Since he had the afternoon off from his job, I asked my son to go to my mother’s and help with her bills. He bristled at the command and said he didn’t feel like going. (Just for the record, he later complied, like the son of parable who at first says no and then yes in Matthew 21:28-31.)
This initial resistance intrigued me, because my son often volunteers to visit my mother and engage her in a game of Scrabble with no prompting from me whatsoever. All factors seemed equal in this case—the free time, the love for his grandmother—and yet the attitude was markedly different.
It then dawned on me that there was one thing different, and it was precisely the voluntary aspect versus the command. When the idea to visit my mother originates with my son, it is a pleasing idea. But when it originated as a command from on high, suddenly another element entered the mix—the element of law. My son had nothing in particular to do with his afternoon and was moseying around the house aimlessly. But the command that he use his free time to visit his grandmother had the effect of making his free time something he coveted to keep to himself.
All of which brought to mind the following insight into human nature from the apostle Paul’s writing:
“But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness …” (Romans 7:8).
Here is a curious phenomenon indeed. Humans never want something so badly as when we are commanded to relinquish it. The truth of this is proved from the dawn of human history. We know for a fact that there were many trees in the garden of Eden, all of which Adam and Eve could partake of to their hearts’ content. But when one single tree was prohibited, this tree became the very one their desire fastened on. Satan, using the opportunity of the prohibition, worked on their minds to stir up desire, just as the verse from Romans above tells us.
Let us be on guard. Whether it's the arbor’s fruit or your neighbor’s wife, everything forbidden is tantalizing and appears to be better than it turns out to be. But the Lord has given grace to identify the pitfall and to overcome it:
“… Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 7:24).
“Stolen water is sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant. But he does not know that the dead are there, that her guests are in the depths of Sheol” (Proverbs 9:17-18).