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.


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Where you are building your storehouse is where you have placed your trust

In the Sermon on the Mount, Yeshua relates how we are building storehouses based on our actions and our attitudes. Where the storehouse is built, on earth or in heavenly places, will determine where our true heart lies.

Core of the Bible podcast #20- Where you are building your storehouse is where you have placed your trust

In this episode we will be exploring the topic of trust, and how our attitudes and actions demonstrate whether our trust is in earthly things or in heavenly things.

Yeshua stated it this way:

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:19-21

A typical interpretation of this passage is that we should not be focused constantly on amassing earthly wealth which is regularly subject to loss. Instead, we should be gathering and storing heavenly wealth, for it will always be perfectly safe. Which type of wealth we are pursuing reveals our true heart motivation.

This is not an incorrect deduction; we certainly should be focused on the spiritual over that which is earthly and temporary.

However, looking at the passage from its literary construction, the subject doesn’t appear to be so much the type of wealth, but the storehouse in which the wealth is kept. The word used for treasure here is a little misleading in the English. The definition of the Greek word means “a store-house for precious things; hence: a treasure, a store.” This is where we get our English word for thesaurus; a thesaurus being a type of storehouse of words that can be used in various ways.  

A more literal rendering of the passage might be something like this:

“Do not amass storehouses on the earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But build up for yourselves storehouses in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your storehouse is, there your heart will be also.”

You see, it’s not the treasure itself that is the focus, but the storehouse. Wherever you are storing your stuff, that’s where your heart will be.

This simple shift in focus also makes more sense of the parable Yeshua uses to explain the principle.

Luke 12:15-21 He [Yeshua] then told them, “Watch out and be on guard against all greed, because one’s life is not in the abundance of his possessions.”  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 amasses storehouses for himself and is not abundant toward God.”

The storehouse was for worldly security and ease; that’s where this man’s heart was. He was more focused on the storehouse of his earthly ease and security than the state of his spirituality. Everything he did was deliberate towards his own physical satisfaction, and nothing toward understanding the real spiritual nature of his life or bettering the spiritual state of others. His focus was on his personal earthly storehouse, not his spiritual one in the service of others.

We all know that the wealth of this world is temporary and the Bible is very clear on this topic, as well.

Psalm 39:6 Surely every man walks about like a shadow; Surely they busy themselves in vain; He heaps up riches, And does not know who will gather them.

Proverbs 11:4 Riches do not profit in the day of wrath, But righteousness delivers from death.  

Proverbs 11:28 He who trusts in his riches will fall, But the righteous will flourish like foliage.

Proverbs 23:4-5 Don’t weary yourself to be rich. In your wisdom, show restraint. Why do you set your eyes on that which is not? For it certainly sprouts wings like an eagle and flies in the sky.

Proverbs 27:24 For riches are not forever, Nor does a crown endure to all generations.

If we spend the bulk of our time focused on collecting riches for our own benefit, the Bible is clear that it is time and energy spent in vain. Like everything, there is a balance. God knows we need to have an income, and hard work and discipline are to be commended.

Yet, if this is our primary focus above all else, Yeshua warns us that it could all disappear tomorrow; someone could break in and steal everything you have.  

For example, just like anyone else, I enjoy the home and belongings my wife and I have accrued over the years, but we also recognize that some disaster like a fire or earthquake or violent storm could take it all away in an instant. Robbery is also a possibility, but we really don’t have anything of great value that would be meaningful to anyone but us. We  both recognize that the things we have, while we enjoy them, are not permanent in any way, shape, or form.  

How many times have you seen news interviews with victims of tornadoes or fires who have lost their homes, only to hear them say something like, “We’re just so grateful everyone made it out safely,” or something to that effect. In that moment, they are confronted with what is really important in life, and it is not their stuff.

You see, it’s not the riches themselves, but the attitude one carries about them that makes the difference. Some people can be super-wealthy and yet remain humble and submitted to God’s kingdom; they may use their wealth to help others in meaningful ways. Some people may be dirt-poor and yet just as satisfied knowing their basic needs are met, and they are equally generous with whatever they do have. The amount of money or wealth is not the deciding factor, but the heart-attitude toward that wealth that makes a difference. This attitude is an indicator of where a person’s storehouse is.  

We also know everything is relative to one’s circumstances or local market conditions. What might pass for poverty here in the U.S. might be considered wealth when compared to Third World conditions elsewhere. There always appears to be someone more wealthy or someone who has less. This is the way of life here on this earth. Yeshua is encouraging us to not be wrapped up in the struggle and striving for that which ultimately has little or no value.  

Additionally, Yeshua desires his followers to have a single purpose, not to have divided interests.

“No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” Matthew 6:24

You cannot be bound equally both to God and to your confidence in wealth. One will always take precedence over the other, and the results of following either will be evident in your life.  

The issue that Yeshua focuses on is not necessarily the results of following either (which are evident throughout the biblical writings), but the complete inability of humans to multi-task loving God in among other responsibilities in this life. We all have necessary obligations in life, but if our over-arching purpose for everything we do does not rest in God and his kingdom, then we have by default chosen to place our trust in the other option.

According to the New Testament writings, covetousness is equated with idolatry.

Colossians 3:5 So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. Have nothing to do with sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and evil desires. Don’t be greedy, for a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world.

When viewed from this perspective, it is clear that God cannot be worshipped among any other gods, as one of many. Yeshua taught that every choice in life will fall under one heading or the other, God or worldly wealth, and whichever choice is made is a determination of which deity is being trusted.  

