How the Tenth Commandment Teaches Us to Be at Rest
We are at the last of the ten words God gave to Israel at Mount Sinai. Out of all the commandments this one is the only one without judicial punishments in the civil law. We’ll talk about why that matters next week. It is unique also in that it primarily asks questions of the heart and soul. To be found in violation of the Tenth is to sin in a way that might show itself in the breaking of other parts of the statutes of our Lord, but in effect is known only to our Creator. It is humbling, and pointed in that way. Because as we consider the blessings of our Savior’s gift and grant of faith they should each point us back to the glory of God and strengthen the hold we have on the gospel love. The question this week’s Q/A seeks to answer is are we thankful for what He has done, and if we are does it show in how we use the new life provided by Christ?
At the heart of the tenth commandment is the interaction between Jesus and the rich young ruler in Matthew 19. In all his claims to keep and follow the rules we are shown that the adoration the law is to move the heart of believers to have for the God who gave them is completely absent. There is no joy in the spirit of the rich young ruler, only a sense of fleshly, arrogant personal accomplishment. He does not show any idea that the statutes are given as a witness to the good nature of the One who made the heavens and the earth. For the rich young ruler they are merely an action to take, rather than a life to embrace. Which is why when Christ calls him out on his hypocrisy he goes away sad, rather than repent. His hope and peace is in the boasting of the heart rather than the humility of grace.
Let’s go ahead and get into the WLC for today:
Q. 146: Which is the tenth commandment?
A. The tenth commandment is, Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his man-servant, nor his maid-servant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbor’s.
Q. 147: What are the duties required in the tenth commandment?
A. The duties required in the tenth commandment are, such a full contentment with our own condition, and such a charitable frame of the whole soul toward our neighbour, as that all our inward motions and affections touching him, tend unto, and further all that good which is his.
The commandment itself lists a number of material objects and folks that could cause the heart to wander. Some trouble is had in today’s world with the idea that the law assumes the existence of slavery, or at least indentured servitude. Well, not only did it happen in those days, the principle (and actual ownership of humans) is still with us. Chattel slavery violates the sixth and eighth and likely others, but that gets us at something which is important to note. As you think about the ox and the wife of your fellow citizen they each bring us to see that in some sense this command is a summary of all that came before. It is a perfect capstone to the second table, as well as the first. Desiring the spouse of one nearby is obviously sinning against the seventh. Craving after the wealth of a friend is a breaking of the third. We could go on, but you get the point. We have a bad habit of limiting the expression of the law so as to help us excuse our violations before God.
One of the words which pop out as I read it again is the charitable frame reference towards our neighbor. That seems like somewhat of an outlier to the larger point, however, it gets at the very heart of what the Lord seeks in the giving of the command. To love your neighbor as yourself is to be happy for the way your common God has blessed them. Part of contentment is rejoicing with those who rejoice. Bitterness at its root is a sin of jealousy. Coveting what you do not have based upon the gifts received by an other is to not only hate them, but to hate the Divine who has provided for all your needs, a sin against the first commandment. Positively keeping the tenth is to do what Paul proscribes in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 when he writes:
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
In other words if you are spending your time being grateful for the mercies of the Lord then the opportunity to covet will not come. There is a secret (hint: it’s not a secret) to the obeying of God’s word, it’s looking first to Christ, and not yourself. As our hearts swell with grace the anger and resentment of what we don’t have will be replaced with blessing for what we do have. A lot of what Solomon says in the book of Ecclesiastes tracks with the catechism questions above. He sought happiness, pleasure, and glory in the kingship, his wealth, his accumulation of women, and where did that leave him at the end of the day? In vanity. Much of what we’ve read in the fifth, sixth, and seventh chapters so far are the lamentations of a broken man, repenting primarily for the breaking of the tenth commandment. God had literally given him everything his heart desired, and like the men and women of Romans 1, he hated it, but his hatred moved him for a time to seek more of it. By the grace of his savior it was when Solomon hit rock bottom that his eyes were opened and the sweet mercies of the forgiveness of sin swept in. The Holy Spirit granted the king of Israel the ability to recognize how coveting especially had ruined everything.
In closing this morning I want to end on a positive note. The law convicts for sure, but we also believe that it in that work is meant to drive us into the arms of a loving savior who has washed us in His blood. God gave the commandments so that Israel would remember His glory, His power, and His holiness in order that they would understand why He brought them out of bondage to slavery in Egypt. It wasn’t so that they would fall back into a servitude of their own making. The rich young ruler was corrupted and bound by his love of his own person, an attitude of selfishness and self-deified impertinence. It led him to Hell. The tenth commandment is here to remind us that God has given us all that we need, and all that we will ever need, which is primarily Himself. Rest in Him today, for as the fourth tells us, remember the Sabbath Day, the rest we have in our glorious Lord and Redeemer, both this day and forever.
A last word:
Blessings in Christ,
Rev. Benjamin Glaser
Pastor, Bethany ARP Church