November 28, 1993
When we desire what others have, our hearts have fallen prey to covetousness. Alistair Begg explains that covetousness promotes selfishness and pride while destroying relationships. The measure of our lives is in commitment to Christ, not in what we might possess. We will only succeed in battling covetousness when we set our sights on knowing and serving Him.
Sermon Transcript: Print
Father, I pray now that you will take our minds and free us from all distraction and help us to think clearly through them, that you will take my words and help me to speak wisely and effectively with them, you will take our hearts and open them up to your truth and set them on fire with love for Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen.
If you would take your Bible and turn to Exodus 20:17, you’ll find yourself at the tenth commandment. And for those of you who are visiting today, we come to the end of a series on the Ten Commandments. Interestingly, we have presold more tapes for this series than for anything that has ever been done here in ten years at Parkside Church. And a number of people have written to say that they wish there were more commandments so that we could keep going. I personally am having a bad enough time with the ten that I’m glad there are no more commandments. But certainly, we recognize the appreciation for the Word of God, its liveliness and its effectiveness, and we rejoice in that. All of us do.
The tenth commandment, in Exodus 20:17, reads as follows: “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”
His wife couldn’t make very much of this individual. He had come home, and he was obviously in a really bad mood. He did not want to eat his dinner and went immediately to his bed. His wife clearly understood that the problem was not with her, nor was it with any other member of the family. The gentleman had been involved in a business negotiation which had gone bad on him. He had wanted to secure a piece of property adjacent to his own, and although he himself had plenty of property, the other man’s grass was looking an awful lot more greener than his, and he determined that he would seek to gain control over this piece of his neighbor’s property. The man who owned the property would accept neither cash nor barter for it, and consequently, the individual found himself at home and in his bed, and he was disgusted, and he was annoyed. His problem was that he had a covetous heart.
Now, his wife might have been a help to him if she had endeavored to talk him out of it. But instead, her sin compounded his. She told him not to worry; she would make a way for him to get that property. And she arranged, at a special function, for this individual to be confronted by slander and by infamy, so much so that he lost not only the title to the property but lost also his life.
Now, the story is so common that we might anticipate it coming from our newspaper as of the last couple of days. But in actual fact, it comes from the twenty-first chapter of 1 Kings, and it is the account of Ahab and Naboth and the reaction of one to the splendor of the other person’s vineyard.
Just as there is a clear distinction between a healthy appetite and gluttony, so there is all the difference in the world between appreciating what somebody else has—what belongs to another person—and coveting those belongings. And the tenth commandment confronts us with a problem which, if we are very honest, all of us need to admit is something with which we wrestle. The tenth commandment forbids wrong attitudes towards the possessions and position which other people hold. The tenth commandment teaches us to be content with what God has given us.
The Westminster Shorter Catechism summarizes the instruction of the tenth commandment as follows: “The tenth commandment requireth full contentment with our own condition, with a right and charitable frame of spirit toward our neighbor, and all that is his” and “forbiddeth all discontentment with our own estate, envying or grieving at the good of our neighbor, and all inordinate motions and affections to anything that is his.”
As we’ve gone through what we’ve referred to as these guidelines for freedom, we’ve been confronted by the amazing and direct applicability of each one to our lives, and nowhere perhaps more so than in this whole issue of genuine satisfaction or the nature of true contentment. For whatever else may be said about our contemporary culture, we surely, none of us, would want to stand up and proclaim that one of the hallmarks of the late twentieth century is contentment. Indeed, an absence of contentment is so pervasive in our culture as to be almost palpable.
About twelve months ago, in playing golf with three men, none of whom had anything to do with our church family here—all of them were essentially strangers to me—I was sitting at lunch, waiting for the arrival of the fourth member of our foursome. It turned out that the two men with whom I was sitting were stockbrokers and were in charge of some fairly healthy sums of money for some fairly significant clients.
In the course of conversation, which I found intriguing, I was brave enough to ask this question: “How many of your clients are contented?” I said. I was met by a deafening silence. I followed it up by this question: “How many of you are contented?” It was an even greater silence as they looked at one another. And in honesty, this is what they said: as they looked around at one another, each one said, “I cannot think of a single client who is contented.” And they weren’t prepared to be just as honest about themselves.
