Do Not Covet (Exodus 20:17)

This morning we're finishing our series on the Ten Commandments. You may be tempted to think that the least important commandment has been saved for last - that it's an afterthought, rightfully placed at the bottom of the list.

It is an unusual commandment. Most of the previous commandments have to do with actions; this one is all about the heart. We tend to see coveting as good. In fact, we see it as the route to personal fulfillment.

Despite the fact that this commandment is last, and despite the fact that it seems strange to us, I want to show you that it is a profound commandment. It's the climax of these commandments, kind of a bookend. In the tenth commandment, we come full circle and are back to the first. All of the other commands are restatements and applications of the first and the last commandments.

So this morning let's see what this command says; what problem it reveals; and what solution we need.

First, let's look at what this command says.

Exodus 20:17 says:

You shall not covet your neighbor's house. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

Deuteronomy 5:21 expands a little on this command:

You shall not covet your neighbor's wife. You shall not set your desire on your neighbor's house or land, his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

We have to really look at this to make sure we understand what it's saying. The word covet here simply means desire. The word isn't bad in itself. The Bible never says that desire is a bad thing in and of itself. The problem in this passage is that the object of desire is off limits because it belongs to someone else. To desire what belongs to someone else means that my desire becomes more important than the relationship that I have with that person. It leads to all kinds of other problems to. I may lie or steal or kill in order to obtain what rightfully belongs to them. The focus in this command is relationships. Coveting kills relationships.

There's more as we look at this command. God could have just said, "You shall not covet anything that belongs to your neighbor." But he was very specific. He lists the things that we're likely to covet: our neighbor's house and property, wife, and donkey. It's only after listing specifics that the command says "or anything that belongs to your neighbor." The specificity of this command is very realistic. It anticipates the things that the Israelites were likely to covet. Today we might say, "Don't covet your neighbor's house or family, cottage, job, bank account, or car." You can't get off the hook with what this command teaches. We're likely to look at our neighbor's possessions, positions, and accomplishments and want what they have.

If you think about it, these are the things that many of us desire as more than just things. These are the very things that form our identities. We think that if we live in the right house or have the right spouse or drive that car or get that job that we will really matter, that we will count as someone. So coveting, we see, is a problem because it disrupts our relationships with neighbors. But it's also a problem because our coveting is really a sign that our hearts are overvaluing some things.

In fact, when ancient scholars translated the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek, the used a Greek word for this word covet. The word is epithumia. It's a word that also appears throughout the New Testament to talk about coveting and desires. It's often translated lusts or passions. What does it mean? It's sometimes used in a positive sense, like a strong desire. But most often it's used negatively. In these cases it means inordinate desire, that we want something too strongly.

What does this mean? It means that the problem isn't really our desires. The problem is when our desires are disordered so that we desire some things too much and other things not enough. I love ice cream. I love my job. I love my family. There's nothing wrong with loving any of these. The problem is when I love any of these in the wrong order - if, for instance, I love ice cream more than I love my job, or if I love my job more than I love my family, or if I love any of these more than God.

Centuries ago, Augustine said that our fundamental problem is that our loves are disordered. We desire the wrong things. It is wrong to set our affection on anything or anyone as if that thing or person was God. We will never find our fulfillment in that person or thing no matter how good or noble it is. The real problem with us is that our desires are out of order, and our greatest need is that our desires are reordered so that we desire the right things in the right order.

So putting all of this together, our problem is that we want what rightfully belongs to other people. What's more, we tend to base our identities on these things. The problem is that these desires become inordinate desires that begin to control us so that we're held captive by them. That's what this command means.

Well, let's ask what problem this reveals about ourselves.

At first glance, you wouldn't think that this is such a big deal. Many of us would agree that it's wrong to murder and lie and steal, but we don't see what's wrong with just thinking that we want what someone else has. But actually, this command reveals that there is something fundamentally wrong with us. This command gets to the heart of what's wrong with us. It identifies the fault line that runs through all of our hearts.

We don't think this command is any big deal, but James says that breaking this command leads to many of the problems that we experience. James 4:1-2 says:

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don't they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight.

James says that behind church battles and even unanswered prayers are a big problem: that we desire what we do not have. James 1:14 says that our over-desires are the sin beneath other sins:

...each of you is tempted when you are dragged away by your own evil desire (epithumia) and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.

