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Catechetical Sermon

Tenth Commandment

Rev. Andrew Eckert

Eleventh Sunday after Trinity
Our Savior Lutheran Church  
Stevensville, MT

Sun, Aug 31, 2014 

You probably noticed that the Ninth Commandment (last week) involved almost the same thing as the Tenth.  You may wonder, “Coveting again, Pastor?” Coveting our neighbor’s house was involved in the Ninth, while coveting wife, workers, animals, and anything else falls under the Tenth.

In the Large Catechism, Doctor Luther dealt with these two last Commandments in only one section.  Each previous Commandment received its own separate examination, while the Ninth and Tenth have to share time.  Others among our Lutheran Father did the same.  Although Luther and others describe them as two separate Commandments, the subject matter is so similar that they cover both of them at the same time.

Similarly, if you happen to examine the listing of Commandments in some other church bodies, you may notice that they only have one Commandment devoted to coveting.  Their Tenth Commandment is simply “Thou shalt not covet,” with no separate Commandments for coveting different things.

We might ask, “Who is right?  Should we list two different coveting Commandments or not?” In this case there really is not a right or wrong answer.  After all, God never said which was the first or second, and so forth.

In fact, God seems to resist our efforts at numbering.  In Exodus chapter twenty, He commands us to not covet our neighbor’s house.  Then He commands us not to covet wife, manservant, maidservant, etc.  But in Deuteronomy five, God reverses things.  He first says not to covet our neighbor’s wife, and then after that He forbids coveting house, fields, servants, etc.  If we numbered our Commandments that way, the Ninth would involve wives, not houses.

Having said all that, it is not wrong to number the Commandments one way or another, so long as we uphold the content of all of them.  In our Lutheran tradition, we keep a certain listing that we all use for the sake of easy reference.  But that is not to say that this exact numbering is ordained by God, and the other churches that list differently are somehow going against Him.  They are not, so long as they keep the Commandments, regardless of numbering.

Let us then examine our Tenth Commandment.

In Luther’s meaning, there are three negative prohibitions, and two positive admonitions.  Do not entice, estrange, or force away wife, workers, or animals.  Do urge them to stay and do their duty.

Coveting often does not remain idly in the heart for long.  When we sinfully desire or envy anyone who is in any relationship with our neighbor, we may soon begin to create a wedge between them.  We may not even realize that we are doing it.  Perhaps we think that we are simply lending a sympathetic ear to someone’s problems.  But what we are actually doing is encouraging them to be bitter towards someone in a relationship with them.

We can see this more clearly in the example of an animal.  Perhaps I may see a fence down in my neighbor’s pasture.  Animals are beginning to get out.  But I do nothing, because deep down I really do not like my neighbor, and do not think he should have such nice animals.  I may not even necessarily take possession of the animals.  Coveting does not necessarily lead to transfer of ownership, but sometimes only estrangement.  This is based on the proverb of the envious, “If I can not have it, he will not either.”

At the heart of this Commandment is a desire to interrupt the God-given relationships of others.

Among workers, sometimes one will advise another to put less effort into their work.  Then the relationship between employer and employee is being sabotaged.  We are supposed to encourage each other to diligently work at whatever duties we have toward others, according to the vocations God has given each of us.

This sometimes happens in marital relationships as well.  Perhaps a woman happens to admire another woman’s husband.  So she makes herself the friend of that husband.  Her sympathetic ear soon turns to a sympathetic voice that bemoans the terrible ways his wife allegedly mistreats him.  Meanwhile she assures him that if she were his wife, she would be more loving toward him.  The effect of this is to create bitterness between husband and wife, snowballing into severe divisions that may never heal.  If divorce results, then the sympathetic woman is there to scoop up the man.  All the while she seems so innocent and concerned, while he has painted himself into the role of a poor, innocent victim.

If you are ever tempted in such a situation, urge your neighbor to stay in his vocation, and diligently do his duty.  Help him to be strengthened in the relationship, not estranged and embittered.

Another situation deserves special attention here.  In our Missouri Synod, we have mastered the art of church hopping.  When something in their own congregation is not to their liking, people simply go down the road to the next congregation.  Or perhaps we even go to a non-Lutheran church.

But we have a vocation and relationship with a congregation.  We have made solemn vows to remain faithful.  If the reason to leave is not false doctrine, then we are breaking our vows made before God and the congregation.

Under the Tenth Commandment, we should counsel such people to remain faithful. We should urge them to stay and do their duty.

But in the Missouri Synod (and elsewhere), pastors often feel their egos stroked when people come calling at their congregation.  They see these wanderers as a feather in their pastoral hat.  Pastors want to appear successful and caring.  But unless there is just cause (which means false teaching), a pastor should urge members of other congregations to go back to their own pastor and do their duty.

It is not only pastors.  Sometimes others may urge disgruntled members to go to Saint such-and-such Church, where they hear that the pastor is much nicer and less rigid, or whatever the desired qualities are.  One even hears sometimes that people have boasted of how they have gotten people to leave their congregation.  May such shameful words never escape our lips, words fit for demons who desire to estrange people from their God-given shepherds.

You see that this Commandment involves an attack upon God’s establishment of vocations.  In America, we usually want freedom to enter and exit relationships whenever we want.  But this is, whether we know it or not, a rebellion against God.  It reveals a lack of fear, love, and trust in Him.

But God established vocations to show love to His people.  He established parents to show love to children, and spouses to show love to one another.  Pastors are given by Christ to pour out His grace in Word and Sacrament.  Here we see the heart of God, who deeply cares for all men.

The same heart is revealed upon the Cross.  The Father is not some cold-hearted tyrant.  He has gone to any and all lengths to provide forgiveness and life to all people. 

Whenever we compromise or reject our vocations, we should have earned rejection for ourselves, by cutting ourselves off from this loving heart of God.  But He instead rejected His Son.  The Father turned His back on His Son, which should never happen in the Father-Son relationship.  The division and estrangement of sinful mankind manifested upon the Cross, when Christ called out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”

Yet the Father only turned away from the Son for a brief time, and restored honor to Him.  He vindicated His Son by raising Him from the dead.  He seated Him at the right hand of glory, above all things in heaven and earth.

So your sins are removed and forgotten.  Their guilt is erased by the holy Blood of atonement.  Therefore nothing can separate you from the Father.  He will let nothing estrange you from Him.  Your place is with Him, and forever will be.  For His vocation is Father, and you are His children, and He will never be unfaithful.

In His Name, the Lord above all gods, with His Son and Spirit, the only true God.  Amen.



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