Posted by: St. Mark Lutheran Church | April 14, 2011

Sermon on Genesis 39:6b-10 (Tenth Commandment)

Crucified with Christ to covet no more

  • Lessons:  John 17:1-26, Genesis 39:6b-10
  • Order of Service:  Meditation on the Commandments of God (Supp. p70)
  • Hymns (from Christian Worship): 122, 108, 285:1, 10-12, and 129

Downloadable version

In the Name of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh.

The Commandment for your consideration tonight is the Tenth Commandment, recorded in Exodus 20:  You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife or his workers or his animals or anything that belongs to your neighbor (Exodus 20:17b). And this is how Dr. Luther explains it in the Small Catechism:  We should fear and love God that we do not force or entice away from our neighbor his wife, workers or animals, but urge them to stay and do their duty (Small Catechism).

Coveting, the apostle Paul tells you in Romans, is the unknown sin.  I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “Do not covet” (7:7b). Luther takes the same tack when he writes in the Large Catechism about the Israelites to whom this command was first given: They also thought that they had kept all those commands when they had done or not done the external act. Therefore, God has added these two commandments in order that it be considered sinful and forbidden to desire or in any way to aim at getting our neighbor’s wife or possessions (LC I:293).  Yes, indeed, like that miserable Pharisee praying next to the tax collector, it’s so easy, isn’t it, to boast and brag, “I have not done this or that!  I have not murdered!  I have not committed adultery!  I have not taken anything from my boss, or my neighbor, or that stranger!”  What isn’t so easy to understand is the depth of the total depravity of original sin.  It isn’t just your actions that are corrupt, and so, if you could only stop doing certain things, you would have that original purity of paradise.  It is your heart that is corrupt.  As Luther writes, This last commandment, therefore, is given not for cheaters in the eyes of the world.  It is for the most pious, who want to be praised and to be called honest and upright people (LC I:300).

And most puzzling of all when it comes to coveting, is that forbidding it seems to go against the grain of all that’s American. Is not a part of the American Dream, really, in essence, being so dissatisfied with what you have and where you are, being so put out that the Joneses have it and you don’t, that you are willing to do whatever it takes to move up, to advance, to get that dream whatever-it-is?  Does not, then, the American Dream almost beg you to covet?  And wouldn’t most Americans applaud it?  Like Potiphar’s wife, everything around us gives us that look and says, Come to bed with me (Genesis 39:7). And not just once, but nearly every moment of every day, hounding, harassing, seducing.  And when you give in to that covetous desire, when you go to bed, you chalk it up to “a moment of passion” because your boss isn’t paying you enough, or your husband or wife isn’t given you enough attention or enough sex, or you just had to do, or take, or have this or that.

And because God knows you, He says, “No.”  Not just to the action, not just to the adultery, the theft, the gossip, the slander, the hurt or harm.  He says no to the lust of the heart that even considers such an action.  He says, You shall not covet…anything.  And by saying “No” to this, He exposes the wickedness of your heart.  You are guilty already in your plotting and your scheming, in your dissatisfaction, in your dwelling upon that which you ought not to dwell upon.  You are guilty not just when you sin, but when you refuse to stay away from that which moves your heart to these covetous thoughts, when, unlike Joseph, you linger in the room with Potiphar’s wife and chat a little bit.

Really, what this is, is protection, because God knows you.  He doesn’t want you to even entertain the thoughts that lead to the sins.  He doesn’t want you to be like David, who started with one lustful glance at a woman who wasn’t his wife, and ended up a power-abusing, adultery committing, murderer.  He doesn’t want you to be like Ahab, who started with one lustful glance at another man’s property, and ended up a power abusing, perjury-suborning, murderer.  He wants you, like all men, to come to the knowledge of the truth and be saved.  He wants you, like all men to have clean hearts and steadfast spirits.

So He crucified you.  Paul writes, I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.  The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me (Galatians 2:20). The Righteous One lived and died on behalf of the unrighteous, to bring you to God, to release from the control of all these covetous desires, so that you can go and sin no more.  Because He sinned not at all in your place.  His obedience stands now in place of your disobedience and overflows into your account through faith.  As Paul said to the Romans, We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?  Or don’t you know that all of you who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life (6:2-4).

In this way, you look at Joseph and his dealings with Potiphar’s wife.  His faith was heroic, but not unattainable, for it is the same faith with which you have been gifted.  In fact, doing what he did, was, in some ways harder for him than it would be for you.  Consider that Joseph had been forcibly removed from the Church for ten years or more, sold into slavery by his brothers and sent to a god-forsaken pagan land – Egypt.  And his work environment was devoid of the LORD and filled only with the tantalizing temptations of a beautiful woman who happened to be the boss’s wife!  Yet, the LORD sustained Joseph’s faith learned in catechism.  Just as He sustains yours in this hard fight.  And it is hard.  Temptation constantly pursues you, it grabs at you, clutches at your soul, rips away your clothing.

But you have been shown Christ.  You were once Potiphar’s wife, but you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God (1 Cor. 6:11). Your battle cry isn’t any longer, “It wasn’t my fault!”  or “The Devil made me do it!”  It is, rather, “I have been given a trust and I must prove faithful!” and “I have been set a boundary, and this is outside of it!” and “I cannot sin against God!”  Not by your own power or strength, but by God’s great power and strength, the God who began a good work in you and who will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6). This God has given you so much, because in Christ, He has forgiven your sins.  And Christ Himself says, Then neither do I condemn you….  Go now and leave your life of sin (John 8:11). And Christ Himself gives you the map, it’s written in His blood, His atoning blood, shed for your sins and given to you for the forgiveness of those very same sins, poured upon you in the font, poured out for you at His altar, displayed publicly for you in the Word you hold in your hands and in your hearts.

o equipped, so saved, you are no longer the bearer of bad excuses, “The Devil made me do it, I couldn’t help myself,” but rather, with Joseph and Paul, you say, “It isn’t me anymore, it’s Christ!  I’m dead!  He lives!  And I live by faith in Him!”  Be encouraged then by the example of one from that great cloud of witnesses, who has received His crown of glory, and who now longs to be united with you in the glory of heaven.  Hear now of Joseph and his battle with the sin of coveting, and how in Christ, through Christ, because of Christ, he won.  Genesis 39:6b-10:  Now Joseph was well-built and handsome, and after a while his master’s wife took notice of Joseph and said, “Come to bed with me!” But he refused. “With me in charge,” he told her, “my master does not concern himself with anything in the house; everything he owns he has entrusted to my care. No one is greater in this house than I am. My master has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?” And though she spoke to Joseph day after day, he refused to go to bed with her or even be with her. Amen.



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