Ten Words to Live By

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Read Ten Words [Exodus 20]

In his book, The Year of Living Biblically, writer A.J. Jacobs sets out to follow the teaching of the Bible as literally as possible. He will not pick and choose which instructions to follow, so he lets his hair and beard grow out and will not wear clothing of mixed fibers. Of course he observes the Ten Words, including the Tenth Commandment.

Jacobs makes a list one day of all the things he covets ... a PDA, his neighbor’s front lawn, the speaking fee of a fellow author, George Clooney’s fame. He even covets for his infant son. He wants his son to have the vocabulary of other kids. Jacob’s begins to notice that coveting leads him to compare himself to others, including his wife’s ex-boyfriend. Jacobs concludes that he tends to spend a lot of time and mental energy on breaking the tenth commandment – and it’s all the harder not to do that since our advertising age seems to run on coveting. But Jacobs finds a tactic that helps him overcome coveting: “If you’re intently focused on following the rules of the Bible, you don’t have time to covet. Not as much anyway.”

The tenth word to live by takes us back to the first. The first and tenth words to live by are bookends. Unlike the other eight that are focus on visible actions, the first and tenth have to do with our heart, or our state of mind.

Remember that the last six of the Ten Words are aimed at how we ought to live in community with one another. What happens to us as a people when we covet? Coveting is desire. It is very much related to greed and jealousy. Describing it so harshly, none of us would think much of coveting. However, since coveting is an internal problem and not connected to any specific action, it is a subtle problem. As a people, we have ways of ignoring the detriments of coveting.
We center our economy too often on coveting. Many of us are overworked trying to earn more so that we can own more. We may be able to get more, but we lose the time to enjoy what we have. But instead of labeling this as coveting, we describe it as ambition, providing for the family, supporting a lifestyle, working for a better life, getting ahead.

On the other side of the economic equation we are consumers and not just overworked providers. The Christmas season is big business. [Do we ever stop to think at how natural it is for us to find Santa in a store? Santa and commerce go together.] Shopping has become an activity that pleases us rather than something we do out of necessity. When wants and desires come between us, we will all be unhappy. [A neighbor of Abraham Lincoln saw him carrying two of his sons, one under each arm. The little boys were crying. The neighbor asked Lincoln what was wrong. He replied, "Just what's the matter with the whole world. I've got three pieces of candy, and each wants two."] The tenth word is a a perfect sign-off to the ten words to live by. It reminds us that unchecked desire, jealousy, and discontent leads us to violate the other commandments. As a result we wound our neighbor and wreck our life together ...

The remedy is to go back to the first word that God spoke. He will be our God. He are to be his people.

Jesus is asking us to look inward and question what it most important. Where’s our treasure? Is it God? Is our treasure found in the kingdom of God? Or do we have our eyes and hearts set on our neighbor’s stuff?

Rather than compete with our neighbor, let’s be content with what God gives us. A few weeks ago we spoke about greed and materialism, but let’s go a step further. Let’s listen to Jesus: He recognizes the bookends to these Ten Words and gives us Two Words to Live By ...

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” – Matt. 22:37-40

Special Note:
The following is a bibliography of resources used throughout this series on the Ten Words to Live By. I am grateful to the authors of these books for being my “conversation partners” in this series. In both agreement and disagreement, these resources have proven to be useful aids in the writing of the sermons and classes.
  • J. John, Ten: Living the Ten Commandments in the 21st Century, (Colorado Springs, CO: Victor Publishing), 2000.
  • Anne Robertson, God’s Top Ten: Blowing the Lid Off the Commandments, (Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse Publishing), 2006.
  • J. Ellsworth Kalas, The Ten Commandments from the Back Side, (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press), 1998.
  • Rich Atchley, Sinai Summit: Meeting God With Our Character Crisis, (Siloam Springs, AR: Leafwood Publishing), 2003.
  • S. Hauerwas and W. Willimon, The Truth About God: The Ten Commandments in Christian Life, (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press), 1999.
  • Carl E. Braaten and Christopher R. Seitz (eds.), I Am the Lord Your God: Christian Reflections on the Ten Commandments, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans), 2005.
  • William P. Brown (ed.), The Ten Commandments: The Reciprocity of Faithfulness, (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press), 2004.
  • Lewis B. Smedes, Mere Morality: What God Expects from Ordinary People, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans), 1983.
  • Joan Chittister, The Ten Commandments: Laws of the Heart, (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books), 2006.
  • Chris Benjamin

    West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
    Morning Sermon, 9 December 2007

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