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TEXT: I Corinthians 6:9-11
SUBJECT: The Cure for Covetousness
A few weeks ago a couple of friends and I were discussing the same-sex marriage debate, and what it might mean to society at large, and the Church in particular. We all agreed that same-sex marriage is wrong, but I wondered, with all the other sins in the world, why it is singled out for special alarm. Why do so many Christians foam at the mouth at homosexuality and yawn at the other sins on the list?
Fornication, idolatry, adultery, theft, covetousness, drunkenness, reviling and extortion.re
My friend said, 'Because the government is not trying to legalize extortion and make us all believe it's a good thing! He's right, of course: the government, the media, the schools, and big business are not pushing extortion. Thank God for small favors!
But sodomy and extortion are not the only items on the list, and one of them-in particular-is being pushed a lot harder than same-sex marriage ever has been or ever will be. Re-read Paul's list of unrighteous things that exclude us from the Kingdom of God, and you'll know which one I have in mind-
Covetousness is not a word we use very often outside of church, and with good reason: it is so common, we don't notice it. When was the last time you thought about 'oxygen'? Well, if you suffer from respiratory disease you've thought of it often, but if you don't, it never crosses your mind. Because it's everywhere!
Covetousness is like oxygen. Everyone you know is affected by it, and a good many of them are under its lordship. Instead of saying, 'under its control', I used a religious word, because that's what covetousness is-a religious thing. Paul hints at it here and spells it out in Colossians 3-
Put to death your members who are on the earth.covetousness, which is idolatry.
Do you need proof that covetousness is common? You really don't, but I offer four examples of it anyway, and I think they provide more than anecdotal evidence.
Almost fifty years ago, my dad and I spent every Sunday afternoon walking in the park. I remember being so little I couldn't hold his hand, but I sure hung on to his finger! That's what I did when I was a boy. Where do kids spend their Sunday afternoons today? At the mall, of course, with their friends, either buying things or wishing they had the money to buy them.
A hundred years ago, business was done on this model: Find a need or desire and market a product to meet it. If a man needs to keep his head dry, sell him a hat. If a woman wants to have a small waistline, sell her a corset. Marketing met existing needs and desires. Today, it is the other way around. Marketing now creates the desire. It makes one feel inadequate if he doesn't have the fastest laptop or phone with the most apps!
For people of my parents' generation, nothing stands out in their memory like December 7, 1941, a day that will live in infamy. As the sun rose that Sunday morning, the Japanese Imperial Navy attacked Pearl Harbor and sent many of our ships to the bottom of the sea. No one that age can forget where he was when he heard the news.
Younger people remember another attack, September 11, 2001. Hijacked planes were flown into the World Trade Center, and-before the eyes of a stunned nation-the great towers crashed to earth. Rudolph Giuliani was the mayor of New York at that time, and I'll never forget what he said at the foot of the burning skyscrapers-
As far as I know, Franklin Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln were not Christian men, but it's hard to imagine them saying such a thing in times of national crisis. They called for prayer and fasting, hard work and courage. The best our leaders can come up with now is, 'Find your bliss in buying things!'
Instead of being denounced as a fool for what he said, the mayor of New York was hailed for his leadership and pushed into the race for President.
Turn on your Christian radio or TV station, and it won't be long till you find pastors preaching Christ-not as Lord and Savior-but as a means to your own selfish ends. Jesus will make you rich-that was the message of Rev. Ike back in the day, and of Joel Osteen today.
Covetousness is everywhere, including this room, your soul, and mine. It's 'the spirit of the age' which Paul equates with-
Principalities, powers, rulers of the darkness of this world and spiritual wickedness in high places.
It's easy to say 'covetousness is all around us', but what what are we talking about? What is covetousness? I'll start with the customary definition and then move on to a truer one.
For most of us, a covetous person is anyone who has or wants more than I do. If I drive a Ford and you have a Lexus, you're covetous. But if I get a raise at work and buy a Lexus of my own, the man who has the Bentley is covetous. But if my stocks split, and I can afford a Bently, then the man who drives a Ferrari is covetous. And if I get the Ferrari, anyone who owns a jet is covetous, and then a space shuttle, and I don't know, maybe a time machine!
You get the point: covetousness is wanting or having more than I do. Though nobody says it out loud, this is how most of us feel.
But of course, this is not the Bible's use of the word. The word means 'wanting more', in other words, not being thankful or content with what you have. So, back to the cars: Is it sinful to want a Lexus instead of a Ford? No it is not. Unless you're not thankful or content with the car you can presently afford.
If you cannot afford a thing it is sinful to want it. And, if you can afford it, but only by ignoring the claims of the Kingdom, your wanting is covetous. Can you hope some day to afford a Lexus-or a Time Machine? Sure you can, there's nothing wrong with that, but only if you're first thankful for the old junker that's dripping oil on the street as we speak!
