Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Beware of Covetousness

Life of Christ 119

          Jesus and His Apostles are traveling and preaching through Judea in the Autumn before His death. Our story today (Luke 12.13-34) is a continuation of a conversation He began earlier in the chapter with the same crowd.
          The Pharisees remind me, in some respects, of the modern day prosperity gospel types for they believed that 'whom the Lord loves He makes rich.' Thus, riches became a tangible way of recognizing whom God was blessing. Of course, this isn't remotely scriptural. It is actually highly corrosive to genuine spirituality for it begets a pursuit of riches while justifying it as a pursuit of God's blessing.
          Our story today begins with an interaction between Jesus and the man in the crowd. The man's brother had received the entire inheritance, as was customary at the time, and he wanted Jesus to persuade his brother to split it with him. That sounds fair, right? Not only that, but if this guy was a Pharisee, it was not only fair but spiritual.
          Jesus refused to get involved, and instead discerned in the man's heart a spirit of covetousness. 'Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth' (Luke 12.15). He then took advantage of the opportunity of the occasion to establish several principles about money that are designed to help us overcome a covetous spirit.
          First, let us remember that we can't take what we acquire with us into the next life, contrary to what the pharaoh's believed (Luke 12.20). There are no U-haul's on caskets.
          Second, we are to be rich toward God (Luke 12.21). We are to want Him and His work to have the use of our money and property more than we do.
          Thirdly, we are not to be preoccupied with stuff (Luke 12.22).
          Fourthly, God is already well aware of what we need. Other than following the biblical principles of hard work, saving, staying out of debt, etc. we are to trust God to care for our physical needs and wants. Coveting has, at its root, the idea of lack, that we are missing out on something. But God full well knows everything we actually need, and provides for us very well. The Psalmist said, 'The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want.' In other words, I have no unmet need because I have the best Shepherd of all. Embracing such an attitude goes a long way toward defeating covetousness.
          Fifthly, we are to put God's kingdom first (Luke 12.31).
          Sixthly, we are to realize that the only way to actually keep something is to give it away. 'Sell that ye have, and give alms; provide yourselves bags which wax not old, a treasure in the heavens that faileth not' (Luke 12.33). Western Union doesn't reach Heaven, but the offering plate does.
          It isn't wrong to be rich. Abraham is proof of that. It isn't wrong to save and invest for a future time of need. The ant in Proverbs is proof of that. It isn't wrong to have a goal and to work hard at providing something nice for your family. Solomon built a palace for himself – but he built the Temple first. When God's kingdom comes in second place in my life, in any area of my life, I'm in trouble.
          Covetousness isn't a matter of things. It is a matter of the heart. When my heart becomes turned more toward what I want, in the way of physical, earthly, tangible things, more than it is turned toward God then I have become covetousness. This covetousness cannot coexist in a heart that loves God supremely. 'For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also' (Luke 12.34).

          What you love and what you treasure are inextricably linked. Beloved, let us keep our treasure firmly established in the next world, and our heart will be too.

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