BEWARE OF COVETOUSNESS

By

Shelby G. Floyd

Good morning church. I started reading my Bible like I did last year.  I got all the way through the Bible and the New Testament.  So, I started to read the Bible again the first of the year, and of course when you go on vacation that is interrupted.  Therefore, when I got back, I continued to read the Bible and when you do that, to a preacher it suggests sermon topics that you want to present to the people. I had not gone very far until I realized I wanted to preach on “Covetousness Is Idolatry.” I got to looking through my outlines and had trouble finding it and there was a good reason. I preached this sermon 25 years ago, on July 21, 1996. 

COVETOUSNESS DEFINED

Today I shall preach that same sermon topic—Covetousness Is Idolatry.  What is the meaning of this big word—covetousness?  One dictionary says it is to desire that which is another’s.  It can also mean to wish for excessively and to crave something you are seeking.  McClintoch and Strong says it is a strong, sometimes irresistible desire of possessing or of increasing one’s possessions.  Ralph Heyman says it is “the tyranny of things.” And the Bible also defines covetousness. The Bible is the best commentary and the best book to define words on the face of the earth. The apostle Paul describes covetousness to the church at Colossae when he said, “Covetousness which is idolatry” (Colossians 3:5). 

Now I did not open my Bible and start reading very far until I realized that covetousness started right in the very beginning. Almighty God created Adam out of the dust of the earth, breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and he became a living soul. And then he opened his side and did surgery and he made a woman. And they were married—man and woman, and he placed them in a beautiful garden—the Paradise of God.  And they were given instructions.  You may eat of all the fruit of all the trees in this garden except one. The one in the middle of the garden you shall not eat of it.  They also had the Tree of Life that perpetuated their physical life.  But you know Eve desired and coveted that fruit on that one tree. There are three reasons she wanted that fruit!  She thought it would make her wise, like God.  She wanted to be like God. She coveted the fruit because she thought that it would be good for food.  We like to try different foods today.  That is one of the beautiful things about today—we have food that we can buy in restaurants from all over the world and a lot of us have learned to enjoy things other than what are parents and grandparents enjoyed.  They enjoyed beans and cornbread.  But she reached out and partook of that fruit because she wanted to be wise.  And sin entered the world, and death by sin, and so death (physical) passed upon all men because of one man’s sin (Romans 5:12).  Therefore, I had not gone very far until I realized covetousness started in the very beginning and it is still with us today. 

THE TENTH COMMANDMENT

Now Almighty God allowed his people to go down to Egypt into slavery. The children of Israel were in slavery for something like 400 years and God sent a man by the name of Moses down there to extricate them out of the land and he was a great servant of God. The name Moses stands as one of the outstanding leaders of the children of Israel. Moses led them out of Egypt, across the Red Sea and down to Mount Sinai in Arabia (Galatians 4:25). He led them down there to Mount Sinai and they received the Law–the Law of Moses and the Ten Commandments. We shall all read these ten commandments and so we will put them up on the screen. 

I am going to ask Mitch to stand and lead all of us as we read aloud the Ten Commandments. Thank you, congregation, for reading those 10 Commandments aloud. Now what you read is a boiled down version of the 10 Commandments. When we go to Exodus 20:1-17 we find that those 10 Commandments are somewhat expanded. But I don’t want to talk about all of those 10 Commandments this morning.  I just want to study with you about the 10th commandment.  And here is the expanded version of the tenth commandment:

“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s” (Exodus 20:17 NKJV).

You can see that covetousness covers a large area of things and this is a subject that is especially difficult for us to deal with in America because we love and want so many things.  We have our telephones, our I Pads, our computers and we have stuff coming in from online shopping almost every day.  These packages land on the front door and first thing you know we have a lot of stuff.

In 2019, after living in our house for 40 years, Sarah and I decided it is time for us to downsize. And you know that men have a lot of tools.  Men like to have tools because we like to fix things, or we think we do.  And sometimes when we start to fix something, we end up calling the professionals who can fix it. But anyway, it’s hard to give up your tools, but I gave up my tools and I haven’t missed them a bit.  Now the only thing I need to do is carry out a garbage sack about once a day and put it in a dumpster. As we get older, we find out a lot of these things that we love actually keeps us from being happy because they consume too much of our time and energy. 

While we were in Florida, we watched a program called minimalism and it was about these two young boys.  They grew up real poor, but they got a good college education and they got good jobs in the tech industry and they were making all kinds of money and they were driving the fastest cars and they had everything that money could buy. But finally, they said, we are not happy and so they got rid of a lot of stuff and they said we’re a lot happier now that we don’t have all those things that we were dealing with. And it is called minimalism.  We probably all need to practice a little minimalism today, because we do not want our life to be wrapped up in things. So, what they were really saying is keep what you really need but not all the things you necessarily want, because our wants and our needs are not the same.