And so I said, “You know, one of the most wonderful statements I’ve ever found in relationship to this, goes like this: ‘Godliness with contentment is great gain.’” “Oh,” said one of them, “that sounds really good!” Says to his friend, “That sounds good, doesn’t it?” The friend said, “Yes!” he says, “Where did you get that?” “Oh,” I said, “I got it…” I said, “it’s in a book.” And that led to a whole conversation which followed. But I told them, “It’s 1 Timothy 6:6: ‘Godliness with contentment is great gain.’” It sounded like a revolutionary statement, because that is exactly what it was.
The last two commandments with which we dealt—namely, stealing and lying—had to do with actions. This one gets even deeper into our souls, because the tenth commandment deals with attitude. The tenth commandment tackles us not so much in the realm of our deeds as it does in the matter of our desires. Most of us presumably would never actually think of stealing somebody else’s possessions, but the fact that we would not actually take that coat or jacket off the person’s body or steal it from the racks that are out here right now presumably does not prevent us from carrying in our hearts a bitter jealousy because we do not like the fact that they have it and we don’t. It’s the sin, the problem, of coveting. It transcends cultures, barriers of race and creed, financial gain or the absence of it, age distinctions—all bow to covetousness.
Watch your children as they take a vanilla ice cream cone, are perfectly contented with it, until they walk past somebody who got “the works.” “Would you like the works?” And suddenly, a perfectly good vanilla ice cream doesn’t look as good, doesn’t taste as good. But there was no transaction, no chemical change in the ice cream. The change was all in the mind of the little character who decided that this looked so much better. “I don’t like this vanilla one anymore.” “Well, you’re gonna eat it.” “No I’m not.” Then we have the great ice cream fiasco.
The degree to which we are able to score victories at the level of the ice cream determines what is going to happen to the kid in his teenage years, his college years, and the kind of husband he will be to his wife. That’s why when we talk about baby dedications and “bring[ing] them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord,” we’re not just using a bunch of phrases. We’re actually talking about something that is intrinsically important in the rearing and developing of character in children. If we raise greedy kids, we will walk our greedy daughters down the aisle and place them on the hands of some greedy man, and the two greedy individuals will spend their lives living consumed by covetousness. It’s impossible to stop it once you start it without major surgery, as we’ll see.
Now, it would be bad enough if everybody recognized that this was a problem. But the trouble is, we don’t. And indeed, our society is so driven by materialism that it cashes in on the very defect, and it portrays so many things for us in such a way as to create within our hearts a longing, which we may begin to believe is a necessary longing, to have something just because somebody else has got it.
If you want to enjoy a bath in materialism, watch the Skins Game. All right? That is Azinger and Palmer and Couples and Stewart. Knickers. Stewart, yeah. Now, don’t for a moment think that this is on the TV because you and I like watching golf. Don’t be stupid. This is not a golf game. This is an advertising extravaganza of gargantuan proportions. And in order to keep us watching the commercials, they throw in a little bit of golf every so often. Time it, and you’ll see that I’m telling the truth. It is a huge materialistic vortex. Feeling a measure of discomfort with it, they have little cutaways to impoverished people and to talk about the fact that a certain percentage of these phenomenal sums of money will be devoted to charities. Why do they do this? In years past, they never cared. Now they’re getting a little more sensitive. The population’s getting a little more thoughtful. And so, they don’t want to come across as completely crass materialists, so we’ll mention the fact that charity is going to benefit from this little extravaganza in which we are engaged.
The evidence of coveting is clear. The verse identifies it for us. It outlines a number of ways in which we will see the evidence of coveting. Coveting focuses on a number of things. It may focus on money. Certainly, the Bible is replete with references to those who were consumed by a concern for money, and some of us are tarred with that brush. You’re tired of hearing me use it as a reference, but it’s as blatant and as honest a statement as has come out of the last thirty years:
All the best things in life are free,
You can keep ’em for the birds and the bees.
But gimme money. That’s what I want.
That’s what I wa-aa-aa-aa-ant. That’s what I want.
Now, at least they’re honest. Ten points for honesty. “We don’t want to live in Liverpool, riding round on bicycles and in busted down cars, carrying trashed out amplifiers. We want money.” And they got it.
