Love God Supremely and Love Your Neighbor Sincerely
LOVE GOD SUPREMELY AND LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR SINCERELY
A Midweek Lesson
By Pastor Brian Wilbur
Date: May 29, 2019
Note: Scripture quotations are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
The Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17) are rightly seen as a framework for all of life. It is a framework that is built on the foundation of God’s grace. We do not obey the Ten Commandments in order to earn God’s favor. Instead, we obey the Ten Commandments as the fitting response to the undeserved favor that God graciously shows to His people:
“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:2-3)
It is a great thing to be rescued “out of the land of Egypt,” but it is a greater thing to be rescued out of our bondage to sin. And this is exactly what happens through the Gospel of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ: “He [the Father] has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Colossians 1:13-14)
So long as we remain dead in our sin, our obedience can only rise to the level of an external, outward obedience that we manage in our own strength. Such obedience, however, is not true obedience at all. The greatest commandment of all, says Jesus, is the command to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22:37) Thus our obedience to God’s commands must flow out of a heart that truly loves the Lord. This love-motivated obedience is built into the logic of the Ten Commandments, for Exodus 20:6 tells us that God shows His “steadfast love” to whom? “[To] thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.” (Exodus 20:6) Likewise Jesus taught us, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15) Such passages show us that what pleases God is heartfelt obedience: obedience that flows out of a heart that loves Him.
No one should think that mere external compliance to the letter of the law is pleasing to God. It isn’t. God wants our hearts. God wants us to put Him first in our hearts, and not just on paper; in our attitudes, and not just in our actions; in our affections, and not just in our intellectual calculations.
And even as the greatest commandment is to love the Lord with all that we are and have, so the next greatest commandment is to love our neighbors with the same eagerness and devotion with which we love ourselves. The full intent of Commandments 6-9 is impossible to carry out unless we have a heartfelt love for our neighbors. The way to avoid murder, adultery, theft, and false witness is not to find an uninhabited island and settle there all by yourself, thus making it impossible to harm anyone. Instead, God wants you and me to be out there doing life with people, interacting with people, responding to people, and blessing people. But if we are going to do that faithfully and fruitfully, then our hearts need to be transformed into loving hearts that highly esteem our neighbor’s life (sixth commandment), our neighbor’s marriage (seventh commandment), our neighbor’s property (eighth commandment), and our neighbor’s reputation (ninth commandment). We always ought to feel and think in a way that honors our neighbors, and we always ought to act and speak in a way that preserves and promotes our neighbor’s well-being. But if our hearts are filled with self, with sin, with anger, with lust, with greed, with malice, or with indifference, then we will not succeed at loving our neighbors. Our hearts must be transformed into caring, kind, generous, pure, forgiving, righteous, and unselfish hearts that act and speak in ways that bless and build up our neighbors.
The centrality of heartfelt love for our neighbors is on full display in the tenth commandment.
THE TENTH COMMANDMENT
Holy Scripture says,
“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.” (Exodus 20:17)
THE TENTH COMMANDMENT: LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR SINCERELY
Let’s begin by considering what the tenth commandment teaches us about loving our neighbors sincerely and wholeheartedly. We know that the commandment to not covet relates to loving our neighbors, not only because the commandment explicitly refers to our neighbor and all that is his, but also because Paul draws the connection in Romans 13. Paul writes,
“The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” (Romans 13:9-10)
This passage shows us that not coveting the people or possessions that belong to our neighbor is one way of loving our neighbor. On the other hand, coveting the people or possessions that belong to our neighbor is one way of wronging our neighbor. It is not only the overt physical acts of adultery, murder, and theft that does wrong to our neighbor, but also the internal attitude of coveting that does wrong to our neighbor. Thus we see how important it is to make sure that we have a righteous heart attitude toward our neighbor.
Returning to Exodus 20, we saw that Commandments 6-9 taught us to have a loving and kind regard for our neighbor’s life, marriage, property, and reputation. Now Commandment 10 opens up to our eyes the entirety of our neighbor’s household, which includes every person within that household and every possession within that household. The final reference to “anything that is your neighbor’s” shows that nothing is excluded: his wife, his servants, his house and garage, his land with all its gardens and fields, all his wealth including his possessions and investments, his tractor and pick-up truck, his state-of-the-art kitchen and spacious entertainment center, and anyone or anything else that has been entrusted to his oversight. Behold your neighbor’s world, and be careful that you do not gaze upon it with a covetous eye.
