They're About Desires
Contrary to what many think, the 9th and 10th Commandments aren't about desiring to break the rest of the commandments. No, the desire to dishonor parents, murder, fornicate, steal, or lie is prohibited by commandments 4,5,6,7,& 8. The 9th and 10th aren't about desiring evil things. They're about desiring good things like house, spouse, and possessions in an evil way. These commandments forbid our desiring what others have. They single out the desire in us to want what is more, better, or different than what we can't or don't have and others do.
The desire for more, better, different comes up in the sinful heart and right away the eyes find something better belonging to someone else. We see only good qualities in whatever we're desiring even as Eve could only see good things in the forbidden fruit. We delight in someone else's spouse, house, or possessions. What someone else has is exactly what we need. If only we had what they do, then we would be happy.
The more we focus on what our neighbor has the more we dwell on the fact that we can't have it because he does, and the more the desire burns in us. Such unsatisfied desires drive people to demons, to depression, to sickness. Saul is demonized by his desire to rule Israel. Ahab is depressed by his desire for Naboth's vineyard. Amnon is sickened by his desire for his half-sister Tamar. Desires for things we don't or can't have, even though they arise in our hearts on a daily basis, are nothing to trifle with.
Desire starts out small. Usually just one thing. But it's always something we can't have or don't have right now. Eve only desired the one tree she couldn't have. A forest of other trees could not satisfy her. Likewise, Saul, Amnon, and Ahab only desired the one thing they couldn't or didn't have; nothing else would do but that one thing. But unless that first desire is resisted, repented of, and driven out of the heart a whole host of sinful desires follow. As many people have observed, "It is much easier to suppress a first desire than to satisfy all those that follow." The 9th and 10th commandments show us this. The 9th is about resisting that one desire, that one forbidden thing you can't have; the 10th warns us about the multitude of desires which we're faced with if we fail to resist the first one.
That small desire for just one forbidden thing only leads to one place: death. But it never looks that way. The fruit looked delicious to Eve but it was really deadly. Amnon's desire for Tamar looked romantic but it was really rape and led to his death. Ahab's desire for Naboth's vineyard looked harmless but it was really evil and brought a sentence of death on him. Saul's desire for the kingdom didn't seem suicidal but it led him to demons and then to suicide. Whatever desire now aches in your heart will only lead to death if it is for what God has said you can't have. It will draw you to your death as surely as a flame draws a moth. James tells us: "After desire has conceived it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death."
There is no right way for you to desire what someone else has. You probably know that. But did you know that there is no right way to desire what God doesn't have for you? Paul desired God to remove his thorn in the flesh. He asked God 3 times. God said, "No, My grace is enough for you." Would Paul have been right to go on desiring to be healed? Would Paul have been right to say, "No, your grace is not enough; I need this thorn removed too?" Once God made it plain to him that He wasn't going to heal him; it wouldn't have been a godly desire to go on desiring to be healed.
Now we're in a sticky area, aren't we? God doesn't speak to us face to face as He did with Paul, so how do we know when our desire for healing, a better marriage, a bigger house, or more money is ungodly? I mean it's not like we're desiring something that belongs to somebody else; that we know would be a sinful desire. We're only desiring good, better, or more things that belong to no one. When do those desires become ungodly ones?
There are literally thousands of things that a person could have a godly desire for: kids, a spouse, a better job, more friends, a new car, health, healing, happiness, on and on this list could go. But our desires for earthly things, no matter how good and noble they might be is to be below our desire for God. Our chief desire is to be for God and whatever God chooses to bring with Him. That means we go to God with our legitimate desires all the while desiring only what He wills to give. If our desire ever leads us to say, "What You give to me isn't enough," we know we've crossed the line.
But that's the problem, isn't it? God and His things aren't enough. They don't excite our eyes and fire our hearts like whatever we don't have does. Eve wasn't drawn to the paradise God gave to her but only to the one tree not given her. Our spouse, house, belongings, family, and life just don't do it for us either. And we can't pray to God about our desires and let them go. No we nurse them, fuel them, and ache over them till we're sure we'll die unless they're satisfied.
What God gives doesn't satisfy our desires and neither does God Himself. Although Scripture calls Christ the "Desire of Nations," Isaiah 53 tells us, "There was no form or beauty about Him that we should desire Him." He sure didn't look desirous this night, did He? Washing the disciples dirty feet, telling them He would have to suffer, begging for help like a terrified child in the Garden. But this humble, suffering, weak Jesus gave us exactly what He wanted us to have on this night about 1,970 years ago when He made His last will and testament.
