Love Your Neighbor, Part II
Fourth in a series, “What We Believe, Teach, and Confess”
1 Kings 21:1–6 // 2 Corinthians 12:7b–9 // Romans 7:7–12 // Matthew 6:19–24
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our sermon for today includes all the texts read as we consider the 9th and 10th commandments.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Today, we finish up our catechetical instruction on the Ten Commandments: the way that God designed for us to interact with himself, with others, and with the world. Three weeks ago, we began with Pastor Johnston exploring the first three commandments, You shall have no other Gods, You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, and Remember the Sabbath day. Two weeks ago, we considered the order of marriage and family. Honor your father and mother, You shall not commit adultery. Last week, we started a mini-series within a sermon series, Love Your neighbor. Today we finish a mini-series within a sermon series as we consider the 9th and 10th Commandments.
You shall not covet your neighbor’s house.
What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not scheme to get our neighbor’s inheritance or house, or get it in a way which only appears right, but help and be of service to him in keeping it.
Commandment number nine sounds an awful lot like Commandment number seven, don’t steal. Help your neighbor keep his or her stuff. How is this any different? They’re both about your neighbor’s stuff. Well, you’re right; they do overlap. But the ninth commandment is about your desire for what your neighbor possesses.
You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife or manservant or maidservant, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.
What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not entice or force away our neighbor’s wife, workers, or animals, or turn them against him, but urge them to stay and do their duty.
Commandment number ten sounds an awful lot like commandment number nine, so how is this any different than the other one about coveting?
Both commandments deal with desire. Commandment number nine, You shall not desire of your neighbor’s stuff. Commandment number ten. You shall not desire your neighbor’s relationships. It’s all about desire. The word for sinful desire with money is greed. The word for it in relationships is lust. The word for it in your job is ambition, or in the words of the commandments, coveting.
We go to our texts. We have a pair of texts that deal with unfulfilled desire, 1 Kings 21 and 2 Corinthians 12. 1 Kings in the very interesting story about King Ahab, a foolish king who regularly ignored the advice of the prophet Elijah. King Ahab desires and schemes to get, a man’s inheritance. Ahab and his wife Jezebel end up doing so in a way that only appears right, but our focus is on the desire of Ahab, that’s what we see. He has a desire left unfulfilled, and it has a physical, visceral effect on him. He wants a vineyard, and when he can’t have it, he becomes sullen and vexed. He becomes so upset that he refuses to eat. Now, he’s clearly being pretty childish, but the larger point reminds for us: our unfulfilled desire can affect us physically.
2 Corinthians 12 is another picture of unfulfilled desire. St. Paul at the end of this letter tells of a thorn in his flesh. What it is, we don’t know, but we do know that it was something in his life that he pleaded God to take away. It could have been a physical ailment. It could have been a lingering guilt over his rile of persecuting the church of God. We don’t know. But three times he pleads, and three times he is rebuffed. He doesn’t find relief. What he desires, he does not receive, and yet he rests in these words, My grace is sufficient for you for my power is made perfect in your weakness.
All of us have unfulfilled desire, and even Jesus had unfulfilled desire. Remember the Garden of Gethsemane, where he prayed that this cup would be taken from him, but not as I will but your will be done. But we often have a choice in the matter: In the face of unfulfilled desire, do we act like Ahab, vexed and sullen, or do we react like Paul, My power is made perfect in your weakness? What do we do with our desire? What’s the difference between the two?
You see, you would think the solution to unfulfilled desire would be to fulfill it. If you fulfill it, then you’re done! Not like Ahab did, not in an underhanded way, but still to fulfill that desire. But that’s not the answer we’re given.
That’s where our Gospel reading comes in. Matthew 6. “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal.” What does Jesus mean by “treasure?” He means, earthly things never wholly satisfy. Even if they do for a time, they will always in the end leave you with desire unfulfilled. “Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.” He’s not saying that heaven will have no moths. We don’t really know that yes or no. He is saying that heavenly treasures aren’t the kind that break down or fall away.
He’s saying, in the language we’ve been using in the 9th and 10th commandments, don’t covet your neighbor’s stuff. Don’t covet your neighbor’s relationships. Instead, desire heavenly treasures.
So, again, what does Jesus mean by treasure? Let me give you a different word, one that we see him use in other places. He means fruit. Like in John 15, I am the vine you are the branches. If a man remain in me and I in him, he it is who will bear much. Fruit. The fruit—the treasure—is the forgiveness of sins that leads to life and salvation. His death and resurrection for you. The fruit—the treasure—shows up in our lives as what Paul calls the fruit of the Spirit.
Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law. These are what happen in your life as understand more deeply the forgiveness of sins.
So, what of the fruit of the spirit, what of the treasures in heaven speak to desire left unfulfilled? Which of these speak to the 9th and 10th Commandments?
First of all, all of them do. None of the nine aspects of the fruit of the spirit are in a vacuum; you can’t really separate one of them from the others. But some still do stand out.
First, peace. When you’re facing desire unfulfilled, pray for peace. Or as Paul says it in Philippians 4, find contentment when you are hungry or full, brought low or abounding. It was my prayer when I was a single man going through seminary. Lord, please, please, please, send me my beautiful Laura Anna Elizabeth, but more than that, give me peace where I am at.
Second, self-control. When you’re facing desire unfulfilled, train yourself to long for good things. Self-control is training yourself to desire that which is good and healthy and right rather than junk food and junk relationships.
It is training yourself to hunger for the whole grain of the Gospel, to thirst for the waters of forgiveness. It is training yourself to believe that forgiveness is exactly what it is: the best news you could ever receive.
You should be challenged by that statement. Do you believe that the forgiveness that we proclaim here today is God’s forgiveness? Do you believe that the forgiveness that you receive today is the best thing ever? Do you believe that forgiveness should be more important to the lame man than walking again? More important to the blind man than sight? More important to Lazarus than a bodily resurrection? More satisfying to us than a dozen other things that we end up longing for in this world? Come to Bible study and ask your questions.
The kingdom of heaven is like a church pondering the meaning of peace and of self-control. They hear the words of forgiveness every week, and they can struggle to understand how deeply that forgiveness goes. They long for many things, but in the end, they keep on coming back to the place where their savior is calling them. They keep on drinking from the well of salvation. They keep on feasting on the table their Savior set before them. And before long, they begin to desire what their Savior gives.
Amen and amen.
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