When verse 17 says, “You shall not covet,” it is speaking to our heart. Covetousness is an inordinate desire in which we crave someone or something that belongs to our neighbor. And a little reflection will show how profoundly unloving it is to covet.
Loving My Neighbor and Coveting His Stuff Are Mutually Exclusive
The Lord calls me to love my neighbor. This means that I ought to look upon my neighbor with affection and kindness, esteeming him as a fellow image-bearer of God. My neighbor has objective dignity and worth, and I ought to treat him accordingly, showing him honor and respect. This means that I ought to desire that things go well for my neighbor, that he flourish and succeed in all his worthy endeavors. If he meets with prosperity, I ought to be glad and rejoice with him. If he meets with tragedy, grief, or loss, I ought to be grieved and weep with him.
But the coveting heart cannot love in this way. Whereas love is glad to honor my neighbor, coveting is preoccupied with wishing to have my neighbor’s stuff. Whereas love rejoices in my neighbor’s increase, coveting is preoccupied with wishing to get my hands on that increase. Whereas love grieves at my neighbor’s misfortune, coveting is perversely pleased that my neighbor isn’t quite so prosperous anymore. Love looks at my neighbor and my neighbor’s world and is glad for my neighbor, but coveting sees my neighbor standing between me and all the stuff I wish I had for myself.
Question: who would you like to have into your home to help you with a project? A person who loves you, or a person who covets your stuff? Who would you like to do business with in the marketplace? A person who loves you, or a person who covets your money? Who would you like to represent you in Augusta or in Washington, DC? A person who loves you, or a person who covets your income (upon which you pay income taxes)? Which attorney would you like to give you legal representation? The attorney who loves you, or the attorney who covets your checkbook? It’s all very practical, isn’t it? Where coveting is, kindness isn’t.
Coveting may or may not express itself in the physical acts of murder, adultery, theft, and lying (Commandments 6-9), although coveting will often express itself in these ways. But even if coveting remains hidden in the heart, its presence in the heart prevents the experience and expression of true love. It is simply impossible to love you sincerely, from the heart, for your good, if my heart is set on your stuff. We must be people like Paul who can say, “I coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel.” (Acts 20:33) How could Paul have ministered the gospel of God’s gracious salvation to other people, if he looked at other people as a source for his own enrichment? Such a ministry would have lacked integrity, right? Paul was content in the Lord, therefore he was able to bear the cost of love in laying down his life for the good of others. But covetousness is warped vision, and sees other people as possessors of the good things that I want for myself. And it is that mindset that will abuse, misuse, lie, cheat, steal, manipulate, jockey for position and angle for self-enrichment. Which is the very opposite of the glory of the gospel, in which Christ bore the cost of love in order to enrich us at His expense. The love that gives generously to others, and the coveting that mentally lays hold of what others have, are worlds apart.
THE TENTH COMMANDMENT: LOVE THE LORD SUPREMELY
Even though the tenth commandment relates directly to whether we will love our neighbors sincerely, it also relates directly to whether we will love the Lord supremely. The truth of the matter is that it is impossible to break the tenth commandment without also simultaneously breaking the first and second commandments.
On two occasions, the apostle Paul teaches us that covetousness constitutes idolatry. In Ephesians 5, Paul writes: “For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.” (Ephesians 5:5) And in a similar passage in Colossians 3, he says: “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” (Colossians 3:5)
So, the second commandment forbids idolatry, that is, bowing down before idols. And the tenth commandment forbids coveting my neighbor’s stuff. And the New Testament teaches that coveting constitutes idolatry. While idolatry in the most technical sense is bowing down before images or icons and statues that have been manufactured to physically represent divine reality, idolatry in the more comprehensive sense is putting someone or something other than God in God’s place. In other words, an idol is a substitute god. The person who is full of covetousness is, in effect, worshiping the object of his coveting: if a man is coveting his neighbor’s wife, then the neighbor’s wife has become a substitute god; if a man is coveting his neighbor’s lifestyle, then the neighbor’s lifestyle has become a substitute god. Whoever is guilty of coveting his neighbor’s goods is, at the same time, guilty of committing idolatry against God.
So, if you break the tenth commandment, you break the second commandment; and if you break the second commandment, you break the first commandment. This is because the physical idol before which you bow down or the mental idol which you are coveting is basically functioning as another god. And what is the first commandment? “You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:3) The Lord God alone should occupy first place in the affections and desires of our hearts. But when the supremacy of God gets displaced in our hearts, then we chase after idols and covet possessions.
