Be joyful in HOPE,
patient in affliction,
faithful in prayer.
Share with the Lord’s
people who are in need.
Romans 12:12-13

Trinity 10
Catechism Series
10th Commandment

Sermon: Exodus 20:17; Joshua 7:20-26


Prayer: O Lord, You have made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless unless they rest in You. All our desire is known unto You, therefore perfect what You have begun. We seek Your face; turn Your face toward us and show us Your glory. Then shall our longing be satisfied, and our peace shall be perfect. Amen. (St. Augustine, Confessions I.1; The Lord Will Answer, p. 301)

Dear people loved and purchased by God: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Something you might hear people say is: “Doesn’t God want me to be happy?” Or they think the goal of life is to be happy. One problem with this is that you can’t get happiness by aiming for it. Happiness is a result, or by-product, of other things. And in the Bible, God doesn’t promise happiness.

God isn’t opposed to our happiness. He does speak of blessedness, which happiness is connected to. But the problem how people define happiness, or what they think they need in order to be happy. This turns into a demand that we make upon God. If He doesn’t give me this or that, I won’t be happy. 

You often hear this when someone is trying to justify what they’re doing, or what they want to do, and it isn’t in line with God’s commandments. 

For example: “I’m just not happy in my marriage, and doesn’t God want me to be happy?” – spoken as justification for a divorce or taking up with someone else. Or: “I just don’t feel fulfilled in my job, and wouldn’t God want me to be happy?” – spoken as justification for quitting. Or: “I don’t really have money for that right now but I can’t live without it, and doesn’t God want me to be happy?” – spoken as justification for taking shortcuts financially or using dishonest means to get it.

Well, the 9th and 10th commandments do address the question: “Are you happy?” But notice, they come at the end. Usually people say “God just wants me to be happy,” to overrule a commandment. But the way God has set it up, the first eight commandments overrule these desires and cravings.

This is the context in which you deal with the question, “Am I happy?” And the parallel questions: “I want this, so what do I do with this desire?” Which is a question we don’t usually ask, since the old Adam is in charge saying: “You want it, go get it. You deserve it.”

This is what coveting is. It’s an old word, not really an everyday word. But in the Bible story, it’s part of Achan’s vocabulary, a word he already knew!

This took place right after the fall of Jericho, shortly after the Israelites entered the Promised Land under Joshua. Achan may have been a little one crossing the Red Sea, or he may have been born during the 40 years in the wilderness. At any rate, it’s only 40 years since God gave the commandments. 

Achan’s parents evidently had taught the commandments to him. He knew the word covet; he says to Joshua: “When I saw among the spoils a beautiful Babylonian garment, two hundred shekels of silver, and a wedge of gold weighing fifty shekels, I coveted them and took them.”

All that’s in Achan’s head is that he wants them. That’s how it is with coveting. It only says, “I want this,” and runs roughshod over all the other commandments. Our problem today is that very few people recognize it to be a sin. Coveting is our culture’s home-base viewpoint. It’s all about getting.

Achan is better than we are. He calls it a sin,. At the outset he says: “I have sinned against the Lord God of Israel,” and admits he coveted and stole.

It shocks us that after he confesses his sins, he and all his family are stoned to death. God did forgive him, since when “we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins” (1 Jn 1:9). But there’s punishment, to show that God looks on this sin with “fierce anger,” as it says. Why did his wife and children pay for Achan’s sin? God punishes the father’s sins to the next generations. He didn’t want anyone to wink at this sin, like we do.

These two commandments are key to understanding all the command- ments. They’re about your desires, your wants, what’s on the inside. Your happiness can’t be at the expense of others. We can be ruled by our wants, so that you justify sin in order to get what you want, or you get sick with wanting and feel that you can’t be happy if you don’t get what you want. This is how you can turn your happiness into a god. 

In Jesus’ parable of the sower, He said “the desire for other things” can choke out someone’s faith in God. It’s a sign of being dissatisfied with God. If you have discontentment, if you’re full of complaining or pessimism about life, you lack the right love of God as a child or the right trust in Him.

Well, what do you do with this? Does it mean you can’t want anything, you can’t shop? No, that’s not the point. The 9th and 10th Commandments are not there for you to trust in your ability to be happy-no-matter-what. 

The point is to drive home how you’re unable to obey the Law yourself. Maybe you can control your actions, or if you really work hard, your words; but your wants? How do you get that under control?

It’s all about the purpose of the commandments. They show where you fall short. But they can’t help you do better, they don’t give you any help or ability to be content or happy. For that you need Jesus. 

These commandments drive you in repentance to Jesus. He perfectly trusted His Father’s care, and was perfectly happy. He did it to count for you when you aren’t that way. He took your sins of coveting and discontentment and He was punished instead of you; those sins are paid for.

That’s how you’re forgiven. What it says after the grim punishment of Achan and his family – “so the Lord turned from the fierceness of His anger” – is true for you. But it’s due to the grim punishment of His Son on the cross. Was it hard for God to punish His Son? He did so out of love for you. 

Achan is a strange preview of Christ in a way. He and his family were punished for his sin; this turned the Lord’s fierce anger away from all Israel. Jesus was punished, but not for His own sin, instead for all your sins, including your sinful desires, wishes and thoughts. But in so doing Jesus turned the Lord’s fierce anger away from all the human race, from you. 

The important thing to the Lord is not that you’re perfect in your wants and desires. The important thing to Him is that you’re close to Him and you become one with Him, through repentance and faith. Having the mind of Christ is not achieved by your efforts. It’s something you receive. 

He gives it to you in His Word and Sacraments. In His Supper you become one with Him – that’s what “communion” means! In His Supper He gives you the right faith and the right love. He gives you the right desires. He re-orders what you think, feel, say, and do, so that you want the right things, you love the right things. He gives you peace. He gives you contentment. 

So what do we do with this question, “Am I happy?” Ask another one: “Am I trusting God and what He’s doing with my life?” If that’s a struggle, you need help with your trust. The Holy Spirit always answers this prayer. He’ll give you faith to trust Him. Come to the Lord’s Supper with this prayer. He’ll take away something – takes away your sins, forgives you where you’re lacking. But He’ll also give you something: He’ll guide you, regulate your wants and desires, and give you peace so you can rest and not be restless. 

He has made you for Himself, and your heart will only be restless unless you rest in Him. There is where true happiness is found! Amen!