So these over-desires are not just one sin among many. Inordinate desire is the sin beneath the sin. The other sins that are more visible are the result of the inordinate desires of our hearts.

It gets even more serious than this. The Apostle Paul writes that our coveting - our inordinate desires - are really violations of the first command, "You shall have no other gods before me" (Exodus 20:3). So the first commandment and the tenth commandment are really the same. Paul says in Ephesians 5:5:

For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person--such a person is an idolater--has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.

Again in Colossians 3:5-6:

Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.

What is Paul saying? Paul is saying that when we see that someone else has something, and we begin to desire what they have in an inordinate way, that we are not just committing a little sin, as if there was such a thing. When we just have to have something, when we won't rest until we've got that new car or house or job, and when we continually want more than we have right now, then we are no different from the person who goes to a temple and bows before a carved statue. We are idolators. We have stopped worshiping the one true God at that moment, and we have instead begun to worship whatever it is that we long for.

This week I read about a child who was having a conversation with his mother about the gospel. The conversation went something like this.

Mother: "Why did Jesus die?" Son: "To save us from our sins." Mother:  "Have you sinned?" Son: "Yea, like when I scratched Cole last night." Mother:  "What is God's punishment for sin?" Son: "He says we have to die.  Like, in hell." Mother:  "How can you be saved from your sin?" Son: "Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved.  Hey, Mommy. You know what would be really great? Like, you know what would be really, really cool??" Mother: "What?" Son: "If we could have, like a million billion boxes of macaroni and cheese in our cupboard!  Wouldn't that be awesome??"

Now, I don't want to be too hard on this boy. Who doesn't like macaroni and cheese in their cupboards? But as I thought about this, I began to realize that you and I are not all that different. We can repeat all the facts about the gospel. We could say, "Jesus died for our sins, but do you know what would be really cool? A high-definition TV in the family room." We believe in the gospel, but what really excites us is something else. We covet, we long for, something else - maybe not a million billion boxes of mac and cheese, but something. Whatever it is that excites us most, whatever it is that we long for the most, that is our idol.

This brings us back to the first commandment we looked at: "You shall have no other gods before me." You see how the first and tenth commandments are bookends. Every other commandment is a variation of these two. These are the sins beneath all sins.

But this means we also have a very serious problem. The problem is that you can be a very moral person who goes to church and always does good things, and still break this commandment, because it's a commandment of the heart. You may honor your parents, refuse to steal or lie or kill or commit adultery, but in your heart your affections are disordered. You have over-desires. And these over-desires mean that you are an idolator, which really makes you guilty of the command that is the foundation for all the others.

Saul, who later became the Apostle Paul, was a very moral man. Reflecting on his life, he mentioned this commandment as an example. He said that the command not to covet exposed his lost and sinful condition. The problem isn't with the commands, he said. The problem is the human heart. Soren Kierkegaard said, "It is the normal state of the human heart to try to build its identity around something besides God." We all have covetous and idolatrous hearts. This leads us to ask:

What is the solution?

What will reorder our affections so that we love God most, and love everyone and everything else in their place? What will keep us from committing the sin of idolatry, which is the sin beneath all sins?

I mentioned earlier that the word for desire means a strong desire. When it's for the wrong things, then it's a bad thing. When we make good things and turn them into ultimate things, then our desires are idolatrous. But the word desire can be used in a very positive way as well.

Jesus said in Luke 22:15, "I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer." For centuries, the Passover meal pointed forward to the true Passover Lamb who would be sacrificed for the sins of his people. Now Jesus sat down with his followers, and he longed to as the true and better Passover Lamb. Jesus said, "I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you." There's that word: epithumia. From this we learn that Jesus has a strong desire, a good desire: to give his life for his people as a sacrifice for the sins of his people. What can set us free from our over-desires? Seeing and grasping what Jesus did for us when he offered his life for our sins.

There's another passage that uses epithumia in a positive way. This time it's about angels. In 1 Peter chapter 1, the apostle Peter talks about "the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow" - the gospel. He concludes with this stunning statement: "Even angels long (epithumia) to look into these things."