Imagine you're one of the disciples anxiously waiting to hear what your Jesus would leave you. What do you see Jesus do? He takes bread and says, "Take eat; this is My Body given for you." Then He takes wine and says, "Take drink; this is My Blood shed for you." He leaves you His Body and Blood in bread and wine. Is He serious? Be honest; this isn't what you would have desired back then, and this isn't what you desire right now, is it? You desire a better marriage, a better body, a better job. You could do without His body and blood, couldn't you?
Billions agree. But as long as His body and blood are not your chief desire in life, you'll never be satisfied, and you should be worried if you are. Only His body and blood can satisfy a body and soul for eternity. As Augustine said, Our souls will always be restless till they find their rest in God. But don't look to the 9th and 10th Commandments for help desiring the right things. They can only tell you what you should and shouldn't desire; they can't give you godly desires. They can expose your sinful desires and demand you have proper desires. But only God can give you them.
Only God can give you godly desires. He does this by His Word. The Word shows us the most terrible burden to bear is not that of unmet desires but that of unforgiven sins. Even the world knows great tragedies aren't about people tormented by hollow desires but those tortured by accusing consciences. The depth of misery isn't shown by a person moaning, "Why can't I have this or that?" It's shown by a person compulsively washing his hands trying to remove the dark stain of sin his conscience sees there. Which really is more important for all your sins to be forgiven or for all your desires to be met!
Still don't have a desire for God and His gifts? Find yourself lost in wanderlust over what you're life could be if only you had more, better different? Then turn to the Word and find out that even if you had a perfect spouse, house, body, and bank account, you still would die. No matter if you changed everything in your life your life would still come to an end in a matter of years. Then where would you and your desires be?
Still lack a desire for the things of God? Read what the Scripture says about this life. It is fallen. Even if you had everyone of your problems solved, even if every secret desire of your heart was met, even if you had the problem of death taken care of, you would still only have eternal life in a damned world. And this is exactly why the Lord drove Adam and Eve out of Eden. He didn't want them to live forever ever in a fallen world. Do you?
Even if all your desires were met, you still would have to watch family members suffering and dying. You still would have to watch as humanity fell farther away from God. Don't you see the desire to live forever would be the worst desire in the world to have fulfilled? It would be like living in a Twilight Zone episode. You would remain the same while everything around you decayed, diseased, and died, and there would be no death in your future, which even the heathen hope for as a means of escape.
Don't you see? Your true desire is not for less problems in life or a longer one. What you're really dying for is forgiveness, for true life, and eternal salvation. And these are what your Savior left you in His last will and testament. He didn't leave you a better spouse, more of a house, different possessions. He didn't leave you everything you wanted but He left you all you need. He left you His body and blood and the forgiveness, life and salvation that He won on the cross with them.
So, if like Paul you have a thorn in your flesh, one that torments you daily, you can endure because you have God's grace to forgive your sins. You may go through life with a tormented body, but you partake of His perfect body and blood assuring you that there is not one ounce of wrath in what you suffer. Whatever pain you may have in body you have a conscience washed clean by His body and blood. Your body may hunger and thirst after many things, but never for the forgiveness of sins which is always yours in the blood of Christ.
Even if nothing ever changes in your life. Even if you go through life with a 1000 unfulfilled desires, at the end of it, you won't die. Oh your body will cease to breath; your blood will cease to flow, but having partaken of His body and blood, you've eaten and drank of that which is life itself. The Father gave the Son the authority to have Life in His body. By eating and drinking Holy Communion you ingest Life itself, and as you're told each time you commune, the Body and blood of Him who is Life preserves you till life everlasting.
But the life you get in Communion isn't this one. The Body and Blood of Christ don't give you an eternal life in a fallen world, but an eternal life in an eternal world. You're given salvation from this world of unfulfilled needs and frustrated desires. You're saved from a heart that always desires more, better, and different; you're saved for a life where every legitimate desire of your's will be eternally fulfilled.
On the night He was betrayed, your Savior wouldn't make a mistake. If He really thought you needed a healthier life, a bigger house, or better possessions, He would have willed them to you. What He willed you was Himself, His body and blood, because that is what you need not just for eternal life but for this life. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Maundy Thursday (4-20-00) 9th & 10th Commandments