It Begins in the Mind
It Begins in the Mind
It Begins in the Mind
Last week, we looked at the 6th and Seventh Commandments, You shall not murder, and you shall not commit adultery. This week we will look at the last three commandments. In my sermon last week, I mentioned a passage we would get back to today, and it is James 4:1-2
What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask.
James really gets right down to the heart of the matter. and we may say the mind of the matter as well. as we wrap up this multi-week study of the Ten Commandments, we will see that the violation of all the commandments may end in the action of violating those commands, but its beginning is in the mind. So let’s read our last three commandments and then we will dive deeper into them.
“ ‘And you shall not steal. “ ‘And you shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. “ ‘And you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife. And you shall not desire your neighbor’s house, his field, or his male servant, or his female servant, his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.’
One comment I want to make before we get into these is that throughout human history, humans have tried to water down, or make these commands less strict. We will see examples of this in each of the three commandments we discuss this morning, but really it happens with all of the rules for living God gives. Love your neighbor, well thank good ness my neighbors all share the same politics and religion with me, so I can love them. Some guy in Afghanistan certainly isn’t my neighbor, he is too far away. And yet, if we really understand the bible, it turns out that neighbor is not limited to your physical proximity, even though we may understand the word to mean those who live close by, but scripture shows that our neighbors are really all human beings. We don;’t like the idea of loving all human beings, so we try to define neighbor in some other way.
This weaseling out of things was going on in Jesus’ day, too. People would ask Jesus questions, seemingly to find is the least they can do to keep the law. And when Jesus was asked about who one’s neighbor was, he told the story of the Good Samaritan, and that story is about taking care of someone not like you, in an extravagant way, elevating the other person’s needs above your own. I’m sure the person who asked the question, who is my neighbor, after Jesus told that parable, wished he had never asked the question, because when Jesus was asked these clarifying questions, he just about always gave his listeners a higher standard than they expected. And not least of these is in the Sermon on the Mount, as we reflected briefly on last week, when Jesus said the sin of adultery happens in the mind, and murder as well.
So we come to the 8th commandment, and you shall not steal, and we think we can find ourselves safe from its violation if we do not physically steal an object. But the commandment is not limited to the physical theft of objects, and in our hearts we know this. You can steal someone’s reputation. You can steal someone’s opportunities. You can take advantage of someone else’s weaknesses to profit yourself.
Why were the Jewish people commanded not to take interest on a loan to a fellow Israelite? Because it is easy to exploit people who, for whatever reason, are unable to provide for their needs. In their desperation, they will agree to any terms to get their temporary need met. But there are many sharks who will take advantage of that, charging high interest, or claiming the property of the one in debt, or in some cases, even causing the one in debt to sell themselves into slavery.
Taking advantage of someone by charging exorbitant interest may be stealing no less than if you took the persons physical property. And the implications for this must spread into many areas. If a family has to move, and they must sell their house quickly, there are many companies that may promise a quick sale, but far below market value. There are many way in which taking advantage of someone’s weak position may be tantamount to theft.
One way this commandment was watered down over the centuries is by those who say this commandment specifically applied to the theft of people. In other words, selling someone into slavery. So think of Joseph’s brothers selling him into slavery, there have been those who have said this command is about human trafficking and nothing else. However, this is not all the command is about, and as we hopefully are beginning to see, the bar for keeping these commands is much higher than most of us would want to admit. We should keep in mind, these laws are not there simply to say here is what gets you in trouble and here is what does not. Our human laws may be like that, but God’s laws are to be kept, we are to strive for perfection in them.
And the perfection we ought to seek is not simply so we can stay out of the pokey, it is because we, who are made in the image of God, are representatives of Him, so we are to reflect his nature, his communicable attributes, that is, the characteristics of His that we can share. We are to seek this perfection to bring Him honor and glory, and because He is a holy God, who has called us to be holy. We are to seek this perfection out of love and reverence and a desire to please Him, not simply to do the least we can to technically keep his laws, but rather, we are to live our the spirit of those laws.
