One of the first things that you learn about writing a good paper is the basic outline of the introduction, body, and conclusion. The idea is to get the reader's attention by giving a reason to continue reading. Then you say what you need to say. You give the details, the ups, and downs that make up the reason for writing the paper. After all of that, you get to the end, and you bring it all together and restate the main points or summarize the overall idea of what went on in the body. When we look at the whole of the Ten Commandments, we see a similar arrangement. Exodus chapter 20, the chapter that contains the Ten Commandments, starts off not with the first commandment but with an introduction. "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery" (Exodus 20:2). The start of the Ten Commandments is a call for attention. It is a reminder of who is giving the commands and what he has done. It is a testimony to the fact that everything that comes after is upheld by the one speaking. The Lord of lords is giving the law and expects it to be obeyed. Then we have the body of the commandments, and at the end, we have the tenth commandment.
As we look at the catechism for the answer to what is required by the tenth commandment, we see that the writers of the catechism understood the basic outline structure of the commandments. They write;
That even the smallest inclination or thought, contrary to any of God’s commandments, never rise in our hearts; but that at all times we hate all sin with our whole heart, and delight in all righteousness.
In a sense, the tenth commandment functions as a catch-all that describes the heart of the other issues. For example, before you decide to steal something, there has to be a desire to steal that item, i.e., you have to covet the item. If you are going to commit adulty, it involves desiring after them, which one again is coveting. Even the first commandment, which deals with the subject of not having other gods, involves covetousness. When Eve is tempted by the serpent, what he does is get her to covet being like God. He says if you eat the fruit, you will be like God.
The Heart of the Issue
Covetiousness is a heart issue. It is the only commandment that is purely internal. Every other commandment deals with both internal and external issues. When we looked at murder, we talked about the heart and the hand. But when we take about covetousness, there is no hand issue. You cannot covet someone's wife externally. If you act on the thoughts of covetousness, you break an additional commandment. In Romans 3, Paul talks about how the heart of man is desperately wicked and inclined to all evil. Another way of saying it is that the heart is covetous toward the things of God and the things of our neighbor. Even as Christians, we deal with this issue. We covet the friendships that other people have and the gifts that God gives to the people around us.
As we look back over the whole of the Ten Commandments, I hope you see the beauty of how all these things are tied together, but more so, I hope you see the interconnectedness of all the commandments. It is never possible to only be breaking one, and when we understand them in their full biblical context, it becomes clear that no one is able to avoid breaking the commandments for even a single day. Throughout our day, we are constantly tempted and failing to desire the things that belong to God. With that in mind, my hope and prayer is that by studying the Ten Commandments, you will see your need for Christ and the wonderful news of the gospel. When we see the depth of our sin and inability to avoid sinning, the grace of God in Christ becomes all the more sweet. I fail constantly, but Christ has never failed, and he never will.
Soli Deo Gloria