Free Reformed Church of Kelmscott
" OUR REDEEMER INSISTS THAT OUR EVERY THOUGHT AND DESIRE CONFORM TO HIS WILL ."
113. Q. What does the tenth commandment require of us?
A. That not even the slightest thought or desire contrary to any of God's commandments should ever arise in our heart. Rather, we should always hate all sin with all our heart, and delight in all righteousness.
 Ps. 19:7-14; 139:23, 24; Rom. 7:7, 8.
114. Q. But can those converted to God keep these commandments perfectly?
A. No. In this life even the holiest have only a small beginning of this obedience. Nevertheless, with earnest purpose they do begin to live not only according to some but to all the commandments of God.
 Eccles. 7:20; Rom. 7:14, 15; I Cor. 13:9; I John 1:8.  Ps. 1:1, 2; Rom. 7:22-25; Phil. 3:12-16.
115. Q. If in this life no one can keep the ten commandments perfectly,
why does God have them preached so strictly?
A. First, that throughout our life we may more and more become aware of our sinful nature, and therefore seek more eagerly the forgiveness of sins and righteousness in Christ. Second, that we may be zealous for good deeds and constantly pray to God for the grace of the Holy Spirit, that He may more and more renew us after God's image, until after this life we reach the goal of perfection.
 Ps. 32:5; Rom. 3:19-26; 7:7, 24, 25; I John 1:9.  I Cor. 9:24; Phil. 3:12-14; I John 3:1-3.
Singing: (Psalms and Hymns are from the "Book of Praise"
Anglo Genevan Psalter)
Beloved Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ!
The tenth commandment is somewhat different from the first nine. With each commandment so far the Lord had addressed a new subject, be it about idolatry or blasphemy or murder or stealing, etc. With the tenth, however, the Lord does not so much address a new matter (coveting) as address the root system under all the commandments. The first nine all address outward acts; adultery with the neighborís wife (seventh commandment) is a deed, stealing the neighborís donkey (eighth commandment) is a physical deed. With the tenth commandment the Lord reaches down to the root of these outward deeds, and tells us that even our thoughts and desires lie under the sway of His dominion. And we understand: if God forbids the desires that produce those outward sins against the seventh and eighth commandments, itís clear that He equally forbids the desires that produce outwards sins against the first commandment and the second and the thirdÖ. As the Catechism puts it: in the tenth commandment God insists that "not even the slightest thought or desire contrary to any of Godís commandments should ever arise in our heart."
I summarize the sermon with this theme:
OUR REDEEMER INSISTS THAT OUR EVERY THOUGHT AND DESIRE CONFORM TO HIS WILL.
1. The comprehensive extent of this command.
Desiring something can be both good and bad. In the tenth commandment the Lord addresses the negative; coveting is desiring something that isnít yours.
Coveting is something of the heart, and therefore not necessarily something anybody else knows about. You notice the neighborís new coat and want it, you go window-shopping and would love to have that bracelet, that shawl, that ring. For our feeling, thatís not coveting, for thereís nothing wrong with wantingÖ. And thatís the more so when you keep you Ďwantsí to yourselfÖ.
But it does raise a question. When does Ďwantingí become sin? One wants a coat like the neighborís. Does sin enter the picture when you want it, or when you really want it, or when you lay plans to steal it, or when you actually steal it? That last, actually stealing it, is of course transgression against the eighth commandment; thatís sin. But when do we have to speak about sin against the tenth commandment? When you want it, or when you really want it?
In truth, brothers and sisters, wanting something does not at all strike us as sin. It happens to us day after day that we want something. And surely, thatís not wrong?!
The Lord Jesus Christ was once asked which commandment of God was the greatest. His answer: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind" (Mt 22:37). With that answer the Lord made clear that God demanded not just that oneís outward conduct agreed with Godís will, but that also the thoughts and desires of oneís heart conform to His will. So: the desires hidden deep inside my heart need to agree with Godís desires. He is Lord not just over the actions of my hands or the words of my mouth, but insists on being Lord also over the thoughts of my mind. My thoughts may not follow a different path than He has stipulated in His word. So too: my desires, my wants, may not be different than what God has commanded.
A very clear example here relates to the seventh commandment. We are not to commit adultery, says God, and so we know that we are to keep our hands off the neighborís wife. But may I let my imagination go concerning another woman? (Or secretly send her text messages on my mobile?) We know the answer. Said Jesus in Mt 5: "I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart" (vs 28). Sin is not just an outward act, says the Lord, but begins in the heart.