The apostle Paul summed up the Ten Commandments of the Law in Romans 13:9 when he said,

For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not bear false witness,” “You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

So, the emphasis is to love our neighbor as ourselves.  We are going to be doing more things to help people than we are to covet more and more things. Paul was one of the strictest Jews that ever lived.  He was so devoted that he went to many cities and arrested Christians and brought them back and put them in prison.  And sometimes when they were beaten, he held the clothes of them that beat those Christians, of whom Stephen was one of them, and it bothered Paul the rest of his life that he stood there and watched Stephen being pounded to death with rocks! (Acts 7:51-60). He thought he was living the perfect Jewish life, but then he realized that he had coveted and he said, “I died,”

“What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, “You shall not covet.” 8 But sin, taking opportunity by the commandment, produced in me all manner of evil desire. For apart from the law sin was dead. 9 I was alive once without the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died” (Romans 7:7-9 NKJV).

Paul would not have known sin had the Law not said, “Thou shall not covet.” The law of Moses made sin stand out that he had violated the law. Paul died when he thought he was living a perfect life.  He remembered the law said, thou shall not covet.  And Paul, like all of us had coveted.  And he died. 

ISRAEL MARCHES TO THE PROMISED LAND

Then I continued to read a bit farther in my Bible and the next episode is what suggested the theme of covetousness I speak on today.

After Moses received the law at Mount Sinai, the children of Israel marched toward the promised land.  It took a long time to get up there.  Moses sent 12 spies to scout out the land, but only two of them came back with a good report. Therefore, the negative people discouraged the children of Israel.  They could have gone into the land of promise a lot earlier, but they listened to negativity.  I do not know what it is but people love negative things more than they do positive things. Joshua and Caleb were the positive ones! And Joshua promised Caleb that when they did get into the promised land, he was going to give him and his family that very land that they had spied out.  And when they finally got there, they conquered the land. Caleb now was 85 years old.  He said, “I am still just as strong as I was the day, we scouted out that land.” Since I am 83, that encouraged me—Lord, I want to be strong when I get to be 85.  If you let me live to be 85, I plan on being just as strong as I possibly can be. Therefore, Caleb got that track of land that he said was a good land. The other spies did not make it to the Promised Land because they said there were giants in the land.  They had a grasshopper complex.  We can have a grasshopper complex or we can have the spirit of a mighty soldier of Jesus Christ. 

Therefore, Moses led them up there to the threshold of the promised land.  And God said to Moses, I am going to take you up on Mount Pisgah and I will let you look at the land, but you will not be able to go in there and so he turned the leadership over to Joshua (Deuteronomy 34:1, 5-8).  Joshua and the army of Israel crossed the Jordan River and went into the promised land.  They had a mighty army and the army had a job to do.  The first job was to take Jericho. It was a big city and it had walls all around, and so God through Joshua gave them a war plan.  The plan is I want the Army and the seven priests with their trumpets to walk in front of the Army and I want you to go around that wall seven times. On the seventh day go around seven times and the priests are to blast out on those trumpets as loud as they can and I want all of you in the Army to shout and when you do, the walls will fall and you can take the city.

ACHAN WAS COVETOUS

And that happened.  Archaeologists have gone there and examined the site. It looks like the ruins happened according to the Bible description. We do not need to fear the archaeologists.  Every time they search and dig, they verify the Bible. Israel had a victorious outcome of that battle, but there was a problem afterward. Before they went into battle, God said to Joshua and the army of Israel that Jericho was under the ban, you cannot take anything out of that city for your own, it is all to go into the Treasury of the Lord (Joshua 6:18-19). When we read the history of warfare, the victorious soldiers took the spoils or plunder. I just got through reading a great book about Hannibal who marched his army up from North Africa into Spain and brought his army and elephants across the Alps down into Italy. But back then, the way the Army was paid is when you had a victory you go in there and keep all the plunder of gold, silver, and whatever was valuable. But God said Jericho was under the ban. You cannot plunder the riches of that city.  All the gold and silver, bronze, everything is to be devoted to the treasury of the Lord. And they were happy and rejoicing because they had won a great battle! Joshua and the army looked ahead and said we will take the next city of Ai.  It was not too far away from Jericho, so they sent some scouts up there to Ai and they came back with their report. They said it is just a little city.  Those people are not very strong.  Do not send the whole army. Just send about 300 soldiers up there and we will be able to take it easily. Joshua listened to the report and he sent up a small army and when they approached the city, the soldiers came out of AI and chased the army of Israel and defeated them.