As Tim Keller says: Angels are smart, much smarter than any of us. Angels have been around a long time. They are much older than anyone here. And yet angels long to understand what Christ has accomplished for us through his death and resurrection.

The bad news is that we are idolators. We set our highest affections on people and things other than God, which leads to bondage, conflict, and death. What should we do? Understand that Jesus has set his affections on us. Long to grasp the gospel and to understand all that Jesus did for us through his death and resurrection.

"Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God." (Colossians 3:1)

Father, please reveal to us this morning the things that we over-desire. Help us to realize that this sin is the sin beneath all sins.

Most of all, take us to the one who desires us, and who gave his life for us. May we desire him above all. In Jesus' name, Amen.

No Stealing (Exodus 20:15)

We've been looking at the Ten Commandments this summer. The Ten Commandments are well known and have continuing relevance for us today. The Apostle Paul sometimes said some pretty harsh things about the law, but he emphasized that the law still has a role for us who believe we're saved by what Christ has done for us. At the end of Romans 3 Paul said, "Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law" (Romans 3:31). Paul says that we can't be saved by our obedience to the law. We can only be saved through faith in Christ, who has kept the law perfectly and died for those who haven't. But then Paul says that we still uphold the norms of the law. We do this through the power of the Holy Spirit.

We keep these commandments for a number of reasons, but perhaps the biggest reason is gratitude for what God has accomplished for us. When the people of Israel understood that God delivered them out of bondage in Egypt, obedience to his commands is the only response that makes sense. When we understand what God has done for us in Jesus Christ, it only makes sense that we obey him out of gratitude and amazement for what he has done for us. These commands, which look oppressive at first, are actually a charter of freedom. They tell us how to life free now that Christ has set us free.

Today we are coming to the eight commandment, which simply says, "You shall not steal." Or, in the original, simply, "No stealing." You can see that there is a natural progression in these commands. We are to properly honor God and the authorities that God has put into place. Then God instructs us to protect life and marriages. And then we come to our possessions. The simple command is that nobody wrongfully takes from his or her neighbor's possessions. No stealing.

Today I want to look at this command from three perspectives. First, the obvious. Secondly, what's not so obvious at first glance. Finally, getting to the heart of this command.

So first, let's look at the obvious implications of the command, "No stealing."

It's pretty simple, isn't it? No stealing. Many of us can remember a time when we were kids and really, really wanted something. We saw it. Nobody was looking. And when we had a chance, we quickly snatched the item and took it home with us.

Some are overcome with guilt when this happens and quickly confess and make things right, but others of us continue to steal when nobody is looking. If this is you, then Scripture is clear. Stop it. As Paul said to the Ephesians, "Those who have been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need" (Ephesians 4:28).

This is fairly obvious, but let me point out what should be just as obvious, because it's something that we may overlook. Stealing can take all kinds of forms. If you think that stealing simply equals shoplifting or picking pockets, then you're really not thinking about all the forms that stealing can take. Some of you may be stealing without even knowing it. For instance:

  • borrowing items and never returning them
  • surfing the web on company time
  • taking office supplies from work for personal use
  • overcharging a client
  • padding an expense account
  • fudging on our income tax returns
  • paying someone under the table to avoid taxes

There are some of us who would never dream of walking out of the store with a shoplifted item, but have no problem spending the first half hour at work on Facebook. We'd never dream of committing fraud, but we aren't really that careful about declaring everything we made or in evading taxes if we can get away with it.

God simply says, no stealing. Right now you face a choice. Some of you are probably thinking of ways to justify what you've been doing. You're thinking that I'm being a little bit fanatical about this. I'd like to ask you to face the truth and to honestly consider ways in which you may be guilty of stealing in your life. No excuses, no rationalizations. We are bringing dishonor to God and taking what rightfully belongs to others every time we're idle on the job or less than honest in how we conduct ourselves. God says, "No stealing," and some of us have to make changes as we look at the obvious meaning of the command.

Does it hurt yet? We're going to go even farther now.

Let's look at the less than obvious implications of this command.

Sometimes you take a quick look at these commandments and think that you've seen everything there is to see. There's actually a lot beneath the surface. I want to highlight three things that you may miss about this command at first glance.

