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COVETOUSNESS: FLEE FROM IT

BishopLent invites us to examine our lives and to have a closer walk with the Lord. Certain things we engage ourselves in and ignore them as sin because it’s trivial to us. One of such acts is covetousness.  In this article I want to draw your attention to the sin of covetousness, so if it has a place in your life you say goodbye to it and open a new page with the Lord.

What then is this sin of COVETOUSNESS? It is a discontent with what we have and an intense desire for something else, something we believe will make us happy or satisfied. As lust, it is often a legitimate desire carried to the point of idolatry which worships the thing lusted for.

It is considered to be a very grievous offense in Scripture. The tenth commandment forbids coveting anything that belongs to a neighbor, including his house, his wife, his servants, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to him (Exodus 20:17). Jesus listed covetousness or greed along with many of the sins from within, including adultery, theft, and murder, which make a person unclean (Mk. 7:22 ). Paul reminded the Ephesians that greed or covetousness is equated with immorality and impurity, so that these must be put away (5:3). A covetous or greedy person is an idolator (5:5) and covetousness is idolatry (Col 3:5). James warns that people kill and covet because they cannot have what they want (4:2 ).

Covetousness, therefore, is basic to the commandments against murder, adultery, stealing, and lying. Those who accept bribes are coveting, leading to murder (Eze22:12). Coveting a neighbor's wife is a form of adultery (Exodus). Achan admitted to coveting a robe and silver and gold, so he stole them, which was a sin against the Lord (Jos 7:20-22).

The Root of Covetousness

Covetousness has its root in discontent, i.e. seeking our happiness, peace, and well being in the details of life (money, position, power, possessions). But this is mirage which can never be fulfilled and which always escapes us, for only God can give us true happiness and meaning in life. This does not mean the things we grasp won’t give some degree of temporary joy or security or meaning to life. But God tells us in Scripture that if we have food, raiment and shelter, we are to be content (1 Tim. 6:8; Prov. 30:7-9).

The ultimate or root cause of covetousness, therefore, is our failure to pursue godliness and the Lord as our secret source of joy, meaning, stability for life and security (Phil 3:7f; 4:10-13; Matt 6:33; 1 Tim 6:6-12).

Forms of Covetousness

Two key passages stress this as a warning to us:

Luke 12:15 And He said to them, “Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions.”

Romans 7:7-8What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, “You shall not covet.” 8 But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind; for apart from the Law sin is dead.

The subtlety of this is seen in the false motives that can drive a person in ministry. We can labor in Christian service out of a spirit of covetousness for things such as: applause (how do I do?), appearance (how do I look?), status (how important am I?), reputation, power, recognition, as well as for money and possessions and pleasure.

Negative Effects of Covetousness

Scripture warns us about the devastating consequences of covetousness in 1Timothy 6:6-12 and 17-19. The love of money refers to the sin of covetousness. As such, covetousness becomes the root--the source of all sorts of evil. Furthermore, covetousness blinds. Not only does it deceive us, but it will harden us against the Lord if we do not deal with it. 

In the deluded belief that things can give security, satisfaction, and significance, it also hardens the soul. Consequently, a further product, as seen with Gehazi and Judas, is unfaithfulness, rationalization, criticism of others, and religiosity. It causes men to lie, steal, defraud, murder, commit adultery or fornication, and all kinds of evil, especially the neglect of spiritual values and priorities.

The rich fool was not a fool for harvesting abundant crops. He was a fool for letting his crops fill his horizon and determine his lifestyle. He was a slave to barns and grain, and seems to have had no interest in God. When God’s awful voice awakened him from his dreams saying, “Fool, this night your soul is required of you; and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” he had to leave his barns and enter the Presence naked. Had he sent anything on in advance? Jesus didn’t say. Presumably he had forwarded nothing. His heart was back among his mountains of grain.

There is not only a great delusion about the things we covet, but a subtle futility that is a part of Satan’s delusion that the things we covet will meet our need and make us happy. Surely, this is part of the message of Solomon in Ecclesiastes with his “futility of futilities.” This futility carries with it a stroke of serious irony. Why? Because it is full of surprises. Think about it for a moment. The things we value or treasure consistently prove false; efforts that should succeed in giving us whatever--happiness, security, satisfaction--come to failure; the pleasures we think will satisfy ironically just increase our thirst. 

Gehazi, the servant of Elisha, coveted the property of Naaman so much that he lied to get what he wanted from Naaman the leper (2 Ki 5:19-25) and was struck with leprosy. Proverbs warns that a covetous person brings trouble to his family (15:27). Thus covetousness is the root of all kinds of sins, so that Jesus gave the warning, "Be on your guard against all kinds of greed" (Luke 12:15).

This story of Gehazi is a sad story, but it is one which happens thousands of times every day, and in the lives of believers to one degree or another. It is a story that stands in strong contrast with the preceding passage where we saw Naaman healed of leprosy as he turned to God in simple faith. But here we see Gehazi struck with leprosy because he turned away from God to blur the truth of the free nature of salvation.

In one story, leprosy portrays sin in its universal scope as it falls upon all men. But in the story of Gehazi we see the specific sin of greed (covetousness and materialism) and the way it destroys the ministries of men  and women  and their capacity to serve the Lord.

In the story of Gehazi we see the process and consequences of greed or covetousness which always hinders godliness and godly service. It is the picture of religious hypocrisy, of failure to progress spiritually, of false values that destroy a man’s pursuit of righteousness, of human rationalization that seeks to find good reasons for a bad thing, of rebellion and insubordination to authority, of unfaithfulness or disloyalty, and of the process of regression or the downward spiral of sin.

In conclusion, the thrust of Jesus’ teaching does not deal with the virtues of poverty or the sin of riches. Rather he seeks to show us first the greater value of heavenly treasure and the folly of seeking earthly. Then,   he upbraids us with the unbelief which underlies our anxiety about our material needs.