The antidote against covetousness

We demonstrate God has our heart when we trust him by being sincerely generous with what he has given us.

Core of the Bible podcast #46 – The antidote against covetousness

Today we will be exploring the topic of vigilance, and how we need to be vigilant in removing all unrighteous practices from our lives. In Luke 12, Yeshua cautions his followers to be mindful and vigilant that they are not to allow themselves to be overcome with covetousness. He stated it this way:

Luke 12:15 – He told the people, “Be careful to guard yourselves from every kind of greed. Life is not about having an abundance of material possessions.”

There are two main aspects to this verse, and I think there is value if we are to break it down and view these aspects separately.

In the first aspect, Yeshua focuses on the importance of alertness to the subtilty of greed. He says to “Be aware to keep yourselves from every kind of greed.” Let’s look at the meanings of some of the main words in the text to understand it a little more deeply.

What’s translated here as “be aware” conveys the idea of staring at something intently, or to clearly discern something. It is the idea of a guard in a watchtower scanning the horizon for any evidence of invaders. This takes full attention and careful observation. Greed and covetousness are concepts that can quickly overtake us if we are not keeping a watchful eye for their sometimes subtle influence.

To keep oneself from something implies a measure of  isolating oneself. It means being on guard to avoid bad influence, or with the idea of preserving that which is good. This involves intentional effort and in the context of believers, it involves obedience to the things of God.

Yeshua says believers are to exercise this kind of watchfulness and protection to avoid “all covetousness.” The word used for covetousness includes a host of negative characteristics such as greed and aggressive materialism, which we typically associate with covetousness. However, it also includes ideas of fraudulence, extortion, or desire for any kind of advantage. Essentially, this type of person usually will do just about anything to get what they want. All of these things fall into the covetousness category.

The Geneva Bible says: “By covetousness is meant that greedy desire to get, commonly causing hurt to other men.”

John Gill writes: “all sorts of covetousness, and every degree of it, which of all vices is to be avoided and guarded against, being the root of all evil; and as the Persic version renders it, is worse than all evil, and leads into it”

Matthew Poole expands on this idea further when he writes:

“The pleonexia, here translated covetousness or immoderate desire of having of this world’s goods, which discovers itself either by unrighteous acts in procuring, or uncharitable omissions for the keeping, of the things of this life. It is that filarguria, love of money, which the apostle determines to be the root of all evil. It is also discovered by a too much thoughtfulness [of] what we shall eat, drink, or put on, or by the too great meltings of our hearts into our bags of gold or silver. All these come under the notion of that covetousness which is here forbidden. In short, whatsoever it is that hindereth our contentment with the portion God giveth us upon our endeavours, though it amounts to no more than food and raiment, according to the apostle’s precept…”

He then wisely refers us to a familiar passage in Paul’s letter to Timothy, and also the book of Hebrews:

1 Timothy 6:6-10 – But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out. If we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. But those who want to be rich fall into temptation, a trap, and many foolish and harmful desires, which plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and by craving it, some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

Hebrews 13:5 – Keep your life free from the love of money. Be satisfied with what you have, for he himself has said, I will never leave you or abandon you.

Now that we have defined what this covetousness is that we should constantly be on guard against, Yeshua then focuses on why this intense level of scrutiny is necessary. He then says, “Life is not about having an abundance of material possessions.”

According to Yeshua, life is not found in the abundance of ones material things. Having an abundance literally means to “superabound;” that is, to not only have enough to meet ones needs, but well beyond.

In the words of John Gill: “a man’s natural life cannot be prolonged by all the good things of the world he is possessed of; they cannot prevent diseases nor death; nor do the comfort and happiness of life, lie in these things; which are either not enjoyed by them, but kept for the hurt of the owners of them, or are intemperately used, or some way or other imbittered to them, so that they have no peace nor pleasure in them: and a man’s spiritual life is neither had nor advantaged hereby, and much less is eternal life to be acquired by any of these things; which a man may have, and be lost for ever, as the following parable shows.”

As Gill mentions, Yeshua then tells a parable to explain the pointlessness of the common perspective that most people have.

Luke 12:16-21 – Then he told them a parable: “A rich man’s land was very productive. “He thought to himself, ‘What should I do, since I don’t have anywhere to store my crops? “I will do this,’ he said. ‘I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones and store all my grain and my goods there. “Then I’ll say to myself, “You have many goods stored up for many years. Take it easy; eat, drink, and enjoy yourself.” ‘ “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is demanded of you. And the things you have prepared ​– ​whose will they be? ‘ “That’s how it is with the one who stores up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”

I think most of us instinctively know this to be true, but it doesn’t always stop us from desiring more, whether it is more things to possess or more power and authority or advantage over others.

Now I believe a significant caution is necessary here in saying that many commentators and preachers will use this parable and teaching to admonish those who are rich, or those who are being prudent in regards to their income and assets, but is that the true meaning of what Yeshua is teaching us here? Is he trying to say it is better to be poor than to be rich?

Here are a few examples of how commentators will typically view the meaning of this parable of Yeshua regarding the man who built bigger barns for himself:

Albert Barnes: “The passage, then, means: Be not anxious about obtaining wealth, for, however much you may obtain, it will not prolong your life. “That” depends on the will of God, and it requires something besides wealth to make us ready to meet him.”

Hermann Olshausen says that there are two propositions blended together: “Life consists not in superfluity” (the true life), and “nothing spiritual can proceed from earthly possessions.”