One can refer also to Genesis 3. The serpent told Eve that eating from the forbidden tree was OK. Then we read this verse: "so when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate" (vs 6). Question: when did sin enter the world? When she saw that the tree was good for food? When she saw that it was pleasant to the eyes, desirable? When she coveted it as a source of wisdom? When she walked to the tree? When she actually picked a fruit off? When she sank her teeth into it? When did sin enter the world? We realize: she sinned before she ate; the taking was sin. More: she sinned before she took; the desiring was sin! Thatís where it started, with the tenth commandment, with her heart not being loyal to her Lord and Maker. The very desiring, the very wanting of something God has forbidden is sin! Thatís why David pleaded with God in Ps 19 like this: "Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, my strength and my Redeemer" (vs 14).
So: somebody does you the dirty. Instantly, automatically, a couple of choice swear words arise in your mind. You donít say them, because you know thatís blasphemy and the Lord doesnít want it. But was it sin that these swear words arose in your mind? Or does it become sin only when you speak them? Or enjoy their taste for a while? God wants the heart, completely, and so itís not enough that our words contain no blasphemy; God wants that our thoughts never disagree with His thoughts Ė and thatís to say that a swear word should never even arise in our mindsÖ. Lord, "let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight!"
We find it troublingÖ. Desires, wants: they arise in our minds all the time. The desire to spit out a blasphemous word in the face of wrong: itís just there. Must we call the very appearing of the word sin, even when we swallow it, donít say it, replace it with something decent? The thought of another woman arises in our hearts, we donít want it, we fight it and replace our thoughts with something holy, but have we sinned when the wanting already appeared in our thoughts? To us it seems overdoneÖ.
But what shall we say then, brothers and sisters, of the apostleís words in Romans 7? He says in vs 7 that he would not have known what sin was if it were not for the law. He mentions an example. He would not have known that covetousness was wrong, he says, if it were not for the fact that the law stipulated that. To Paulís sinful mind, desiring something was OK, as long as you didnít actually go and steal it. Having thoughts about another woman was OK, as long as you didnít actually do anything with her. Itís the attitude of our society; your thoughts are your own, and you can think what you wantÖ, as long as you donít carry out your evilÖ.
But Godís instruction in the tenth commandment, brothers and sisters, goes deeper. God wants the heart, not just outward obedience. God wants the heart, so much so that even the desires of our minds and the thoughts of our hearts agree with Godís will for us. Anything else is sin. Thatís Question & Answer 113: in the tenth commandment God requires that "not even the slightest thought or desire contrary to any of Godís commands should ever arise in our hearts." In this commandment our God summons us to look deep into our hearts and ensure that that we agree with God perfectly in every one of His commands. Our God does not want us to obey Him outwardly only, while inside we drag our heels. With this command God instructs us to make sure that our hearts agree with Him completely, without a whiff of a protest every arising in us against any of His commandments.
If thatís the case, what is the Christian to do? Is he to spend all his time trying desperately to rid his mind of thoughts and desires that disagree with Godís will? We realize: thatís a vain exercise. Consider here, then, a gardener. He wants a crop, and so turns the weeds. But what does he do next? Return every week and keep pulling weeds as they appear? We know: that way heíll never get a crop. Rather, after heís spaded his garden he needs to plant it, water it, fertilize it. Then certainly, he needs to keep pulling weeds as they appear, but the more his good plants grow the less weeds he will find Ė simply because the good plants leave less room and less light for the weeds.
So it is also with the Christian and his thoughts and desires. The more he is busy with the will and word of God, the more he deliberately speaks and acts in agreement with the instructions of His Lord, the less opportunity there is for sinful thoughts and desires to have a place in his heart. Think of that passage from Eph 5 to which we listened last week. The apostle says, for example, in vs 3f: "But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints; neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks." Point: where you with your tongue give thanks to God, you havenít time or opportunity to speak of unclean things. Similarly, when you busy your mind with the things of God, meditating on His Word, singing His praises, youíre not giving wants and desires an opportunity. When your mind is filled with how much God gave you in Jesus Christ Ėforgiveness of sins, being children of God, having a home and clothes and plenty to eat, while elsewhere thousands live in poverty and nakedness, in physical hunger and spiritual hunger- when your mind is filled with how much God in Christ has given you, there isnít time for wanting this shirt or that soccer ballÖ.
