November 16, 2018

Covetousness

By Jady W. Copeland

In our first two articles we set the stage for the remaining lessons by showing that, (1) The mission of Christ in the world and his purpose for us while we live here is spiritual in nature -- namely, the salvation of souls, and (2) God is the master of our lives and controls all that the Christian does. We are the "servant of him whom we obey" (Rom. 6:16).

At the very root of being "possessed by our possessions" is the sin of covetousness, which is idolatry. In Colossians 3:5 Paul writes, "Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry." Idolatry is the worship of a false God, and the Hebrew word involved the idea of vanity or emptiness. An idol is nothing, except as one builds up a "god" in his own imagination. When Paul went to Athens, he found a "city given over to idols" (Acts 17:16). An idol is nothing; it deserves no worship from reasonable and sensible men. When Paul saw the idols he aught men of the true God, not an imagined one that had no power. He taught of the Creator. He spoke of One from whom all men of earth came; of One in whose image man is made.

Men make images and believe they represent the real "god" that has power -- but in reality, there is nothing but the statue and the imagination in the idolator's mind.

One of the Ten Commandments of the law was, "Thou shalt not covet" (Exod. 20:17). Covetousness is "to fix the desire upon" and it is right or wrong depending on the object of that desire. The desire to worship a god other than the Creator (Jehovah) and the exercise of that desire (worshipping the idol) is wrong.

One of the pre-requisites of discipleship is that "No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other or else he will hold to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon" (Matt. 6:24). Covetousness has its roots in selfishness, and unlawful desire for something that will serve me. In the parable of the rich fool (Lk. 12:130, Jesus refused to be a civil judge regarding the settling of the brothers' inheritance but he warned them about covteousness. I believe it is very significant when he said, "a man's life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses" (v. 15). Man's life here is honoring and serving God our Maker, not making money. Our economy, our way of life and ease of living have caused us, perhaps, to rationalize that we need much more than we really do, and having convinced ourselves that we need a certain standard of living the man will get two jobs (and neglect his duty to God), and the woman will leave her place as ruler of the household to join the work force because "we need the money to make a living" when in reality it is to maintain the standard of living to which she has been accustomed. But now note verse 21 in this parable: "So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God." Note the contrast -- treasure for himself -- not God. Yes, I believe covetousness is rooted in selfishness.

While we will not try to enumerate all of them here, think of the sins that come out of covetousness. But Paul spells out one very plainly: "For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows" (1 Tim. 6:10, NKJV). James MacKnight's comments are noteworthy here: "I have spoken thus sharply against covetousness, because the love of money is the root of all the sinful passions and actions of men; as may be seen in the false teachers, some of whom eagerly desiring money, have wholly corrupted the doctrine of the gospel, and have pierced themselves all around with many sorrows, occasioned by the stings of conscience, and the fears of punishment" (MacKnight on the Epistles IV:261-262). A good question for each of us is, "Am I really satisfied with the material possessions which God has given me?" (1 Tim. 6:6)

Discontentment and anxiety over material things argues for little faith on one's part. Let's notice a few of the points Jesus made as recorded in Luke 12:22-34. First a simple command, ". . . do not worry about your life, what you will eat; nor about the body, what you will put on" (v. 22). To enforce this and make it understandable to all, he gave two illustrations with which the people were familiar. God said the ravens and the lilies are well taken care of by God (who would deny it?) and man is greater than either. Will not God take care of you? Why would one think otherwise? Jesus answers, "0 ye of little faith!" Does that concern you? It should concern us when we worry about the necessities when we know God takes care of the lilies and birds.

Then in verse 25 Jesus drives another point home: the utter uselessness of worrying about material things. It does no good. Now notice verse 26: "If you then are not able to do that thing which is least (add to your stature, JWC), why are you anxious for the rest?"

In conclusion (and getting back to the principle point), we either serve one god (mammon) or another (Jehovah, our Maker). We cannot serve both. If I place my trust in mammon, what does that say about my faith in God? Does it not say I have more faith in materialism than in the one who created material things? Jesus gave the answer to this problem as recorded by Mark in chapter 10:17-31 -- please turn and read this in context. But let's make this final point: The rich young man "went away grieved" (NKJ) because he was rich. Jesus then gets to the very heart of the matter when he said, "Children, how hard it is for those who trust in riches to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God" (vv. 24-25). Neither is possible -- one who trusts in riches can't go to heaven -- he has the wrong god -- any more than a camel can go through a needle's eye. One cannot be saved serving mammon -- he must serve God -- the very Creator of the things we use to honor him.

Guardian of Truth XXXVII: 4, p. 18-19
February 18, 1993

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