I think we need to notice that this command teaches us that money has its place. It's important, but it's not ultimate. Where do I get this from? On one hand, this command teaches us that there is such a thing as private property. There are some things that belong to you, and I need to respect that they are yours. If I don't respect your right to own stuff, then there's no other way to put it. I'm a thief.

This corrects the mistaken belief that some people have that possessions themselves are bad, or that money is bad. The Bible never says this. Quite the opposite, in fact. The Bible teaches that God cares about physical things. In fact, if you read the Old Testament laws, rules about personal property take up a surprising place in the commands God gave to his people. We're not to take away people's means of production, such as millstones, as a pledge. We're not to take away pieces of clothing like cloaks. We're not to move boundary stones. God cares about our stuff. Everything belongs to God, but he's given it to us for our use and enjoyment. They are gifts from God. God cares about our stuff.

So this command keeps us from having too low a view of possessions. But it also keeps us from having too high a view. This command puts possessions in their place. They're important, but they're not everything. Where do I get this from?

The other week we looked at the command, "No murder." You may remember me saying that in other law codes at that time, the punishment for murder depended on who you were and who you killed. If you were a slave who killed a wealthy landowner, you may be punished by death. But if you were a wealthy landowner and killed a slave, you may only have faced a financial penalty.

But it's not like that with God at all. The penalty for murder doesn't depend on who you are or who you murder. All life is valuable before God. And the penalty for murder is not financial, because money can never adequately compensate for life. What this tells us is that in God's eyes, human life is much more valuable than money or possessions.

The same goes for this command, "No stealing." In other cultures, the penalty for stealing included mutilation and sometimes death. When God gave his commands, it was quite different. The penalty and the remedy for stealing was not death, but restitution. And it didn't depend on who you were either. Your social rank has no bearing on the penalty. What God is telling us is this: human life is far more valuable than property. One can never be substituted for the other.

This has huge implications for how we live, because we face choosing between people and possessions all the time. The stuff we buy comes at a cost, and that cost is often relational. Buying certain things means that we may have to work more, which means that we will have less time to spend with our families, for instance. God says in these commands that people are more important than possessions. Human life is far more valuable than property. This really ought to shape the way that we live.

This leads us to a second less-than-obvious implication. Each of these commands has a positive and a negative. No murder means, for instance, that we value life. No stealing also has a positive. When Martin Luther taught on this command, he first covered the negative: don't steal. But then he covered the other side. "On the other hand," he said, "it is commanded that we advance and improve his possessions, and in case he suffers want, that we help, communicate, and lend both to friends and foes."

This command, then, means that we not only refrain from stealing. It means that we seek the good of our neighbor through generosity and kindness. So when God describes a way of living that is righteous and just and right in Ezekiel 18, he describes a man who "does not oppress anyone, but returns what he took in pledge for a loan. He does not commit robbery but gives his food to the hungry and provides clothing for the naked." The opposite of not stealing is not keeping your stuff just for yourself. The opposite of stealing is generosity. It means that we have a calling to share our resources with others.

You see this all over Scripture. It's a huge theme. Deuteronomy 15:7-8 says:

If anyone is poor among your people in any of the towns of the land that the LORD your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward them. Rather, be openhanded and freely lend them whatever they need.

Proverbs 19 says, "Those who are kind to the poor lend to the LORD, and he will reward them for what they have done" (Proverbs 19:17). Hebrews 13:16 says, "Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God." You may object that you can't help everyone. The good news is that you don't have to. You only have to do what you can with what you have, which is, when you think about it, a pretty high standard. Galatians 6:10 says, "So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith."

This is really an extension of what we said earlier. People are more important than possessions.

There's one more not-so-obvious implication. In Malachi, we read that not tithing is actually robbing God. Malachi 3:8 says:

"Will a mere mortal rob God? Yet you rob me.
"But you ask, 'How are we robbing you?'
"In tithes and offerings."

This gets tricky, because tithes were part of the old covenant with Israel. The New Testament doesn't require the tithe, but it has lots to say about giving. We read in 2 Corinthians that giving should be voluntary and cheerful (2 Corinthians 9:7-8). In Acts, we read of people selling property to meet the needs of the poor (Acts 4:34-37). The early Christians were characterized by radical and joyful generosity.

