Morning Sermon: Exodus 20:17, The Tenth Commandment

Old Testament Reading: Exodus 20:12–17

“Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you. You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. 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 20:12–17, ESV)

New Testament Reading: Mark 7:14–23

“And he called the people to him again and said to them, ‘Hear me, all of you, and understand: There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.’ And when he had entered the house and left the people, his disciples asked him about the parable. And he said to them, ‘Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?’ (Thus he declared all foods clean.) And he said, ‘What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.’” (Mark 7:14–23, ESV)


Please excuse any typos and misspellings within this manuscript. It has been published online for the benefit of the saints of Emmaus Reformed Baptist Church but without the benefit of proofreading.


Throughout our consideration of the Ten Commandments, I have stressed that these commandments are to be kept from the heart. All of God’s laws are to be kept, not superficially, but heartily. If we are to keep God’s law really and truly, then we must do what he has commanded and not do what he has forbidden with love in our hearts for God and for our fellow man. This is true of each one of the Ten Commandments. 

Of course, when I speak of the heart, I speak not of the muscle which pumps blood through our veins, but of the inner life of man – the soul. The point is this: God wants your heart. He is in not interested in empty rituals or superficial devotion performed with the body only. No, God is to be worshipped and served with the whole of our beings, body and soul. This is why the Ten Commandments are boiled down to these two: “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” And “you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:30–31, ESV).

Consider these three things about the heart, brothers and sisters. 

One, God sees the heart. You may be able to fool your fellow man for a time with external (bodily) obedience to God’s law while hiding the truly sinful condition of your heart, but you cannot fool God. God sees our souls as clearly as he hears our words and sees our actions. 

Two, our actions – that is to say, the words we speak and the deeds we do – flow from the heart. Here I am talking about how human behavior works. Why do we say what we say and do what we do? We speak and act from the heart. The heart, in other words, is the spring from which the life of man flows. 

Three, Christ renews the hearts of those who have faith in him. We call this regeneration and sanctification. When God graciously calls a sinner to himself through Christ and by his word and Spirit, he regenerates them to make them willing and able to believe. He opens their spiritual eyes and unstops their spiritual ears so that they can see the glory of Christ and hear his gospel call inwardly and to the saving of their souls. He takes the heart of stone which is hard because of sin and gives them a new heart – one that is soft to him and to the things of him. He renews their mind, will, and affections so that they are able to believe and confess Jesus as Lord. We call this gracious work of God regeneration. This is what it means to be born again. All of this happens before faith. It must. For in our natural and fallen condition, we are dead in our sins. If we are to live to God by faith, he must breathe life into us. He must renew our hearts. And we know that God does also sanctify us progressively by his word and Spirit. Corruptions remain in us, but God has promised to finish the work he has started (Philippians 1:6).     

So then, God sees the heart, our words and actions flow from the heart, and God is concerned to renew the hearts of all his elect in Christ by his word and Spirit. I say these things in the introduction to this sermon on the tenth commandment because the tenth commandment is very much about the heart, or soul, of man. We must keep our hearts, brothers and sisters.    

In fact, I wish to say a bit more about human behavior here in this introduction. How does human behavior work? Why do we say what we say and do what we do with our bodies? I hope you can see why this is an important question to ask as we bring our consideration of God’s moral law to a conclusion. Do you wish to obey God, brothers and sisters? Do you wish to speak and act in a way that is pleasing to him? Then it is important to understand where our words and actions come from.   

First of all, it must be acknowledged that we choose to say what we say and do what we do. We have a will, in other words. We have this ability to make choices. We choose to think upon certain things. We choose to say things. We choose to do things. We have a will. Why do we say what we say and do what we do? Well, we make choices. And here I am saying, if we wish to obey God in word and in deed, then we had best develop strong wills. There is a place for willpower, brothers and sisters. There is something to be said for self-control. If you were to read Galatians 5:22-23 you would see that Paul’s list of the fruit of the Spirit concludes with “self-control”. We must develop willpower or self-control if we hope to keep God’s law in word and deed. 

Now please do not misunderstand me. This is not independent willpower that I speak of, but willpower that depends on the strength of God. This is no self-reliant self-control that I speak of, but self-control that relies on the grace of God given to us through Christ and by his Spirit. But it is self-control nonetheless. To put it bluntly, when we are tempted to say or to do that which is evil, either by the Evil One himself, the world around us, or the corruptions that remain within us, we must have the willpower, or self-control, to choose that which is good and to flee from that which is evil. 