We want clothes. You read in Joshua 7, the story of Achan and how in the conquest they are able to pull together this vast amount of plunder. And the word of God to the people of God is “Don’t touch any of that stuff.” Achan determines he knows better; he takes it, and he buries it. And the servant of God comes to him and says, “Achan, what have you done?” And Achan says, “Listen, when I saw that beautiful robe from Babylonia, when I saw the two hundred shekels of silver, when I saw that gold bar, I said ‘I must have that stuff!’”
Well, now, there’s a strange feeling, isn’t it? You been to the mall recently? You had any of those feelings? “When I saw that beautiful robe, when I saw that wonderful stuff, I said to myself, ‘I must have it.’” And guess what? They gave me a card to “take the waiting out of wanting.” To grease the slopes of my covetous heart, they allow me to have it now and pay forever. They call it later. I call it forever!
Coveting money. Coveting clothes. Coveting people. Here I have my wife from my youth. She grows. She develops. She bears my children. She nurtures me. She guides me. She counsels me. And society buffets me with visual images of the kind of wife that you should have. She looks different. She acts different. She is different. And it sucks out of the mind of a man the desire to discard this and go for this. And every day across our nation, it happens again and again and again. It stems from a covetous heart, you see.
Covetousness always appeals to that which is base within the heart of man—that is, covetousness in a wrongful sense. The writer John puts it very clearly, I think—but I’m going to have to check. First John chapter 2 and verse… Yes, good. “Do not love the world,” verse 15, “or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world…” And then he describes the world, the cosmos apart from God. What is it? “The cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world.” So everything that my sinful heart begins to go for—the cravings of my heart, the lust of my eyes, the ability to boast about my possessions and who I am and my prestige and what I’m able to do—doesn’t have its source in God. And, he says, the tragedy of it is that “the world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.” It’s a very clear choice. It’s the choice between the broad road and the narrow road. It’s the choice between time and eternity. It’s the choice between God’s way and man’s way. And every day we live our lives, we’re confronted by those kind of choices.
Think about the fact that covetousness draws itself around our throats when we think of seeking after positions that other people have: “If only I was one further rung up this corporate ladder, I would be a happy guy. I don’t like it here. I don’t like this office. I don’t like how many windows it has. I don’t like the fact that it has no windows. If I could get one rung up, boy, I’d be good. And you know what? That joker one floor up from me, he shouldn’t be there. Everybody knows that, especially me. I resent him. I resent his car, I resent his income, and I resent the fact that he’s in my office.” Have you ever felt like that at all? It’s a covetous heart.
Or coveting other people’s prestige, so that people will be able to say, “My, my, my, hasn’t he done well!”
They say that Richard Cory owns one half of this whole town,
[And] with political connections to spread his wealth around,
[He’s] born into society, a banker’s only child
[He’s got] everything a man could want,
Power, grace and style.
“And I wanna be Richard Cory.” We’re bringing our kids up with that as the American Dream!
What ever happened to the American Dream? Let me ask you another question: What ever happened to biblical contentment? What ever happened to satisfaction in the awareness of the fact that God has not pledged himself to baptize our materialistic urgencies into orthodox Christianity? There is nowhere in the whole Bible that assumes that we’re going to be healthy, wealthy, and wise as a result of our commitment to Jesus Christ. And to teach it that way is an absolute violation of the Bible. And yet we hear it all the time, day in and day out: “I put Jesus first in my life, and I have scored more touchdowns now than I ever did. I put Jesus first in my life, and you oughta come and drive in my car. I put Jesus first in my life, and my company has gone through the roof in its profits.” What is the message? The message is “Jesus is a guru on the way to materialistic happiness.” It doesn’t sound like the words of Jesus, does it? “If anyone would like to follow me, let him take up his cross every day, die to himself, and follow me. If any man would be my disciple, let him burn his bridges and go. Let him pull his boats up on the shore and follow me. Let him leave everything behind.” Loved ones, we’ve got it so upside down and living with it for so long that when somebody turns the Scriptures the right side up for us, it starts to sound like heresy to us.