So how much should we give? In a way, that very question is wrong. There's no prescribed amount. You should give generously. You should give so that nobody could say that you're robbing God in how you spend your money. C.S. Lewis said, "I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare." Theologian John Frame suggests that the cheerful giving of the New Testament cannot be much less than the Old Testament regular tithe of 10%. Don't rob God by the amount that you give.

You can see that there's a lot in this command. There's the obvious: don't steal. There's the not-so-obvious at first glance: possessions are important, but not as important as people, so be generous with people and also give generously and joyfully to the Lord.

There's just one more thing. We need to get to the heart of this command.

I'll tell you what's been going on in your heart this morning. You've been thinking, "Give me a break! How do you expect me to do this? You're telling me to stop surfing Facebook on company time. Then you're telling me to give away my money to others and to give more than I can spare to the Lord."

Well, I know. As someone's said, you think these commands are getting personal when you read, "No adultery." But then they get even more personal in some ways. For a lot of us, our stuff is closer to our hearts than anything else.

I said earlier that the Bible isn't negative about possessions or money. It does, however, warn us against a great danger that we all face: love of money. Money itself isn't bad, but love of money is. Paul writes in 1 Timothy 6:6-10:

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

When Jesus spoke about money, he personified it as a rival god, an idol. He said, "No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money." (Matthew 6:24).

So let me tell you what all of this means. Money can be an incredible blessing in your life, something that you use and enjoy and share joyfully with others. Or: money can be an idol that grips your soul, holds you captive, robs you of your joy, and plunges you into ruin and destruction. It can be a counterfeit god that promises much but that ultimately destroys you.

In other words, what this command really gets to is our heart. How can our hearts be set free from the worship of this false idol so that we can use and share and give away our money?

It's to put our hearts on an even greater treasure than our stuff. When we grasp what Jesus has done for us, that he left his wealth and became poor so that we could be made rich, and when we're transformed through the gospel to realize that God himself is our inheritance, then we can be set free to use our stuff instead of worshiping our stuff. This command, you see, is just a variation of the first command to have no other gods before God. And this is only possible through the forgiveness and transformation that comes through the one who was crucified among thieves in the place of us who are thieves.

Let's pray.

Father, we've seen that there's much in this command that lies below the surface. In this command, you call us to set our hearts on true treasure. Jesus told us, "Store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal" (Matthew 6:20).

This command is really about worship. May each person here see what Christ has done for them. And may seeing this cause them to dethrone every idol, and to worship you alone; to use stuff without worshiping stuff; to give generously and joyfully. We pray this in the name and in the power of the one who gave his all for us. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Love Life (Exodus 20:13)

One of the best sermons I've heard was preached by Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones years ago based on two words from Ephesians 2: "But God." I remember marveling that someone could get so much from two words.

I don't expect my sermon to be quite that good this morning, but it is going to have something in common: it's also based on two simple words from the Bible. The two words are from the Ten Commandments. The are four words in the Bible I have: "You shall not murder." But in Hebrews the command is simply "No murder."

You may think that you're in for a very short sermon this morning. After all, it's a long weekend. But if it is a short sermon - and I'm not making any promises - it won't be because there isn't a lot in this passage.

From these two simple words, I want to explore three things: first, what this passage teaches us about God; second, what this passage teaches us about us; and finally, where this passage drives us.

So first, let's look at what this passage teaches us about God.

What we sometimes forget as we look at these commands is that each of these commands tells us something about God. They are not arbitrary rules. They are, in fact, reflections of the very character of God. Each of these commandments reflects something of the character of God, which is one reason why they are timeless. So we have to ask ourselves an important question as we look at each commandment: What does this commandment teach us about God?

This commandment tells us something important about God: that God is concerned with life. That may sound blindingly obvious at first, so let's think about this a bit. God loves life. God takes immense pleasure and delight in his creation, and to destroy life is to rebel against the heart of God's joy.

Let's look at it a different way. In order to understand why God hates murder, we need to understand why God loves life.

