BIBLE DIGEST - Number 59                                                                                                     May 1996


by Colin Drewitt

“Take heed, and beware of all covetousness; for a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions ” (Luke 12 15).

Covetousness is the “plague” sin of the modern church because it is not regarded by many people as a very bad sin.

A person knows when they are robbing a bank, committing fornication, or getting drunk; but covetousness is perhaps more sneaky than most sins because it creeps in and is able to hide amongst the general concerns of life, without easily being detected. In the gospel records Jesus describes it as the deceitfulness of riches

All of us draw back in horror from such sins as fornication, drunkenness, theft, stealing, idolatry, etc., because we know how God thinks about these deeds. Something that is often overlooked is the fact that covetousness is also regarded by God in the same light. Col 3:5. The fact is that many of these other sins have their roots in covetousness. Covetousness is the “Spring Board” for theft, adultery, fornication and a host of other evils.

The meaning of the word "covetous" is to eagerly desire, grasp after , or to be greedy for something that usually belongs to another person: and so it can be the sin of those with or without money. 

The sin does not necessarily relate to money or wealth . It can include other things such as other people's time. We read in Luke 18 that it was the downfall of the rich young ruler. It is also a scourge to those who don't think they have enough or who are discontented with what they do have. (Heb 13:5, 1Tim 6:6.-10, Phillip 4:11).

In the letter to the Ephesians Paul reminds us that covetousness is idolatry. That is why this sin is so evil. 

Instead of worshiping the Maker the man idolises money and possessions and makes them and the seeking of them more important than his seeking after God. See the man who would not make God his refuge but trusted in the abundance of his riches, and sought refuge in his wealth! (Psalm 52:7) 

Covetous men are unable to trust God because their trust is in their possessions which become their security, their comfort and their self esteem. They do not realise that riches do not profit on the day of trouble ” and “ he who trusts in his riches will wither.

In the story of the parable of the sower Jesus says that the seed that fell among the thorns is like “those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of this life, and their fruit does not mature." (Luke 8:14)

A man who seeks to be rich cannot bear the real fruits of righteousness; he cannot be a real child of God; for we are told by Jesus that we cannot serve God and mammon . The desire for riches is a temptation that plunges men into spiritual bankruptcy and so Jesus said "it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to inherit the kingdom of God". (Luke 18:25).

Stinginess and hoarding up possessions go hand in hand with covetousness. This is especially so if it is not shared with those in genuine need. Whether it be a church fund, or the savings of a private individual who sees a need and says to them “go in peace, be warmed and filled, without giving them the things needed for the body”. (James 2:14-17). 

Our surplus is not meant to be hoarded. Spiritually alert people will go to the secret place to find God's mind in order to invest their worldly wealth in heaven. "One man gives freely, yet grows all the richer; another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want". (Prov 11:24)

We all like to buy things. It is fun, and even exciting, to get a new car, or computer, or even a new house, if we can afford it. In the letter to the Romans, Paul, talking about sin, uses the phrase all kinds of covetousness. This sin of covetousness comes in many diverse forms and packages. 

We said earlier that Jesus spoke about the deceitfulness of riches. We need to guard ourselves against its many perverse variations.

Although this sin has its sneaky parts, those who really want to be free from its grip will learn to recognise the warning signs and symptoms. 

One of the major symptoms is discontentment; that niggly ungrateful dissatisfaction with possessions instead of deep contentment with what the Father give us to enjoy. 

“Keep your life free from the love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said he will never leave you or forsake you”. (Heb 13:5.) 

Then there is that grabbing "I want" attitude that must have it now instead of waiting for Gods leading in our decision to purchase that desired object. It may be something that is very necessary for our daily life, like replacing the car, a worn carpet, or a broken down computer. 

If that desired object is to be ours then we must learn to look at the creator rather than the created; to spend time in the quiet place and find His victory over “the lust of the eyes”. We must learn to wait for God's leading in our decision to purchase the things we think we need. Two men can buy a similar thing; one to use it in his service to God; the other to satisfy his own greedy desire.

We live in a plastic money society and to many Christians here lies the temptation to buy goods without having the money in the bank to pay for them. To buy now and pay later is a form of covetousness. "Owe no man any thing except to love one another". (Rom 13:8) .

If we have the money in the bank to pay our bills, but take advantage of the 30 days before we pay them, to gain perhaps a little more interest, this can be covetousness. Put yourself in the position of being owed money. Would you like somebody to be slow to pay you? “Do unto others as you would have then do unto you.”

If we are easily upset, anxious, or frustrated that we have lost or spent money on something which was a failure, this can be an expression of covetousness. 

If we buy something, pay a deposit and then see it cheaper elsewhere and cancel our first purchase so we can save ourselves $100, we become covenant breakers, who have NOT sworn to our own hurt, without changing . (Psalm 15:4) Many have done this without realising that such breaches of covenant also have their roots in covetousness. 

Spending a lot of time looking for and planning to buy something before we have the money, can be born of covetousness. At the very least we could be coveting time that might be better used in service to God.

Looking at the things that other people have and wishing they were yours; wanting more than God is prepared to let you have; grumbling about your wages; or just being plain greedy, all these things are born of a man with a covetous heart.

How are we set free from covetousness? We said earlier that those who want enough to be free from this sin, would find their way through. In Luke 18, after Jesus said "how hard it was for a rich man to inherit the kingdom", the disciples replied “Then who can be saved ?” Jesus said “ What is impossible with men is possible with God.”

It is the work of the Holy Spirit to convict us of sin and it is our responsibility to do something with that conviction; to desire to make the necessary changes in our lives with the strength that God supplies; “Putting to death what is earthly in you: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness”, (Col 3:5). It is a hard decision that a man must make in order to be a true child of God, for “Covetousness must not even be named among you , as is fitting among the saints.” (Eph 5:3) 

When we consider the life of Jesus we see a man whose whole aim in life was to please his Father. We see a selfless man who refused the treasures of this earth but who invested himself in heaven and drew upon the true riches of heaven, to redeem us from our selfish, covetous, humanity. He swapped places with us, taking the punishment that our sins deserved upon himself. He gave us a chance to make a fresh start with God and the opportunity to walk away from a life of sin, including our covetousness . We now have the chance to trade our silver and gold for the heavenly riches that only God can supply.

It comes with a cost. Are we prepared to pay the price and deny our selfish covetous natures and learn to take up our cross and follow him?

"For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing; not knowing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked........Therefore I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, that you may be rich.......He who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I myself conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne". (Rev 3:15-22).