And itís precisely this God-centered focus that God wants. Listen to the Introduction to the Ten Commandments: "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage." With such a Redeemer to look at, to delight in, to talk about, has my mind got time to cultivate sinful thoughts, time to spend on desiring things of this world? Itís exactly because of Who God is that He adds the tenth commandment to the nine: I am the Lord your God, your Redeemer, and therefore "you shall not covet."
How much more so is this true for us! Our God has delivered us not from a physical Egypt, but from bondage to sin! Indeed, He gave us His only Son to accomplish that redemption! More: "He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? (Rom 8:32). The more I focus on His redemption, His grace, His promises, the less time I have to covet, to desire. Lordís Day 44: "we should always hate all sin with all our heart, and delight in all righteousness."
I come to our second point:
2. Our tiny obedience to any command.
That I should love my God so much that every thought and every desire should conform to His will Ė who can do it? We hear how comprehensive this tenth commandment is, hear how deeply it penetrates into our secret thoughts, and we realize: we fall so far short of Godís standard. By the grace of God we donít serve idols, we donít blaspheme, we donít murder, we donít stealÖ; we do love God, want to serve Him, delight to do His will. But to control those thoughts, to ensure that no desire ever arises in our hearts that protests against any of Godís commandsÖ - no, we fall so far shortÖ. It makes us feel hopelessly inadequate, and we wonder whether weíre children of God after allÖ.
Of great importance to us then, congregation, is the struggle of the apostle Paul as he records it in Romans 7. He puts it like this in vs 15: "what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do." And again in vs 19: "the good I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice." We can relate to it so well. We get up in the morning fully determined that today we shall not talk past our mouth, shall say only upbuilding things. But the next thing we know, weíve spoken in a spiteful way, have downsized somebodyÖ. We hate it, we fight it, but: "the good I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice." Paul tells us he had the same struggle.
Question. Is Paul saying this of himself before he became a Christian on the road to Damascus? Or is he speaking of himself after he became a Christian? The question is so very important. If heís describing the struggles he had before he became a Christian, how come we have the same struggles today; might all those failings we see in ourselves be proof that weíre not really Christians yet after all?? Conversely, if heís describing the struggles he had after his conversion, weíd be much encouraged for then weíd be in good company and even conclude that such struggles characterize the Christian.
The answer to the question, brothers and sisters, is not so difficult. Paul says in vs 22 that he "delights in the law of God according to the inward man." Can an unregenerate person delight in the law of God? Certainly not! That Paul can delight in Godís law is only because he has been born again. Conclusion: Paul is not describing the struggle he had before he became a Christian; in Romans 7 Paul is describing the struggle he had after his conversion. I remind you again of Davidís prayer in Ps 19. If the believer could produce only holy thoughts and desires, how could this man after Godís heart ask God to cause "the meditation of my heart" to be acceptable in Godís sight? No, beloved, that struggle with wrong thoughts and desires characterizes each Christian.
So, dear brothers and sisters, we are not to get despondent with out failures! Failures remain, says the Scripture, and so the church repeats that tragic truth after God in Question & Answer 114: "In this life even the holiest have only a small beginning of this obedience." Must we conclude from our failures, then, that we are not children of God after all, that God must not really love us? No, beloved, no! Godís standards are high, very high, and we simply canít meet those standards - fact. But that does not mean that we are not children of God! God sent His Son into the world to save sinners, and despite the renewing work of the Holy Spirit we remain miserable sinners (cf 1 Tim 1:15). Paul in Romans 7 goes so far as to say that there are effectively two Pauls in the one person. Vs 22f: "I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members." Itís that tension, with the resulting repeated falling into sin, that makes Paul cry out his despair in vs 24: "O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?" Heís a Christian, renewed by the Holy Spirit, and yet he says that heís a "wretched man", a miserable sinner who needs deliverance so very much. And at the same time he can exclaim that he has this deliverance. Vs 25: "I thank God Ė through Jesus Christ our Lord!" Daily there is forgiveness, daily there is deliverance from the weaknesses that continue to cling to us.
What do we do then: resign ourselves to our inability to keep Godís commands? Or strive to keep them on an outward level, but let sinful thoughts continue to fill our hearts? Neither! Paul hates the sins he keeps committing, and so does every child of God. So we fight, keep striving to obey all Godís commands. In the words of our Lordís Day: though we canít keep those commandments perfectly, "nevertheless, with earnest purpose, [we] do begin to live not only according to some but to all the commandments of God."