In February of this year, when I had the privilege of preaching at those meetings in Hong Kong, in the Morning Post in Hong Kong there’s this unbelievable piece of work. It says, “You too can own one for only 9.5 million.” I can’t read it to you all. I don’t have the time. But I’ll give you a little flavor of it. “Everyone wants to be number one.” Okay? There it is. It’s right in it, straight off. That’s a real problem, isn’t it? ’Cause how many captains are there going to be in your soccer team? One! Are you listening? One! (Sorry, I thought you all died there for a moment.) There’s only going to be one captain. So that means that ten other boys are presumably are gonna have to live with the horrible feelings of resentment because they were not picked as the captain. It is absolute rubbish that everybody has to be number one and everybody wants to be number one. Okay?
“Everyone wants to be number one. But being number two does not come cheap, as a tycoon proved yesterday with a flamboyant bid which landed him [with] the most expensive car number plate in the world.” This is a number plate. This is not a car. “In an ostentatious spending spree even by Hongkong’s standards, Mr Wong Ming-hung forked out a record $9.5 million for the number ‘2’ licence plate that formerly graced the limousine of Financial Secretary Mr Hamish Mcleod.” His license plate is worth more than all of his cars: Lexus, BMW, the whole shooting match. When he takes all of his cars and rolls them together, they don’t even come close to being worth what the number “2” is on the front of his car. Now, his friends were really ticked off. For example, there was Mr. Chao, who got ticked off and left as “a beaten man while the bidding stood at a modest $7.6 million.” The bidding started at half a million, and Mr. Ming-hung here got into it somewhere around $7 million. He said, “‘I’m happy with hitting the mark at $9.5 million. The price is reasonable. I expected to get it at over $10 million,’ said a cheery Mr Wong afterwards.” Okay? Now, that’s Hong Kong. Mr. Wong in Hong Kong.
I came here in August 3, 1983. I started to try and get intelligent, read the Wall Street Journal. Wall Street Journal, Wednesday, October 12, 1983. Here it is: headline, inside full-page advertisement in the Wall Street, is headed, “Demoralize Thy Neighbor.” Okay? Now, this is an Aston Martin, for those of you who are car aficionados. “It’s one thing to trundle by in a Bentley, Jaguar, Mercedes or the like. Everyone in your neighborhood has one of those. It’s quite another thing to come in for a landing in your Lagonda. The Lagonda is an Aston Martin,” blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And if you get an Aston Martin, then all the poor clowns in your neighborhood that only drive Jaguar, Mercedes, and BMW, you’re going to make them go to bed feeling really bad. So why don’t you buy a Lagonda?
Now, doesn’t that appeal to everything that’s good in us? Doesn’t it? You’re sensible people. Think this stuff out.
Is the Bible relevant to our day? Of course it is! It’s powerfully applicable to our day. It gets to the very heart of the issues.
Now, if the evidence of coveting is plain for all to see, what about the effect of coveting? What effect does coveting have? Let me say four things that coveting will do—simple things, obvious perhaps, but let me just underpin them.
Number one, coveting spoils relationships and lies behind many of our disagreements. Coveting spoils relationships and lies behind many of our disagreements. You take a couple of youngsters who tracked together through school. They were the best of friends. They spent overnights. They did homework together. They were neck and neck all the way through. They graduated well. They went on to college well. They were still neck and neck. But after college, one of them went orbital in terms of financial success, and the other one went on a slower track. The slower-track fellow can’t stand the success of this guy, and so when he calls, he’s no longer as interested. Their friendship is no longer cemented. Their care for one another is no longer what it was, ’cause this guy’s got a covetous heart, and he can’t stand the success of another.
That happens between brothers and sisters in a family. It happens in churches. It happens between pastors. I spoke to a friend of mine on the phone a couple of weeks ago, and I asked him, I said, “Have you spoken to X lately?”—who’s another friend of ours, who’s a pastor. “No,” he said, “I haven’t spoken to X since we were together in the summer”—that is, this guy and I, to whom I’m speaking. I said, “Well, I don’t feel so bad about being at the other side of the Atlantic Ocean if you haven’t even spoken to him, and you only live twelve miles away from him.” “Well,” he said, “you don’t understand. X is in the big leagues now.” Now, I don’t know all that that means, but I know there’s something of covetousness in that guy’s heart. There’s something he’s not dealing with. ’Cause there are no big leagues.