This is what covetousness truly is: a desire for things that is not consistent with loving God or your neighbor. Oh, you'd like to support the church, give to missions, help the poor, and show hospitality, but you can't because every penny you've got-and then some-is tied up in things you don't need.
Schools ought to teach foreign languages, because they provide us a different way of thinking, another angle to look at life. But let's face it, most of us took Spanish or French or German in high school, and have hardly retained a word of it. If you're like me-not good at foreign tongues-let me offer another way of getting to the same place. Read old books in English. People in 1910 looked at things differently than we do, no less people who lived in 1810 or 1010!
The Medieval Church drew up a list of the seven deadly sins, showing their views of evil. At the top of their list was, in Latin-
In is normally translated, 'lust' and to our ears, has a sexual feel to it. This, I think, is included in the word: but take a closer listen-luxuria-is where we get our word, 'luxury' and stands for excess or extravagance. This is what it really means. When applied to money and what it can buy, it means living for things more than living for God and neighbor. The Church of the Middle Ages saw this as our gravest sin-and not the things conservative American Christians are always getting worked up about!
If covetousness is so serious a matter, why do we so seldom think about it, feel guilty about it, or hear sermons about it? I've already told you one reason: it is so woven into our culture and lives we don't notice it.
This, however, is not the only reason we let it go. If it's hard to see your own sins, it's even harder to confess them. To call some of our ambitions and dreams and wishes what they really are is not easy. Especially when we can call them something else, like 'prudence', 'drive', and 'enjoying God's good creation'.
And then, for preachers, there's the fear of legalism. If I say, 'A Subaru is good enough for me!', who's to stop the next man from saying, 'A Hyundai is good enough for me!', and the next, 'A bike is good enough for me!', and the next, 'My feet are good enough for me!' Can any of this be proven from the Bible? If it can't be, how can we preach it with a good conscience?
And so, we say nothing at all.
Till we come across the word 'covetousness' and the men who lived by it in the Bible. Then we've got to say something, but it becomes vague and meaningless.
What can we say to covetousness?
We can say, 'Don't spend more than you make', and there's wisdom here, but not all spending is the same. Spending $10,000 on a funeral is not the same as spending the same money on a week in Tahiti. 'Live modestly' is also good advice, but, most covetous people do that already: they're not lusting for yachts, they want a minivan! 'Let me put you on a budget and hold you to it?'-that's meddling, won't work, and guarantees only a lost friendship.
What do we say to covetousness? We say the Gospel!
Why do people lust for what they don't have and buy what they don't need and cannot afford? The Bible tells us why, Ecclesiastes 3:11-
God has put eternity in our hearts.
Pascal describes it as a 'God-shaped hole' in our hearts, and had we never fallen, we would have put into the hole the only thing that fills it-God. But we did fall into sin, and now man's eternal quest for God becomes an eternal quest for something that to satisfy us rather than the only thing that can!
The word I'm looking for is idolatry. We are inescapably religious, and if we don't worship the One True God we will worship something else, and at the top of that list is Money and What it Buys. Our Lord warned us of this, but most of us haven't listened-
No man can serve two masters, for either he will love the one and hate the other, or else he will hold to one and despise the other: you cannot serve God and Mammon!
Mammon is an open-minded sort of god. If you serve him six days a week, he won't mind you giving your Sundays to the Lord. The Lord, however, is a jealous God and will not share His glory with anyone else!
I knew a man several years ago who was dating a woman who was very much in love with him. But when she found out he had not cut all ties with his previous girlfriend, she laid down the law: either she goes or I do! What do you think of this woman? Was she jealous and insecure? Or did she love the man? She loved the man, and expected the same in return (which he gave her, by the way, and they lived happily ever after). The Lord is like the lady in my story. If we want to be His, then be His-His alone, and no one else's.
The only god who can win us away from Mammon is the Lord. He does this with His own love as seen in the Gospel and all it means.
Why do people who have enough want more? Because the things they want promise to make them somebody. And there's the rub: only the Lord can make you somebody! And by His Gospel, He has done it! He's made us children of God, a kingdom of priests, and bearers of the Divine Image. If you believed this, you wouldn't go shopping for who you want to be.
People also buy what they don't need out of anxiety or depression or boredom. The Gospel speaks to these too. The vague fear some of us feel every day is dispelled in light of the cross and empty tomb. Jesus was-
Delivered for our offenses,
And raised again for our
The Gospel also gives us something to do when there's nothing to do but shop online and buy things we cannot pay for. We can praise and thank the Lord at home; we can celebrate His victory over the powers of hell at church, and we can announce His Kingdom to our friends and invite them into it.
SHAME AND HOPE
You're never going to shame yourself or others into contentment. Nothing is less satisfying that telling myself what a rotten man I am because I'm not satisfied!
What you've got to do is place your hopes in the Gospel, and let it breed its own contentment and gratitude. Then you'll sing with the Psalmist-
Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is none upon earth that
I desire but you?
But flesh and my heart fail,
But God is the strength of my
Heart and my portion forever.
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