On our vacation one day, we got talking about why God created this world. It's important to realize that God never created this world out of boredom: God is not bored. He didn't create this world because he was lonely: God, who exists in three persons, has always had perfect love, perfect joy, and perfect harmony. Jonathan Edwards reflected on this and says that before creation, God is infinitely happy. He exists as a community of persons pouring glorifying, joyful love into one another. Think about this in your own experience. Maybe you've had a time when you've admired someone else, and you would do anything for him or her. Then you discover that they feel the same way about you, and you enter into this relationship of marriage of harmony and self-giving in which both of you find joy in seeking the joy of the other. Some of us have only had small tastes of this, so imagine what it is like for God.

So why would God create this world, then? Historian George Marsden summarizes what Jonathan Edwards taught in his treatise The End for Which God Created the World. Listen to what he says:

The ultimate reason that God creates, said Edwards, is not to remedy some lack in God, but to extend that perfect internal communication of the triune God's goodness and love. It is an extension of the glory of a perfectly good and loving being to communicate that love to other intelligent beings. God's joy and happiness and delight in divine perfections is expressed externally by communicating that happiness and delight to created beings. (Jonathan Edwards: A Life)

To put it differently, the universe is an explosion of God's glory, joy, and self-giving love. God has created us so that he could share his divine happiness with his creatures. God is infinitely happy in his self-giving, other-loving nature, and we have been created in his image to live the same way: in self-giving, other-centered joy.

Dallas Willard puts it this way:

We should, to begin with, think that God leads a very interesting life, and that he is full of joy. Undoubtedly he is the most joyous being in the universe...All of the good and beautiful things from which we occasionally drink tiny droplets of soul-exhilarating joy, God continuously experiences in all their breadth and depth and richness.

...We pay a lot of money to get a tank with a few tropical fish in it and never tire of looking at their brilliant iridescence and marvelous forms and movements. But God has seas full of them, which he constantly enjoys.

...Human beings can lose themselves in card games or electric trains and think they are fortunate. But to God there is available, in the language of one reporter, "Towering clouds of gases trillions of miles high, backlit by nuclear fires in newly forming stars, galaxies cart wheeling into collision and sending explosive shock waves boiling through millions of light-years of time and space." These things are all before him, along with numberless unfolding rosebuds, souls, and songs, and immeasurably more of which we know nothing. (The Divine Conspiracy)

Creating and sustaining life gives God joy. And this is why destroying and diminishing life in any way diminishes God's joy and diminishes God's glory. Because we are created in God's image, it also ultimately diminishes our own joy. We're called to love what God loves, to love life.

So to really understand this command, we have to understand something about God: that God loves life. He is the Lord of life. He's made the waters and the earth to "swarm with swarms of living creatures" (Genesis 1:20). He gave all these creatures the breath of life. God takes pleasure in the life that we see around us. We exist as a result of God's love of life. This whole universe is an explosion of his glory and his love of life. That's what this passage teaches us about God: God loves and delights in life.

But secondly, let's look at what this command teaches us about us.

This command is based on something that is true of us: that we are made in God's image. We were designed to live not just physically but spiritually, especially because we are made in the image of God. God alone has the authority over life and death. That's why God tells us in Genesis 9:

Everything that lives and moves will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything. But you must not eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it. And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each human being, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of another human being.

Whoever sheds human blood,

by human beings shall their blood be shed;

for in the image of God

has God made humankind.

As for you, be fruitful and increase in number; multiply on the earth and increase upon it. (Genesis 9:3-7)

This is actually quite amazing. This passage tells us that God is going to demand an accounting from every animal or person that takes a human life. This passage teaches us that although God loves life, God permits the taking of animal life for food, but even then, the animal's blood remains sacred and can't be consumed so that we remember that all life is from God. But human life is different. To murder another human being is to murder what is most like God, and is therefore an attack on God himself. Therefore the command: no murder.

So what does this passage tell us about how we should live? Well, on the negative side, it's pretty clear: don't kill others for personal reasons. Notice that I didn't say don't kill. There is a verb that wasn't used that is talks about killing in general, but that's not the one that God gave in this commandment. God does give authorization for some types of killing: for example, sometimes in the case of war or capital punishment. In this commandment, the word God used refers to illicit killing: accidental or premeditated taking of the life of another human being; killing out of hatred, desire, anger or greed. We have no authority to take human life for personal reasons. We are to protect life and love it just as God does.