Secondly, covetousness breaks the summary commandment of Jesus: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” It’s impossible to really love somebody and to be coveting their stuff. When we should say, “My, that is a very pretty color on you,” our covetous hearts say nothing, and we get in our car saying, “I don’t know why she got that.” You can’t have a covetous heart—I can’t have a covetous heart—and really love you.
Thirdly, a covetous heart makes me essentially selfish, makes me always ask what’s best for me: How will I do in this, how am I going to come out of this, what will happen to me in this deal?
And fourthly, a covetous heart—and perhaps worst of all—makes us think that life is all about material things, that the abundance of life is really what we’ve got, that he who dies with the most toys wins, that we buy the whole package. Nelson Rockefeller, interviewed by a newspaper reporter, on one occasion was asked, “How much money does it take to be happy?” and Rockefeller replied, “Just a little bit more.”
Think about it. Think about it when you’re a child. Your father says you can have this much of an allowance. You’re really thrilled. You’re pleased! After all, you had nothing before he said it. Then he said it, then he gave you it. You’re thrilled. Till you walk outside, and you say to your friend, “Hey, my dad gave me an allowance. He gave me a dollar.” Your friend says, “My dad gave me two.” Now you’re gonna find out what kind of covetous heart you’ve got. You can’t be content with a dollar in your pocket for worrying about the fact that the guy next to you has got two bucks in his. That’s what happens in churches. That’s what happens in companies. That’s what happens in families.
Well then, the question is obvious. If the problem is as endemic as that, if it is as deep-rooted as that, if it is as crucial as that, how in the world are we going to root it out? What are we gonna do?
Well, the answer is that we need to bring an eternal perspective to bear upon the effects of time. And in order to do that, in conclusion this morning, I want you to turn with me to a story that is recorded for us in Luke chapter 12, and we’ll make this our concluding illustration. Luke chapter 12. Don’t be deceived. This concluding illustration will last approximately twelve minutes. And I said “approximately.”
Luke 12:13: “Someone in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher’”—this is to Jesus—“‘Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.’” All attorneys tell me they’ve never seen as many squabbles in their life as when they have to do with wills and the reading of wills. You know, perfect friends become total enemies forever after they come in and say, “The last will and testament of Reginald Bosanquet is follows…” And the person who thinks they’re going to make a bundle gets nothing. It goes to the Geauga Humane Society to spay cats or something. And people get really ticked off over that stuff, I believe—and justifiably so, especially as it relates to cats. But that’s another question altogether.
The fact of the matter is, there was a problem between these characters. Presumably, one had it all and didn’t want to give it up, and one didn’t have it and wanted to get it. So there you’ve got the perfect recipe for it. The guy’s got it and won’t give it up. A guy hasn’t got it and must get it. That’s it, right there! And it’s right here. So he says, “Tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” Jesus says, “Hey, look, I’m not in the business of diving inheritances up. That’s not why I came. There are people who can take care of that.” He said, “But since you’re so concerned about stuff, as you clearly are, and since you’re so concerned about having an inheritance, let me tell you a story about a guy who was so sure that he had a good inheritance.” And then he goes on to bring this eternal perspective to bear upon the circumstances of possessions.
Let me try and summarize it for us, if I may.
First of all, he says to the individual, “Watch out!”—verse 15—or “Be clear.” That’s the phrase I wanted to use. Or “Be alert!” I beg your pardon: “Be alert!” “Watch out!” he said. “Be alert! Don’t just go with the flow. Don’t just accept when people say, ‘Everybody wants to be number one.’ Be alert! Let your antenna go up for that and say, ‘Hey, wait a minute. If everybody wants to be number one and can’t be number one, we’ve got a problem with everybody else who’s two, three, four, five, and six. And since I’ve spent most of my life being a good seven, or an eight, or a nine, or a ten, there’s not much chance of me being number one.’ Be alert!” he says. “Think these things out.”
Secondly, “Beware! Be on your guard,” he says, “against all kinds of greed.” All kinds of greed. The comprehensive nature of greed is addressed here by Jesus. He says, “Make sure that you appoint sentries at the doors of your life, at the avenues of your existence, that guard against the inroads of greed. You know,” he says, “the things that create that response within you. Make sure that you set it up in such a way that you are not only alert to its advances, but you are ready for the advances.”
