Romans 1:28–32 (NKJV)
28 And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; 29 being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, 30 backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, 31 undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful; 32 who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them.
Paul reminds us in Romans 1 that God rules among the sons of men. Therefore, when peoples spurn Him, He eventually hands them over to a debased mind. And this debased mind bears numerous bitter fruits. Paul lists no fewer than twenty three fruits of a debased mind. Today we consider the fourth of these: covetousness. Paul writes that unbelieving societies are “filled with… covetousness.”
So what is covetousness? Webster’s 1828 dictionary defines covetousness as “a strong or inordinate desire of obtaining and possessing some supposed good; usually in a bad sense, and applied to an inordinate desire of wealth or avarice.” Covetousness, therefore, is an ungodly desire that proceeds from the heart (cf. Mk 7:22) – a heart that is not content with what God has given and that lusts for more.
You no doubt recall that the tenth of the Ten Commandments forbids covetousness. “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s” (Ex 20:17). God insists that it is not enough to avoid actual murder, adultery, theft, and false witness. After all, these external actions are but symptoms of an internal cancer, a cancer of the heart, the cancer of covetousness. And God’s law does not merely address the symptoms but also the cause, our corrupt hearts.
This is why, in Jesus’ own exposition of the law in the Sermon on the Mount, He insists that to hate one’s brother in one’s heart, to call him “Raca! You fool!”, is to murder him in the heart and be in danger of hell-fire. Likewise, to look upon another to lust with them in the heart is to commit adultery. God’s law does not merely address the outward behavior but the heart desires that lead to those behaviors, the covetousness that poisons relationships.
The covetous man believes the lie that one’s life is defined by one’s possessions. On one occasion someone cried out to Jesus from the crowd, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” Life’s not fair; I should have been given more. Jesus refused this request and warned the crowd, “Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of things he possesses” (Lk 12:15). Like a leech, covetousness sucks the life from those who indulge it, gradually destroying thankfulness and joy and replacing it with bitterness and resentment.
In a debased culture, covetousness takes root and goes to seed. We witness this in our own day. We have abandoned God and declared that this life is all that matters. Consequently, we have believed the lie that one’s life does consist in the abundance of things he possesses. Because of our covetousness, national and personal debt have skyrocketed. Our political leaders use covetousness to pit the poor against the rich. State Lotteries and the gambling industry appeal to our covetousness to induce us to give them our hard earned money. God is handing us over to covetousness.
So what of you? Are you consumed by what you do not have? Have you coveted your neighbor’s husband or wife? Have you coveted their children? Their achievements? Their wealth? Their business? Their job? Or are you filled with thankfulness? Content with what God has given you? Prioritizing persons over possessions?
Reminded that covetousness is a sin that destroys others and ourselves, and that God calls us to be filled with thankfulness and content with what we have, let us confess that we are often filled with covetousness. And as you are able, let us kneel as we confess our sin to the Lord. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.