First Timothy 6:6-10 says, ”But godliness with contentment is great gain.For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.”
I am certainly not overstating things to say that our nation is drowning in a sea of covetousness. Materialism and covetousness are battering the shores of our great nation. We are far more infected with materialism than we realize, and some of the worst victims are the ones who think they’re living in victory.
Yes, I’m talking about discontented Christians AND non-Christians.
But does money really buy happiness? Listen to the words of some of the richest men who ever lived:
♦ John D .Rockefeller once said,”I have made millions, but they have brought made no happiness…the poorest man I know is the man who has nothing but money.”
♦ Cornelius Vanderbilt warned, “The care of millions is too great a load…there is no pleasure in it.”
♦ John Jacob Astor described himself as, “The most miserable man on earth.”
♦ Henry Ford once remarked, “I was happier doing mechanics work.”
We think that our problems could all be solved by money, but that is not true. I’ve often said, “If you have a problem that money can solve, you don’t have a problem.”
Covetousness is an epidemic in America today and has a powerful stronghold on people’s lives. In fact, not only are we in bondage to covetousness, but we are also in serious denial about it.
The dictionary defines covetousness as, “to desire wrongly…without regard for the rights of others…to wish for…to have a wrongful desire.” It is a sin, a breaking of the Tenth Commandment (Exodus 20:17; Deuteronomy 5:21) and one of the sinful attitudes that resulted in God sending a whole generation of his children into the wilderness to die.
Here’s a four-part definition of covetousness:
#1 Covetousness is a desire for the wrong things.
It is a desire for power over others.
It is the desire for control so my will can always be done.
It is wanting more money so that I can buy more things for myself.
It is the desire for praise from others.
All those desires are “wrong things.”
Covetousness wants things that I don’t have. Single people want to be married and some married people want to be single. The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence but that’s because it’s artificial turf. It’s only an illusion.
#2 Covetousness is a desire for the right things for the wrong reasons.
The Bible says that if a man desires the office of an elder, he desires a good thing (1 Timothy 3:1—7). The desire to be a spiritual leader and make a spiritual impact on the lives of others—that’s a great thing to want. But you have to not just want it, you have to want it for the right reasons.
The wrong reasons include the following:
Power over others
These wrong reasons also lead to covetousness.
#3 Covetousness is a desire for the right things at the wrong time
Let’s say that a young couple comes into a pastor’s office for premarital counseling. They say, “We love Christ and we love each other. We’ve committed ourselves to a lifetime together. We’re going to get married in three months, but we want to start sleeping together now!”
This couple wants the right things.
They want them for the right reasons.
But they want them at the wrong time.
That’s also covetousness.
#4 Covetousness is a desire for the right things but wanting them in the wrong amount.
Take, for example, money. Money is not a wrong thing. In fact, money is amoral. That means it is neither moral nor immoral—it’s amoral. It’s what we do with our money that determines whether it is godly or sinful.
Paul told Timothy that if a husband doesn’t do everything he can to provide for his own family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever (1 Timothy 5:8).
Providing for others requires that we make money, and yet it also puts us in danger of not knowing when to stop.
When I want more money than I need to adequately provide for my family, that is covetousness. You may think that more money will make you happier, but you will soon learn it does not.
More of anything on this earth will never fill that longing for fulfillment that God has placed within you and me. The longing God has placed in all our hearts is for him—not things.
Anything else is covetousness.
Covetousness is a desire for the wrong things, or the right things for the wrong reasons, or the right things at the wrong time, or the right things in the wrong amount.
The events recorded in Numbers chapter 11 break down into three short acts, much like a play. In between those acts, there are brief changes in subject, like intermissions. Then the action returns to the main story line.
Notice those three acts found in Numbers chapter 11 as we examine “How to be Content.”
Act One: Yielding to Covetousness and Why God Hates It (Numbers 11:4-10)
The children of Israel had lived in Egypt for 400 years and God delivered them from Pharaoh’s authority in a mighty way. They traveled to Mt. Sinai where they stayed for a year. Then they began a journey toward the Promised Land. Within the first week after leaving Sinai, the people began to complain to the Lord about their diet.
Moses describes the incident for us:
Numbers 11:4: “The rabble with them began to crave other food, and again the Israelites started wailing and said, “If only we had meat to eat!We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost—also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic.”
The term rabblerefers to Egyptians and Israelites that had intermarried. Please note that interracial marriage is not forbidden in the Bible. What is condemned in the Bible is interfaith marriages. So the “rabble” of Numbers 11:4 refers to worshippers of false gods that married worshippers of the one, true God.
This “rabble”“yielded to intense craving” or“had greedy desires.” In Hebrew the text the phrase literally means they “craved a craving.” They started looking for something else to make them happy. They wanted something other than what they had.
I go to the fridge like that. Not really hungry but not really satisfied. Sort of looking and waiting for something to grab me. As bad as that can be for our waistlines, it can be even more devastating if this is what we are doing in life:
Surveying the landscape of our behavior options, looking for something that might make us happier than we are at a particular moment.
It is practically impossible not to desire things, experiences, and situations. So, people are always asking the question, “When is it sin? When does a covetous thought or desire become a sin?”