That brings us to our last point:
3. The strict preaching of every command.
We canít keep the commandments of God. That reality makes listening to the Ten Commandments rather unattractive. Why rub our noses in our limitations?! So itís human nature to take it ill of the preacher that he keeps emphasizing the commandments Ė and so making us feel bad. And we say that he ought instead to proclaim the gospel, deliverance in Christ; thatís his task in the New Testament dispensation, is it not? The Catechism captures our thoughts: "If in this life no one can keep the Ten Commandments perfectly, why does God have them preached so strictly?" Notice the implication of the question: it is God Himself who insists that preachers preach the Ten Commandments strictly. Please do not, then, fault the preacher for laying out in plain terms what God requires in the commandments. Heís simply doing what his Sender requires of him.
Still, why does the Lord want these commandments preached so strictly? I refer again to Romans 7. Paul answers the question in vs 13. There he writes: "sin, that it might appear sin, was producing death in me through what is good, so that sin through the commandment might become exceedingly sinful." That is: it is the commandment that exposes sin for what it is. Fallen human nature does not know what conduct is sinful, what words are sinful, what thoughts are sinful. So the Lord our God tells us, and does that through the commandments. If we, then, set aside the commandments, or become slack in our reading of the commandments, we shall no longer be sensitive to what in our environment is actually sin. Conversely: the more we hear the commandments, the more strictly we hear them proclaimed, and the more carefully we reflect on them, the more weíll realize how much sin there is around us and how much we fall short.
An example: some of us watch movies with scenes of adultery. We get used to it and eventually see nothing wrong with it. But the Lord comes with His law, has that law strictly proclaimed, and so weíre made to thinkÖ, and conclude that we have sinned against the seventh commandment in watching adultery, and sinned against the tenth commandment also, for the watching raised certain ungodly thoughts and desires within us.
Again, we hear the commandments Sunday by Sunday but Ėitís human nature- sometimes we let the reading of the law go past us. Then we donít reflect on what implications the law may have for us. Take the sixth commandment: "You shall not murder." Might that have implications for some of our computer games? Is the Lord pleased that I kill to my heartís content on the computer screen Ė as long as I donít do it in reality? You see: the strict preaching of the law makes us realize that I may not murder, neither in reality nor in play Ė no more than I may commit adultery neither in reality nor in play. Itís the proclamation of the law that compels us to recognize what conduct in our society is actually sin in Godís eyes. And that in turn makes us see how terribly sinful we remainÖ.
And is that so bad? True, we donít like it. But our sinful hearts can never be the measure of what is OK. God has sent His only Son into the world to save sinful people. But how shall people see need for the Savior and marvel at Godís mercy if they do not see the depths of their sin and misery? Recall Lordís Day 1: in order to live and die in the joy of the comfort of belonging to Jesus Christ you need to know three things, and the first is this: "First, how great my sins and misery are." And, congregation, itís precisely the strict proclamation of the law that compels me to see "how great my sins and misery are!" A strict proclamation of the law makes me say with Paul: "O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?" In other words: a strict preaching of the law compels me to look away from myself, compels me to seek Ėagain- the Savior God in mercy has given. Question & Answer 115: a strict proclamation of the law is necessary so that "throughout our life we may more and more become aware of our sinful nature, and therefore seek more eagerly the forgiveness of sins and righteousness in Christ."
Thatís not the only reason why God wants that law proclaimed so strictly. We need to seek forgiveness of sins and righteousness in Christ, yes. But Christ did not give only His blood to forgive our sins and make us righteous before God; He also gave His Holy Spirit to renew us. And that renewal we need to pursue. We wonít reach the goal of perfection in this life, true, but we do need, in the strength of the Lord, to keep trying to live as Godís children ought to live Ė holy in deeds, words, thoughts, desires. A deep awareness of our abiding sinfulness drives us to constant prayer, prayer to God for the grace of the Holy Spirit to make progress in the fight against sin.
And again: if we think weíre pretty good, think that we keep the commandments of God pretty reasonably, we shall not pray too earnestly for the Holy SpiritÖ, nor struggle too hard against our abiding weaknessesÖ. But if we see our continuing weaknesses starkly, and they bother us greatly, we shall join with Paul in his cry for mercy: "O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver meÖ?" And with him weíll keep praying for strength and doing our best to do what is right before the Lord.
We have but a small beginning of the obedience God requires. If any commandment makes that terrible point plain, itís the tenth commandment. But God hears our sighs and frustrations on the point, beloved, and He answers our pleas for strength to keep His law. The beginning of obedience is there! And that beginning is in turn a promise, a guarantee, that weíll reach the goal of perfection. For the God who saved us is faithful!
Come, Lord Jesus! Amen.