Thursday, 4 February 2016

Do you ever covet things?

You shall not covet... 
Don’t set your heart on anything that is your neighbours (The Message) Exodus 20:17

Do you ever covet things?

I think that, in this very materialistic world in which many of us live, you’d be extremely unusual if you didn't. To covet is to wish for things which we have no right to, especially things belonging to other people.

You may covet somebody's money... or their health... or their looks... or their marriage... or their talents... or their possessions... or their success ... you could go on for ever. I sometimes think that the whole advertising industry is designed to stir up covetousness within us. "You deserve it - you’re entitled to it..." the adverts coo at us. And, fools that we are, we believe them. 

Covetousness is one of three ugly sisters - the others being Envy and Jealousy. And they have a couple of pretty ugly brothers too; they’re called Greed and Avarice. Not a nice family.

But why exactly does God tell us it’s wrong to covet? Here’s a few suggestions...

First, it is essentially selfish, elevating what want to the top of the list of priorities. It puts me and my needs before generosity, kindness and compassion. It's all about getting rather than giving - and didn't Jesus say that there is more joy in giving than getting (Acts 20:35)?

Second, it suggests a failure to trust in God to provide for us. God promises to take care of those who entrust themselves to him; so if we covet it means, in effect, that we are saying to him, "Your provision isn't good enough for me - I'm not really sure you will look after me".

Third, it destroys peace of mind. The more focussed you are on other people and what they’ve got, the more chewed up you will be inside because you don't have them. “Envy takes the joy, happiness and contentment out of living,” wrote Billy Graham.

Covetous people are rarely happy people - they haven’t learned the sad law of human nature that, however much you have, you will always want more.

Fourth, it can lead to seriously damaging consequences. Something that starts as just a seed in the mind can easily blossom into ugly deeds. Some of the Old Testament's most powerful stories are about covetousness - and in each case havoc results.

Eve coveted the fruit God said she and Adam shouldn't touch (Genesis 3). Achan coveted the treasures of the Canaanites (Joshua 7). King David coveted another man's wife (2 Samuel 11). King Ahab coveted Naboth's vineyard (1 Kings 21). Why not re-read these stories - and see the carnage that resulted in each case?

Covetousness is, in the end, a form of idolatry - putting something or someone in the place that only God should occupy. And, make no mistake, idolaters always end up enslaved.

By the same token, the person who has learned not to covet experiences real liberation. Certainly, this learning process can be hard and painful - let's face up to that. (Paul hints at this in Philippians 4:11-13, a powerful little passage well worth digesting.)

But If we have reached a point where we can say, again with Paul, that we will be content with the basic necessities of life, whatever God may see fit to give us (1 Timothy 6:8), then we can shrug our shoulders at the world around us and just get on with the business of living a Christlike life. We're free! And if somebody has something that we would like - well, so what? Good for them! May God bless them!

Content is a great word. It doesn't mean we shouldn’t be ambitious in a proper sense, but it does mean that we're happy to leave our lot in this life in the hands of a God who is our heavenly Farther, and who loves us more than we can know.

And let’s never forget, if the tantalising words of Jesus in Matthew 19:28-29 are to be believed, we who follow him are, ultimately, millionaires indeed!

Dear Father, I am sorry that I sometimes allow the poison of discontent to corrode my soul. I promise now that, with your help, I will entrust myself wholeheartedly to you and let you lead me wherever you want me to go, and to give me whatever you want me to have. Amen.

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