Common Thoughts That Lead to Consuming Passions

Exodus 20:17

Dear Friends in Christ,

   The human body…a subject that I have to confess has fascinated me ever since I took an anatomy and physiology course in college. It is a masterpiece of intelligent design.  It is amazing how all of its different parts – heart, lungs, kidneys, liver, muscles, bones, nerves, skin, and so on all work in such incredible harmony with each other.  But the one part of the body that has captivated me more than any other is this 3 pound lump of corrugated tissue called the brain.  While the brain is sometimes compared to a computer, there is a major difference between them.  And that is that while a computer is hard-wired with the information it contains, the brain has been designed to change.  It is flexible, adaptable, and enables us to acquire new skills, learn new information, and create new memories.  It does this through what are called neurons which are cells whose specialty is to conduct electrochemical impulses that enable you to experience your 5 senses of taste, touch, smell, sight, and hearing.  An adult brain has around 100 billion neurons, and just one of those can make tens of thousands of connections with other neurons.  Indeed, a study of the human brain bears incredible testimony to what David wrote in the 139th Psalm when he declared that we are fearfully and wonderfully made.

   And it is this brain that we’ve just been talking about that serves as the source and seedbed of all our thoughts.  And I cannot emphasize enough with you how important that is because according to the Bible, we are what we think.  Now you’ve probably heard the saying that we are what we eat and that is true to a certain extent.  The food that we ingest has a significant impact upon our physical well-being.  But the thoughts that we ingest, the thoughts that we allow to percolate in our brains, can have an even greater impact upon our spiritual lives.  Like Prov. 23:7 says: “As [a man] thinks in his heart, so is he.” And that is why God set aside the final 2 commandments of the 10 Commandments to focus upon our thought life.  The 9th Commandment is “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house” and seems to deal primarily with inanimate or non-living things while the 10th Commandment – “You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor” – seems to focus upon more upon animate or living things.  So as we draw my “Straight Talk for Crooked Lives” sermon series on the 10 Commandments to a close today, we want to spend some time talking about our thoughts and the impact they have upon our lives as individuals, our relationships with others, and especially our relationship with God.

   Now before we jump into the meat of my message, it’s probably a good idea to define for you what it means to covet.  And according to my computer Thesaurus, that word means to desire, to want, to long for, to yearn for, to crave.  Now I always like to explain to my Confirmation classes that this word can be used in a positive sense.  For example, it’s certainly not wrong to covet a better knowledge of the Bible or a stronger faith or the prayers of God’s people when you’re facing a tough or challenging time in your life.  But coveting becomes wrong when we find ourselves longing for things that God apparently doesn’t want us to have, at least at this time, because he has not given them to us.  And things really go bad when that strong desire moves us to act in sinful ways to attain what we are wanting.  So let’s begin by talking about some of the common thoughts people have these days that lead to consuming passions.

   The first of those thoughts is that more will be enough.  When millionaire J. Paul Getty was once asked how much money he really needed to be satisfied, he gave a sly smile and said, “About one million more.”  My friends, more is never enough, no matter how much we have.  And perhaps nobody illustrated this better for us than the King himself, not King David or King Solomon, though Solomon has a lot to say about this in his books of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes.  Rather, I’m talking about this King, the King of Rock and Roll, Elvis Presley.  Did you know that Elvis had 3 jets, 2 Cadillacs, a Rolls Royce, a Lincoln Continental, 2 station wagons, a jeep, a custom touring bus, and 3 motorcycles?  The King could get around, couldn’t he?  His favorite car was a 1960 Cadillac limousine.  The body of this vehicle was sprayed with 40 coats of specially prepared paint that included crushed diamonds.  Nearly all the metal trim was plated with 18 carat gold.  There were 2 gold plated telephones on either end of this limo – keep in mind this was 1960, long before the days of cell phones.  He also kept a gold vanity case in this car containing a gold electric razor, gold hair clippers, an electric shoe buffer, a gold plated television, a record player, an amplifier, an air conditioner, a refrigerator that could make ice in 2 minutes, and an electrical system for operating every household appliance that he had in this car.  But if you know anything about Elvis, you know that all this stuff that he thought would be enough wasn’t enough.  He battled severe depression for much of his career for which he took lots of medication and he died a very unhappy man.   

