Covetousness” Matthew 6:19-24
SCRIPTURE INTRO: Two more sermon in series on unbelief.
The thesis of this series is that whenever sins crop up in our lives—
whether attitudinal or behavioral—
it’s a sign of lurking, growing, unbelief in God.
The flip side of the coin, the positive side is that all righteousness,
all good deeds in our lives come from faith in God,
in his word, both the promises and the warnings.
So the way to fight sin in our lives is to battle unbelief,
and the way to pursue righteousness and holiness and love,
is to fight the good fight of faith.
Each week, we’re looking at passages in which believers
are struggling with certain temptations,
and then show how faith helps us overcome.
INTRO: This Christmas I was in search of a Wii video game system.
Which was the most popular and sought after gift—
like the Cabbage Patch Doll of old.
I went to numerous stores and struck out every time.
Then a friend of ours called me at the church and said:
There are three Wiis at the Game Stop down by Wal-Mart.
I just bought one.
Buy me one and I’ll pay you back!
She said: I can’t they won’t let me. But if you hurry, you might get one.
So I ran out of the church, jumped in my car, sped down to Game Stop.
At one point I ran a red light—ran into the store—and just missed the last one.
As I drove away I said to myself:
Is this what Christmas has come to?
Driving through town like a maniac, breaking the law, to try to buy a toy?
And the answer came back: Yes.
Just so you know, a generous friend of a friend let us borrow his Wii
for Christmas day so that a certain young man in our household
would have something to open, and not just a card that said:
Santa is out of Wiis but will give you one some day.
Stuff plays a big part in our lives, doesn’t it.
There are things that we want and we pin so many of our hopes on those things.
And then there are some things that become so important to us—
that we start to believe that this thing is the key to our happiness.
Coveting is wanting something so much that you put your hopes for happiness
in that thing, and you lose your happiness in Christ and in the Gospel.
Coveting is not a little problem—it’s forbidden in the Ten Commandments.
Coveting is in the same list with murder, adultery, stealing, bearing false witness.
As John Piper points out, the Ten Commandments begin and end with virtually
commandment: “You shall have no other
“You shall not covet.” are equivalent commands.
Coveting is desiring anything other than God
in a way that betrays a loss of contentment and satisfaction in Him.
Covetousness is a heart divided between two gods.
It’s a form of unbelief.
Rather than believing that God can provide what we need, we look to things.
Jesus does not use the words “covet” and “covetousness” in this passage—
but this is what the passage is about.
He calls it storing up for yourself treasures on earth.
He very clearly identifies this as idolatry when he says:
You cannot serve both God and Money.
Money, in a sense stands for all the things we covet.
It holds out to us all the promises of happiness apart from God.
And in this passage Jesus warns us that all this stuff that seems so real and
so important for you to have, is really passing away.
It is literally here today and gone tomorrow.
And so it cannot provide you with these deeper things that you treasure.
Jesus not telling you this because He wants to snatch away your enjoyment of life.
He is telling you this because He loves you.
He wants to warn you of the inevitable disappointment that will come
if you set your heart on things that don’t last.
When a Christian sets his heart on treasures of this world,
devotes his life to storing up these treasures, he will be disappointed.
Jesus doesn’t want His disciples disappointed—wants you to have great things.
So Jesus doesn’t stop with this, not just negative warning.
He says—there is something worth setting your heart on.
There is a treasure worth devoting your life to getting and storing up.
He calls this treasure in heaven.
Which, as we will see, is living under God’s grace.
So let’s look at this passage and this topic of covetousness under three headings:
1. Stuff is not the problem.
2. Your heart is the problem.
3. The Gospel is the solution.
MP#1 Stuff is not the problem.
Throughout the history of the Christian church there have been sincere Christians
who read this passage and believe that stuff is the problem.
Don’t store up for yourselves treasures on earth.
It’s simple—treasures on earth are houses, clothing, jewelry, those things.
So the answer to covetousness is not to accumulate wealth and things.
Think of monastic movements in the church and vows of poverty.
Doesn’t have to be that drastic, just a general belief that stuff itself is wrong.
The problem with this understanding of Jesus’ words is that it doesn’t
match with the rest of Scripture. In fact, there are several places where
we are actually commanded to accumulate wealth and things.
Way back in Genesis 1, when God made Adam and Eve, put in Garden of Eden,
he gave them the whole earth for their use and he gave them a command
to multiply and take dominion.
