God’s Law: The Grand Charter of Freedom
The apostle bids us: “Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee” ().
The Interlinear Greek-English New Testament refers to this “conversation” as “manner of life” and enjoins us to be satisfied with our present circumstances.
Why can we be satisfied? Because our divine Provider has given the assurance that He will not abandon us. What is the result?
“So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me” (). It conveys a distinct contentment, an abiding trust.
Does this faithful mindset consistently reflect our experience, as it should?
Let us consider what might trigger covetous behavior in professed believers today—and examine our own hearts in the process. We may like to assume that actual symptoms of covetousness might just be indicators of the increased level of stress and anxiety rampant in our day. After all, Jesus foretold this would be characteristic as the end of time approaches:
“There shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring; men’s hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth” (, ).
“We see many who are having a time of trouble beforehand; anxiety is stamped upon every feature; they seem to find no consolation, but have a continual fearful looking for of some dreadful evil.”1
The term “stress” as we know it today was first coined as late as 1936 by endocrinologist Hans Selye. In the British journal Nature, Dr. Selye referred to stress as the non-specific response of the body to any demand for change.
As the ever-hastening technological revolution continues to foster an ever-faster pace of life, with it a rapid increase in change has also been experienced in the 20th and 21st centuries. So, our need to adapt to it is part of the picture.
Dr. Karl Albrecht, a stress-reduction specialist, identifies four types of stress:
1. Time Stress—pushing to meet tight deadlines.
2. Anticipatory Stress—preparing for future events.
3. Situational Stress—feeling powerless by circumstances or perhaps without support when overruled by domineering people as your point of view is lent no ear. Such situations often come as a surprise.
4. Encounter Stress—Interacting with people who may be hard to deal with.
Time stress might tempt us to covet an easier life as a way of escaping God’s assigned duty for us.
Anticipatory stress could result if we worry about falling into poverty or privation. This could certainly trigger covetousness too, as we might be tempted to doubt whether or not divine Providence will really care for our needs—even more so when we look around and assume that the needs of others appear to be adequately met (and then envy comes into play as well).
Situational stress could trigger covetousness if we feel overwhelmed and unjustly dominated by circumstances and are led to long for a better environment.
Encounter stress is often caused by having to deal with people—and even friends—who may not even be aware of how selfish they are actually behaving. (We all should constantly ask ourselves, “Am I actually the one being selfish about this?”) Yet at such moments we again may be tempted to covet a different station in life.
The characteristic of initiative is a good, healthy quality; it is considered a commendable virtue. Without goals and aims, life tends to be fruitless; we don’t accomplish much. So, when, why, and how does goal-setting and moving forward in life too often deteriorate into selfish ambition and covetousness?
God commands us: “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s” ().
Since the Ten Commandments are promises, the tenth declares that God’s remnant will not “covet” the things of a neighbor. Surprisingly, the word translated as “covet” in this commandment is not some kind of negative verb with an ugly connotation. On the contrary, this Hebrew term, chamad, actually means “to delight in,” as toward something pleasant, desirous, or precious. But an example of the result is given in, “Woe to them that devise iniquity, and work evil upon their beds! when the morning is light, they practise it, because it is in the power of their hand. And they covet fields, and take them by violence; and houses, and take them away: so they oppress a man and his house, even a man and his heritage. Therefore thus saith the Lord; behold, against this family do I devise an evil, from which ye shall not remove your necks; neither shall ye go haughtily: for this time is evil. In that day shall one take up a parable against you, and lament with a doleful lamentation, and say, We be utterly spoiled: he hath changed the portion of my people: how hath he removed it from me! turning away he hath divided our fields.” [Emphasis added.]
Thus, the very fields that the wicked coveted had to be confiscated by the ultimate Owner of all things, in His infinite wisdom. Those fields had likely been beautiful and productive—and human pride clamors that if something is desirable, then it must surely be intended for me, myself, and mine. True? Not so!
Hence this instance of covetousness revealed a violation of the fifth and sixth commandments—and ultimately a serious distrust of God and His wisdom in selecting whom He chooses to give what.
