“Guard Against Every Sort of Covetousness”
“Even when a person has an abundance his life does not result from the things he possesses.”—LUKE 12:15.
MONEY, property, prestige, high-paying jobs, family—these are among the things that most people look at as a gauge of success or as insurance for a secure future. It is evident that in lands rich and poor, many people’s interests and pursuits are focused on material gains and advancement. On the other hand, their interest in spiritual things—if there is any—is on a rapid decline.
2 This is just as the Bible foretold. It says: “In the last days critical times hard to deal with will be here. For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, . . . lovers of pleasures rather than lovers of God, having a form of godly devotion but proving false to its power.” (2 Timothy 3:1-5) Living among such people day in and day out, true Christians are under constant pressure to conform to this kind of mentality and lifestyle. What can help us to resist the world’s efforts to ‘squeeze us into its own mould’?—Romans 12:2, The New Testament in Modern English, by J. B. Phillips.
3 As “the Chief Agent and Perfecter of our faith,” Jesus Christ provided us with powerful lessons in this regard. (Hebrews 12:2) On one occasion when Jesus was speaking to the crowd on some spiritually enlightening matters, a man interrupted the discussion with a request: “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” In response, Jesus provided the man—and all those listening—with some serious counsel. He sounded a strong warning against covetousness and reinforced that warning with a thought-provoking illustration. We do well to take heed of what Jesus said on that occasion and see how we can benefit by applying it in our own life.—Luke 12:13-21.
An Inappropriate Request
4 Prior to the man’s interruption, Jesus was speaking to his disciples and others about being on guard against hypocrisy, about having the courage to confess union with the Son of man, and about receiving help from the holy spirit. (Luke 12:1-12) Surely these are vital subjects that the disciples needed to take to heart. In the midst of such a soul-searching discourse, however, the man abruptly cut in and asked Jesus to arbitrate in what appeared to be a family squabble over material possessions. Yet, there is an important lesson that we can learn from this event.
5 It has been said that “the character of a man is often indicated by the direction which his thoughts take when he is listening to a religious exhortation.” While Jesus was speaking about serious spiritual matters, the man was probably thinking about what he could do to achieve certain financial advantages. Whether he had a legitimate cause for grievance in connection with the inheritance is not stated. Perhaps he was trying to capitalize on Jesus’ authority and reputation as a wise judge in human affairs. (Isaiah 11:3, 4; Matthew 22:16) In any case, his question suggested that deep down, there was a problem—a serious lack of appreciation for spiritual matters. Is this not good reason for us to examine ourselves? At Christian meetings, for example, it is easy to allow our mind to wander or to dwell on what we might do later. Instead, we should pay attention to what is said and think of ways to make personal application of the information so that we can improve our relationship with our heavenly Father, Jehovah God, and with our fellow Christians.—Psalm 22:22; Mark 4:24.
6 Whatever motivated the man to make the request, Jesus declined to act upon it. Instead, Jesus said to him: “Man, who appointed me judge or apportioner over you persons?” (Luke 12:14) In saying that, Jesus was referring to something that the people were well-aware of, for according to the Mosaic Law, judges in the cities were appointed to rule on just such matters. (Deuteronomy 16:18-20; 21:15-17; Ruth 4:1, 2) Jesus, on the other hand, was concerned with more important things—to bear witness to Kingdom truth and to teach people God’s will. (John 18:37) Following Jesus’ example, rather than being sidetracked by mundane issues, we use our time and energy to preach the good news and to “make disciples of people of all the nations.”—Matthew 24:14; 28:19.
Beware of Covetousness
7 Being able to discern the deepest intentions of the heart, Jesus was aware that something more serious was involved in the man’s request for Jesus to intervene in a personal matter. Thus, instead of simply turning down the request, Jesus got to the heart of the matter and said: “Keep your eyes open and guard against every sort of covetousness, because even when a person has an abundance his life does not result from the things he possesses.”—Luke 12:15.