It's interesting that in other legal codes in that time, the legal penalty for killing was monetary. The amount of money you would owe would depend on your standing in society, and the standing of the person that you killed. So if you were a lord and killed a servant, there would be a relatively minor financial penalty, but if you were a servant who killed a lord, you may be killed yourself. But not so in God's law. According to God, all human life is valuable. Human life is beyond monetary value. It's priceless. So negatively, don't kill for personal reasons.

But there are positive implications as well. Positively, we're called to preserve and protect human life. This covers a lot of ground: personally, that we eat and sleep properly. As far as others are concerned, it means that we take precautions against what could harm or kill others. John Calvin said it means that we defend the safety of others, both in body and in soul. Martin Luther said that it means that we do good to others, clothing the naked so they don't freeze, feeding the hungry so they don't starve, and doing good works to others.

But Jesus took this even further in Matthew 5, where he said:

You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.' But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, 'Raca,' is answerable to the Sanhedrin. And anyone who says, 'You fool!' will be in danger of the fire of hell.

Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to that person; then come and offer your gift.

Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny. (Matthew 5:21-26)

Here Jesus takes the command - no murdering - and traces the roots of murder right back to the heart. He teaches us that the command not to murder doesn't just cover the physical act. It also covers sinful anger, verbal abuse. Jesus says that it's such as serious issue that being reconciled takes precedence over worship. It requires immediate action. In Jesus' day, you may have been going to offer a sacrifice. You've got the sacrifice. You've passed through the Court of the Gentiles, the Court of Women, the Court of Men. Before you lies the Court of Priests. As you're about to offer your gift, you remember that you've wronged someone. Jesus says to drop the gift, turn around and be reconciled. Your unreconciled relationship is not just an offense against that person; it's also an offense against God and must be dealt with immediately.

So you can see how serious this is. You may have thought this morning that, again, this command won't have much to do with you. You don't kill. You're off the hook. But this command goes much deeper than that. It calls us to treat our own bodies properly with proper rest, exercise, and nutrition. It calls us to do what we can to protect and preserve the lives of others. Even more, it deals with our hearts, calling us to love others. The Westminster Confession describes the type of heart it requires:

quietness of mind, cheerfulness of spirit...charitable thoughts, love, compassion, meekness, gentleness, kindness; peaceable, mild, and courteous speeches and behavior; forbearance, readiness to be reconciled, patient bearing and forgiving of injuries, and requiting good for evil; comforting and succoring the distressed, and protecting and defending the innocent.

Well, we've seen what this command teaches us about God, and what it teaches us about human life and our obligations toward others.

We're left with just one more thing to consider this morning: where this passage drives us.

I mentioned earlier that God loves life. He is the Lord of life. The problem is that we don't live in a world of life. Death is everywhere around us. This world isn't the world of life that God created. The reason, according to the Bible, is death. God said in Genesis 2:17: "You must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will certainly die." As a result of sin, death - both physical and spiritual - entered the world. After the fall, the first son of Eve killed the second. Ever since then, death has pervaded human history. We're included in this. Death is very much a part of our lives.

We've also seen that we are, to some extent, guilty of murder. We may not have murdered with our hands, but we disrespect and diminish lives in how we treat and think of others.

All of this drives us to ask where we can find life, as opposed to the death we see around us.

The Bible says that the only way to deal with death is death. Remember what God said? "Whoever sheds human blood, by human beings shall their blood be shed." God sent his Son to endure death in the place of his spiritually dead people. According to Romans 6, when Jesus died, his people died with him to sin. When he rose, his people rose with him to newness of life. Jesus shed his lifeblood to give eternal life to us through his death.

That's why Paul writes:

But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:22-23)

Jesus burst out of the grave and shattered the gates of death so that we could live. This world is an explosion of God's glory and his self-giving love, and Jesus' death and resurrection has set things in motion so that those who turn to him in faith will really live, will find joy in his joy, and will one day really live in a world in which even the trees sing and make music to praise the returning King. "He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death' or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away" (Revelation 21:4).

John said of Jesus, "In him was life, and that life was the light of all people" (John 1:4).

Father, may we see that you love life, that this whole world is an explosion of your glory and your love of life. May we see what this command requires of us. Most of all, may we see where you provide life in this world of death. May we find life in Jesus. In his name we pray, Amen.