Why don’t we all have all the fields, houses, equipment, money, fame, recognition, and other things we might enjoy? Wouldn’t it be nice to have more? Wouldn’t that make for a better life? Shouldn’t all the best things on the planet be bountifully bestowed into the hands of nice, faithful people in every instance? The sparkling, natural spring waters, the richest, most fertile lands, the world’s most gorgeous palaces, and so forth? If not, why not? Let’s see one example, which the Lord’s messenger explains:
“When Lot entered Sodom he fully intended to keep himself free from iniquity and to command his household after him. But he signally failed. The corrupting influences about him had an effect upon his own faith, and his children’s connection with the inhabitants of Sodom bound up his interest in a measure with theirs. The result is before us.
“Many are still making a similar mistake. In selecting a home they look more to the temporal advantages they may gain than to the moral and social influences that will surround themselves and their families. . . .
“Those who secure for their children worldly wealth and honor at the expense of their eternal interests, will find in the end that these advantages are a terrible loss.”2
The messenger of the Lord unveils a sinister plot strategically aimed against us right at this very moment:
“I saw that Satan bade his angels lay their snares especially for those who were looking for Christ’s second appearing and keeping all the commandments of God. Satan told his angels that the churches were asleep. He would increase his power and lying wonders, and he could hold them. ‘But,’ he said, ‘the sect of Sabbathkeepers we hate; they are continually working against us, and taking from us our subjects, to keep the hated law of God. Go, make the possessors of lands and money drunk with cares. If you can make them place their affections upon these things, we shall have them yet. They may profess what they please, only make them care more for money than for the success of Christ’s kingdom or the spread of the truths we hate. Present the world before them in the most attractive light, that they may love and idolize it. We must keep in our ranks all the means of which we can gain control. The more means the followers of Christ devote to His service, the more will they injure our kingdom by getting our subjects. As they appoint meetings in different places, we are in danger. Be very vigilant then. Cause disturbance and confusion if possible. Destroy love for one another. Discourage and dishearten their ministers; for we hate them. Present every plausible excuse to those who have means, lest they hand it out. Control the money matters if you can, and drive their ministers to want and distress. This will weaken their courage and zeal. Battle every inch of ground. Make covetousness and love of earthly treasures the ruling traits of their character. As long as these traits rule, salvation and grace stand back. Crowd every attraction around them, and they will be surely ours. And not only are we sure of them, but their hateful influence will not be exercised to lead others to heaven. When any shall attempt to give, put within them a grudging disposition, that it may be sparingly.’
“I saw that Satan carries out his plans well. As the servants of God appoint meetings, Satan with his angels is on the ground to hinder the work. He is constantly putting suggestions into the minds of God’s people. He leads some in one way and some in another, always taking advantage of evil traits in the brethren and sisters, exciting and stirring up their natural besetments. If they are disposed to be selfish and covetous, Satan takes his stand by their side, and with all his power seeks to lead them to indulge their besetting sins. The grace of God and the light of truth may melt away their covetous, selfish feelings for a little, but if they do not obtain entire victory, Satan comes in when they are not under a saving influence and withers every noble, generous principle, and they think that too much is required of them. They become weary of well-doing and forget the great sacrifice which Jesus made to redeem them from the power of Satan and from hopeless misery.”3
“Covetousness is idolatry, and no idolater will enter the kingdom of heaven.”4
“Those who are familiar with the denunciations against idolatry in the word of God will at once see how grave an offense this sin is.”5
“Balaam loved the reward of unrighteousness. The sin of covetousness, which God ranks with idolatry, he did not resist and overcome. Satan obtained entire control of him through this one fault, which deteriorated his character. . . .”6
“Covetousness is an evil of gradual development. Achan had cherished greed of gain until it became a habit, binding him in fetters well-nigh impossible to break. . . .
“We are as directly forbidden to indulge covetousness as was Achan to appropriate the spoils of Jericho. God has declared it to be idolatry. We are warned, ‘Ye cannot serve God and mammon’ (). ‘Take heed, and beware of covetousness’ ( ). ‘Let it not be once named among you’ ( ). We have before us the fearful doom of Achan, of Judas, of Ananias and Sapphira. Back of all these we have that of Lucifer, the ‘son of the morning,’ who, coveting a higher state, forfeited forever the brightness and bliss of heaven. And yet, notwithstanding all these warnings, covetousness abounds.
