COVETOUSNESS – TALK ABOUT AN ELEPHANT IN THE LIVING ROOM. WHO’S FIRST?

Let’s talk about covetousness. Ouch. I know you don’t want to – I don’t either. We Christian Americans (and undoubtedly, many other nationalities as well) all know this is a big one, but amazingly, we continue to ignore it. This behavior is dark and inexcusable. No matter how much we surround ourselves with excuses bathed in “wise words” and “profound insight” as to why we are indeed not covetous, and no matter how many examples we try to find in each other as proof that we are not guilty, that we are all okay, that we are actually radical (for shame), the sad and sinful truth is that we are being slowly and sadly crippled to death by this mountainous, slimy transgression. What is covetousness? Why do we engage in it so blindly? How do we stop?

Alright, let’s take ’em one at a time…

What is covetousness? Definitions bring clarity. So what does Webster say?

Covetous: 1 : marked by inordinate desire for wealth or possessions or for another’s possessions 2 : having a craving for possession <covetous of power>

synonyms covetous, greedy, acquisitive, grasping, avaricious mean having or showing a strong desire for especially material possessions. covetousimplies inordinate desire often for another’s possessions <covetous of his brother’s country estate>. greedy stresses lack of restraint and often of discrimination in desire <greedy for status symbols>. acquisitive implies both eagerness to possess and ability to acquire and keep <an eagerly acquisitive mind>. grasping adds to covetous and greedy an implication of selfishness and often suggests unfair or ruthless means <a hard grasping trader who cheated the natives>. avaricious implies obsessive acquisitiveness especially of money and strongly suggests stinginess <an avaricious miser>.

From “Easton’s 1897 Bible Dictionary”, the following stringent statements on idolatry… “…In the New Testament, the term idolatry is used to designate covetousness…The first and second commandments are directed against idolatry of every form. Individuals and communities were equally amenable to the rigorous code. The individual offender was devoted to destruction (Ex. 22:20). His nearest relatives were not only bound to denounce him and deliver him up to punishment (Deut. 13:20-10), but their hands were to strike the first blow when, on the evidence of two witnesses at least, he was stoned (Deut. 17:2-7). To attempt to seduce others to false worship was a crime of equal enormity(13:6-10). An idolatrous nation shared the same fate. No facts are more strongly declared in the Old Testament than that the extermination of the Canaanites was the punishment of their idolatry (Ex. 34:15, 16; Deut. 7; 12:29-31; 20:17), and that the calamities of the Israelites were due to the same cause (Jer. 2:17). “A city guilty of idolatry was looked upon as a cancer in the state; it was considered to be in rebellion, and treated according to the laws of war. Its inhabitants and all their cattle were put to death.” Jehovah was the theocratic King of Israel, the civil Head of the commonwealth, and therefore to an Israelite idolatry was a state offence (1 Sam. 15:23), high treason. On taking possession of the land, the Jews were commanded to destroy all traces of every kind of the existing idolatry of the Canaanites (Ex. 23:24, 32; 34:13; Deut. 7:5, 25; 12:1-3).   “idolatry.” Easton’s 1897 Bible Dictionary. 04 Mar. 2007. <Dictionary.com http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/idolatry>.

    Wow. 

Why do we do it? Well, obviously because we are all guilty, evil sinners.  But, let’s talk about factors that don’t help the fact that we were born with a sin nature. One of our problems is that we don’t realize how much our culture numbs us to the poison of covetousness. How does this happen?  Well, here are a few simple reasons: sentimentality, economic prosperity and forced commiseration. What does that mean?

Sentimentality: Sentiment is basically a thought influenced by or proceeding from feeling or emotion.  Sentimentality is a very, very strong influence on the human soul. Sentimentality can very easily and oftentimes be sinful because it is very powerful in determining the way we think about things, even when it is contrary to the Word of God. Oftentimes it is hard to tell that we are being swayed by sentiment, and frequently it leads to our misinterpretations of the Bible. Sentimentality pulls our soul towards it’s own conclusions.  In the case of covetousness, sentimentality holds us back from drawing hard conclusions from the Word about the desires of the flesh.

Economic Prosperity: Duh. This country has a lot of money. We have a lot of stuff. We are so used to the inordinate amount of things that are available for our consumption that we don’t even see it as sin.It is. Do you know why it seems to okay to buy a lot of things? Think about what you see when you go to Target. The purse section has roughly 200 purses.  You are standing there looking at 200 purses and you pick 1. You now have 1 purse in your cart juxtaposed against 200. Taking 1 seems okay because there are so many and you are only taking 1 of those so many purses. Then you go to the toothpaste aisle at Walmart. Now you are looking at about 200 tubes of toothpaste broken down into 20 different types, brands, flavors, etc. You take 1. Now, yes, we need toothpaste. The toothpaste aisle is a different story. It’s not the taking of 1 out of 100. It’s the fact that 20 different types of toothpaste does not strike us as problematic. It’s a huge problem, mainly a gigantic sin, because while millions are dying of starvation, thirst and disease, manufacturers in America are pumping money into producing orange-flavored toothpaste because the modern appetite of the American public is no longer satisfied by just mint.  Our raging appetite is an abomination. We are consuming the nations.  We have been given much, and seeing our brother in need, have shut up our heart from him.