8 Covetousness is more than simply the desire to have money or certain things, which could have their proper use and purpose. It is the “inordinate desire for wealth or possessions or for another’s possessions,” according to one dictionary. It can involve the insatiable, greedy urge to have things—perhaps those belonging to someone else—simply for the sake of having them, without regard for one’s own needs or the effect on others. A covetous person allows the object of his desire to dominate his thinking and actions to such an extent that it in essence becomes his god. Recall that the apostle Paul equates a greedy person with an idolater, who has no share in God’s Kingdom.—Ephesians 5:5; Colossians 3:5.
9 Interestingly, Jesus warned against “every sort of covetousness.” Covetousness comes in many forms. The last of the Ten Commandments enumerated some of them, stating: “You must not desire your fellowman’s house. You must not desire your fellowman’s wife, nor his slave man nor his slave girl nor his bull nor his ass nor anything that belongs to your fellowman.” (Exodus 20:17) The Bible is replete with examples of individuals who have fallen into grievous sin on account of covetousness of one kind or another. Satan was the first to covet something that belonged to someone else—the glory, honor, and authority that are Jehovah’s alone. (Revelation 4:11) Eve coveted the right of self-determination, and her being deceived in this regard started the human race down the road to sin and death. (Genesis 3:4-7) The demons were angels who became discontented with “their original position but forsook their own proper dwelling place” for something to which they were not entitled. (Jude 6; Genesis 6:2) Think, too, of Balaam, Achan, Gehazi, and Judas. Instead of being content with their lot in life, they allowed an inordinate desire for material possessions to cause them to misuse their trust, plunging them into ruin and destruction.
10 How fitting that Jesus prefaced the warning against covetousness with the words “keep your eyes open”! Why? Because it is so easy for people to see that someone else is being greedy or covetous, but it is rare that they will acknowledge that they themselves are guilty of it. Yet, the apostle Paul points out that “the love of money is a root of all sorts of injurious things.” (1 Timothy 6:9, 10) The disciple James explains that wrong desire, “when it has become fertile, gives birth to sin.” (James 1:15) In line with Jesus’ admonition, we should ‘keep our eyes open,’ not to observe others to see if they fit the description, but to examine ourselves to see what we have set our hearts on, so as to “guard against every sort of covetousness.”
A Life of Abundance
11 There is yet another reason why we must guard against covetousness. Note what Jesus next said: “Even when a person has an abundance his life does not result from the things he possesses.” (Luke 12:15) This certainly is food for thought in our materialistic age, when people equate affluence and prosperity with happiness and success. By those words, Jesus was pointing out that a truly meaningful and satisfying life does not result from or depend on material possessions, no matter how abundant.
12 Some, however, may disagree. They may reason that material possessions make life more comfortable and enjoyable, thus more worthwhile. Hence, they devote themselves to pursuits that would give them the ability to acquire all the goods and gadgets that they desire. This, they think, will result in a good life. But in so thinking, they miss the point Jesus was making.
13 Instead of focusing on whether it is right or wrong to have an abundance, Jesus was making the point that a man’s life does not result from “the things he possesses,” that is, the things he already has. In this regard, we all know that to live, or to sustain the life we have, does not really require very much. It takes only a little food, something to wear, and a place to lie down. The rich have an abundance of these things, and the poor may have to struggle to obtain what they need. What difference there is, however, is equalized when life comes to its end—everything comes to naught. (Ecclesiastes 9:5, 6) Thus, for life to have meaning and worth, it cannot and should not simply consist of things that one can acquire or possess. This thought becomes evident when we examine what life Jesus was speaking about.
14 When Jesus said that “life does not result from the things he possesses,” the word used here for “life” in Luke’s Gospel (Greek, zo·e′) refers, not to the manner or style of living, but to life itself, life in the absolute sense.* Jesus was saying that whether we are rich or poor, whether we live in luxury or we barely eke out an existence, we do not have complete control over how long we may live or whether we will even be alive tomorrow. Jesus stated in his Sermon on the Mount: “Who of you by being anxious can add one cubit to his life span?” (Matthew 6:27) The Bible clearly shows that Jehovah alone is “the source of life,” and only he can grant faithful ones “the real life,” or “everlasting life,” life without end, either in heaven or on earth.—Psalm 36:9; 1 Timothy 6:12, 19.
