Covetousness, Contentment, and the Kingdom

November 8, 2010

By Lawrence Underwood

In Luke 12:15 Jesus teaches us a principle of the Kingdom of God that stands in direct opposition to man’s natural view of life.

‘Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.’

What? It seems that most people, including many Christians, gauge success in life by the amount and type of possessions. From the clothes worn, cars driven, type and size of home, and even the type of computer one uses judgments are made about the status and well being of people. People will labour, scheme, and exhaust themselves in order to have an abundance of possessions. Marriages, friendships, and other relationships become strained and are even destroyed in this pursuit. Our current economy is based, in large part, on the accumulation of possessions. Jesus’ words stand as an indictment against such actions.

What is covetousness? It is related to greed, but subtly different. Covetousness is more than wanting more; it also includes wanting someone else to not have what he possesses. Covetousness is all about trust and faith, as we shall see.

To illustrate the deadly nature of covetousness Jesus tells the people in the crowd a parable; a story about a man who over time the church has come to call the Rich Fool. Jesus reveals a great deal to us about covetousness and its consequences in this story.

The man was already rich. God has seen to give this man great wealth. He is never condemned for being rich. The condemnation is not about his possessions; it is about his attitude toward his possessions.

What was the source of the man’s increase? The ground. This man was a farmer. There is perhaps no vocation that more closely illustrates a vital point about our income and possessions: it all comes from the hand of the Lord. No matter how well one prepares the soil, no matter how carefully he plants, cultivates, fertilises, and irrigates ultimately his yield is dependent upon the Lord. Even a perfectly tended and irrigated field can be destroyed by a storm or some other natural calamity. It is easy to see that a farmer is dependent upon the Lord for his yield. The further our culture moves from an agricultural base the more difficult it is for many to understand this simple fact: We are all completely dependent upon the hand of the Lord for our sustenance. Ultimately, it is not our ability that brings in provision. It is the providence of God. We must allow that truth to take deep root in our souls; otherwise, covetousness will grow in our hearts.

This rich man had a bumper crop. God blessed him abundantly. His fields yielded more than they ever had. His storage capacity was not large enough to contain all the harvest, so he made plans to renovate his farm by tearing down his current barns and build larger barns. Storing a crop is not wrong. As a matter of fact, we are commanded to consider the ant who stores provision so that he will not be lacking in a time of hardship. So, what had this man done which caused so great a judgment to be meted out upon him?

First, he was not content. The Lord had already blessed him with abundance; otherwise, he would not have been rich. His first response shows that he was more concerned with retaining his harvest and increasing his possessions. He did not enquire of the Lord what he should do. There is no indication that he viewed himself as a steward of the Lord’s harvest. He assumed that his possessions were his and that he could dispose of them according to his own desires.

Secondly, he was concerned with his personal pleasure. His inner conversation reveals this:

‘And, I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’

His primary thought was selfish consumption.

Finally, his thoughts reveal that he was taking a position of not only self-indulgence, but also one of self-dependence. He does not thank God for the great harvest. He sees the increase as his assurance of ease for years to come.

Each of these mindsets stands in opposition to the heart of a disciple of Christ. Covetousness, and its cousin greed, displays a lack of contentment in God’s providential provision.

Covetousness is rooted in viewing personal pleasure as the goal of life.

So, how was this man covetous? Whose possessions was he seeking to acquire? God’s. He was covetous not only of the Lord’s possessions, but also of his position: His position as Provider.

As mentioned above, covetousness is a betrayal of faith and trust. One who has faith in God trusts him to supply all of his needs whether they are spiritual or material. One who has faith in God knows that God is the owner of all. He sees himself as a steward and his ‘possessions’ as material that is to be used in service to and for his Master.

The sin of covetousness is resident within the human heart. No one needs to be taught to be covetousness.> It is struggle common to all men.

The culture in which we live is saturated with messages that run counter to trust in God. Everywhere we look, we see advertisements that appeal to the selfish nature of man. Turn on the radio and hear of how much you need ‘X’ in order to be happy. Open a magazine and see how much your marriage and family can be improved if only you had ‘Y’. See how often and in how many ways you are told that ‘You deserve this.’ It is everywhere.

How does one overcome these temptations? How does one overcome greed and its cousin, covetousness? Jesus provides the remedy for us in verses following the parable, vv. 22-40. There is no space here for a full exposition of the passage. In brief, here are the principles that are taught. (Please read the text for a fuller understanding.)

1. Life is more that physical desire and need.
2. The provision of God in his creation: This provision demonstrates that the Father is able and willing to care for his own.

How should we live in light of these truths?

We should place the kingdom of God, not this temporal world, first in our heart and affections. God’s glory and his reign should be our aim in all we do. There is no greater calling for us as Christians than to honour our King and his kingdom in all we do.

Ultimately the defeat of greed and covetousness boils down to trust. In whom do we trust ourselves, others, or Almighty God? It is folly to entrust ourselves to fallen man, whether self or other, especially in light of the wonderful promise of our Saviour:

‘Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom’

What promise beyond salvation do we need? There is nothing that a man needs in this life or in eternity that is not contained in those loving words.

Jesus warns us that we must be on guard against covetousness. We must actively seek it out and deal with it. When we see it in our lives it should call us to repentance, prayer, and a renewal of dependency upon out loving Father. Covetousness is nothing with which to trifle. After all, it cost the Rich Fool his soul.

One Response to “Covetousness, Contentment, and the Kingdom”

  1. Bill Brown said

    Lawrence, timely article as we contemplate our Thanksgiving holiday. As Christians, we must learn contentment. Thanks for writing this.

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