And thirdly, “Be clear,” he says. “Be clear about this: a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” “A man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”
Now, I ask you, loved ones, is that a revolutionary statement or what? Because today, in our culture, prestige and power and recognition and influence are almost exclusively tied to possessions. Think it out.
In an earlier generation, perhaps—although we didn’t live there and we can’t say with authority—in an earlier generation, it would appear, at least, that certain things were valued above possessions. For example, the schoolteacher with a caring heart that instructed Anne of Green Gables. Okay? The doctor who was prepared, in all days and times and conditions, to go out for the delivery of the baby and everything else. The pastor who was prepared to bring spiritual comfort and care to the dying and to the bereaved and to the wayward and to the lost. Those things may have been valued in earlier generations, but by and large, in our contemporary culture, the substance of a man’s existence and his prestige is directly related to external, superficial, nonlasting stuff.
Now, loved ones, if we don’t believe that, we’ve gotta ask ourselves the question why it is we’re spending so much time to get that stuff, and why we attach such significance to the stuff when we get it. It is because we have bought into the mindset of our generation.
Now, all of us are tainted with it. None of us, whether we’ve got a lot or a wee drop, can say we’re not into it. It’s not a problem of the haves. It’s a problem of the have-nots as well as the haves. Indeed, many of us who have not have maybe got a more covetous heart then many of the people who have! And one of the indications of our covetous heart is that we like to bad-mouth the people who have just because we haven’t.
“A man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” The word there for “life” is the word zóé, which means the essence of a man’s life. There is another word in Greek for “life,” which is bios, from which we get biology, which is the way of life. Jesus doesn’t say that the way of a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions. He says the essence of a man’s life doesn’t consist in the abundance of his possessions.
You see, my good friend in Scotland, who died on Thursday from cancer, had a lot of possessions. He had a Rolls Royce. He had the largest Ford dealership in Scotland. He had power. He had influence. But he’s also the guy who, when he took the Ford dealership, only had two thousand pounds to his name that his dad had left him. When the Ford dealer came to him and said, “Mr. Cordiner, you gonna open a garage up here in Aberdeen?” “Yes, I am.” So he said, “Well, let me show you the prospectus of how you do it. This is how Ford wants the places opened up.” He said, “This is the opening times.” Stephen looked at the opening times, he said, “I’ve got a problem with this.” He says, “I’m not gonna open on a Sunday.” The guy said, “What do you mean you’re not gonna open on a Sunday?” He said, “Well, I’m not gonna open on a Sunday.” He said, “I go to church on Sundays. I worship the Lord on Sunday, and I believe that Sunday is the Lord’s Day.” The guy says, “You can’t have a Ford franchise if you don’t open on Sunday.” The guy says, “Well then, I don’t have a Ford franchise. But I’ll tell you what,” he said, “you trust me with a Ford franchise, and I’ll sell more cars for you in Scotland in six days than anyone else’ll sell in seven.” The guy says, “Well, it’s against the rules. It’s against the protocol. But we’ll do it.”
And I wanna to tell you something: that in the funeral service tomorrow afternoon, at one o’clock in Aberdeen, the people who will attend that funeral service for Stephen Cordiner will not be there because he had a Rolls Royce. Most people don’t even know he’s got it. They will not be there because of the abundance of his possessions. They will be there because that clarity of his Christian testimony so pervaded everything about that man’s life that it was impossible to know him without knowing that a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of what he possesses.
Some of us, whether with much or with little, whether teenagers or kids, have never crossed that bridge. We know it theoretically. We do not believe it experientially. And we live crippled by a covetous heart. ’Cause we’ll never, ever have enough according to our perspective. Once that becomes a drug, the heroin addict cannot shoot up enough, nor can the materialist.
You talk to anyone who’s in retailing around the malls of the city, and they will tell you that there are people who are not only on the lists who get the little card that says, “Come for our sale,” but they’re on the special list, the high-priority list, which says, “The minute a new shipment of anything arrives, call me! Because I cannot stand the possibility that my neighbor comes down the street with it first!” We’re talking about intravenous materialism at that point. We’re talking about shooting up big time. And Jesus says it’s absolutely bogus.