So certainly the law against theft includes human trafficking, but it by no means is limited to that, and the scope of this commandment goes far beyond what we may usually consider.
Calvin included, in the exposition or elaboration of this commandment, laws on usury, pledges, bribes, correct weights and measures, moving a neighbor’s landmark, returning lost property, fraudulent use of another’s property (e.g., Exod22:5 ““If a man causes a field or vineyard to be grazed over, or lets his beast loose and it feeds in another man’s field, he shall make restitution from the best in his own field and in his own vineyard.” ) and negligence (e.g., Exod21:33–36 ““When a man opens a pit, or when a man digs a pit and does not cover it, and an ox or a donkey falls into it, the owner of the pit shall make restoration. He shall give money to its owner, and the dead beast shall be his. “When one man’s ox butts another’s, so that it dies, then they shall sell the live ox and share its price, and the dead beast also they shall share. Or if it is known that the ox has been accustomed to gore in the past, and its owner has not kept it in, he shall repay ox for ox, and the dead beast shall be his.” ), as well as laws that protect the weak and poor from oppression, provide release for slaves, and ensure access of the poor to the needs of life (e.g., Deut. 23:24–25 ““If you go into your neighbor’s vineyard, you may eat your fill of grapes, as many as you wish, but you shall not put any in your bag. If you go into your neighbor’s standing grain, you may pluck the ears with your hand, but you shall not put a sickle to your neighbor’s standing grain.” ).
Calvin connects all of these and other rules of the bible into his dissertation on stealing. God clearly set up rules that the violation of could be considered theft. In fact, Calvin, in a sense, attempts to reverse our thinking of this commandment from the negative “you shall not” to our positive responsibility towards others:
Since charity is the end of the Law, we must seek the definition of theft from there. This, then, is the rule of charity, that every one’s rights should be safely preserved and that none should do to another what he would not have done to himself. It follows, therefore, that not only are those thieves who secretly steal the property of others, but those also who seek for gain from the loss of others, accumulate wealth by unlawful practices, and are more devoted to their private advantage than to equity
This will be the last quote of Calvin:
We must remember that a “positive” command, as it is called, is attached to the prohibition. If we merely refrain from all evil-doing, we are far from satisfying God, who has bound men mutually together so that they may strive to help one another to get ahead by counseling and assisting one another. There is not the slightest doubt that God commands generosity, and kindness, and the other duties which give warmth to human society. Therefore, if we are not to be condemned as thieves by God, we must seek our brothers’ advantage no less than our own.
Of course, theft may also involve stealing someone’s reputation through spreading rumors or violating the ninth commandment, Deut5.20
“ ‘And you shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
Once again, we see how all of these commandments are interrelated. Bearing false witness. That is, telling a lie about someone else, is theft of reputation, and if it happens in court with a testimony that someone committed a crime they did not, and that crime was punishable by the death penalty, then the violation of the ninth command may make you guilty not only of bearing false witness, but of murder as well.
Now, let’s talk for a moment again about how people have tried to water down the commandments, or to raise the bar of violating them. In this case, some have said, bear false witness, this command specifically means under oath. Or in a court setting. But one who would try to do this is making excuses as to why we can tell lies about someone if it isn’t that serious. And certainly the command can be translated this way, “You shall not testify against your neighbor as a lying witness.”
Of course, the penalties for violating this command are very severe. I pointed this out in May when I preached on the cities of refuge and how God is a God of justice. The false witness was subject to whatever the penalty would have been to the one who was lied about:
“A single witness shall not suffice against a person for any crime or for any wrong in connection with any offense that he has committed. Only on the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses shall a charge be established. If a malicious witness arises to accuse a person of wrongdoing, then both parties to the dispute shall appear before the Lord, before the priests and the judges who are in office in those days. The judges shall inquire diligently, and if the witness is a false witness and has accused his brother falsely, then you shall do to him as he had meant to do to his brother. So you shall purge the evil from your midst. And the rest shall hear and fear, and shall never again commit any such evil among you. Your eye shall not pity. It shall be life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.