Joshua was really upset and fell on his face and prayed to the Lord, why have you brought us out of Egypt, and brought us to this land and then allowed our enemies to defeat us.  He said all these other cities will hear about this and Lord your great name will be destroyed and Israel will be destroyed.  Joshua got down on his face on the earth.  You know it is good to be humble and get down on our face in prayer. But at other times God says, stand up and be a man. And this occasion is one of them. God said, Joshua what are you doing down there on your face on the ground? Stand up and act like a man and take care of this matter, and the Lord told him what the problem was.  The problem was there was sin in the camp. I remember Mitch telling the story about them playing ball and they were losing bad. He said they had a little conference and somebody said, “I think there is sin in the camp!” God said, “Joshua there is sin in the camp.”  And that is the reason they lost the battle. God revealed to Joshua that somebody had taken the forbidden stuff and he told him to do an examination, you call the different tribes and right on down to the family and the person. Finally, they brought this young man named Achan out.  I will read to you what Joshua said to Achan:

Now Joshua said to Achan, “My son, I beg you, give glory to the Lord God of Israel, and make confession to Him, and tell me now what you have done; do not hide it from me.”

And Achan answered Joshua and said, “Indeed I have sinned against the Lord God of Israel, and this is what I have done: When I saw among the spoils a beautiful Babylonian garment, two hundred shekels of silver, and a wedge of gold weighing fifty shekels, I coveted them and took them. And there they are, hidden in the earth in the midst of my tent, with the silver under it” (Joshua 6:19-21 NKJV).

Would it not be good if we could get people to start making some confessions when they fall away from the church and are not faithful any longer? Achan confessed specifically what he had done. They did not covet the same things back then, like we do today.  They did not have cars and houses and electronics and all the toys that we have, but they had things that they wanted just like we do, like beautiful clothes. There is no telling what this Babylonian garment would cost—probably thousands of dollars. He also took a wedge of gold.  Gold has always been valuable.  It still is today! It is about $1900 an ounce today.

Joshua said, why have you troubled us? The Lord will trouble you this day, so all Israel stoned him with stones and they burned him with fire.

After this they raised a great heap of stones and named it the Valley of Achor. Therefore, the name of that place has been called the Valley of Achor to this day. The word Achor means “trouble.” Sometimes we will say, “there comes trouble!” We do it in a joking way, but that is what it meant. Achan, you caused Israel trouble, you caused yourself trouble and you involved your family in trouble!  The people back then were advised to stay away from people like Achan. If you cannot change them, do not encourage them.

And reading in the New Testament, the apostle Paul encouraged Christian people to stay away from and not keep company with some people.  Her is what he said,

“Yet I certainly did not mean with the sexually immoral people of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner—not even to eat with such a person” (1 Corinthians 5:10-11 NKJV).

We simply are not to encourage our fellow Christians to continue in what they are doing that is wrong.

THE COVETOUSNESS OF THE RICH FARMER

Now we need to come closer to our day and time and so we go to the New Testament. Jesus was the greatest preacher and teacher that ever lived.  I know that I am motivated to preach sermons on topics that Jesus talked about in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.  He was a great preacher and we can imitate him in so many ways. A good example is his conversation with a man who was in a controversy over an inheritance in Luke the 12th chapter. The Bible says Jesus was in this area and then one from the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me,” trying to get the Lord involved in a family squabble. Have you ever witnessed this going on sometime?  Sometimes a family will be divided and brothers and sisters will not even talk to each other. But let mom or dad die and they come out of the woodwork, because there is an inheritance that they want to get their hands on.  They covet that and sometimes it becomes a big brawl and it is ugly and nobody likes to hear about it, talk about it or even observe that it is going on. So, if anybody ever tries to get you involved in a family squabble over an inheritance, the best advice is stay away.  Do not get involved! Therefore, Jesus said, “Man, who made Me a Judge or an arbitrator over you?” And then he spoke one of the most important statements in the Bible:

“Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses” (Luke 12:15 NKJV).

Take heed and beware of covetousness because your life does not consist in the abundance of the things you possess that we think will make us happier.  The more that we can get our hands on; the more money we can put in the bank, the more toys we can have, the more things we can buy! And let me say that there is not enough time in the day or night for us to enjoy all the things we have right now and you know that is true.  So usually, we put those things aside and really enjoy the things that we do have the time to enjoy. Jesus emphatically said your life does not consist in the abundance of the things you possess.  He says we need to stay away from coveting all these things. It is all right to desire the things that you need but not necessarily all the things that you want!

