There is one sin expressly forbidden in the Ten Commandments that few people think of as wicked – “Thou shalt not covet.” The apostle Paul tells us in his letter to the Romans (7:7-25) that this commandment convicted him of his sinful nature. Elsewhere he says that so far as the righteousness of the Law was concerned he had lived a blameless life (Phil. 3:6). He had never bowed the knee to an idol, he had never taken the name of God in vain, nor had he dishonored his parents. He had not lied, stolen, murdered, nor committed adultery, but when it came to “Thou shalt not covet,” he had to plead guilty. He found that it actually stirred unlawful desires within him, and he realized he was a sinner. In himself he found all kinds of covetousness. He was unable to control his thoughts and desires, and wrote: “I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) dwelleth no good thing” (Rom. 7:18 KJV). What Is It? Few people think of covetousness as an actual sin. It is a strong desire to grasp that which God has withheld from us, though He may have given it to others. The writer of Hebrews tells us this: “Let your manner of life be without covetousness, and be content with such things as ye have” (Heb. 13:5; Phil. 4:11; 1 Tim. 6:6). Yet we covet things which God has not seen fit to give us, and thus are guilty of the sin of covetousness. It is one of the most subtle sins. People may put on a show of piety and religiousness and still be guilty of this sin. Our Lord Jesus reproved men for this sin of covetousness in no uncertain terms.
In Luke 12:13-15 we read the story of a man who came to Jesus and said, “Master, speak to my brother, that he divide the inheritance with me.” Now there does not seem to be anything wrong about that. Evidently the father had died and the inheritance had been left in charge of this man’s brother. Perhaps one son was living at home and the other at a distance, and the son at home concluded that some of the possessions were his. Both brothers may have known Jesus and had great confidence in His justice, so the one asked Him to speak to his brother about this matter. But Jesus told him He did not come into the world to regulate such things. And then He said to both brothers: “Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.” This man’s request indicated restlessness, dissatisfaction and a heart reaching out for something which God at present had withheld. Why not be content with what God has already given?
Beware Of It!
Covetousness is not only love of money, but also the attempt to find satisfaction in temporal things (Ex. 20:17). We go through life accumulating “things,” many of them being absolutely worthless – but we hoard them. We strive to have a beautiful home, more land, more expensive furniture, a nicer vehicle, more elegant apparel, and we go on hoarding and accumulating. And then death comes, and what a time our executors have dividing up all the rubbish! Jesus said to this man, “A man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of things which he possesseth” (Lk. 12:15). Yet we act as though the greatest good on earth consists in adding to our possessions.
Some may ask, “What should we do with all the things we do not need?” The happiest man is not the one who possesses the most, but the man who shares with others the good things God has entrusted to him. When the rich young ruler asked Jesus, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (Lk. 18:18), He said, “Sell all that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven” (Lk. 18:22). Luke 18:23 says that when the rich young ruler “heard this, he was very sorrowful, for he was very rich.” No one will ever be saved who is living just for self. He must come to the place where, being convicted of sin, he turns from it and puts his trust in Christ alone for salvation. We all do well to heed this warning: “Take heed, and beware of covetousness” (Lk. 12:15).
It is an old Jewish saying that we are born into this world with hands grasping after everything we can obtain, but when we die our hands are wide open, with nothing in them. Why hoard things? Why not enjoy them by sharing them? The Lord told a parable of a rich landowner (Lk. 12:16-21), who thought only of his own comfort, and never considered that what God had entrusted to him should be used for His glory and for the blessing of others. “He said, ‘What shall I do, because I have no place to bestow my crops?’ And he said, ‘This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my crops and my goods.’”
This man was thinking only of himself. He built “greater” barns for “all” his goods. He could have said, “I don’t need all these goods. I can help the poor and needy and have the joy of knowing I have done something unselfish.” But thinking only of himself, he said to his soul, “Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease. Eat, drink, and be merry” (Lk. 12:19). He was thinking only of gratifying his own desires, contemplating a life of ease for years to come, instead of blessing others. Smug in his own covetousness and grasping spirit, he went to bed that night enjoying every luxury. But he was wakened when he heard the voice of God say, “Fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: and then whose will those goods be?” (Lk. 12:20).
Within a few days friends passed by his coffin saying, “How natural he looks!” Then the lawyers started squabbling over his estate, and all the things stored in his barns were scattered far and wide. That was the end of this covetous man’s life, but it was not the end of his existence. He went into eternity to meet the God whom he ignored, the God who showered mercy upon him all his life, but who never received any thanks. He went into eternity to face the Lord Jesus whom he had never recognized. He had been so busy laying up treasures for himself on earth that he made no provision for eternity.
Whatever our wealth may be, we are not truly rich if we do not know Jesus Christ as our Savior. When those in the church of Laodicea said, “I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing,” Jesus said, “Thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.” They thought they had everything, but actually had nothing because they were without Christ. Without Christ we are poorer than the poorest. We may pride ourselves on having some of this world’s goods, but we stand before God as absolute paupers. The Lord says to such, “I counsel thee to buy of Me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich” (Rev. 3:17- 18). God gives this wealth to all who ask Him. If we do not have Christ we are miserably poor.
After we have trusted Christ we are warned against laying up treasures for ourselves on earth, where moth and rust corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal. Instead we are told to “Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal” (Mt. 6:19-20). Even Christians are in danger of this spirit of covetousness. Happy is he who, instead of laying up treasures on earth, is sending treasure on ahead to be enjoyed in heaven.
How do I lay up treasure in heaven? Everything I do for others in His name, and everything I give to the needy in His name, is treasure deposited in the bank of heaven. Such deposits draw a hundredfold interest, for Christ said, “Every one that hath forsaken houses … or lands for My sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life” (Mt. 19:29).
One may say, “I don’t see what’s so wrong in covetousness.” He may not see anything very serious about it now, but if it keeps him out of heaven he will find it serious indeed. Untold numbers have been kept out of heaven by this sin of covetousness. It has come between them and the salvation of their souls.
This article from H. A. Ironside’s Addresses On The Gospel Of Luke (Loizeaux Bros; New York, ’60), pp. 406-412. Used by permission.
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org