And you shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. Now, I said that there are those who have attempted to convince themselves this only has to do with testifying in court, but clearly this is not the limits of the spirit of this commandment. We do not like to point the finger towards ourselves, do we? And yet, there is another category of violation of the spirit of this command that has plagued many churches, and that is gossip.
John Maxwell said Gossip is the lowest level of communication. It is devious, often cloaking itself in spirituality. Gossips may assume a self-righteous attitude, saying, “I don’t mean to gossip about him but …” and off they go. Sometimes this gossip takes the form of false sympathy, as in, “Isn’t it too bad that Mr. Wrong beats his wife?” Very often this “religious gossip” sneaks into the prayer circle. We can usually recognize it—“O Lord, please help Mrs. Wrong to stop running around on Mr. Wrong, even though he’s sneaking out with Mrs. Bad.” The Old Testament story in which Noah’s son speaks wrongly of his father’s drunkenness teaches us that the one who talks about another’s sin is worse than the one who actually commits the sin. Of the seven things that God hates in Proverbs 6:16–19 , three relate to the tongue.…
There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers.
Now, I think it is good to put a positive commandment or exhortation next to the negative, so let us look at a couple other proverbs, because these give us a positive here, so that we can look at this commandment not only in what we should not do, but what we should do.
A faithful witness does not lie, but a false witness breathes out lies.
So here is the positive: a faithful witness does not lie. Hopefully we would desire to be faithful witnesses.
A truthful witness saves lives, but one who breathes out lies is deceitful.
Here we see that truth telling is life-giving.
These are the things that you shall do: Speak the truth to one another; render in your gates judgments that are true and make for peace;
Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.
So then, let is be said of us, as Jesus said of Nathaniel, John1.47
Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!”
Now, as we have looked so far at the first nine commandments, we turn to the tenth. And indeed, this command is directly linked to all the others. This command tells us that the sin of breaking God’s commandments really begins in the mind:
“ ‘And you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife. And you shall not desire your neighbor’s house, his field, or his male servant, or his female servant, his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.’
We can see two other commandments directly linked. Coveting your neighbor’s wife may lead to violation of the seventh command, you shall not commit adultery. And coveting your neighbors other things may lead you to steal. But the key here is that the sin of the tenth commandment is not something you do with your hands or with your mouth or with your body. It happens in your mind. The sin happens in your thoughts. But there have been some, who, over the history of mankind wrestling with these commandments, who have said that covet doesn’t just mean your thoughts, you only start violating this command when you scheme or maneuver to obtain these things you covet.
How people have tried to weasel out of this commandment! By raising the bar of what constitutes a violation, they weakened the spirit of this law. Jesus corrected this attitude. To violate the spirit of this law, no action, no scheming or maneuvering, was required. This is a commandment that is violated purely in the thoughts of a person. And so, how safe may one feel in having the thoughts and not the deeds, whereby another may call them out? Yet, the feeling of safety in this self delusion is irrational, since the God who commanded certainly knows what is in the hearts of men.
Again I quote John Maxwell who said:
The first nine commandments deal with outward actions. They can be seen, therefore judged. This commandment deals with inner motives. If this last commandment were kept, the first nine would never be broken. We cannot deal with the outward actions without first dealing with our own hearts. In other words, adultery never “just happens.” It begins when a person allows himself or herself to feed on his or her own lust. People slander others because they are jealous and malicious. Murderers permit anger to well up inside before they strike. An outward sin was never committed that did not first begin with an inward thought.…
So we will wrap up the ten commandments where I began this morning: James4.1-3
What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.
Every sin, every breaking of God’s commandments, begins in our minds. Our minds are where the beginnings are of every sin. Our brain is the organ in our body that uses the most energy, and the most blood. 20-25% of our blood is pumped from our heart to our brain. The brain consumes up to 20% of all of our energy. And it is our brain that is the beginning of all of our trouble, because the brain in fallen humans, which we all are, is deeply troubled.
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? “I the Lord search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.”
And God knows what is in our hearts. Psalm139.2
You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar.
Jesus knew, Matt9.4
But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts?
But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.