This past Sunday we looked at Asaph’s journey through the lost perspective that developed on account of his envious heart. But when it was all said and done, Asaph had rediscovered the glorious truth:
“Whom have in I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” (Psalm 73:25-26)
When God is your most treasured possession, when God is more valuable to you than anyone or anything else, and when you trust God to be there with you and come through for you at all times, then idolatry and covetousness lose their power. When the Lord is your uppermost desire and you are always seeking Him and being satisfied in His steadfast love, then you are not craving your neighbor’s brand new sports car. When you are content in the Lord and resting in His promises, then you are free to love your neighbor instead of coveting his well-landscaped lawn.
THE DANGER OF COVETING YOUR OWN STUFF
The tenth commandment directs us to love the Lord supremely and love our neighbors sincerely. And yet, Jesus drives the truth about coveting more deeply into our hearts and tells us that we must be careful not to covet our own stuff. This shouldn’t surprise us, really: for if it is possible to turn anyone or anything into a substitute god, then surely it is possible to turn our own lawful possessions into a substitute god.
Listen to what Jesus says in Luke 12:13-34. I’ll make a couple comments along the way.
“13 Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” 14 But he said to him, “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?” 15 And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” 16 And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, 17 and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’” (Luke 12:13-17)
Now let me pause right here. Notice that when Jesus warns us “against all covetousness,” he is especially warning us against coveting our own stuff. Verse 13 suggested it, if it is right to assume that the man in the crowd only wanted what he regarded as his own lawful portion of the inheritance. But regardless of verse 13, verse 16 is clear: “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’” In other words, these crops belong to him. The type of coveting that this rich man is about to illustrate is not coveting his neighbor’s stuff, but coveting his own stuff, his own plentiful crops, the produce of his own fields. Will he handle his abundant possessions with a heart that is joyfully submitted to God’s kingdom and that is generously open-handed to others? Or will he handle his abundant possessions with a covetous heart that wants to hold onto his stuff for the exclusive benefit of himself? The passage continues:
“18 And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods.19 And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”’ 20 But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21 So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”” (Luke 12:18-21)
Do you see what the rich fool did? He put his plentiful grain and goods in the place of God. Instead of finding his security in God – and instead of trusting God to supply his needs – he built larger barns and trusted his full barns to secure his well-being “for many years.” Instead of resting in God – and instead of relying on God to shepherd his soul beside green pastures and refreshing waters, he trusted his stuff to generate a lifestyle of relaxation, feasting, and merriment. The wise man finds his security and satisfaction in the Lord, but the rich fool found his security and satisfaction “in the abundance of his possessions.” Which means that the rich fool was actually rather poor (i.e., “not rich toward God,” v. 21). Such fools are covetous idolaters who have no inheritance in God’s eternal kingdom.
Now, in light of the illustration about the rich fool, Jesus teaches His disciples to live differently:
“22 And he said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. 23 For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. 24 Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! 25 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 26 If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest? 27 Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 28 But if God so clothes the grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! 29 And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. 30 For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31 Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you.
32 “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Luke 12:22-34)
Trust Your Generous Father and Become a Conduit of His Generosity
The message is simple. Instead of reducing your life to your own self-absorbed little kingdom in which you frantically chase after the things that you think you need, look to the big realities of God’s heavenly kingdom. Stop being an anxious little self-provider, and start trusting God. Your heavenly Father is all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-caring. And He is exceedingly generous: “it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” If you are trusting your heavenly Father’s generosity and grace, then you are free to devote your life and your resources to the advancement of God’s kingdom. Instead of living the lie that says life consists is accumulating and keeping and investing in worldly comforts, live the truth that teaches us to trust the God of incomparable generosity and then become a conduit of His generosity to others. Whether your worldly wealth is little or great, Jesus teaches us to invest our wealth in the heavenly and eternal realities of God’s kingdom: “seek his kingdom,” share the gospel, serve other people in Jesus’ name, strengthen your church family.
Brothers and sisters, Jesus laid down His life for us in order to rescue us from the narrow-hearted covetousness that desires things instead of God, and to bring us into the large-hearted love that enjoys devoting ourselves and our resources for the good of other people, to the glory and praise of God.
So we see, once again, that the commandments involve much more than meets the eye at first glance. It is not enough to not covet my neighbor’s stuff. For I must become the kind of person who is ready to use my stuff in order to help my neighbor to flourish in the kingdom of God.