Who, Me…Covet?

Last Sunday, we considered the value of the law. Because Paul said that our sinful passions are aroused by the law (Romans 7:5), some may have asked if the law was sin.

7 What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, “YOU SHALL NOT COVET.” 8 But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind (Romans 7:7-8 NASB).

What good is the law? As we considered how the law is beneficial to us in revealing our sin, we also saw that the law provokes sin. Paul made this clear from his own personal experience. If the law had not said, “You shall not covet,” he would not have known it was a sin. But sin, took up a base of operation in Paul because of the commandment and “produced in me coveting of every kind.”

The command to “not covet” is, of course, the last of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:17), but is perhaps the root of all other sins. “Coveting in and of itself seems to do no harm to anyone, but it very frequently provides the motivation for stealing and even murder. To put a stop to coveting is to ‘head other sins off at the pass.’” [1]  Even the sin of idolatry, covered in the first and second Commandments is alluded to as having its origin in covetousness:

For be sure of this: that no person practicing sexual vice or impurity in thought or in life, or one who is covetous [who has lustful desire for the property of others and is greedy for gain]–for he [in effect] is an idolater–has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God”  (Ephesians 5:5 Amplified).

We don’t use the word “covet” much anymore, but it is still an ever-present and serious danger. Coveting describes one who is “grasping”, one who is always eager for more and especially for what belongs to someone else; greedy for gain; one who desires to have more than is due.

Are we, like Paul, convicted by this commandment? Does it not only put a name to our inner desire, but does it also seem to cause that desire to operate with greater vigor inside of us? We live in a culture that incites our covetous bent. With “new and improved” products constantly promising a better life, our covetous spirit always wants more. Beth Moore’s daughter, Melissa Moore Fitzpatrick, speaks of the lure of a popular online community where you catalog the things you love. It is a virtual pin board of beautiful things (places, people and things). While she admitted there is nothing wrong with the site, she recognized her own propensity to daydream about her next purchases or to think about extravagant vacations she had never been on. Melissa goes on to say:

Like the sin of lust, when we know something cultivates immense greed in our hearts, we need to cut ourselves off from the source, whether or not the source is sinful. Even if I pay all my bills and rightly pay every laborer I employ, is not my superfluous spending on myself when others need the basics for survival a contradiction of loving my neighbor as myself? [2]

And it’s not only “stuff” we covet. I’ve concluded that the popularity of social networking is because we covet personal worth and value for which our increasingly isolated conditions cry out. But we find ourselves so tied to social media that we often neglect the relationships in the same room with us. Or, we are checking to see how many comments have been made to our status updates, as if that is proof that our lives are significant. I confess that this is a temptation in even writing a blog. A stats page for the blogger reveals not who, but how many have visited the site. As the “publish” button is pressed, the questions run through my head, “Will people read it? Will they respond?”

Finally, do we spiritually harbor a covetous spirit? Consider what Bob Deffinbaugh says:

Coveting comes in other forms, especially in those which appear to be spiritual. The preachers of the “gospel of the good life” appeal to the covetousness of men by promising them all that their hearts desire, if they but give to their ministry. Coveting can also occur when we focus our attention on that which we do not possess. How often today the word “need” occurs in the vocabulary of the Christian. We present Christ as the “need-meeter.” We spend a great deal of time and energy trying to surface and explore our needs. These “needs” all seem to be things which we do not possess. Is our “need exploration” only producing coveting? If I understand the Scriptures correctly, God has met all our needs in Christ. That which we do not have, which we think we need, may either be that which God has graciously withheld, or it may be that which He has already provided but which we have failed to receive or to appropriate by faith. I fear that we are far too “need” conscious. [3]

Paul’s wake up call needs to be ours too. Will you commit with me to pray that God would illuminate our hearts and minds to covetousness, the “root” of other sins and idolatry!

