Christian Life, True Spirituality, Part 2

Yesterday, 16/05/2012, in my previous post it was concluded with the precept that eventually the Christian life and true spirituality are not to be seen as outward at all, but inward.

The climax of the Ten Commandments is the tenth commandment in Exodus 20:17: “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” The commandment not to covet is an entirely inward thing. Coveting is never an outward thing, from the very nature of the case. It is an intriguing factor that this is the last command that God gives us in the Ten Commandments and is the hub of the whole matter. The end of the whole thing is that we arrive at an inward situation and not merely an outward one. Actually, we break this last commandment, not to covet, before we break any of the others. Any time that we break one of the other commandments of God, it means that we have already broken this commandment in coveting. It also means that any time we break one of the others, we break this last commandment as well. So no matter which of the other Ten Commandments you break, you break two: the commandment itself, and this commandment not to covet. This is the hub of the wheel.

In Romans 7:7-9, Paul states very clearly that this was the commandment which gave him a sense of being sinful:" What shall we say, then? Is the law sinful? Certainly not! Nevertheless, I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of coveting. For apart from the law, sin was dead. Once I was alive apart from the law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died." Paul did not say or mean he was perfect before; this is clear from what Paul has said. What he is saying here is, “I did not know I was a sinner; I thought I would come out all right, because I was keeping these outward things and was getting along all right in comparison with other people.” He would have been measuring himself against the externalized form of the commandments that the Jews had in their tradition. But when he opened the Ten Commandments and read that the last commandment was not to covet, he saw he was a sinner. When did this take place? He does not tell us, but personally I feel along with other Bible teachers, that God was working inwardly in him and making him feel this lack even before the experience on the Damascus road, that already he had seen he was a sinner and had been troubled in the light of the tenth commandment,and then Christ spoke to him.

Coveting is the negative side of the positive commands, Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’"Matthew 22:37-39).

Love is internal, not external. There can be external manifestations, but love itself will always be an internal factor. Coveting is always internal; the external manifestation is a result. We must see that to love God with all the heart, mind, and soul is not to covet against God; and to love man, to love our neighbor as ourselves, is not to covet against man. When I do not love the Lord as I should, I am coveting against the Lord. And when I do not love my neighbor as I should, I am coveting against him.

“You shall not covet", is the internal commandment that shows the man or woman who thinks her/himself to be moral that he/she really needs a Savior. The average such “moral” person, who has lived comparing her/himself to others and comparing against a rather easy list of rules (even if they cause him/her some pain and difficulty), can feel, like Paul, that he is "getting along all right". But suddenly, when he/she is confronted with the inward command not to covet, he/she is brought to his/her knees. It is exactly the same with us as Christians. This is a very central concept if we are to have any understanding or any real practice of the true Christian life or true spirituality. I can take lists that men make and I can seem to keep them, but to do that, my heart does not have to be bowed. But when I come to the inward aspect of the Ten Commandments, when I come to the inward aspect of the Law of Love, if I am listening even in a poor fashion to the direction of the Holy Spirit, I can no longer feel proud. I am brought to my knees. In this life I can never say, “I have arrived; it is finished; "LOOK AT ME, I AM HOLY". When we talk of the Christian life or true spirituality, when we talk about freedom from the bonds of sin, we must be wrestling with the inward problems of not coveting against God and men, of loving God and men, and not merely some set of externals.

This immediately raises a question. Does this mean that any desire is coveting and therefore sinful? The Bible makes plain that this is not so, all desire is not sin. So then the question arises, when does proper desire become coveting? I think we can put the answer down simply: desire becomes sin when it fails to include love of God or men. Further, I believe there are two practical tests as to when we are coveting against God or men; first, I am to love God enough to be contented; second, I am to love men enough not to envy.
Let us pursue these two tests.

First, in regard to God: I am to love God enough to be contented, because otherwise even our natural and proper desires bring us into revolt against God. God has made us with proper desires, but if there is not a proper contentment on my part, to this extent I am in revolt against God, and of course revolt is the whole central problem of sin. When I lack proper contentment, either I have forgotten that God is God, or I have ceased to be submissive to him. We are now speaking about a practical test to judge if we are coveting against God. A quiet disposition and a heart giving thanks at any given moment is the real test of the extent to which we love God at that moment. I would like to give some strong words to you from the Bible to remind us that this is God’s own standard for Christians: "But immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints; and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks."(Ephesians 5:3-4).

Thus, the “giving of thanks” is in contrast to the whole, black list that stands above. In Ephesians 5:20 it is even stronger: giving thanks always for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father" How inclusive are the “ all things” for which we are to give thanks? These same “ every-things” are also mentioned in the book of Romans:"And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose."(8:28). This is not a kind of magic, the infinite-personal God promises that he will work all things/everything together for the Christian’s good.

Here I am told that if I am a true Christian, “all things” work together for my good. It is not all things except the sorrow; it is not all
things except the battle. We throw the words “all things” in Romans 8:28 around all things.We do honor to God and the finished work of Christ as we throw that circle around the whole; all things work together for good to those “who love God,” for those “who are the called according to his purpose.” But to the extent to which we properly throw the term “all things” around all things, it carries with it also the “all things” of Ephesians 5:20:“Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father. . . .we cannot separate these two. The “all things” of Ephesians 5:20 is as wide as the “all things” of Romans 8:28. It must be giving of thanks for all things, this is God’s standard.

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May 17, 2012