Dr. Ray E. Heiple, Jr.
Seeking the Good of Others From the Heart
Let no one seek his own good, but each one the good of his neighbor.
1 Corinthians 10:24NKJV
Question 147 of the Larger Catechism asks, “What are the duties required in the tenth commandment?” It gives the answer, “The duties required in the tenth commandment are, such a full contentment with our own condition, and such a charitable frame of the whole soul toward our neighbor, as that all our inward motions and affections touching him, tend unto, and further all that good which is his.” Last time we saw how of all of the commandments only the tenth explicitly and exclusively addresses the heart as the seat of sin. Today we consider those good motions of the heart prescribed by the tenth commandment.
The word covet simply means to have a strong desire for something. The desire indicated by this word is not necessarily in and of itself sinful, but it can in fact be a good thing or for good things. So Jesus declared to His disciples that many prophets and righteous people desired to see one of the days of the Messiah but in the sovereignty of God they were not permitted to (Matt. 13:17). Jesus Himself spoke of His strong desire to eat the Passover meal with His disciples before His passion (Luke 22:15). Therefore, it is not wrong to have strong desires. The tenth commandment, however, specifically speaks of the kind of desire to our neighbor that it is not appropriate to have: “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife… nor anything that is your neighbor’s.” Yet, before we look at those sinful desires explicitly forbidden, we do well to consider those good desires, which are by implication here commanded.
When it comes to fulfilling the duty to our neighbor required by this commandment, we must cultivate the self-control that begins with contentment. We must be content with what God has sovereignly appointed for us to have. Now this contentment does not mean that we should not aspire to accomplish greater things in our lives; not at all! But it does mean that when we have exerted our best efforts and received all that we will lawfully receive for them, we will rest satisfied with that. We will not look at what others have received for doing better and long to have what they have earned. No, we will be content in what we were able lawfully and fairly to achieve.
Second, we must cultivate “a charitable frame of the whole soul toward our neighbor.” This means that once we have become content with what we have, we will look at what our neighbor has and we will genuinely be happy for him. Further, this happiness must be from our whole soul, which means it must be from our whole heart. It is not a half-hearted happiness. It is sincere. So for example, if I do not do well enough to go to that prestigious school or earn that lead position and my neighbor does (assuming everything was done legitimately), as a Christian I must not only be content with what I was able to achieve for myself but I must even be happy for what my neighbor was able to achieve for himself. Too oftentimes parents will covet achievements for their children which they have not earned; valuing the things of this world more than righteousness; and so they will go behind the scenes to seek unfair advantages for their children: pressuring teachers and administrators into giving them grades, positions, or roles beyond what their skills deserve. Such wicked manipulation of the system shows a shocking hatred towards those other children and parents whom they are actually robbing.
On the contrary, a truly charitable spirit toward our neighbor is not one that would seek to rob him, but as the Catechism teaches is one in which, “all our inward motions and affections touching him, tend unto, and further all that good which is his.” The man who really loves God, desires from the heart the good of his neighbor and would see his good increased if he can. He does not long to take it from him but on the contrary longs to see more come to him. What else is this attitude than simply to love our neighbors as we love ourselves, to want for our neighbors what we want for ourselves? May our good God grant us all such hearts as would truly seek to not covet from but to covet for the good of our neighbors. And may God be glorified as we do!