A man might say, “I see a woman and a lustful thought occurs to me. When does that looking become sin?” A woman may say, “I’m in a state-of-the-art shopping mall, and I just entered my favorite store. In my billfold is at least one credit card that isn’t ‘maxed out.’ I’m thinking about buying something for which I know I don’t have the money.” When does covetousness become sin? Here’s the answer:
Covetousness becomes a sin when we yield to the temptation. The Bible teaches that even as believers we still have two natures (see Romans 7 and Galatians 5):
– The old nature wants to sin and satisfy itself and there is a new nature that we receive when we are born again that desires to please God (2 Corinthians 5:17). Like two cars approaching the same intersection at the same time, our two natures are often on a collision course with each other.
– The new nature calls for us to do what is right, and our old nature calls for us to do what is wrong. Galatians 5:17 says our two natures actually battle one another but eventually one yields. Our new nature calls for us to do what is right and our old nature calls for us to do what is wrong. When we yield to the covetous demands of our old nature, we have sinned.
Paul told the Romans in Romans 8:5: “Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.”
Let’s say that you are walking through the kitchen. You know that the last thing you need is chocolate cake. Then you see it, look at it, and want it. You take out the cake and put it on the counter. Now, you’re on the edge. You get out a knife with a very specific intent – to cut a bigger piece than you need – and then you eat it—every last crumb. The struggle is over. You’ve yielded.
Desire is not sin. I’ve often said it this way:
Fish sees bait—no problem.
Fish desires bait—still no problem.
Fish eats bait—big problem!
Yielding is when desire becomes sinful.
When we dwell on desire, yielding is only a matter of time.
When you dwell on the desire, when you focus on the thing that you’re wanting, you’re hanging on the edge by your fingernails, and if you’re not careful you will fall.
In Numbers 11:4-5 the Israelites were yielding to intense craving. First they asked, “Who will give us meat to eat?”Then they started dwelling on their desires: “We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost—also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic.”
“Oh, the fish; we remember the fish! And the cucumbers! You never saw cucumbers like this! Big and juicy and piles of them—incredible! And the melons! Thousands of melons, more than we could ever eat! And the leeks and the onions and the garlic and it was all free!”
Notice how covetousness inflates the pleasure. When you covet something, you begin to make it more attractive than it really is, then you rationalize.
Eating too much? You promise yourself you’ll diet tomorrow.
Smoking? You say, “I know lots of people who have smoked for fifty years and they’re still healthy.”
You create rationalizations in order to get the thing you want. Covetousness inflates the desire while it ignores the danger.
As slaves in Egypt, It is very unlikely that the children of Israel had melons and cucumbers and all these things to eat. They remembered selectively! The fish, cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic were back in Egypt all right—but notfor the children of Israel.
Yet as they dwelt upon the past, their memories became radically selective. In that sense, we are just like the children of Israel. It is impossible for us to dwell on desire for any length of time without rationalizing a way to get it. When we dwell on desire, yielding is only a matter of time. Your wilderness experience is just around the corner.
Now watch that principle work itself out with the children of Israel: “But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna” (Numbers 11:6). Can you hear the disgust in their voices as they look at what God had provided them to eat?
As if to say, “This is lame, God. You call this meeting our needs? The same thing every day, every week, every month; we are getting so sick and tired of this junk.“
But was the manna really that bad? The text describes the manna as, “. . . like coriander seed [a sesame seed] and its appearance like that of bdellium” (Numbers 11:7). Bdellium is a common Hebrew word that referred to a pearl-like appearance.
Actually, God had given the manna as a test (Exodus 16:4). He wanted to know if his chosen people would walk in obedience and be thankful for his provision or if they would covet something more, better, or different. Every day they went out to gather the manna, and every day God was inspecting their attitudes. He was not very impressed.
In fact, they began crying over their “plight,” even though the manna tasted like “cakes baked with oil” and fell nightly:
Numbers 11:9,10: “When the dew settled on the camp at night, the manna also came down. Moses heard the people of every family wailing, each at the entrance to his tent. The LORD became exceedingly angry, and Moses was troubled.”
The people were so upset about the difference between what the Lord was giving them and what they wanted that they were actually lying in their tents and crying about it. Can you get so worked up about wanting something that God isn’t giving you that you weep?
If you had walked with Moses through the tents at that time, you would have heard the moans and groans, sobs and the sniffles, “Wa waa wa waaa,” like little babies. Every flag was flown at half mast as if the nation was in mourning. But listen to God’s perspective on the matter: “The anger of the Lord was kindled greatly, and Moses was displeased” (Numbers 11:10).
Here’s the bottom line—God hates covetousness because covetousness is really saying, “It’s not enough, God. Nice try, but it’s not enough. I have needs, and you’re not taking care of them. You promised to be all I need, but you’re just not meeting my expectations.”
Paul said that what happened to the children of Israel in the wilderness was a warning to us:
First Corinthians 10:11: “These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come.”
God has provided for our basic needs. Will we be grateful and satisfied with God and his provision for us or will we covet more, better, and different?
Our problem is not that we don’t want God; it’s that we covet God and something else. For instance, we covet:
♦God and the perfect marriage
♦God and an impressive career
♦God and the dream house
♦God and a fancy wardrobe
♦God and the all-inclusive Hawaiian vacation
♦God and _______(fill in the blank)
What will it take for us to come to that settled place where the central passion of our lives is, “God, I just want you? I want your presence, your friendship, and your fullness. That’s enough for me.”
“How to be Content in Three Acts” continues with “Act II: A Gift From God You Don’t Want.”