Saturday, September 17, 2011

How to cure covetousness

 Oh, gosh. This subject applies to me more than I care to admit. Born and raised in Southern California, covetousness was a favourite pastime. Every Sunday, we would all sit around and read the ads that came in the Sunday paper, creating new lists of items we didn't know we wanted until we saw them, but now had to have. We shopped almost constantly, and I thought of little else as a teenager but what I wanted next. I had, as Peter puts it,  a heart trained in covetous practices. (2 Peter 2:14)  It has been a life long battle for me, this war between the Spirit and the lusts of the flesh. 

Paul must have had a similar experience to mine, for in Romans 7:7-11 he said, What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin except through the law.  For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, taking opportunity by the commandment, produced in me all manner of evil desire. For apart from the law sin was dead. I was alive once without the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died. And the commandment, which was to bring life, I found to bring death. For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it killed me.

So apparently this issue of covetousness is a common one. But what exactly does it mean to "covet"?

According to the dictionary, it is to desire, to pine after, long for, crave, hunger, and obsess over. Put in one word, it means to "want."  The catch is that no matter how much you get, you always want more.  So, covetousness could be summarized as the unending desire for more.  And, whats more, it is wrong.

The Bible says this: 
"Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, "I will never leave you nor forsake you." (Hebrews 13:5)

Constantly wanting things is wrong. Got it. How do we fix it? How in the world can we cure such an obviously unhealthy, but oh so common, tendency?

One option, not recommended, is to do what Solomon did: gorge yourself on your sin until you are sick of it, and cry out with him, "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity!" (Ecclesiastes 1:2) 
One way to cure a particular passion is to utterly fulfill it, leaving nothing left to desire or long for. Some carnal loves and obsessions only thrive on the possibility of further acquisition or experience. We've all heard of the hot, steamy romance that died in holy matrimony, or the celebrity who reached the pinnacle of his career only to sink into depression. Clearly, for them, it was the chase, and not the catch, the climb and not the top, that mattered.
Collectors both crave, and fear, finding the final piece to a favorite obsession. To complete a collection renders it useless as a further vehicle for covetousness, which is, of course, the collectors favorite pastime! Disguised as passion or love for something or someone, many people are actually just addicted to the "hunt" itself.  The real object of pursuit, once in the possession of its pursuer, finds itself quickly forgotten, merely another addition to a display case or list of conquests.  Onward and forward on to the next hunt! The specific object of desire may have changed, but the heart of covetousness is just the same.

Think of Toad in the children's classic book, Wind in the Willows. Toads insatiable lusts led him into one obsession after the other, until he wound up ultimately in prison for grand theft auto.  Sex, drugs, food, alcohol, sugar, caffeine, cigarettes, shopping, internet gaming, entertainment, gambling ... they all have their built in consequences for uncontrolled indulgence, and the wisdom gained by them is far too costly. Those who have learned to hate their sin through the "immersion method" all agree that to have simply heeded the counsel of God would have spared them untold amounts of pain.  A glutton may come to hate the food he loves, but the price of such experience based wisdom is obesity and health issues.

Then, of course, there are those cases where the sin immersion method actually backfires! Billy Grahams wife, Ruth, once tried to cure her son Franklin of his fascination with cigarettes by forcing him to smoke an entire pack, hopefully resulting in serious nausea, revulsion for tobacco, etc. He wound up an addict.

The flesh, our carnal nature, is insatiable. McJagger's confessional classic, "I can't get no...satisfaction...", rings true in the souls of many, earning this poignant song a permanent place of popularity. I once watched a woman in her eighties passionately belting out the lyrics, a tragic and yet telling commentary on her life experience.  We all can fall prey to this repackaged form of idolatry, believing that something, someone, some place, some circumstance, will satisfy us and bring us the happiness we desire.
If you find yourself single, do you long for relationship? If you rent, do you dream of owning?  Would a new job, city, car, house, spouse, or pet solve your problems? Is happiness an issue of health, beauty, security, status, or finances? Few of us would admit to holding such shallow beliefs, and yet, we all fall for the dangled carrot at least some of the time, don't we?

When it all comes down to it, we can either trust in Jesus or trust in something else. God or mammon,  as the Bible puts it. Either we look to God to fulfill our inner longings or we look to something or someone else to fill that need. "No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the  other. 

Going back to Hebrews 13:5, we find the answer to our earlier question plainly written. How do we cure our own covetousness?  It is two fold:

1. "Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have.
Be content with what you already have, be it stuff, people, or circumstance, (which is an act of faith in the sovereignty and goodness of God)

 2. For He Himself has said, "I will never leave you nor forsake you." Depend entirely on Jesus, who is all you ever really need, and is present with you always.

Contentment is a choice to be thankful for what God has provided for you, and to rely on Him also to meet any future or present needs. If He has promised to give you all you need, then He is all you really need. Think about it a moment: GOD Himself has promised to be with you ALL the time, taking care of all your needs.

He is the cure to covetousness. He Himself. 

I know it sounds too simple, too short an answer. But it is the absolute truth. The very simplicity tends to verify its authenticity, for the the most profound realities are also often the most simple.

Contentment is not a feeling. It is a choice- a choice we make in faith.

BE content.

Contentment, it turns out, is not some elusive experience obtained by fulfilling our inner desires, but rather just an act of trust in a good God. Wow. We can all do that. For God is good and we can make the choice to be content with what He has provided. We don't have to worry or stress about things we need or want. He will take care of us.  For He Himself has said, "I will never leave you nor forsake you." 


I wish this were some radical and incredible revelation that leaves you profoundly impacted, inspired, and motivated to respond, but I think we all already knew this. The question is, are we going to do it? Are we actually going to trust God and be content?

I know my hearts answer. I think I know yours too :)

God bless.

No comments:

Post a Comment