Forced Commiseration: Our culture subtly forces us to conform to the sickness of the lust of the eyes and the lust of the flesh.  We are all required, by penalty of being socially ostracized, to say yes to our flesh. And the pace is sickening. Consumption has risen at an exponential rate over the last 60 years, which is one of the many reasons for the generation gap we experience today – for example, your grandparents probably still have the same microwave they had 30 years ago.* That’s because #1, it’s true, they used to build things to last, whereas today things are manufactured with built-in obsolescence – that’s right, you pay more today for a product that was designed to wear out about 60% sooner than in the 1950s.  Why?  Because the general population got money, manufacturers got smart, supply rates matched demand rates and suddenly we had options, which introduced the luxury of entertaining fickle appetites which resulted in more consumption and a higher turnover rate of purchases, meaning more sad articles thrown to the curb after a brief period of cherished use.  Manufacturers know you will want a newer, better, savvier, tastier article tomorrow, so why build something that will last?  You’ll pay the same amount for it because today you love it and think you will want to own it forever. A good example of that is the craze over video game systems.  People camped in front of Best Buys across the nations for PS2s when they first came out a few years ago and now you can buy one off of Craig’s list for $50.  Okay, back to the point. If you are still reading this, I am impressed. 🙂 The point is, we are told what to want, we are told what is normal, we are forced into the swirl of the flesh and our culture won’t take no for an answer.  You’re just plain weird if you don’t have or at least want stuff. I will not judge IHOP and I will not judge the Western church, but I will say that I’ve seen people at IHOP get ostracized for being too simple – just an observation that leaves me curious and open to commentary by anyone who feels they’ve got some light on it. What we don’t see is that it’s cancer – our culture is forcing us to join in the sickness or be kicked to the side.

How do we stop? Like all sin, we stop by experiencing Christ’s nature being formed within us.  What does that mean? It’s growing in faith that we have truly been given all that we need for life and godliness because Jesus died for us and sent us His Spirit. How do you grow in faith? You know the deal…faith without works is dead.  Our faith is outworked by making real decisions every day that allow a revelation of Christ to be expressed in us.  He died for us and we died with Him, our old sin nature being put to death with Him.  When He was raised from the dead, we were raised with Him. That is why we are now seated with Christ in heavenly places. Wait, we are?  I don’t get it. I don’t feel like it.  But I am. Really?  Yes and no. Now I’m really confused. Arg. You and me both. The Kingdom of heaven is here! But, not yet. Beloved, if we have faith that we have been given the nature of Christ, we should be outworking that faith somehow.  How is living a lifestyle of prayer and fasting, giving and serving, an expression of faith? This isn’t a trick question, but I simply propose that if you don’t know the answer to it, you figure it out.  Otherwise, you may end up tricking yourself into believing that you are earning something by your lifestyle, whatever it is. Prayer, fasting, giving, serving, are all expressions of faith.  So, you figure it out and tell me what you think…how does it all tie together?  Understanding this point is crucial. 

I’ll end with some verses that convict me every time I read them:

Colossians 3:5-6 “Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.  Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience…”

Ephesians 5:5 “For this you know, that no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.”

Hebrews 13:5 “Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have.”

1 Timothy 6:6-12 “Now godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. 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.  But you, O man of God, flee these things and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness. Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life…”

Funny story about a 30-year old microwave: the Microwave that my parents bought on Christmas day, 1977, suddenly broke (evidenced by the fact that it simply shut down and started emitting smoke) on Christmas day, 2006. That’s exactly 30 years to the day that the Microwave lasted.  I thought that was so weird. I was there when it happened and I felt like I was witnessing some sort of miracle.  Or anti-miracle?  It was just so bizarre.  I mean, 30 years to the day.

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  1. We didn’t have Christmas in 2007 yet. But it’s still 30 years even if it broke down on Christmas 2006.

    I like how you write this entire exposition on covetousness, and I comment only on the microwave.

  2. Ug…I’m going to edit it – thanks for pointing it out.

  3. Great post, Molly… and ouch. Very true stuff.

    And with that covetousness goes the ugly little sidekick of a spirit of entitlement…

  4. Good point…deadly combo. Also we could probably assume anger and lust are hanging around too…shudder.

  5. standonthewall

    wow Molly. you just reminded me that I have been having even stronger urges to have MORE things when I now have LESS money. Perhaps it is my last attempt to find comfort in things other than Jesus. How convicting.

  1. 1 It’s bad news when God starts out by saying, “Fool!…” « Meditations by Night

    […] Still plugging away on our Luke commentary. This parable jumped out at me in light of a recent post by the brillaint Molly Mosack dealing with the issue of covetousness. You should go read it if you […]




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