How do we even begin to obey God’s commandments? We realize at this point how many we are guilty of, either in the deed or in the thought. What are we to do? If the Spirit of Lord is convicting our hearts of our sin through his word this morning, then how can we respond? How can we be free? First off, repent and believe the gospel. You may say, I have done this, and yet I remain in this struggle with sin! Well, you are in good company, for even the apostle Paul wrestled with his impulse to sin.
For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?
And Paul does not leave us hanging, he answers his own question immediately! Rom 7.25
Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.
Paul continues on to shows us that though we are sinners who are actively still fighting the battle, including the lost battles, we who are in Christ need not be afraid. The righteousness of Christ imputed on the believer, the blood of Christ cleansing our sin, causes us to be able to stand upright and in the very presence of God to know this truth:
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.
We are charged by God to keep His commands. He has the authority to declare to all His creation what He demands from us. What our standards should be, how we think and act morally. He decides what is the correct order of things, from the family, to marriage. He is the creator. He created all things. When you create something, you get to decide what to do with it. If you are gifted in cooking or baking, and you prepare something wonderful, you get to decide what to do with it.
If you are creative with woodworking and you make a beautiful piece of furniture, you get to decide what to do with it. If you love gardening and growing plants and trees, and you lovingly grow some fruit, or flowers, or vegetables, you get to decide what to do with that. If you create a computer program you get to decide who gets to use it. The creator gets to decide.
God created the world and He gets to decide what is best, and He decides what is best in His moral law, which is not only written down in these commands and in other scriptures, it is written on our hearts. Scripture tells us that in Romans 2, Jeremiah 31, and in Hebrews 8 and 10, and is implied in many Psalms and other scripture as well. And His law is not written only on the hearts of the Jews, or only on the hearts of Christians. His law is written on the hearts of all mankind. He is the creator, we are the creatures, and we are subject to all of his laws and decisions and his sovereignty.
So every man, woman, and child is subject to these laws, and will be held accountable for them. On the judgement day, each will stand before God and be held to account. This is a good reason to keep God’s commands. Yet we know that no one has done so perfectly. But still, it is better for you to attempt to keep them than to not. Because there are both temporal and eternal consequences for us missing the mark.
But the judgement will go better for those who have put their faith in Jesus Christ. We who have been called into this faith are set free from the eternal damnation we would otherwise be deserving of as creatures who refuse to acknowledge their creator. So every human has a motivation to obey God, because He is creator and law giver.
And the believer wants to obey God for those reasons, but for the believer the reason goes even further. For the believer, Obedience is love. Jesus said, John14.15
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.
Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.”
Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.
If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.
For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.
And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, so that you should walk in it.
We owe God allegiance and obedience because He is creator, but we get to add love for Him as our motivating factor in keeping His commands. His commands are not burdensome. What that means is that when we have the proper motivation, we will want to do them, and we will better understand the benefits of doing them. When we are children, we learn many things that we see no benefit for as we are learning them. And then at some point in life, it starts to make sense.
As Christians, we must work to learn and understand. Learn to love His ways. Understand that He knows what is best, so He has given us direction for things that are good for us. And it begins in the mind.
Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.
For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.
We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ,
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
I haven’t been asked this at Oasis Church, but in past years, I have been asked, “Why do you use so much scripture?” One guy literally said this: “Why can’t you just read a verse and then talk to us?”
No one here has asked that, but in case someone listening has thought it, and this morning especially, I have used a lot of scripture. Well, the reason is very simple. I don’t want anyone to leave here thinking about what Jason said. I want you to leave having heard from God. I don’t want followers, I want you to follow Jesus and His Word. The reason I use a lot of scripture is because it must be clear to all of us that this is not a religion led by a pastor or governing board, but this is church is led by Christ and Christ alone.
And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.
I believe that all of the Bible points to Jesus. It is about Him. The Ten Commandments are about Him. He is the only one who kept them. So let us strive to keep them, for the two reasons I gave; He is the creator and has sovereign rights over his creation to rule and reign. And second, that if you are a believer in Jesus Christ, and you claim His love and claim to love Him, then you will keep His commands.
And what do you do when you fail? Repent and believe the gospel.