So if we have determined that a constant focus on worldly storehouses is not appropriate for believers, what should we be focusing on? So far, we have reviewed the perils of trusting in worldly wealth in earthly storehouses to the exclusion of trusting in God wholeheartedly. But Yeshua mentions another type of storehouse, a “heavenly storehouse.” What is this heavenly storehouse and what type of wealth should we be storing in it?

So, in regard to this heavenly storehouse and its contents, Yeshua states it this way:

But amass for yourselves storehouses in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal. Matthew 6:20

Why is it that thieves, moths and rust cannot touch this type of wealth? It is because the storehouse is in a heavenly place filled with a spiritual type of wealth. What is this wealth? Based on the structure of the Sermon on the Mount, the answer appears to be being rich in good works and ethical actions that God approves of through his word. There is no way that anyone or anything can detract from these good motives and good actions. This is the type of wealth that Yeshua encourages us to store up. Let’s look at how we can arrive at that type of conclusion.  

The Sermon on the Mount has a natural flow and progression to it when it is viewed as a whole. Whether this was an actual sermon or a collection of Yeshua’s teachings, what is recorded for us in Matthew has a certain structure that moves logically from one focus to the next.

It begins with the blessings of the righteous and how the righteous stand out from the rest of the world. This is due to their adherence to torah, the instruction of God, not just the traditions of the elders. In abiding to torah, believers begin to shine in the world.

Matthew 5:14-16 You are the light of the world. A city located on a hill cannot be hidden. People do not light a lamp and put it under a basket but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before people, so that they can see your good deeds and give honor to your Father in heaven.

After presenting his hearers with this truth about good deeds, Yeshua then reminds them that they should not be letting the recognition of their good deeds become the motivation for doing them. He proceeds to give some examples of oral traditions of the religious leaders, which were considered examples of good works or doctrine, but he presents them as teachings to be avoided.

Matthew 5:21, 27, 31, 33, 38, 43 “You have heard that it was said to an older generation, ‘Do not murder,’ and ‘whoever murders will be subjected to judgment.’ … “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ … “It was said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife must give her a legal document.’ … “Again, you have heard that it was said to an older generation, ‘Do not break an oath, but fulfill your vows to the Lord.’ … “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ … “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor’ and ‘hate your enemy.’

While these oral traditions were based on the truth of God’s written torah, or instruction, the leaders had corrupted those things into false and hypocritical practices, and Yeshua set about to correct those teachings.

Further, Yeshua provided reassurance that God does in fact see the things that we do for the right reasons when they stem from a heart of obedience, even when they are done privately and intimately as a heart of obedience to God.

Matthew 6:3-6, 17-18  

GIVING:

But when you do your giving, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your gift may be in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you.  

PRAYING:

“Whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, because they love to pray while standing in synagogues and on street corners so that people can see them. Truly I say to you, they have their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you.  

FASTING:

When you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others when you are fasting, but only to your Father who is in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you.

The overall context of Yeshua’s instruction is that true obedience to God’s torah or instruction comes from the heart, not from outward conformity to corrupted traditions or opinions of others. The wealth of heaven is exhibited in God’s recognition of our heart motives and private obedience, while the wealth of this world comes as outward recognition of actions. When our heart motives and private obedience are exhibited in the service of others, it is then that we become the light of the world. But our motives should always remain tied to a heart of compassion and love, regardless of any outward recognition. This, in God’s eyes, is what true wealth is.

The focus in the sermon then becomes the benefits of trusting in God and single-minded devotion to the kingdom of God. This will keep us from hypocrisy and keep us on the narrow path. This will also allow us to see false teachings (and teachers) for what they are. If we remain faithful to the wisdom that Yeshua provides, we will be able to weather any storm.

Throughout the entire Sermon on the Mount, we can see how our beliefs and our actions are tied together; one reveals the other. We believe what we do, and we do what we believe. To do one thing while claiming to believe something else, something perhaps nobler, is an inconsistent and potentially hypocritical position.

Some people may say they intend to do the right thing, but they aren’t always successful in doing so. Intent is not the same as belief; intent is simply an abstract concept and cannot be demonstrated until an action reveals its presence. If a contrary action is demonstrated, then the true belief is revealed; the ideal in which we place our trust will be evident. If our intent and beliefs are aligned, then our actions will harmonize with our beliefs and we will be consistent.

All through the Sermon on the Mount, Yeshua is encouraging those who are righteous to be faithful to their calling and act in righteous ways, not in the hypocritical ways of their false teachers and leaders. The storehouses we build will be filled with something, either good and faithful actions, or hypocritical self-serving actions. Where your storehouse is will likely determine what you fill it with, and where your heart will be. An earthly storehouse will receive worldly actions, but a heavenly storehouse can receive righteous actions. One is built on sand, the other is built on the rock. Yeshua encourages his followers to trust and abide by his words, and so be building upon the rock.

Well, once again, I hope I’ve been able to provide you some ideas and concepts to meditate on further. We need to keep in mind that through our attitude and actions we are building storehouses either here on earth or in heavenly places. If we have an attitude of trust in God, we can remain focused on his purpose and kingdom, even in private and intimate ways of obedience to his instruction. God will recognize and reward those efforts, and those spiritual storehouses will provide eternal rewards.  

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 here. Questions or comments? Feel free to email me directly at coreofthebible@gmail.com.