   So more is never enough.  The only thing that this way of thinking produces is drivenness.  If you have this size house, that may do you for a while, but hey, we live in America, so what’s the next step?  A larger house.  If you drive this car now, a bigger, better, and more expensive one is what you typically look for the next time you buy.  If you have this job, you want this promotion.  If you have x-amount of money, x-amount of fame, x-amount of trophies, it’s never enough.  And so you push yourself, you drive yourself, you overwork yourself thinking that if you can just make enough money to afford all these things, then that will be enough.  But it never is.  It’s a lie that is spawned in the pit of hell by none other than the father of lies, Satan himself.  And it is destroying people and homes and families and businesses at an alarming rate today.

   The 2nd type of thought we have today that leads to consuming passions is what I’ll call when/then thinking.  When I’m out of school, then I’ll be happy.  When I’m married to the girl or guy of my dreams, then I’ll be happy.  When I have a child of my own, then I’ll be happy.  When I get this weight off or I’m stronger or sexier, then I’ll be happy.  When I make the starting team, when I get that part in the school play, when I get a good job, then I’ll be happy.  Or here’s the biggie that people my age are starting to think about: When I finally retire and drop out of the rat race, then I’ll be happy. 

   When/then thinking – so common and yet so fruitless and so futile for while the “more will be enough” thinking produces drivenness, this type of thinking produces disillusionment.  Solomon, the wisest man to ever live next to Christ himself, wrote about this type of thinking in the book of Ecclesiastes.  And I might add, he wrote from personal experience.  As we heard before in our Old Testament reading:

“I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure…Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.”  That’s what you call experiencing disillusionment in a big way and all because of when/then thinking. 

   Then one more type of thought we have that leads to consuming passions is what I’ll call success is how I’m doing compared to others.  In other words, the way I measure my own personal success is by comparing myself to others.  I’m almost embarrassed to admit this, but I was notorious for this throughout all my years of schooling.  Whenever we took a test, I couldn’t wait to get out of there to see how the others felt it went for them.  And if they talked about how hard it was and gave indications that they didn’t do very well on it, I would commiserate with them on the surface while deep down in my heart I was rejoicing because maybe I didn’t think it was so tough and it appeared as though I probably did better than they did.  And then when the graded tests were handed back, I’d be peeking over my classmates’ shoulders to see what they got or just flat out asking them so that I could compare my grade to theirs.  And if I found that one of them did better than I did, I’d get all discouraged and depressed.  I know – that was pretty sick, wasn’t it?  I admit it.  But this comparison game is a game that we’ve all played at some time or another.  Why can’t I have a body like hers?  Why can’t I have muscles like him?  Why can’t I have a job or an income or a home or a car or you name it like he or she has.  And you know what this leads to?  While the “more will be enough” mindset leads to drivenness and the “when/then” way of thinking leads to disillusionment, the “success is how I’m doing compared to others” thought pattern leads to dissatisfaction because I guarantee that no matter how smart you are, there is someone smarter.  No matter how beautiful or handsome you are, there is someone more beautiful or more handsome.  No matter how rich you are, there is someone richer.  And that realization produces dissatisfaction which in turn leads to coveting – wanting, desiring, or I like the word craving what others have.

   So how are you doing in regard to these final 2 commandments?  Are you allowing your life to be governed, maybe even dictated by the thought patterns we’ve looked at today?  Are you constantly wanting more, yearning for more, pursuing more, thinking that will be enough?  Do you ever find yourself thinking that if you could just get your hands on this or that, then you would be happy?  Or are you caught up in the comparison game, measuring your success by what others are doing?  Violating these 2 commandments on coveting is so easy, isn’t it?  And that’s why I’m so thankful that we have a God who has made forgiveness for our sins so easy.  Not that it was easy for the One who earned that forgiveness for us.  For it cost him his perfect home in heaven where he was worshiped and adored by countless throngs of angels as the 2nd Person of the Trinity.  It cost him the rejection by his fellow human beings and even his own family members.  It cost him unjust and untold suffering at the hands of sinful men who beat him, mocked him, spit on him, scourged him, and then crucified him.  It cost him the desertion by his friends and the abandonment by his own Heavenly Father.  But he was willing to pay the price, no matter how steep it was, so that our sins of coveting and all the other sins we’ve looked at in regard to the 10 Commandments could be paid for and we could live free and forgiven lives here on this earth until we can join him in the eternal life that he is even now preparing for us. 

   So, my friends, if you’re going to covet anything, covet a much closer, much deeper, much more intimate relationship with this Jesus whom we call Savior and you will discover what so many others have found throughout the centuries, namely, that nothing and no one can bring greater satisfaction, contentment, or fulfillment than he can, both here in time and hereafter in eternity.  Amen.