YOUR RESPONSE:

  • If you are concerned about the amount of time you spend on social media (texting, Facebooking, tweeting, pinning, on-line gaming), consider a day-long, week-long or month-long fast. Use that time to engage in face-to-face interaction and spiritual discipline (prayer, Bible study, etc).
  • Become aware of the amount of time you pray for your personal needs. Are you more interested in how God can meet your needs than you are in how you can serve Him? It’s not that He is uninterested in your needs, but He may want to supply your needs to enable you to meet the needs of others. To take the emphasis off your needs, try to balance your prayer time with A.C.T.S. (Adoration; Confession; Thanksgiving; and Supplication-praying for your own needs and the needs of others).

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1 Bob Deffinbaugh, http://bible.org/seriespage/loveliness-law-and-ugliness-sin-romans-77-13

2 Beth Moore, James, Mercy Triumphs (Nashville: Lifeway Press, 2011). 161.

3 Deffinbaugh, loc. cit.

Dead to the Law

Paul begins Romans 7, saying that the law has authority over a man only as long as he lives (although some dead men still vote, they aren’t expected to pay taxes!). Then he uses an analogy of the person’s relationship to the law, citing the marriage relationship. Paul speaks of a wife who joins herself to another man. If that happens after the death of her spouse, she is free to remarry. But, if it happens while her husband is still alive, she is called an adulteress. Paul’s point is summed up by F.F. Bruce:

As death breaks the bond between husband and wife, so death – the believer’s death with Christ – breaks the bond which formerly yoked him to the law, and now he is free to enter into union with Christ. [1]

So, how were we bound to the law? Well, Paul deals with the purpose of the law in the remainder of the chapter, but gives just a hint in verse 5 when he says: For when we were controlled by the sinful nature, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in our bodies, so that we bore fruit for death. While the law makes us aware of sin, it also “arouses” or energizes our sinfulness. Our rebelliousness is put to work and says, “I’ll do what I want to do!” What is your first response to the “DO NOT TOUCH – WET PAINT” sign?

Remember the Garden where everything was good and Adam and Eve communed freely with God. The only negative command Adam and Eve received in the Garden was do not eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, for if they did they would die. (Genesis 2:16-17). Through the cunning temptation of Satan, Adam and Eve’s sinful passion was activated and they ate of prohibited fruit. By succumbing to their sinful passion, the entire human race was impacted, and they “bore fruit for death” – physical and spiritual.

It is critically important to understand the role of the law. Its primary purpose is to establish and teach us the righteous standard of God (Galatians 3:24-25). It was never intended to be the means by which man found salvation (justification)! Nor is it the means of our sanctification. If we draw our motivation from the law to make us holy, we will find ourselves hopelessly unable to keep its precepts. If we believe the law empowers us to be spiritual, we will find it impotent. The law condemns us. But, having died in Christ, we are freed from the law’s condemnation and our new life in Christ now motivates and empowers us to “bear fruit for God” (Romans 7:4).

Let’s take another look at the marriage analogy. What is the primary role of a spouse in that new marriage relationship? Isn’t it to grow in knowledge and ever-deepening intimacy of one’s partner? And certainly, it is typified by a “want to” desire rather than a “have to” obligation. As this happens in our relationship with Christ, we begin to “read Scripture, pray, meditate, journal or fast….for the sole purpose of knowing His mind…The spiritual disciplines are not a means to holiness; they are a means of knowing Christ” [2]. And, knowing Jesus better will make us desire the kind of righteousness for which the law asks  instead of the law making us desire Jesus.

When you get to the point that a quiet time is not a chore, when Bible reading is not something you check off your “to do” list, and when praying is something that occurs freely and for prolonged times, you have broken free from the bond of the law and moved into the freedom found in the Spirit.

Your response:

  • Take some time to meditate on the following verses: Colossians 3:1-17.
  • Consider who you are in Christ and what you should “put to death.”
  • Consider how you should be clothed.
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1 F.F. Bruce, The Epistles of Paul to the Romans (London: The Tyndale Press, 1966). 145.

2 Chuck Swindoll, Insights on Romans, Swindoll’s New Testament Insights (Grand Rapids: Zondervon, 2010),155.