Coveting is Wrong

“Well then, am I suggesting that the law of God is sinful? Of course not! In fact, it was the law that showed me my sin. I would never have known that coveting is wrong if the law had not said, “You must not covet.” But sin used this command to arouse all kinds of covetous desires within me! If there were no law, sin would not have that power. At one time I lived without understanding the law. But when I learned the command not to covet, for instance, the power of sin came to life, and I died”
Romans 7:7-9 NLT

What is “coveting” all about? A dictionary definition is “to wish for earnestly”. Other words crop up like yearning and desiring. So I see a shiny new car in my neighbour’s driveway and “covet” it. I imagine how great it would be to own a model like that, and my imagination starts to kick in with all sorts of feelings, leading me down a sinful path at variance with the tenth commandment. Another example of coveting is with all those people who wish they could win the lottery. They start to imagine what they could do with all that money. Coveting.

Paul wrote that the Law exposed how sinful he was. He made the assumption that he “would never have known that coveting is wrong if the law had not said, “You must not covet.”  But is he right in this? Surely there is something inbuilt within us that would understand that coveting is a pointless exercise that could degrade into sin, should it be pursued to its limit? Perhaps. To take a modern example from the UK Highway Code, if we did not have such a reference book detailing the laws of driving would we still find ourselves driving safely, or would chaos reign? I suspect the latter position! Seeing something like a law written down in black and white draws our attention to a non-negotiable position, designed for our protection and safety. God gave the Ten Commandments to Moses for a very good reason. It brought social cohesion and God’s expectations to a bunch of rebellious ex-slaves, and is expanded upon in books such as Leviticus.

But the specific Law, “You must not covet”, was included in God’s list for a reason. The commandment in Exodus 20:17 reads, “You must not covet your neighbour’s house. You must not covet your neighbour’s wife, male or female servant, ox or donkey, or anything else that belongs to your neighbour.” It is interesting that this commandment is focused on what our neighbours have. Nothing about more general coveting, which is so often driven by national advertising, incessantly pushed on our televisions and media sources. But the principle is still there. 

How much debt and misery has been caused by people who have responded to an advert and got into debt as a result. A child nags their parents for a particular game, or item of clothing, or the latest type of mobile phone. Often unaffordable, the parent capitulates and runs up a debt that takes months to pay off. How many families get caught up in the commercial materialism of Christmas and end up trapped to a payment plan? It’s all starts with coveting and ends up in misery. 

When God issued the commandment “You must not covet” he knew what the propensity of human beings was like. We pilgrims will get caught up in this as well, the still small voice of the Holy Spirit drowned out by the coveting nature of our unredeemed sinful selves. When times are hard financially perhaps we should ask  ourselves whether what we desire is a need or a want. Hmmm… 

Dear God. You promised to provide for all our needs, so we trust in You and Your provision. Please forgive us for when we get caught up in the sin of covetousness. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Everyone Died

“Still, everyone died—from the time of Adam to the time of Moses—even those who did not disobey an explicit commandment of God, as Adam did. Now Adam is a symbol, a representation of Christ, who was yet to come. But there is a great difference between Adam’s sin and God’s gracious gift. For the sin of this one man, Adam, brought death to many. But even greater is God’s wonderful grace and his gift of forgiveness to many through this other man, Jesus Christ.”
Romans 5:14-15 NLT

The Jewish Law was delivered to the Israelites by Moses. We read in Exodus 19:1, “Then Moses climbed the mountain to appear before God. The Lord called to him from the mountain and said, “Give these instructions to the family of Jacob; announce it to the descendants of Israel”. But what about the time before the Law was given? Between the time when Adam and Eve were evicted from Eden and the time of Moses? Paul said to the Roman Christians that people still died in this period. Until Moses, there were no laws to break. So, strictly speaking, there was no opportunity for sin. Surely, to be a sinner, we need to be a lawbreaker.