Then Jesus told a parable of the rich farmer. The word parable means to lay two things down side by side and then draw a lesson from the material to the spiritual. Jesus said the ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully.  Every time I think of that verse, it reminds me of driving down State Road 135 to Trafalgar in the summertime.  Those farms are so beautiful.  The corn is 10 to 12 feet high and it is just as thick as it can be, and everything is beautiful.  The farmers have their big silos out there and their big barns and they are counting on the Lord to give them rain and sunshine. In the fall about second week in October, you can drive down to Trafalgar and the fields are bare.  They have harvested all the grain and put it in the barn or the silos. So, it was with this a rich farmer and the Bible says his farm yielded plentifully. 

Then he said to himself, “What shall I do, since I have no more room to store my crops.  This is what I will do, I will pull down my barns and I will build bigger barns and then I will say to my soul. Soul, you have much laid up for many years. Take your ease, eat, drink and be merry.” But do you know what God said?  God said, “Fool, this night, your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be, which you have provided?” Fool! This night your soul will be required because we do not know when the death Angel is going to come in and remove us from this life on earth. We want to live long if we can serve the Lord! We want to love our family and our friends, and to reach out and take the gospel to all the world. Those are the things that we really need to be desiring to be able to fulfill, and not just to get all things we possibly can. 

GREED IS EVIL

Now let us make the application and wrap up this lesson.  Why is covetousness, or greed so evil?  Well, it is evil because it is based upon a false assumption and that assumption is that our happiness is dependent on our material values and the things we possess.

In the second place, covetousness is evil because it allows the material world to dominate the spiritual world.  The Bible, worship, Bible study, and evangelism gets pushed aside because we covet more and more of this world’s goods. And hear what Jesus said about that:

“No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon” (Mathew 6:24 NKJV).

You cannot serve God and money. It is just as simple as that. Covetousness is evil because it places our trust in things that are temporal rather than in God who is eternal. In the sermon on the Mount, Jesus had something to say about putting our trust in material things: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21 NKJV).

It is terrible what is going on in America today. Embezzlers are stealing other people’s identity, compromising their credit cards and Social Security identity. This is what convinces us of what Jesus said about greed. Do not get so wrapped up in all that stuff because it could be stolen from you and you could lose it all. I have heard of people that got a telephone call claiming to be the Social Security office. If they ask for your identity you have a problem. Do not be naïve.  You do not need to answer.

Covetousness is evil because it leads to every other sin in the catalog of human debauchery. In Mark 7:20-23 Jesus said that what comes out of a man is that which defiles a man. The critics of Jesus were concerned about Jesus and his disciples breaking a tradition by not washing their hands. Today it is probably a good thing to wash our hands because of the Pandemic! But Jesus countered that it is what comes out of a man that defiles a man. He then explained:

“What comes out of a man, that defiles a man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a man” (Mark 7:20-23).

Therefore, we need to be looking at the inside of us rather the outside.

Now how do we overcome covetousness? That is really our goal and living in a country like America where we are so blessed it is very difficult.  We can get wrapped up in material things so easily. Perhaps, the best way is to just go back and read the sermon on the Mount repeatedly and listen to the advice that Jesus gave the people who were standing around listening to him.  He said in Matthew 6:24 and 26 “that no man can serve two masters.  You either hate the one and love the other or you will be loyal to the one and despise the other.”  He illustrates by referring us to the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not of more value than they?  We have a couple of birdfeeders in the back of our patio and Sarah reminds me to keep it filled with seed.

PUT GOD FIRST IN YOUR LIFE

We can overcome greed by putting the kingdom of God first in our life. Jesus said, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all of these things will be added unto you. Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own thing, sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Matthew 6:33-34).  So, do not worry.  Trust God to take care of you.  I remember when I was studying to be a preacher. I drove 130 miles from Henderson, Tennessee up to almost Nashville. I received $25 or $30 a week. I remember one time on Saturday we did not even have milk for the baby. For some reason I went to the post office and was pleasantly surprised that a good sister from Indianapolis had sent fifty dollars. That made me a believer and convinced me that you do not need to worry for God will take care of you. 

Above all we need to become a Christian. Paul the Persecutor met the Lord Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus. He was approached by the Lord Jesus Christ and he asked him what he should do? God has done his part by sending Jesus to die for our sins and shed his precious blood. God has done the big part, but he is not going to do it all. The sinner has his part to do. Paul was fasting and praying, but the sinner’s prayer will not save or else Saul of Tarsus would have been saved. God sent a preacher to him by the name of Ananias, who said to Saul, “And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord’” (Acts 22:16).  Come my friend and make the good confession and be baptized into Christ for the forgiveness of sin (Romans 10:9-10; Romans 6:3-6). Respond now while we stand and sing.*

*A sermon delivered by Shelby G. Floyd January 24, 2021 at the Heartland Church of Christ, 1693 West Main Street, Greenwood, Indiana 46142

Copyright © 2021 Shelby G. Floyd, All Rights Reserved

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