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Posts Tagged ‘covetousness’

Before we were in our mother’s womb, God knew us (Jer.1:5), which means that His intent, purpose, and calling were established independently of our parent’s DNA, the circumstances surrounding our physical conception, or the history of our family. 

He not only made us in His image (Gen.1:27), but “pre-destined” us to be conformed to that image as well (2Cor.3:18).  Scripture goes on to say that the steps of a righteous man are ordered by God (Psalm 37:23), that the days ordained for us are written in His book, before one of them comes to pass (Psalm 139:16), and that God is faithful to complete the good work that He has begun in us (Phil.1:6). 

Within that framework, our identity, our value, our security, and ultimately our destiny were all meant to be completely derived from Him.  This design was fully realized in His Son, Jesus Christ, and to the degree that we are willing to surrender our lives to that pattern, it can be manifest in us as well.

A catastrophic consequence of sin is that as we become disconnected from the person of God, we also lose our connection to these provisions, and thereby invest those aspects of our being in other things.  Indeed, as originally conceived, Adam and Eve were naked, yet without shame (Gen.2:25), as they viewed themselves through the lens of the Lord’s affection.  But upon eating of the fruit, they gained a new awareness that caused them to look at themselves, and each other with a different perspective (Gen.3:7). Nothing had actually changed, other than their perception.

Undoubtedly, this is where the poisons of comparison, covetous, and competition were first introduced, and mankind has grappled with them ever since.  Within the first generation these toxins produced murderous effects (Gen.4:8), and like a swarm of locust, they have combined to devour just about every tender sprout of fellowship / community the church has endeavored to establish. 

With Western culture essentially fueled by these elements (i.e. comparison, covetous, competition), they have seamlessly blended into our brand of Christianity, largely rendering the church (in the west) impotent, or at least incapable of healthy reproduction.  Indeed, it seems doubtful that there is any standard within scripture that we have fallen shorter of than Christ’s assertion that the way people would be able to distinguish His disciples was by the way they loved one another (John 13:35).

In his letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor.12) Paul lays out God’s strategy for the body, with each part having a unique design, and purpose that work together for the greater good of the whole.  Indeed, if these individual parts derived their identity and value from their Creator, they could work together in harmony, reveling in their distinct function.  Sadly, Paul also forecasts the inevitable chaos that comes when the various parts begin to compare themselves to each other (versus 15-26). 

Throughout scripture we see examples of the damaging effects of comparison, and Paul speaks directly of it in his letter to the Corinthians (2 Cor.10:12-18).  When the Israelites compared themselves to the people living in Canaan, they judged themselves to be too weak (Num.13:33) to apprehend the promised lands.  In Jesus’ parable of the workers in the vineyard, the workers hired at the beginning of the day compare their wages to those hired at the end of the day, and feel cheated, even though they had agreed to do the work for that price (Matt.20:1-16).  And when Peter tried to compare the manner of death he was facing with how John might perish, he earned a strong rebuke from the Lord (John 21:20-23), who challenged, “What is that to you?  You must follow me.”

The inescapable byproducts of comparison are covetousness, and competition, which also breed their own dire consequences.  When Esau covets Jacobs stew, he willingly forfeits his birthright (Gen.25:29-33), and when David covets another man’s wife (Bathsheba), it leads to adultery, and murder (2 Sam.11:2-17).  Even more damaging, when the nation of Israel covets an earthly king to lead them (1 Sam.8:4-21), they forsake the supernatural protection of their heavenly King.

Likewise, there are multiple gospel accounts of the discord resulting from various disciples jockeying for their heavenly positions (Matt.20:20-28, Mark 10:37-45), Saul’s murderous intent caused by the people’s praise of David (1 Samuel 18:8-11), and the fatal outcome of one brother’s offering being found acceptable, while the other’s was not (Gen.4:2-8). 

Today, even relatively mature believers generally struggle to gather in any sort of meaningful way without falling into these same destructive patterns.  Churches and ministries are infamously contaminated with envy, greed, intrigue, and power struggles.  This constant strife is the antithesis of the destiny the Lord authored for His Bride.

And if sin is what separated us from our identity in Christ (including our value, security and destiny), then surely reconnecting with that identity is a critical part of our redemption.  Paul speaks of this in various places within his writings, especially in Ephesians 4 (17-32).  This “putting off” or “laying aside” the old self, in order to step into the fullness of Christ is a transformation rarely witnessed in Western Christianity, but it is the key to experiencing genuine freedom, and becoming effective ministers of the gospel. 

It begins with taking our eyes off of each other, and our circumstances (2Cor.4:18), and fixing them on the One who is Lord (Heb.12:2).  If real love is not proud, and does not boast; if it does not envy, and keeps no record, then there is no context in which it could ever be competitive.  And until (or unless) God’s people manifest the genuine article, we have nothing to offer in Jesus’ name (1Corth.13).

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The Apostle Paul said, “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”  Throughout the epistles he exhorts us to do the same.  Recently, I’ve sensed the Lord highlighting some of the childish things that need to be put away.

 

First and foremost, a child is self-centered.  A baby has no capacity to concern itself with whether its parents are tired or busy or sick, it just knows that it’s not comfortable (e.g. hungry, wet, gassy, tired) and it demands immediate attention.  Presumably, as we get older, our awareness of other people and their struggles grows, but in times of trouble we can easily return to our infancy, becoming blind and numb to anything other than our own wants, needs, or pain.

 

As a baby grows into a child it becomes increasingly responsive to external stimuli, like light, color, noise, music, touch… and through this it learns to interact with the world around it.  Eventually, these external forces begin to shape the child’s concept of life and identity.  But as we grow in spiritual maturity, we’re called to become less responsive to what is seen (which is perishing), and more sensitive to what is unseen (which is eternal).

 

Young children tend to easily fall into covetousness when they see something they want, jealousy when someone else has what they want, and to have tantrums, when they don’t get what they want.  It is not a given that age and experience will cause us to grow past these things.  Often, we simply become more subtle in the ways we express them.

 

Children are also famous for their impatience and fertile imaginations, both of which can become powerful tools in the hands of the adversary.

 

Indeed, the scripture admonishes us to humbly esteem others above ourselves, to bless and serve those around us, and to be “quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry”.   It commands us not to covet, warns us against the “acts of the flesh” (including jealousy, selfish ambition, fits of rage) and reminds us that “self-control” is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. It tells us that we must cast down our imaginations, to learn to “wait on the Lord”, and to embrace patience as a reflection of Christ’s character.  Throughout the New Testament it speaks of the transformation that God desires to work in each of us, and He assures us that He is faithful to complete this good work that He’s begun in us.

 

It’s likely that none of us want to think of ourselves as being childish, but I sense the Lord challenging us to allow Him to reveal the “childish things” that we still need to put away.  To uncover those instances where we’ve become callous and numb to other people’s pain, or those circumstances that we’ve unwittingly become slaves to, or those things that we’re coveting and maybe even making into idols.  To show us those places within our heart where self-pity, jealousy, and bitterness dwell; and to expose the imaginings that have replaced the genuine prophetic vision He means to give us.

 

Like David did in the Psalms, we need to invite Him to examine our hearts.  “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.  See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting”.  Amen.

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