In the Reformed tradition, of which we are a part, there is a great deal of stress placed upon the inability of man and of man’s need for the grace of God. There is also a great deal of stress placed upon the need for heart transformation – if we hope to obey God we must be changed to the core – our affections must be renewed by the Word and Spirit. I agree with all of that. It’s right that a great deal of stress is placed upon these truths. In fact, I’ll return these truths in a moment. But here I wish to emphasize that it is not only our affections that need to be sanctified in Christ Jesus but also our wills. Our wills need to be sanctified and strengthened by the grace of God through Christ and by his Spirit. 

Perhaps you have noticed that I have begun to identify different parts or faculties in the soul of man. We have bodies, and our bodies are composed of parts. And we have souls. Every human being made in the image of God has body and a soul. And here I am saying that our souls have parts. It is important for us to understand what the parts of man’s soul are and how they function together if we wish to understand how it is that we come to speak and act as we do with our bodies.

Body and soul are related, aren’t they? Indeed, they are very much intertwined. We live in God’s world as body and soul.  We perceive the world around us through the physical parts of our bodies. We see with eyes, we smell with noses, we touch with skin, we taste with buds, we hear with ears. All of that sensation is processed by a physical brain. Our bodies are amazingly complex, aren’t they? But we are not merely physical, brothers and sisters. We are also spiritual. In the beginning, God formed man from the dust… and then he breathed into him the breath of life! We have souls, brothers and sisters. These souls of ours are not materiel and visible, but immaterial and invisible (you cannot cut a man open to examine his soul; an x-ray will not detect it). Yes, it is true that we experience the sensations we encounter in the world around us through our physical parts, but we think rationally with the mind, we are drawn towards or driven away from things by our affections, and we make choices with our wills. These three things together – the mind, the will, and the affections – make up the soul of man. They are the invisible parts of man. They cannot be examined with the eye, but their fruit can be observed.

First, consider the mind. It is with the mind that we process and interpret the world around us and all that we experience therein. It is with the mind that we think. It is with the mind that we reason. It is with the mind that we come to a certain conclusion and hold to certain beliefs. Now that we are fallen into sin, it is imperative that we ​​be not “conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of [our] mind” (Romans 12:2, ESV). We must submit our minds to God’s word. We must believe the truths he has revealed. The mind is a part of the soul. The mind is graciously renewed by God at regeneration enabling sinners to believe the truth of the gospel, and the mind is progressively sanctified by God’s word and Spirit graciously enabling those who have faith in Christ to grow in the knowledge of the truth. The brain is physical. It is a part of the soul of man.  

Secondly, consider the affections. It is through the affections that we are moved towards that which we perceive to be good and away from that which we perceive to be evil. You understand how this works, for you have experienced it. You perceive the world around – other things, other people, God, his creation, the circumstances of your life, and the possibilities that are before. You perceive these things with your physical parts (your eyes, ears, and brain). And you think rationally about what you have taken in with the mind. But then you moved towards that which you perceive to be good, beautiful, and praiseworthy, and away from that which you perceive to be bad, ugly, and evil. Now please do not misunderstand me. I am not saying that we are always aware of these workings within the soul. Rarely do we consider them. These things happen continuously in a kind of sub-conscience way. And neither am I saying that these things happen in a mechanical way so that we can rigidly break down every action of ours into clearly defined steps. We are very complex creatures, body and soul. But these things do happen. This is how we take in the world around us. This is how we process things. This is how we are moved towards some things and away from others. It all happens through the body and in the soul. We process all that we encounter in this world through body and with the mind. We are then moved towards that which we perceive to be good and away from that which we perceive to be evil with the affections. Affections are a part the soul of man. You have body parts, and you have soul parts. And the affections are one part of the soul of man. 

You can probably anticipate what I am about to say. Just as the mind of man must be renewed by God through the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit to enable men to believe in Christ – and just as the mind of those in Christ must be progressively sanctified if our faith and obedience is to increase – so too the affections must be regenerated and sanctified if we are to believe in Christ and follow after him. All that I am saying here presupposes that you’ve heard about man’s fall into sin and the corruptions that have come upon man, body and soul, as a result. Man is totally depraved. His body is given over to sin and death, and so too his soul. Fallen man has a mind, but the mind is corrupted. We do not naturally know God, but are blind and ignorant.  And fallen man has affections. These faculties were not obliterated or annihilated by the fall. No, they were corrupted. Fallen men and women do still perceive and process the world around them. They are then moved by their affections toward that which they perceive to be good and beautiful, and away from that which they perceived to be evil. What is the problem? The problem is that in sin, to one degree or another, fallen man is drawn towards that which is evil and is repulsed by that which is good, namely God and his ways. Here I am saying that in regeneration and sanctification, God straightens our affections out so that we, more and more as we mature in Christ, are drawn to the good and repulsed by the evil.   

