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What the Bible says about Sin Begins as a Thought
(From Forerunner Commentary)

Deuteronomy 5:21

Covet means "to desire" or "to take delight in beyond God's acceptable bounds." It indicates "to long after a property that belongs to another in order to enjoy it." It is covetousness to allow oneself to indulge in thoughts that lead to actions named in the other nine commandments. They are grasping thoughts that lead to grasping deeds.

Coveting normally arises from two sources. It often begins with a perception of beauty in a thing desirable to possess. It also arises from a persistent inclination for something more abstract like a desire for power. The first is generally stimulated from without, the second generally from within. Both are equally bad.

One commentator stated that he believed all public crime would cease if just this one law were kept. Another said that every sin against one's neighbor, whether of word or deed, springs from the breaking of this commandment. James 1:14-15 seems to agree: "But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death."

In the Exodus 20:17 version of the commandment, the word "house" implies household. Subsequently, six other items are listed so that we clearly understand that "household" is meant. In Deuteronomy 5, "wife" is moved to first position as the very crown of one's possessions, and "field" is inserted because earlier, when God gave the Exodus version, fields were of no concern to pilgrims who possessed no land. Thus, between the two wordings God provides a seven-fold safeguard of other people's interests, revealing the underlying concept of outgoing concern.

In this commandment, we step from the outer world of word and deed into the secret place where all good and evil begins: the heart. The inner life actually determines a person's destiny, as the desires of a person's life are held and nurtured there.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Tenth Commandment

2 Samuel 13:1-15

Here we have the story of the lust-driven affair of Amnon, one of David's sons, and Tamar, one of David's daughters, a half-sister of Amnon. Amnon was sick with love for Tamar, but the fruit of the relationship shows it was not love but lust. He greatly desired to take her to bed, so much so that he deceitfully conspired with his cousin Jonadab to arrange matters. He then compounded that sin by lying to his father to be alone with her and raping her when he finally was. The fruit of his shameful deed was further defiled when his feelings for her reversed to a hatred against her that was greater than his former "love." Two years later Amnon was dead at the hand of Absalom, Tamar's full brother.

What piling of sin on sin coveting produced! It destroyed Tamar's virginity and possibly a future marriage. It destroyed the cohesiveness of David's family. It produced burning hatred, and everyone felt great sorrow. All of this blossomed from an uncontrolled desire in the mind of one person. Its effects impacted on David's family for many generations.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Tenth Commandment (1998)

Matthew 5:27-30

The Greek word translated as "looks" implies intent or special contemplation. The word underneath "lust" means "to set one's heart upon" or "to long for." Taken together, they make Jesus' instruction obvious.

Evidence from other portions of God's Word shows that it is not wrong to desire a husband or wife lawfully, but it is most definitely wrong when the one desired is legitimately beyond the reach of the admirer. How often does such admiration merge into a desire to possess and thus break the commandment? Considering the national statistics on divorce, this must happen frequently.

The Jews of Jesus' time perceived adultery as a kind of theft. This is not entirely wrong, but in this context, Jesus' emphasis is on moral purity: Ruin awaits those who are unchaste, even in thought.

Perhaps nowhere in Scripture is the inwardness of Christ's teaching as evident as with this commandment—inward in the sense that within is where sin begins and also where change must take place. It identifies where the problem resides. Christ carries impurity back beyond the lustful act to the first touch of the hands to the look of the eyes—and beyond these, to the first inception of desire. The Christian must "amputate" the desire so that the sin never becomes an act. We will remain pure and so will the object of our desire.

God gave us the wonderful gift of imagination, but if fed dirt by the eye, the imagination will be filthy. Sin begins with our allowing the imagination to dwell on what it should not. What feeds the imagination is so very important to moral purity and thinking and therefore to sin. Philippians 4:8 provides excellent insight:

Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.

The advice is clear: We must stop feeding our imagination dirt. We have to deal radically with sin! The purpose of this discipline is enrichment of life. The person who is condemned here is the one who deliberately uses his eyes and mind to awaken his lust so that desire is stimulated.

It is hard enough to avoid lusting after natural things, but this world deliberately designs many things to spark wrong desires in us. If certain books, pictures, magazines, places, activities, or people cause temptation, they must be avoided regardless of the cost. Avoiding sin is that important!

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Tenth Commandment

Matthew 15:17-20

Because action follows thought, Jesus is against hatred, malice, and envy, all of which are included within "evil thoughts." Each is a form of the spirit of murder. His concern is not only with how we act but also why we act—not only in what we actually do but also in what we desire to do in our heart of hearts. To eat with unwashed hands does not defile the heart, but gluttony does. To eat with publicans and sinners does not defile, but self-righteousness does. What a person does against us does not defile us, but hatred, anger, and malice toward him does.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sixth Commandment (Part One) (1997)

Mark 7:20-23

Jesus, in Mark 7:20-23, provides clear insight as to the location of the generator of man's drive to possess. Notice especially what He lists first, as it is the generator that leads to the other sins. His instruction thus also points out where the other sins can be stopped. A person's evil thoughts do not exist because of brainlessness, but because of confusion of values and lack of concern for godly, spiritual truth, leading to careless, shoddy moral choices.

Paul adds in Romans 7:7: "What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, 'You shall not covet.'" Some of God's laws are self-evident even to the natural mind, but only God can tell us that it is absolutely wrong to lust. By contrast, a major theme of the modern culture is"You can have whatever you want, if you only make the effort."

The tenth commandment deals with attitude and motivation. Even if an individual secretly rejects God's standard and way in his heart and lusts after something he cannot or will not lawfully possess or do, then eventually, this mental rebellion will break out in sin. Action will manifest what the mind has been doing all along.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Tenth Commandment

Ephesians 5:27

The problem of sin is in man's thinking, which is why God says the problem is in the heart—in the mind. Humans are limited to thinking what is in their minds. If we have God's Word in our minds—along with the Holy Spirit—then there is a good chance that our minds will begin to change, to become circumcised, as it were—to be purified, to become holy as God is holy. God says, "My thoughts are higher than yours, better than yours—greater than the east is from the west." Yet, we have to take steps in that direction to begin thinking as He does.

A person who is not holy will not see God because they will not think as He does. Along the same lines, He will not recognize Himself in any of them! So, until the heart is changed, nothing will change. The change begins by taking in the Word of God on a daily basis and applying it in our lives.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part Eight)


 




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