But death was then, and still is a reality today. It was, of course, God’s intention that His human creation would live forever. To make this happen, there was a tree in Eden that produced fruit. This was a special tree that somehow had an ingredient that kept people alive. This tree was called the Tree of Life. We read about it in Genesis 3:22, “Then the Lord God said, “Look, the human beings have become like us, knowing both good and evil. What if they reach out, take fruit from the tree of life, and eat it? Then they will live forever!”” We read that God “banished” Adam and Eve from Eden and then blocked any access to the Tree of Life. Genesis 3:24, “After sending them out, the Lord God stationed mighty cherubim to the east of the Garden of Eden. And he placed a flaming sword that flashed back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life”. But, that tree never disappeared from God’s plans. It re-emerges in Revelation 22:14, “Blessed are those who wash their robes. They will be permitted to enter through the gates of the city and eat the fruit from the tree of life.” God’s plans will never be thwarted. We are living in an age between the two trees of life.

There are two types of death – physical death and spiritual death. We mostly think of the former, but it is the latter that perhaps is more important, because our spirits will live forever. Both Testaments in the Bible contain references to eternal life. In Psalm 23:6, David wrote, “Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the Lord forever”. Jesus said in Matthew 25:46, “And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous will go into eternal life”. Paul clarified the difference between physical and spiritual death when he wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:8, “Yes, we are fully confident, and we would rather be away from these earthly bodies, for then we will be at home with the Lord”. The Tree of Life kept Adam and Eve’s bodies alive, but there is only one way to keep our spirits alive and that is through Jesus. 

Paul said in Romans 5:14 that Adam is “a representation of Christ”. How can that be? Paul gives us the answer in Romans 5:15, “But there is a great difference between Adam’s sin and God’s gracious gift. For the sin of this one man, Adam, brought death to many. But even greater is God’s wonderful grace and his gift of forgiveness to many through this other man, Jesus Christ.” There is a stark and extreme comparison between Adam, representing mankind, and Jesus, God’s Son, and His representative for a few short years here on Planet Earth. And the two extremes were reconciled at Calvary, where we pilgrims kneel in worship before the saving Christ, Jesus Himself. 

Father God. Even though our ancestry can be traced back to Adam, we thank You that we are now adopted into Your family. What a difference. What a Saviour. Amen.

Adam’s Sin

“When Adam sinned, sin entered the world. Adam’s sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, for everyone sinned. Yes, people sinned even before the law was given. But it was not counted as sin because there was not yet any law to break.”
Romans 5:12-13 NLT

The word “sin” is not one that is used very much in today’s societies. It is mostly associated with religion, being defined as an immoral act, or when a law is broken. It is one of those words that make people feel uncomfortable, so they attempt to reduce or eliminate the potential pain by calling it something else, or projecting its reality into a treatable illness rather than calling it what it really is. This particularly applies to words defining sin in the Bible. So “adultery” becomes “an affair”. And, perhaps controversially, taking drugs, or stealing, or drinking alcohol to excess, are illnesses. And so on.

A typical dictionary definition of the word “sin” is “an immoral act considered to be a transgression against divine law”. So without even mentioned God, the definition connects morality with law, and particularly in a way that involves a higher being. So is breaking a secular law a “sin”? Technically yes, but perhaps not in a way that complies with the dictionary definition of the word. It is rare, even unheard of, to hear the word “sin” associated with a traffic offence, for example.

In Genesis 1:27 we read, “So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them”. God doesn’t sin. He never has done. So His original intention for mankind, having made them in His own image, just like Him, was that they would be sinless as well. We must therefore consider what it was that violated God’s creation, and why.

In parallel with the Eden story, a battle raged in Heaven, with an angel called Lucifer trying to take over from God, a sort of Heavenly coup. We read what happened to him in Isaiah 14:12, quoting from the King James Version. “How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations!” Lucifer ended up in the only place available to him – Planet Earth. And it is here that he introduced his rebellious and wicked spirit, here he introduced “sin”. In the guise of a serpent, he caused Eve and then Adam to break the only law that they had been given by God. We read in Genesis 2:16-17, “But the Lord God warned him, “You may freely eat the fruit of every tree in the garden— except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If you eat its fruit, you are sure to die””. And we all know what happened next – the sad story is recorded in Genesis 3. Sin started with a rebellious angel in Heaven and in due course infected Planet Earth.