Thirdly, consider the will. This is the third part of the soul of man. Man is body and soul. And in the soul, we may distinguish between the mind, the affections, and the will. What is the will, then? The will is that part of the soul of man which chooses to think, speak, and do. The will chooses to act, in other words. We speak often of the need we have for a renewed mind. We speak often of the need for renewed affections (we often refer to affections as the heart). But our will need to be renewed and sanctified too. We must develop strong wills, brothers and sisters.

Again, I fear being misunderstood. I am not encouraging you to be independent from God. I am not encouraging you to be radically self-sufficient. No, I am exhorting you to be “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might” (Ephesians 6:10, ESV). In Christ, by the grace of God, and with the help of the Holy Spirit, develop willpower. Develop self-control. Paul listed that as a fruit of the Spirit, remember (Galatians 5:22-23)? Yes, in Christ, by the grace of God, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, we must learn daily to put off the old self and put on the new. We must choose to walk by the Spirit and to gratify the desires of the flesh no longer. We must learn to endure temptation – temptation from the Evil One, from the sinful world around us, and even from the corruptions that remain within us – by choosing to think, say, and do that which is good and well-pleasing to God, and by refusing all that is contrary to him. Yes, be sanctified in Christ Jesus in the mind and heart – this is indeed crucial – but do not forget about the will. Do not forget about the call of God that is upon you to be self-controlled in Christ Jesus, to choose the good and to refuse that which is evil. Christ has redeemed your will too, brothers and sisters. And the Holy Spirit has renewed and is sanctifying your will even still.

What does this have to do with the ten commandments in general and the tenth commandment in particular?

In general, those in Christ Jesus are called to obey God’s moral law. The good news is that in Christ Jesus, our sins have not only been forgiven but we have been freed from bondage to sin and are able now to keep God’s law, though temptations and corruptions remain. You have been set free in Christ and are called now to walk in obedience to him. I want you to understand how obedience works. 

In particular, I want you to see that the tenth commandment is somewhat unique in that it directly addresses, not our words or actions, but our hearts. Yes, each one of the ten commandments must be kept from the heart, this we know. But the others are explicitly about behavior – words, and deeds – whereas this one demands that we keep the heart pure and free from evil desires. 


The Tenth Commandment

The tenth commandment is, “You shall not covet…” Quoted in full, “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.”

To covet is to desire to have what others have as your own. 

And no, covetousness is no weak desire but is strong. It is an inordinate or excessive desire to have what others have as your own. Covetousness is a strong desire, or if you’d prefer, affection or passion.

To look at what someone else has and to say, “Oh, that’s nice. I’d like to have one of those someday”, is not necessarily covetous. But to look upon what others have, and to envy them, and to desire what is their strongly and passionately to the point of discontent in the heart, that is the sin of covetousness. 

Notice, that covetousness is not a word that we speak or a deed that we do. No, it is a condition of the mind and the heart. Yes, all of the other commandments of God are to be obeyed from the heart, but the tenth is about the heart. The command,  “You shall not covet…” addressed the heart directly. 

Do not miss the significance of the tenth commandment, brothers and sisters. 

One, notice that the ten commandments conclude with one that addresses the heart. This is the tenth of the ten. It is as if God has burrowed down into us with his law. He began by addressing the most important things: the worship of God and the way that we are to love him. He moved on from there to other important things, namely, the love we are to have for our neighbor. But in the tenth commandment, he burrows down into our hearts. It’s as if he concludes with these words: keep your hearts pure! Yes, obey in word and in deed, but do it from the heart. Keep your hearts pure before me!

Two, if we read the ten commandments backward we will see that it is the violation of the tenth commandment in the heart that produces violations of all the others in word and in deed? I think this is true of all the other commandments in one way or another, but it is obviously true of the sin of theft and adultery. Why do men and women steal and break their marriage vows except that they have allowed covetousness to develop and reside within their hearts? If the covetousness were repelled and rooted out from the heart, they would not steal or be unfaithful to the wife of their youth. The sin of covetousness is the seed. It germinates in the heart. Left unchecked, it sprouts and grows into other sins. As James says, “ each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” (James 1:14–15, ESV).


