A. T. Schofield
Plain Papers for Young Believers
An insatiable sin, a sin that grows by that on which it feeds, a sin that leads to all sorts of other sins, the one sin of the heart directly forbidden by the ten commandments, a hidden secret sin coming from the heart. “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed... covetousness” (Mark 7:21). Applied to money it is “the root of all evil” (1 Tim.6:10); it is never satisfied. It leads to injustice and oppression (Micah 2:2), to departure from the faith (1 Tim.6:10). It is abhorred by God (Psa.10:3); it excludes from the kingdom of God, being classed with such sins as theft, idolatry, and adultery (1 Cor.6:10). It is one of the sins of the last days (2 Tim. 3:2; 2 Pet. 2:1-3). Such is covetousness, and yet so deceitful is this sin that but few are aware of its dangerous and awful character. In the world, indeed, it is hardly accounted a sin at all; and it is therefore difficult for a worldly Christian to understand how coveting what is another's is as bad before God as theft or drunkenness. The fact is, that it is only the standard of the Word of God that shows what sin is; and in a measure the world at large has profited by this. Theft and adultery are now everywhere admitted to be wrong, but in other ages they were not. It is only within the last century that drunkenness has begun to be classed as a sin by the world, while covetousness and other sins of the heart (though equally condemned by the Word) are, as yet, totally unrecognized as such.
Covetousness is Theft by the Heart
Writing, however, as we do, for those who take the Word and not the world's code of morality for their standard, we would earnestly warn them against this sin, which may be called theft by the heart. But, you say, it is very hard not to covet when I am poor and struggling, and see others so well off. This is true, but, though hard, you must get the victory; and by setting your affections on things above, you will find you are as rich and, it may be, far richer than they, so that the positions are reversed; and the rich man, discontented with his riches, covets the calm and happy mind of the humble Christian. God has made us so rich that it can be only through ignorance of our wealth or through earthly tastes that we covet at all; this we see in Psalm 73, the whole of which is written to prove this very point.
Examples of Covetousness
Before, however, saying more about it, it may be well for us to listen, as we have done before, to what the Word of God has to tell us by way of example concerning this sin, carefully observing to what sins it especially leads. The first sin, the parent of all other sins, was partly due to covetousness. Eve saw the fruit was good for food; she knew it was not for her, but she coveted, and she took, and fell. Covetousness is frequently the result of looking at things we ought not. If we let our eyes drop from Christ to the world, we shall soon find our poor hearts running after it; and covetousness, and a whole host of other sins, will follow. In Joshua 7:21 we find a fearful instance of covetousness in Achan. “When I saw... then I coveted, ... and took.” How like Eve, and how terrible in its results, causing not only his own death, and that of thirty-six others, but the defeat of Israel before their enemies; for God could not lead them to victory with a covetous man in their midst! Observe in both these cases, covetousness leads to direct DISOBEDIENCE to God. Have any of my believers any hidden sin, like Achan's, destroying their happiness, eating away their spiritual life, and perhaps injuring and distressing others? Oh, let us judge ourselves, that we be not judged by the Lord.
Covetousness Leads to Many Sins
Passing on, we may notice it was the greed and covetousness of Samuel's sons, Joel and Abiah, that led the people to demand a king (1 Sam.8:1-5). This king, Saul, was dispossessed of his crown and kingdom through direct disobedience to God, into which he was led by covetousness (1 Sam.15:9-19). Passing down the stream of time we come to Ahab who, through covetousness of Naboth's vineyard, was led to commit judicial MURDER, led on by Jezebel. Gehazi's covetousness led him into a course of LYING and DECEIT, and brought upon himself the fearful plague of leprosy (2 Kings 5:20-24).
That covetousness was one of the besetting sins of Israel, we may see from Jeremiah 6:13. “From the least of them even unto the greatest of them every one is given to covetousness.” But let us remember that this covetousness in Israel was not nearly so bad in character as it is among us; for, after all, what they coveted was merely an undue share of that which God had given to them all, for their blessings were earthly, and none could blame them for highly esteeming money and property. The Christian's possessions are spiritual, but it is a very rare thing for Christians to be striving to get an undue share of these, as the Jews did of their temporal blessings. On the contrary, the object of the covetousness of Christians too often is the world and the things that are in it—things on which they should not set their heart or affections at all, still less envy those who possess more than they. What a tale, therefore, it tells of spiritual deadness, when a child of God, an heir of glory, is seen to covet the poor riches of earth!
Babylon , a type of this world in its prosperity, was full of covetousness.
Turning now to the New Testament, we find in the fearful history of Judas, that it was covetousness of money that led him to BETRAY his Master, a character of sin of which any of us may also be guilty, though of course not in the same way. The Pharisees are branded as covetous, and this led them to reject and despise the faithful, searching words, “Ye cannot serve God and mammon.” Covetousness is also the sin of Balaam (2 Pet.2:15); those whose hearts are full of covetous practices are said to follow the way of Balaam, We have thus seen that the effects of this sin are uniformly bad, seeing that it leads to disobedience to God, rejection of His Word, lying, deceit, and murder. None are exempt from this sin; those who have little would have much; those who have much would have more. It is wonderful, therefore, to possess
The Sure Remedy for This Sin,
and that is in simply having the enjoyed possession of so much, that not only can we not wish for more, but cannot even hold what we have. Such a portion is the Christian's, and, were our hearts more true to Christ, we should be but little troubled with low covetous desires; for in Him we have more than we could wish, more than our hearts can contain. Hence, if we are really filled with all the fullness of God, what room is there for a covetous thought, however selfish we may be, if, as must be the case, occupation with Christ not only fills us, but transforms us. Covetousness is not absent so much because we are full, as because we have ceased to desire for ourselves, what we desire being for Christ's glory, His interests having supplanted our own. Christ then is the cure for covetousness, by virtue both of His satisfying and His transforming power. We are sure that the lives of many Christians are miserable mainly from the effects of this one sin; for, unlike other sins which may make those who commit them happy for a time, this sin makes its victims wretched, so that there is no more unhappy object than a thoroughly covetous man; while, on the other hand, there is no happier object than a Christian who is satisfied with Christ.
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