Heinrich Ewald says: “If man has not from his external wealth in general what can be rightly called his life, he has it not, or rather he has it still less by the fact that this, his external wealth, increases by his appeasing his covetousness.”

Matthew Poole writes: “The poor are as merry, and many times more satisfied, more healthy, and at more ease, than those that have abundance. It is a golden sentence, which deserves to be engraven in every soul.”

These great commentators from the past are drawing out many useful and helpful maxims and ideals that we can truly benefit from. But as Luke is using this parable for a specific purpose, it would serve us well to determine what he is trying to emphasize in Yeshua’s teaching.

On the surface, this parable appears to teach that saving up for an uncertain future is to no avail, as we cannot have any certainty of the length of our lives. While this is certainly true, I believe the real essence of the parable, based on the teaching of Yeshua that it is meant to illustrate (that of the vigilance needed in avoiding greed) is summed up in the last sentence: “That’s how it is with the one who stores up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”

Notice, it is not the storing up of the treasure that is the issue, but storing up treasure for oneself, that is, for one’s own ease and comfort, without being rich toward God.

And herein I believe is the real essence of what Yeshua is teaching us: the antidote for greed and selfish advantage is not necessarily being poor, but it is being rich toward God. This then begs the question, how can one be rich toward God? How are we to abound and exhibit wealth toward God?

In Luke’s telling of the story, here Yeshua goes right into the teaching of seeking first the kingdom and trusting God’s provision and not relying on our own. This is another indication of the intended meaning that I believe Luke is highlighting in this passage, and which he now has Yeshua illustrating from this complementary perspective of the kingdom.

Luke 12:22-34 – “Then he said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, don’t worry about your life, what you will eat; or about the body, what you will wear. “For life is more than food and the body more than clothing. “Consider the ravens: They don’t sow or reap; they don’t have a storeroom or a barn; yet God feeds them. Aren’t you worth much more than the birds? “Can any of you add one moment to his life-span by worrying? “If then you’re not able to do even a little thing, why worry about the rest? “Consider how the wildflowers grow: They don’t labor or spin thread. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was adorned like one of these. “If that’s how God clothes the grass, which is in the field today and is thrown into the furnace tomorrow, how much more will he do for you ​– ​you of little faith? “Don’t strive for what you should eat and what you should drink, and don’t be anxious. “For the Gentile world eagerly seeks all these things, and your Father knows that you need them. “But seek his kingdom, and these things will be provided for you. “Don’t be afraid, little flock, because your Father delights to give you the kingdom. “Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Make money-bags for yourselves that won’t grow old, an inexhaustible treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

If one simply stores up treasure for oneself, the result can be as uncertain as the man in the parable experienced. He spent time, effort, and money to build bigger barns to hold all of the stuff he simply wanted to use for his own purposes. However, if one seeks first the kingdom, God’s provision will be sufficient, and those things that a person might have been storing up for themself can then be used to also help those who are in need. In this way, by being generous with those who are in need, according to Yeshua, people can store up true treasure, real treasure in heaven.

Luke 12:31, 33-34 – “But seek his kingdom, and these things will be provided for you. … Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Make money-bags for yourselves that won’t grow old, an inexhaustible treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

A desire to have an abundance of wealth or material possessions is, for most people, a desire for security in life. Whether it’s financial savings plans, 401K retirement plans, or winning the lottery, we desire to have an assured future. If we know we have more than enough for the moment, then our ongoing provision is accounted for. Yeshua provides the reasoning behind why this should not be our primary focus in life.

First of all, we may work hard to save for our future, only to have our life end prematurely (from our perspective), and who would then be the recipient of everything we had worked so hard to attain? Was all that work and time spent collecting all of that wealth really the best use of our resources while we lived?

Additionally, it does not allow us to be rich towards God. If God blesses us, we should be faithful in using those material blessings to bless others, as he has done with us. This is how the child honors the Father and demonstrates their true spiritual lineage; by becoming like him.

Further, one more final and important point regarding our vigilance against covetousness in our lives, the apostle Paul provides a stern warning regarding covetousness to the believers in Colosse:

Colossians 3:5 – Put to death, therefore, whatever is worldly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.”

Greed, the desire for more and more material things for personal security and satisfaction, is idolatry. This must be put to death, a term of finality; there is no middle ground. We need to be vigilant in removing all unrighteous practices from our lives, and idolatry is the primary indicator of rebellion against God. When we seek to trust our provision (which we can see) more than our Provider (whom we cannot see), then we have fallen prey to idolatry.

God promises to meet our needs, not our wants, but in so doing, he instructs us that we should demonstrate generosity with others out of respect for his care for us. If you really desire to have a godly abundance, then rather than being an idolater, be an abundant giver.

Luke 6:38 – “Give, and you will receive. A large quantity, pressed together, shaken down, and running over will be put into your pocket.”

This is not meant to teach us that we can get more earthly possessions for ourselves by giving to others, which is the basis of the prosperity gospel. But it is the representation that the large quantity that is placed in our account will be the heavenly treasure, the true wealth that only God can give. That is the wealth that will not ever be lost, as Yeshua taught: “an inexhaustible treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

God wants our hearts, and when we trust him by being sincerely generous with what he has given us, rather than storing up everything for our own purposes, we will gain true wealth within his purpose for all eternity.

If you enjoy these daily blog posts, be sure to visit the growing archive of the Core of the Bible podcast. Each week we take a more in-depth look at one of the various topics presented in the daily blog. You can view the podcast archive on our Podcast Page, at Core of the Bible on Simplecast, or your favorite podcast streaming service.

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