And so he illustrates it. He says the guy decided that he would keep for himself what he might have given away to others. He stored up for a future that never came. He says to himself in verse 19, “I’ll say to myself, ‘You’ve got plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry. You’ve got plenty of time.’” He had plenty of stuff and no time. He was foolish enough to presume that he would have forever to enjoy what he’d made, and he was wrong.
I’ve gotta preach this to some of you men as well. And I know you misunderstand me, but I’m going to preach it to you anyway. In eighteen years of pastoral ministry, I have buried more men than I can tell you who refused to stop working. It was not because they didn’t have enough money. It was because they were consumed with their annuities and their investments. The one thing they were not gonna do was touch principal: “And if I can just work a little bit longer, I can get it a little fatter, that will mean we will live off the interest always, and the nest egg will be big.” And the wife, you say, “Honey, why don’t we take a day off? I mean, why don’t we go for a little trip? Why don’t we sail on a boat? Why don’t we take a train? Why don’t we…” “No, no, no, no, wait a minute! Just let me go for another wee while, and when I finish, you’re gonna see… You’ll never have been on a vacation like we’re going on! What is it, the Concorde, the QE2? We’ll just go round and round and round the globe as many times as you want. And we’ll never have to touch the principal! That’s what I love! We’ll never touch the principal!” He never touched squat of it, because he’s dead! And I sit with his wife. She’s got fat wads of money, and she’s lonely, and she’s empty, and she was always gonna have the vacations that never, ever came, because he stored for a future that he couldn’t bank on.
Now, what’s the lesson from that? That you don’t plan for the future? No, that would be silly. The lesson is carpe diem! Seize the day! You wanna take your wife a walk? Take her a walk this afternoon, because if you plan it for next Thursday, you may not be here. You wanna buy your children an ice cream? Buy it now. You wanna snuggle them in their beds? Snuggle them tonight! Don’t snuggle them when you become smart enough to take four days off a week. You may never live long enough. Snuggle them tonight, ’cause it’s the only night you’ve got. Love your wife today; it’s the only day you have. Use your resources this afternoon, because it’s the only time that you may use them and know the benefit of generosity. You’ll never have the fun of giving stuff away when you’re dead. Who cares that your attorney gets the chance to dish it out to everybody? You’re not gonna have a lot of fun in that!
Well, our time is gone. The lesson is clear: a covetous heart can only be driven out by the expulsive power of a new affection. The expulsive power of a new affection. The psalmist’s statement is as challenging as any I can ever read when he says, “Whom have I in heaven but you?” That’s good. We can all say that. I mean, whom have we in heaven but God? The answer’s no one but God. And then he says, “And earth has nothing I desire besides you.” Psalm 73:25.
I’m not there yet. I don’t know if you are, but I’m not. But I want to be. I want to find out what that means. I know for sure it doesn’t mean stripping yourself naked and lying in a cave somewhere. I know that’s not it. Jesus never taught that. I know it’s not about going in a monastery. I know it’s not about communism. I know it’s about the fact that some of us are gonna be given more than others, and whatever we’re given, we’ve gotta make sure that we use it to the glory of God, and we don’t covet what other people have, and we don’t look down our long noses on others because they never were blessed in the same way as we.
But it’s a hard one. And I wonder when’s the last time you ever heard a sermon on the sin of coveting. I bet you can’t remember one. ’Cause nobody wants to preach on coveting. ’Cause there’s a whole lot of coveting going on. And nobody can avoid these bullets. I know I can’t. Don’t try.
 Westminster Shorter Catechism, Qs. 80–81.
 1 Timothy 6:6 (NIV 1984).
 Ephesians 6:4 (KJV).
 Berry Gordy and Janie Bradford, “Money (That’s What I Want)” (1959). Lyrics lightly altered.
 See Joshua 7:10–21.
 1 John 2:17 (NIV 1984).
 See Matthew 7:13–14.
 Paul Simon, “Richard Cory” (1966).
 See Matthew 16:24; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23.
 See Luke 14:26.
 See Luke 5:11.
 “U 2 Can Own 1 4 Only $9.5 Million,” South China Morning Post, February 28, 1993, https://www.scmp.com/article/20195/u-2-can-own-1-4-only-95-million.
 Matthew 22:39; Mark 12:31; Luke 10:27 (paraphrased). See also Leviticus 19:18.
Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.