15 Jesus’ words point out how easy it is for people to have a warped or distorted view of life. Whether rich or poor, all humans are imperfect and have but one eventuality. Moses of old observed: “In themselves the days of our years are seventy years; and if because of special mightiness they are eighty years, yet their insistence is on trouble and hurtful things; for it must quickly pass by, and away we fly.” (Psalm 90:10; Job 14:1, 2; 1 Peter 1:24) For this reason, people who have not cultivated a good relationship with God often adopt the “let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we are to die” mentality, referred to by the apostle Paul. (1 Corinthians 15:32) Others, sensing that life is fleeting and uncertain, try to find security and permanence in material possessions. Perhaps they feel that having many physical, tangible material things will somehow make life more secure. Thus, they labor incessantly to amass wealth and possessions, mistakenly equating such things with security and happiness.—Psalm 49:6, 11, 12.
A Secure Future
16 It may be true that a higher living standard—having an abundance of food, clothing, shelter, and other amenities—could contribute to a more comfortable life or may even allow for better medical care and thus add a few years to a person’s life span. However, is such a life really more meaningful and more secure? True worth in life is not measured in the number of years one might live or the amount of material things one might possess or enjoy. The apostle Paul pointed to the danger of putting too much stock in such things. To Timothy he wrote: “Give orders to those who are rich in the present system of things not to be high-minded, and to rest their hope, not on uncertain riches, but on God, who furnishes us all things richly for our enjoyment.”—1 Timothy 6:17.
17 To rest one’s hope on riches is unwise because they are “uncertain.” The patriarch Job was very well-off, but when disaster struck suddenly, his riches could not help him; they vanished overnight. It was his solid relationship with God that preserved him through all the trials and tribulations. (Job 1:1, 3, 20-22) Abraham did not allow his abundant material possessions to prevent him from accepting a challenging assignment from Jehovah, and he was blessed with becoming the “father of a crowd of nations.” (Genesis 12:1, 4; 17:4-6) These and other examples are worthy of our imitation. Young or old, we need to examine ourselves to see what is truly important in our life and on what we rest our hope.—Ephesians 5:10; Philippians 1:10.
18 The few words that Jesus spoke on covetousness and the proper view of life are meaningful and instructive indeed. However, Jesus had something further in mind, and he went on to relate a thought-provoking parable, or illustration, about an unreasonable rich man. How is that illustration pertinent to our life today, and what can we learn from it? The next article will provide the answers.
Another Greek word translated “life” is bi′os, from which come such English words as “biography” and “biology.” According to Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, bi′os refers to “the period or duration of life,” “the manner of life,” and “the means of life.”
What Is Your Answer?
• What can we learn from Jesus’ refusal to act on the request by a man in the crowd?
• Why must we guard against covetousness, and how can we do so?
• Why does life not result from material possessions?
• What can make life truly worthwhile and secure?
1, 2. (a) What have you observed about people’s interests and pursuits today? (b) How may we be affected by such attitudes?
3. What counsel provided by Jesus will we consider now?
4. Why was the man’s interrupting Jesus inappropriate?
5. What did the man’s request reveal about him?
6. Why did Jesus decline to act as the man requested?
7. What penetrating observation did Jesus make?
8. What is covetousness, and what can it lead to?
9. In what ways can covetousness be manifested? Give some examples.
10. How should we ‘keep our eyes open,’ as Jesus admonished?
11, 12. (a) What warning did Jesus give against covetousness? (b) Why do we need to heed Jesus’ warning?
13. What is a balanced view of life and possessions?
14. What can we learn from the word for “life” found in the Bible account?
15. Why do many put their trust in material possessions?
16. On what is true worth in life not based?
17, 18. (a) What outstanding examples with regard to material possessions are worthy of our imitation? (b) What parable of Jesus will be considered in the following article?
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Why did Jesus turn down one man’s request?
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Covetousness can lead to disastrous results
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How did Abraham manifest a proper view of material possessions?