We often start a new year with many goals. We may have promised that the things we did not accomplish in the previous year, we will do in the next year. Somehow it just seems a good time to make a list of goals as we anticipate a fresh start.
These goals usually describe our behavior—personal and professional.
The list may include items such as I will spend more time studying, or I will keep a more faithful record of my appointments, or I will spend more time with my family, or I will more carefully monitor the church programs. You know the lists, and you know what often happens—either we get discouraged or we become too busy to refer to the goals. When the next year comes, we start all over.
Maybe you should resist the temptation to make a long list of goals—maybe you should have just one goal on your list. You may think that task too easy, but before you reach that conclusion, please continue reading. I believe that the depth and breadth of this goal will give each of you a sufficient challenge. At the end of this editorial you can decide if that one goal is sufficient or if you need to make a longer list.
A unique commandment
We are familiar with the Ten Commandments and no doubt even refer to them in our preaching and teaching.
The first, second, and third address our relationship with God—certainly foundational to our spiritual life. The fourth gives us the gift of the Sabbath and reminds us of God, our Creator.
The fifth contains promises for those of us who honor our elders. The sixth, seventh, eighth, and ninth address issues of life: marriage, respect of that owned by others, and the value of truthfulness.
Now read the tenth commandment— different from the first nine. The first nine address our behavior—that which others can observe—the tenth addresses our thoughts.
The tenth commandment, “You shall not covet . . .” (Exod. 20:17) reaches into the depths of our thoughts and motives. Coveting can be practiced and even enjoyed without others knowing what’s going on. Even in the historical context, the tenth commandment differs, for “most [ancient] codes went no further than the deed, and a few took speech into account, but none proposed to regulate the thoughts.”1 Or as James Londis writes concerning the tenth commandment, it “penetrates the outer layer of actions into the motives underneath them.”2 According to the Bible, God focuses on the inner person (cf. 1 Sam. 16:7; 1 Kings 8:39; 1 Chron.
28:9; and numerous sayings from Jesus, such as found in Matt. 5:8, 28; 15:18).
“The tenth commandment strikes at the very root of all sins, prohibiting the selfish desire, from which springs the sinful act.”3 This statement of Ellen White reminds us of the critical role of the tenth commandment.
The tenth commandment refers to our character—that very basic feature that drives our actions. It is possible to covet—position, person, honor—without our outward actions revealing what we are coveting. We can talk humbly, “No, I have no interest in that position,” while our thoughts focus on the best way of getting that position. Sometimes even outward humility becomes driven by an inner coveting. This commandment addresses a basic and critical aspect of our humanity—who we are and what we really desire.
The needed Savior
It’s easy to covet. After all, who will know? William Barclay writes that “Man,” and may I add, ministers, “will always covet something.” But we should not despair because, Barclay continues, “It is only when Jesus Christ reigns within his heart that the desire for the wrong will be eradicated and the desire for the good will be the dynamic of life.”4 God always gives us hope, with that hope available to each person. That’s the good news for the new year. We who preach the Word of God often remind our hearers that the Savior is available to them. But this promise was written for us also, and that news is wonderful.
The one item on the list
What will be that one item on your list for 2007? Let’s list “our character” as that one item—who are we? Once we answer the “who are we?” then the “what we do” will follow more naturally.
So, I invite you to go into the new year with a short list and with the Lord Jesus Christ.
1 Francis D. Nichol, ed., The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, vol. 1 (Washington, DC: Review and Herald® Publishing Association, 1970), 607.
2 James Londis, God’s Finger Wrote Freedom (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald® Publishing Association, 1978), 110.
3 Ellen G. White, Sons and Daughters of God (Washington, DC: Review and Herald® Publishing Association, 1955), 65.
4 William Barclay, The Ten Commandments for Today (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1974), 199.