Beware of Covetousness

“Now this I say, he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Corinthians 9:6-7)

Covetousness is also called greed, avarice or cupidity in certain translations and it simply means ‘an inordinate desire to acquire or possess more than one needs, especially with respect to material wealth’.  This is named as one of the seven deadly sins in AD 590 by Pope Gregory I.  Indeed this is a deadly sin as the Bible consists of many records of individuals paying the price of covetousness with their lives:  Achan (Joshua 7), Judas (Matthew 27), Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5) just to name a few.

However, many of us would deny that we are covetous.  The challenge is that we are so immersed in the affairs of today’s world that we may not even realize that our actions, thoughts and desires are tainted with covetousness.  We are so comfortable and entrenched in our environment that we are blind-sided to the influence of covetousness in our lives.  For example, all of us expect an annual pay raise regardless.  In addition, no matter how much we have, it is never enough and it is always desirable to have more.  Somehow even as redeemed sinners, we are inbuilt with the deep-seated motivation to acquire or possess more.  We have this insatiable quest to increase our possessions and wealth.  How are we to keep this inclination towards covetousness from bringing death or miseries to us?  Paul taught the Corinthians the way of giving as a counter-measure against covetousness.

Paul illustrates this counter-measure using the principles of farming where the harvest is predicated upon the sowing.  One way for us to deal with our tendency towards covetousness is to give to the LORD.  Covetousness causes us to focus on ourselves, needs, wants and enthrones our ego as the overlord of our lives.  Once we shift our focus away from ourselves to the LORD, we will be able to see beyond ourselves and enjoy the blessings that God has given.  God gave us blessings so that we can bless others.  Take an example: we can indulge in luxury goods to celebrate our successes.  This celebration may cost us thousands of dollars. Can we not use this money to bless others who may be struggling to make ends meet or providing some pocket money to the needy?  Likewise, we could use our wealth to buy a second or a third property and yet be oblivious to the needs of God’s kingdom or others.  Giving is easier said than done.  I am not suggesting that we should live like a pauper in our God’s and others’ orientation.  I am suggesting that we apply the principle of sowing and let God use our sowing that we may reap a harvest of blessings and joy. This article is not meant to send individuals on a guilt-trip or condemn one’s actions.  We all stand before God individually to account for our actions and the reasons for our actions.  I am suggesting that we be mindful of the Lord’s way and will in our financial decision making concerning the influence of covetousness in our lives.

There is a second principle in Paul’s teaching in the farming example.  The second principle is that the sowing must be intentional (“Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart”).  The desire to bless others can be spontaneous but it should also be carefully planned and purposed in one’s heart.  The giving is not to be done because of human manipulations or clever marketing or a guilt trip but it is to be an intelligent discovery of the needs and the sensing of God’s direction and leading.  I believe that nothing happens by chance.  The challenge is to understand the reasons, designs and the purposes behind our encounters as God leads.  For example, once a missionary friend asked whether I would be keen to host some full-time staff workers from Youth for Christ from the Eastern Europe.  We had a wonderful lunch fellowship and their ministry was a great encouragement to my wife and I as we live amongst university students.  We decided thereafter to make a small contribution towards the university ministry in Eastern Europe. God can bring us to different needs and fields, but we have to decide whether God wants us to sow or we believe the sowing should be best done by others.  We are not called to give to every need but we must be open to what God may purpose for us.

A third principle from Paul is that the giving must not be grudgingly or under compulsion.  Grudgingly (Greek: lupē) literally means “sorrow”, “grief” or “pain”.  John F MacArthur said that “giving is not to be done with an attitude of remorse, regret, or reluctance, of mourning over parting with what is given”.  We do not see a regretful or sorrowful farmer when he sows.  In fact, we see a farmer full of joy and relief after the sowing.  He has a sense of anticipation that his sowing would result in a great harvest.  We are not to sow or give with expectation of personal returns.  We should sow and give because God gave us the opportunity.  God in His own good time will return the harvests (whether to us or others, that is God’s prerogative).  Paul would finish his teaching with the statement:  God loves a cheerful giver.  Let us use what we have while we can for His kingdom, lest when we are gone, our hard earned wealth or possessions may be in the hands of others who will squander them away.  Let us sow as the LORD leads and be found faithful and ever wary of covetousness in our lives.

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