That command to take dominion over the earth is called the “Cultural Mandate.”
And inherent in exercising dominion over creation is accumulating things.
God gives every person a part of this earth.
Some people gives just a little, some people gives a lot—some poor, some rich.
That’s God’s business—what He gives you, but you are to take dominion over it.
Your are to bring order and beauty to it, make all you can of it,
are to extract all of the potential from it that God has created in it.
That looks different for every person depending on your calling.
But the drive to acquire, accumulate, build—desire created in us by God.
Another place we see this is in the 8th Commandment—“Thou shalt not steal.”
All commandments forbid certain things and require things.
The 8th requires, as our catechism puts it “the lawful procuring and furthering the
wealth and outward estate of ourselves and others.”
That will look different for different people, depending on your calling.
Another place—all of the proverbs, both in OT and NT that call us to plan,
invest, build, be wise stewards.
“A good man leaves an inheritance for his children’s children,
but a sinner’s wealth is stored up for the righteous.”
Proverb not just about spiritual inheritance, also material inheritance.
As I said already, this is to be consistent with your calling and station in life.
What this looks like for one person is very different from another.
And this is not in any way an open door to unrestrained luxury.
Christians who take the Lordship of Christ seriously will always live below
their means, if for no other reason than that they are giving away a substantial
part of their money to the work of the kingdom.
Those are all related issues—but the main point is clear.
The accumulation of wealth and things is how God has made us.
And, it’s also very important to note that the Bible does not forbid the enjoyment
of things—in fact, it commands us to enjoy them. 1 Timothy 6:17:
“Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to but their hope in God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.”
Did you catch that?
“God richly provides for our enjoyment.”
It’s unchristian to have things and pretend you’re so spiritual, don’t really enjoy.
Or to begrudge people their enjoyment.
You are commanded to enjoy—because these are gifts from God.
And even further, if you really believe what Jesus says about our stuff:
If you believe him when he says that
“Moth and rust will destroy, and thieves will break in and steal.”
This stuff is not lasting—if you believe that, you will actually enjoy it more.
And this is the reason. Covetousness, as we will see in a moment, idolizes stuff.
It believes that stuff can give us a sense of identity or a sense of worth.
Or that it can give us security or happiness.
But it can’t. It’s not intended to.
And if you know that, and believe it,
you won’t expect your stuff to give you what it cannot give.
And you will be able to enjoy things for the purpose God has intended.
Not the goal of your life but just helps along the path of life.
Things you use now for yourself and others,
but things you know you will leave behind when you leave this life.
So stuff is not the problem.
God has made us to be dominion bearers that build and accumulate.
God richly provides for our help and enjoyment.
MP#2 Your heart is the problem.
“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
The heart, biblically speaking is not just your emotions,
is the real person, the inner person.
It is the deepest and truest affections and values that drive us.
Our hearts, as they come under the influence of our sinful nature,
are bent toward taking created things, even good things,
and worshipping them in belief that they will bless us.
That’s what coveting is.
Jesus explains this further when he says:
“The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness.”
Jesus is talking about your mind, your thinking process.
When your heart is set on some earthly treasure as the thing that is going to give
you lasting happiness, you are looking at the world in a false way.
Think walking in light, really in darkness.
Because of our sinful natures, we are a masters at rationalizing the pursuit
of our idols. You can read command or warning in Bible that is absolutely clear
and say: “Yes, but that does not apply to me.”
I must have this. I will have this.
Then Jesus puts it this way:
“No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.”
Jesus saying, you will serve somebody or something.
You will serve the god that you believe is going to make you happy.
A god, by it’s very nature, makes an exclusive claim on you.
It says, Serve me alone and I will bless you.
Money in a way stands for all other idols because it holds out the greatest
promises of blessing and happiness and security and worth.
So a person can say all he wants: “I am following God.”
But his affections, rationalizations, and actions tell the truth of his heart.
In Martyn Lloyd-Jones commentary on this passage he tells a story—
I’ve told you this before.
One morning a farmer came into the kitchen all excited.
He said to his wife: “The cow had twins.
I thought we were only going to have one calf, but we have two!
When sell them, take all of the proceeds from sale of one, give to Lord’s work.
A few weeks later—came in looking glum.
His wife asked him what was the matter.
He said: “The Lord’s calf died.”
