The Last but Not the Least – Part 1August 9, 2010 at 1:53 pm | Posted in Bible Studies | 25 Comments
Tags: 1 Corinthians 5, 2 Corinthians 10, contentment, covetousness, Ephesians 5, Exodus 20, generosity, Jeremiah 2, Jesus Christ, John 4, Mark 7, Philippians 2, Philippians 4, Romans 1
Not that I speak in respect of want: for 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.
To covet is to have a sinful desire directed toward what someone else has. Is it a sin? Yes (“Thou shalt not covet“), but let’s be honest – how many of us have coveted at least once this past week? Most, if not all.
If you are not covetous, what are you? What is the opposite? To not be covetous is to be content. It is to be satisfied with what God has given you and done for you.
Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.
Philippians 4:11 (emphasis added)
In the Old Testament, priests and Jewish scholars, and those serious about obeying God, bound the Word of God on their arms, on their foreheads, on their chests. It might be good for us to put Philippians 4:11 on our refrigerators, on the dashboards of our cars, on your coffeemakers, on our bathroom mirrors, on our alarm clocks, on the covers of our Bibles.
What is the opposite of contentment? It’s covetousness. Covetousness is a sin. It’s not one of the 10 Suggestions; it’s one of the 10 Commandments. It’s number 10. It comes after commandments like, “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” Most people won’t voluntarily admit it if they commit adultery – or murder – but if you ask a group of people, “Come on, how many of you have coveted this week?” most will be willing to raise their hands. We consider covetousness to be, not only the last of the 10 Commandments, but also the least – thus the title of this message: “The Last but Not the Least.”
Is it really that bad to covet? Let’s look at a few places in the Bible and see how God looks at the “little” sin of covetousness:
For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: All these evil things come from within, and defile the man.
Mark 7:21-23 (emphasis added)
And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient; Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful:
Romans 1:28-31 (emphasis added)
But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints;
Ephesians 5:3 (emphasis added)
But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat.
I Corinthians 5:11 (emphasis added)
How does God classify the sin of covetousness? He classifies it along with murder and fornication and theft and extortion and adultery and all the worse types of behaviors that sinful man can dream up in his sinful heart. “Thou shalt not covet” is not the 10th Commandment because it’s the 10th in importance. It’s the 10th Commandment because it is the sin that leads men to break all the nine other ones. It’s the last, but not the least.
“I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.” Treat it as a command. BE content. We’ve been led astray by psychology. We’ve been taught to think we have no control over our feelings or our emotions. So we say, I either am content, or I’m not – I can’t just make myself ‘be’ content.”
But we can:
… bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ;
II Corinthians 10:5
Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:
“Let” in that verse means “make” or “cause.”
Being content brings generosity.
Jesus Christ had the right to act like God – to take control and enjoy everything He owned. But He took on the form of a Servant and He was content. There is a freedom that comes with wanting good things for others, and not for ourselves. Children think they will be happy if they win the fight they are having over who will get the front seat of the van, or who will get to use a toy over the exclusion of his brother or sister, but that type of squabbling really enslaves them and makes them miserable. The world says that if you do not covet – that if you don’t make sure you get what’s coming to you – you won’t get anything good. But as Christians, we don’t want “what we have coming to us,” anyway. We don’t want what we deserve. God gave His Son for me. How freeing it is to remember that, and to try to be like Him – to get excited about giving instead of getting. There are bumper stickers that say, “He who dies with the most toys wins,” but that’s not true. Life is not a race to see how much we can get. It’s a race to see how much we can give. It’s not, “He who gets the most, wins.” It’s, “He who gives the most, wins.”
Life is for living, not for making.
Life is for giving, not for taking.
(Couplet I made up, which proves I stink at writing poetry, but which helps me to remember a Bible principle)
Being content brings generosity, but being covetous brings greed.
How many sermons have you heard about supposed solutions for the problem of how “empty” we are? I said earlier that Christ Jesus took on the form of a Servant, and was more of a giver than a taker – and yet, according to Scripture, He was not empty. Up until the days when He was preparing to go to the Cross, He was full. He was constantly full. I’m not one of those “prosperity” preachers, but from what I can see in Scripture, the Lord wants us to be continually full. We are to be like Christ. Why are we so empty, and always trying to get more things, and always wanting more and better? Why are we not full? It’s not because we don’t have enough. It’s because we have too much: too much vanity.
Thus saith the LORD, What iniquity have your fathers found in me, that they are gone far from me, and have walked after vanity, and are become vain?
The Lord is telling these people that their fathers became vain because they walked after vanity. Jesus was never empty because He never walked after emptiness. His meat was to do the will of His Father. (John 4:31-34) When I am vain – when I am empty – it’s because I’ve been walking after vanity – after emptiness. When I am walking after the things of God, I am content – I am full. And when I am full, I not only have the ability to bless others, but I am reminded to be grateful to God. This point will be developed more in Part 2.