What is covetousness? It is wanting something you don’t have and which God has not give you. Paul says it is “the love of money” (1 Timothy 6:10). It is also the last of the Ten Commandments: “Thou shalt not covet…” (Exodus 20:17). We might call it greed.
Covetousness can lead to all kinds of problems. Love of money causes people to forget God. It causes them to trust in their money rather than God. Money deceives people. It can even be a barrier to believing the Gospel – thinking that their wealth is a sign of God’s blessing. Loving money can cause people to lie, steal, cheat, and murder. It is linked to pride. Covetousness causes people to be unfaithful to God and ignore the needs of others. Jesus warned of the danger of covetousness.
Jesus was teaching His disciples to fear God alone and trust Him for everything (Luke 12:1-12), when a man interrupted with a request for Jesus to settle a family quarrel (Luke 12:13-14). Apparently, his older brother would not give him his part of the parents’ estate. He applied Jesus’ teaching to his brother, but not himself. Jesus could have settled the dispute, but refused. Many people want Jesus to solve their problems, but not change their hearts. Jesus knew that this family feud was only a symptom of a bigger problem. So He dealt with causes, not symptoms and told the parable about the rich fool.
And he said unto them, Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth. And he spake a parable unto them, saying, The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully: And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits? And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry. But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided? So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God. (Luke 12:15-21)
The key to this parable is verse 15: “a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.” The younger brother thought his troubles would be over if he received his inheritance. But things cannot make us happy. Life is more than receiving what we don’t have.
We may need to ask our self some questions to see if we are being influenced by the world’s values. Do we have a problem with covetousness?
This rich man saw his bumper crop, but did not see the hand of God, he only saw himself. There are 11 personal pronouns in this man’s speech to himself. He forgot he was not the owner, only the possessor and manager. All he had belonged to God.
Material blessings come from God. A person who looks at himself and forgets God is revealing pride. Material blessings are either a mirror in which we see ourselves or a window through which we see God. The proud selfish person thinks he deserves it. The person who knows blessings come from God is grateful to the Lord. When we look at what we have, do we think God or our self. Does it inflate our egos or do we feel greatly humbled? We enjoy the things of the world more when they draw us closer to God.
The self-centered person immediately thinks of enjoyment when he is blessed with material. The rich man said to himself, “Take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry” The spiritually-minded person thinks ‘How can I use these to help others and glorify God?”
There is nothing wrong with enjoyment. But selfish enjoyment ignores God and others. Things cannot give depth, breadth, or length to our lives. Real fulfilling life only comes from within. Godly character is not the result of accumulation of things but the result of living the life of Jesus in sacrifice. We can choose to waste our life, or spend our life, or invest our life in others.
People have the strange notion that things can give peace, when in reality things can create worry. You will notice that Jesus followed this parable with a sermon on worry. The poor think the rich never worry, yet the rich have worries that the poor never dream of. Whether rich or poor, if we find ourselves worrying, it is a sign that we have the wrong attitude. “What shall I do?” is the cry of the person who lives for the world’s values.
The cure for worry is to not let the world influence us. Stop living for things and start living for God (Luke 12:31). Nothing simplifies life like putting God first!
On the other hand, we must avoid the false peace that prosperity brings. “I have it made!” said the farmer. I can take it easy!” If your peace is based on temporary values, and not eternal values, you have a false peace.
A worldly-minded person looks at material things and immediately thinks of security. There is no security in things. The farmer was celebrating false success and enjoying false satisfaction. He said, “Soul, thou has much good laid up for many years!” That very night he died.
It is not sinful to provide for the future and God wants us to enjoy the blessings of life. But He does not want us to depend on things – He wants us to depend on Him.
It is all a matter of the heart. If we love God, surrender all to Him, and put Him first in our lives, then whatever temporary blessings we receive will draw us closer to Him. But if you realize that things and priorities of this world have pulled you further away from Jesus and His church, you need to turn back to Him. Don’t let anything pull you away from Jesus Christ.
So what can we do if we have a problem with covetousness? (And who dares say they don’t have a problem with it?)
First, when you are blessed with much, give generously. Our Lord does not reserve His strongest words for people blessed with wealth. He reserves His strongest words for those who are innately selfish and who hoard rather than give. And if you get more, give more. That doesn’t mean you have to give it all away. You can enjoy your money and share it.
Second, when you plan for the future, think terminally. The statistics on death are quite impressive. One out of one die. Plan with your own end in mind. You will realize that your mass of fortune—little or great—will simply become the property of those who did not work for it and who will not appreciate it nearly as much as you. Enjoy your possessions, but keep them in perspective. What will become of your things when you are gone?
Third, whether you have much or little, hold it loosely. Everything you have belongs to God. He owns it all. If you maintain that perspective, then your grip on things automatically loosens. And you begin to discover that God doesn’t care how much you have, whether a little or a lot; He simply wants your unquestioned devotion to Him.