Shouldn’t our Provider’s promise never to abandon us deeply affect our manner of life?
“Everywhere its slimy track is seen. It creates discontent and dissension in families; it excites envy and hatred in the poor against the rich; it prompts the grinding oppression of the rich toward the poor. And this evil exists not in the world alone, but in the church. How common even here to find selfishness, avarice, overreaching, neglect of charities, and robbery of God ‘in tithes and offerings.’ Among church members ‘in good and regular standing’ there are, alas! many Achans. . . . The cries of the suffering poor are unheeded; the gospel light is hindered in its course; the scorn of worldlings is kindled by practices that give the lie to the Christian profession; and yet the covetous professor contin-ues to heap up treasures.”7
“God reads the purposes and intents of the heart, and tries the motives of the children of men. His signal, visible displeasure may not be manifested as in the case of Ananias and Sapphira, yet in the end the punishment will in no case be lighter than that which was inflicted upon them.”8
Ananias and Sapphira were not only covetousness about money—their final ambitious motive was prompted by covetousness in seeking prestige in the church.
“How many hearts through a wrong course of allowing the mind to become concentrated upon a certain course of action to distinguish self, will come under the head of covetousness, which is idolatry!”9
Most of us relish finding a great bargain. Some take immense pride in their talent to negotiate one. Others are nearly obsessed with it, even at the expense of a fellow human being. Is such a state of mind conducive to not being able to buy or sell when the great crisis hits? Are we genuinely loving our neighbor as ourselves—a basic Christian requisite?
“Some of the Sabbathkeepers who say to the world that they are looking for Jesus’ coming, and that they believe we are having the last message of mercy, give way to their natural feelings, and barter, and trade, and are a proverb among unbelievers for their keenness in trade, for being sharp, and always getting the best end of a bargain. Such would better lose a little and exert a better influence in the world, and a happier influence among brethren, and show that this world is not their God.”10
So, when we’re looking out for me, myself, and mine to be credited with something at someone else’s expense—whether monetarily or simply to stack up my ego account—that’s a violation of the 10th commandment.
“The tenth commandment strikes at the very root of all sins, prohibiting the selfish desire, from which springs the sinful act. He who in obedience to God’s law refrains from indulging even a sinful desire for that which belongs to another will not be guilty of an act of wrong toward his fellow creatures.”11
“Christ calls upon His children to rid themselves of all selfishness, all covetousness, all impurity.”12
“Many are making a mistake; and that is, their mind is more upon eating and drinking and dressing themselves than in feeling humble and prayerfully to serve God. . . . We want to know what shall I do to be saved? individually. And when you begin to know the word in this way, you will find that God looks upon you and He will impart to you the understanding of His word that you shall not be covetous, after this thing and that thing and the other thing that is in the world. . . . [13quoted.] Will you weary your body, and will you worry and will you fret and will you spoil your religious experience, because you do not trust in the Lord Jesus Christ to work for you when you are doing your best on your part? . . . The Lord would help you to put your trust in Him, to look to Him, and his Holy Spirit will come upon you and you will have—not a disposition to quarrel because you do not have everything you want—but you will have a disposition to thank God from the heart for what you have. That is what we need. And unless you have that Spirit, and unless you carry it out, you will never enter the kingdom of Heaven.”
“ ‘They that will be rich,’—those who are fully determined to obtain riches and to enjoy the pleasures of this world—‘fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts’ (). For a time Satan holds out before them many worldly attractions and opportunities, but that which the word of God declares to be the sure result must come upon them. Their end is destruction and perdition. [ quoted.]
“As Christians, we are to follow our Leader step by step in the heavenward way. His gifts are not to be absorbed in worldly pursuits. . . . [14quoted].”
So when stress hits, remember that “God does not bid you fear that He will fail to fulfill His promises, that His patience will weary, or His compassion be found wanting. Fear lest your will shall not be held in subjection to Christ’s will, lest your hereditary and cultivated traits of character shall control your life.”15
“If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God” ().
Let us therefore determine to pledge with the apostle:
“I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” ().