What Does The Tenth Commandment Require And Forbid?

As has been my custom in this sermon series, I will now ask the question, what does the tenth commandment require and forbid? I’ll read the Baptist Catechism and the Orthadox Catechism for an answer.  

Baptist Catechism

Q. 85. What is required in the tenth commandment?

A. The tenth commandment requireth full contentment with our own condition, with a right and charitable frame of spirit towards our neighbor, and all that is his.

Q. 86. What is forbidden in the tenth commandment?

A. The tenth commandment forbiddeth all discontentment with our own estate, envying or grieving at the good of our neighbor, and all inordinate motions and affections to anything that is his.

Orthodox Catechism

Question 132: What is God’s will for you in the tenth commandment?

Answer: That not even the slightest thought or desire contrary to any one of God’s commandments should ever arise in my heart. Rather, with all my heart I should always hate sin and take pleasure in whatever is right. 

Notice three things about these answers.

One, the Baptist Catechism says that it is contentment that is required and discontentment that is forbidden in the tenth commandment. What is the relationship between covetousness and contentment, you ask? They are very similar. They share this in common: those who covet and those who are discontent are dissatisfied inwardly. Those who are covetous and discontent are not a peace inwardly. They lack joy. They are unsettled. They are unhappy. How then do covetousness and discontentment differ? The one who covets looks around and says, if only I had what they have, then I would be satisfied. Covetousness has to do with the way that we relate to our fellow man in the heart. The one who is discontent is dissatisfied before God. It seems to me that all who covet are also discontent, and most who are discontent do also covet. Our catechism first says, “The tenth commandment requireth full contentment with our own condition…”, because this is the deeper heart issue. We are to be content before God! And then our catechism continues, saying, “with a right and charitable frame of spirit towards our neighbor, and all that is his.”

The scriptures say that “godliness with contentment is great gain…” (1 Timothy 6:6, ESV). Contentment must be pursued by the Christian. It is a way of life that we must learn, a disposition of the heart that we obtain. The secret to contentment is to be satisfied, not by the things of this world, but in God. Everything in this world changes. Everything decays. Everything rusts, fades, and will one day come to an end. It is great folly to have your satisfaction rooted in the things of this world. This is vantify, the writer of Ecclesiastes says.  Instead, we must find our satisfaction in God and in knowing him through the Christ he sent, for he is the source of all life, he never changes, nor will he ever fail you. Indeed, he has given you good things in this life to enjoy, but you must not enjoy them as if they were ultimate. You must enjoy them as tokens of God’s love and to the glory of his name. As the scriptures say, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17, ESV). 

The remedy to all covetousness is contentment before God, and this is what the tenth commandment requires. If you are satisfied in him, then you will be satisfied in times of plenty and in times of want, in times of joy and sorrow. The one who is content before God will be able to covet his neighbor’s possessions, for he will be preoccupied with gratitude before God no matter his position in life. 

Two, notice that our catechism speaks says that covetousness is a “frame of spirit”. “The tenth commandment requireth full contentment with our own condition, with a right and charitable frame of spirit towards our neighbor, and all that is his.” In the next question, “motions and affactions” are mentioned. “The tenth commandment forbiddeth all discontentment with our own estate, envying or grieving at the good of our neighbor, and all inordinate motions and affections to anything that is his.” Inordinate means excessive or extreme. The who is content will not covet. And the one who avoids covetousness “maintains a right and charitable frame of spirit towards [his] neighbor, and all that is his.” He puts to death “inordinate [excessive and extreme] motions and affections to anything that is” his neighbors. In other words, he keeps his soul pure. 

Three, the Orthodox ( and Heidleburg) Catechism applies the tenth commandment even more broadly. Considering the tenth in the context of the other nine, it says, “not even the slightest thought or desire contrary to any one of God’s commandments should ever arise in my heart. Rather, with all my heart I should always hate sin and take pleasure in whatever is right.” Notice again that mention is made here of two of the faculties of the human soul – the mind and the desires (or affections). 

The tenth commandment requires us to keep our hearts pure before God in man. We are to be content before God. We are to be satisfied in him no matter our condition. We are to be grateful.   

As we move now towards suggestions for application, I would like to read Baptist Catechism  87 and Orthodox Catechism 133 and 134. 

Baptist Catechism Q. 87. Is any man able perfectly to keep the commandments of God?

A. No mere man, since the fall, is able in this life, perfectly to keep the commandments of God, but daily break them in thought, word, or deed. (Eccles. 7:20; Gen. 6:5; Gen. 8:21; 1 John 1:8; James 3:8; James 3:2; Rom. 3:23)

Orthodox Catechism Question 133: But can those converted to God obey these commandments perfectly?

