His children. God does not give special privileges to believers when it comes to material blessings.
Consider Asaph and his complaint, his jealousy, his envy in Psalm 73:
(Ps 73:3) For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. (4) They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong. (5) They are free from the burdens common to man; they are not plagued by human ills ... (12) This is what the wicked are like-- always carefree, they increase in wealth. (13) Surely in vain have I kept my heart pure; in vain have I washed my hands in innocence ... (16) When I tried to understand all this, it was oppressive to me (17) till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny. (18) Surely you place them on slippery ground; you cast them down to ruin. (19) How suddenly are they destroyed, completely swept away by terrors! ... (25) Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. (26) My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.Asaph had problems with the health and wealth of the wicked. He wanted that health and wealth for himself. But then discovered what counts is a man's relationship with God. A man who has riches without understanding life with God is like the beasts that perish (Ps 49:20).
"You shall not covet ... anything that belongs to your neighbor." Instead, be content.
I hope you realize, congregation, contentment is not a matter of poverty or wealth. Coveting is not a matter of poverty or wealth either. Paul did not merely say he was content when he was poor, but that he was also content when he enjoyed wealth. No, it is not poverty or wealth that leads to contentment. Contentment comes from knowing Jesus. Contentment comes when you rest in God Who chooses, redeems, calls, adopts, and justifies you. Contentment is anchored in the God Who blesses us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ (Eph 1:3). Contentment comes when we fill our hearts and minds and lives with the satisfaction, pleasure, and enjoyment that comes from knowing Jesus.
So let me end by asking: Are you content? Have you found contentment in Jesus?
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
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