Sin happens when we break laws. And in particular God’s laws. The one overriding law that underpins all others was told by Jesus to a local Jewish religious expert. We read in Matthew 22:36-40, ““Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?” Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”” So the root of sin is disobedience to God. These simple laws power all other laws, and those who don’t want to sin must start here. And in so doing, they must bring everything they do under God’s scrutiny to see if they line up with these laws.

Perhaps we wonder what would have happened if Adam and Eve had confessed their sin, and were made right again in God’s presence. Their relationship with Him restored. Their sin wiped away and forgotten. But sadly it didn’t happen, and the disease of sin has been with us ever since. A pandemic of all pandemics.

Paul, in today’s verse from Romans 5, states that Adam’s sin became human sin. All have sinned, he said. And it is very true. I don’t know of anyone who has not broken any laws, let alone God’s laws. And all those who sin will ultimately die. That is, unless, they find forgiveness and redemption in God’s presence. Through Jesus we can discover that sins can really be washed away. Forever.

Father God. Only You, the Sinless One, has the power to forgive sins. On our knees today we worship You, deeply thankful for Your amazing grace. Amen.

Obey for Wisdom

“Praise the Lord! 
I will thank the Lord with all my heart
as I meet with His godly people. 
How amazing are the deeds of the Lord! 
All who delight in Him should ponder them.
All He does is just and good, 
and all His commandments are trustworthy. 
He has paid a full ransom for his people. 
He has guaranteed His covenant with them forever. 
What a holy, awe-inspiring name He has!
Fear of the Lord is the foundation of true wisdom. 
All who obey His commandments will grow in wisdom. 
Praise Him forever!”
Psalms‬ ‭111:1-2, 7, 9-10‬ ‭NLT‬‬

A Psalm that starts and ends with the praise of God. And the Psalmist scratches down his thoughts of God’s goodness and mercy, His provision to His people, His trustworthy commandments and the wisdom available to His people. In this Psalm there is perhaps even a prophetic glimpse of the coming Messiah, peering round the edge of the parchment. 

But there is a profound, far-reaching, and even mind-blowing statement in verse 10. Can we really achieve “true wisdom” by following God’s commandments? It might be said that there are many around lacking wisdom but who have still kept the commandments. But the Bible has many more “commandments” than those we find in Exodus 20. The word implies what is perhaps a way of life, a mindset devoted to follow and understand God and His ways. A devotion to mine the diamonds contained within His Word, the Bible, bringing to the surface all the wisdom-thoughts contained there. A commitment to assimilate God’s ways, thoughts and instructions, that have been implanted in print over a period of 4000 years or so. Accumulated wisdom that is available for our use. It’s all about aligning our lives away from the materialistic and worldly secularism around us and instead adopting a life-style crafted and modelled on God and His Kingdom. The driver for all of this is the use of the word “fear”. But it’s not a meaning that implies the thought that God could zap us any time we stray out of line. Instead it is the thought that He is our real, living, and ever-present Creator, inviting us to respond to Him with a holy respect, a sense of awe, and a serious appreciation of who He is. 

The word “obey” isn’t a popular one either. It conjures up thoughts of subservience at odds with our “Me – it’s all about me” society. Thoughts of “Who are you to tell me what I should do” rise up within us and lead us down a destructive path of rejection of God’s ways, of God’s commandments. But God has placed His wisdom within His Word for us to find and apply in our lives, and to do that we have to adopt an obedient and willing attitude, gratefully embracing all God has for us. And by doing so, His wisdom makes the transition from the pages into our hearts. 

The Bible is a wonderful book. It is truly “God-breathed” and I constantly marvel that every time I read a few verses, something new leaps out of the page. Let’s redouble our efforts in reading His Word – it won’t do us any harm, and it might just save our lives.