Answer: No. In this life even the holiest have only a small beginning of this obedience. Nevertheless, with all seriousness of purpose, they do begin to live according to all, not only some, of God’s commandments. 

Orthodox Catechism Question 134: No one in this life can obey the Ten Commandments perfectly: why then does God want them preached so pointedly?

Answer: First, so that the longer we live the more we may come to know our sinfulness and the more eagerly look to Christ for forgiveness of sins and righteousness. Second, so that, while praying to God for the grace of the Holy Spirit, we may never stop striving to be renewed more and more after God’s image, until after this life we reach our goal: perfection. 


Suggestions For Application

Now I have a few suggestions for application for you: 

One, though it is true that the tenth commandment requires us to maintain our minds and our affection before God and in relation to our fellow man, I have also emphasized in this sermon the need to develop a stong and holy will, that is to say, self-control. Develop self-control, brothers and sisters. Yes, we must develop this in reliance upon God, but we must develop it! Be self-controlled. The truth of the matter is that you will be tempted in this world. The evil one will tempt you. The things of this world will tempt you. Your own corrupt desires will sometimes lead you astray (we are not in the state of perfection, remember). In those moments of temptation, we must learn to resist. We must learn to choose what is good and to reject what is evil.  

This is one of the benefits of fasting. When we fast from food for a time, or from some other good and desirous thing, we learn to say no to our appetites and desires in a safe way. When you fast from food for a time, you feel strong urges to eat and you develop the discipline to say no to those urges. The scriptures mention fasting often. It is an important discipline, I think. When we fast we devote ourselves to prayer. And when we fast we do also develop self-control.

Self-control is needed in this world given the realities of temptation. Some of you are weak in the will. You lack self-control. And so you are driven by your passions, which are affections overspilling their proper bounds. 

Your righteous anger overflows and turns to rage within the heart, and so you lash out with your words and your actions. Your desire for comfort is misdirected within the heart, and so you misuse good things like food and drink to the point of gluttony and drunkenness, or you indulge in pleasures that are inherently sinful, when in reality it is the Lord who is comfort.  Yes, it would be even better if our affections were rightly ordered so that we were never drawn to that which is evil but only to that which is good, but we will not experience this until glory.  Until then, we must also be self-controlled. Even if every corruption in the mind and heart rises up against us to lead us in the wrong, we must will to do that which is good and please to God, for Christ is the redeemer and Lord of our will. 

Secondly, be careful in your looking. By this I mean two things: One, be careful with what you look at. And two, be careful with how you look at what you look. 

Be careful with what you look at. There are some things that are inherently evil that God’s people should never look at.  Remember the words of Christ. “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!” (Matthew 6:22–23, ESV). Here is a warning to be careful in our looking. We perceive the world around us through our eyes. If you are taking in dark and evil things, do not be surprised if your soul grows dark and evil. 

And be careful with how you look at what you look. Some things are not evil to look at, but they become evil when we look at them with an evil eye. I was driving with three of my children the other day and I was talking with them about this principle. I said, look at that nice Jeep up there. Is there anything wrong with me looking that Jeep and saying, “that’s a nice Jeep. I like that color. I’m happy for that person that they were able to get that, etc.”? No, there is no sin in that. But if I had an evil eye (See Mark 7:22 and Proverbs  28:22 in the NKJV)  and looked upon that Jeep with envy in my heart and mind, that is sin. And that sin, left unchecked will produce all kinds of unrighteousness. 

Be careful with what you look at and how you look at the things that you look at. Be careful with how you think about God, the world around you, and your place in it, lest you be overrun by discontentment and covetousness. These things are a deadly cancer to the soul.

Lastly, keep your heart, brothers and sisters, lest you sin against your neighbor and deny your God. You must tend to the garden of your soul. You must think about how you think. You must reflect upon how you feel. You must, by God’s grace and with the help that he supplies, “Put to death what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry” (Colossians 3:5, ESV). Do not only put the external sins to death (by willing to do that which is good and pleasing to God), but put the heart sins to death too! Get rid of the sin, root and all. 

Tend to the garden of your soul, brothers and sisters. Left alone, your soul will be overrun by weeds. But with God’s help, by his word and Spirit, the Christain has what he or she needs to walk worthily before God from the heart in thought, word, and deed. 

Thanks be to God through Christ our Lord. Amen. 

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