Then Martyn Lloyd-Jones asks: Why is it always the Lord’s calf that dies?
Because our hearts are idol-making factories.
Claim to worship God alone, affections controlled by earthly treasures,
minds look for rationalizations to use thing as we want, bound to them.
Paul says, don’t put your hope in wealth, put your hope in God.
Are you putting your hope in things you have or plan to get?
Are you expecting these things to bless you?
Are you looking for them to give you what God alone can give?
Are these things your treasure? Is this where your heart is?
Is it in these things that you hope to find your sense of worth,
your identity or security?
Are these things the basis of your judgments about self, other people?
Those are the kinds of questions Jesus wants you to ask yourself.
And if you are honest, and willing to examine yourself,
you will have to admit that you do often put your hope in earthly treasures.
You do look to earthly treasures to give you what God alone can give.
Your heart is turned toward these things very often.
Why do you think Jesus preached this to His own disciples?
Because he knows that this is a constant struggle in Christian life.
Because he knows that sometimes Christians can waste years chasing after these.
You have to see this in yourself and fight it.
How do you fight it?
That brings us to our next point.
MP#3 The solution is the Gospel.
Our tendency to covet is so strong—
we are so prone see our stuff wrongly and to crave it and worship it
that it takes the Gospel to re-arrange our priorities.
I was talking to someone recently who was telling me the story of a man she knows
who in a fit of anger did something terrible
(he struck his grown son with his fist and accidentally killed him).
He had never been a church-going man, but he was so overwhelmed with guilt
and remorse that he started going to church and made a profession of faith.
I asked the person who was telling me this:
Do you think it was it real?
Was this man truly converted or did he just get religion?
And she said: Yes, I believe he was truly born again for three reasons.
He used to get drunk, and he quit drinking.
He used to have a filthy mouth, and he quit cursing.
But the biggest of all was that he used to love money,
and he became a generous man.
What does Jesus mean when he tells us to store up treasure in heaven?
Clearly this starts with the heart,
just as storing up treasures on earth starts with your heart.
Storing up treasure in heaven means being so amazed at the grace of God
in Jesus Christ, and wanting so much to experience more of that grace,
that it changes the way you think about and use your money and things.
It changes you from being a lover of money
to a lover of God and people.
It makes you a generous person.
In Ephesians Paul says that we have been blessed in the heavenly realms
with every spiritual blessing in Christ Jesus.
In other words, treasures in heaven are the blessings of the Gospel
that we experience here and now.
You don’t have to wait until you die to get them.
You are blessed now in heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ
What kinds of blessings? I’ll mention some.
Peace of conscience.
Think of the man I told you about, and how tortured his conscience was.
What a heavenly treasure peace of conscience must have been for him.
Joy in all the circumstances of life is another heavenly treasure.
Assurance of God’s love.
Identity as a child of God. Eternal security.
Could go on and on—
treasures in heaven are all the blessings in Christ Jesus in the heavenly places—
all the benefits of God’s grace that come to us through the Gospel.
But it doesn’t stop there.
Jesus seems to be saying that there is a direct connection between
your enjoyment of these blessings and your willingness to give
your money and resources to bless other people and for the work of the kingdom.
Why did this man start to give generously, when he was once a lover of money?
One way we could answer that theologically—he was converted.
He got a new heart that was soft toward God.
But we could also say that he became generous because giving
increased his enjoyment of the blessings of the Gospel.
The more he gave, the more he knew and experienced the peace of God.
Not because his giving earned peace with God—
but because it affirmed the peace that he already had through Christ.
What this means for believers is obvious.
Whatever God has given you materially—
whether you have a lot or a little, whether you are rich or poor,
he has given it to you out of his goodness and love.
He wants you to trust him for everything and give of what you have
freely and generously as he guides and instructs you.
As you do, the unbelief of covetousness will be weakened,
and you will experience more and more the blessings of the Gospel.
“Be generous and willing to share. In this way you will lay up treasure for yourself as a firm foundation for the coming age so that you may take hold of the life that is truly life.”
CONC: Old hymn says:
Worldlings prize their gems of beauty, cling to gilded toys of dust,
Boast of wealth and fame and pleasure, Only Jesus will I trust.
And that sums it up well.
Who will you trust for your happiness and blessing?
Gilded toys of dust or Jesus Christ?
Trust him, pursue the blessings of the Gospel,
give generously, and put covetousness behind you.