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By Rev Charles Seet

Published Life BPC Weekly, 2005-03-20

Text: 1 Timothy 6:6-8

Contentment is a beautiful and healthy condition. We ought to be content with whatever God has given to us: our possessions, position in life, abilities, opportunities, and pleasures that are legitimate. On the other hand, the godly person is in a sense never satisfied with the status quo. As long as we fall short of the fullness of Christ, we keep striving for that goal. Even in material things, a Christian may legitimately work hard to improve his condition if he is able to, but always with contentment.

It is when we are not contented with what God provides for us that we covet. What God provides for us is all that we need in life. This is not the same as all that we want in life. Having all that we need is having a simple lifestyle: Being neither rich nor poor. It also means that we will not be lacking the basic necessities (as defined by a given society). 1 Timothy 6:6-8 gives us this principle: "But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment let us be therewith content."

Coveting Material Things

To covet is to seek for something, someone, some position, some recognition, or some pleasure not in the will of God for us. When we covet these things we are not contented, but dissatisfied with God's care.

God views covetousness as a terrible evil; but man views it as the least of all human problems, and in fact encourages it as the route to all kinds of personal fulfillment. We call it materialism or kiasu-ism, but these are just milder terms for greed and avarice. It is a very frustrating way of life because one can never be satisfied in it. The more you get, the more you want!

Covetousness is the sin of misplaced trust. Many fall into it because they trust not in God, but in things that are not worthy of their trust. They think that material possessions can be trusted to provide all the joy, power and satisfaction that they want in life. They put their trust in their riches and seek to get more riches to trust in. Jesus stated this in Luke 12:15 "And He said unto them, Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth."

This misplaced trust is the reason why Paul gave the instruction in 1 Timothy 6:17 - "Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not high-minded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy." Many today are caught in this misplaced trust. To them life consists entirely in the abundance of the things they possess. They desire to maintain a very high standard of living. As the standard of living goes up higher and higher, more and more things get added into the list of things one must have, as if it would be a most dreadful thing not to have them. As we all know, the Five Cs are car, cash, condominium, credit card and country club membership (And 'casino' may become a sixth C).

The desire to have things is not evil in itself. When we are hungry we desire food to eat; when we are thirsty, we desire something to drink, and when we are tired we desire rest. But it is when these God-given desires become distorted, and aims to get whatever God has not intended for us, rather than being content with what God has provided, that they become evil and destructive.

The covetous spirit will easily lead to evil scheming and plotting to make unjust gain, to pursuing undue recognition, and to give very sparingly and grudgingly to help others. Covetousness is opposed to God's greatest commandment: the commandment to love. Covetousness is only interested in getting; love is always interested in giving. It is also a root sin that leads a person into other sins. Those who covet often resort to cheating, lying, stealing, dishonesty and corruption in order to get what they want, and no means, ethical or unethical is spared to get the things that are coveted.

Coveting Non-material Things

When you desire anything that is not yours in the will of God, you are coveting, and that thing may be non-material, like the position or abilities of another person. It is possible to covet the affection of another person, or the popularity of another person. We call these sins "envy", a particularly pernicious and destructive form of coveting. Envy is condemned in Galatians 5:21 as one of the "works of the flesh." 

The person who envies does every thing he possibly can to bring the other person down, or to outdo his success. Cain killed his own brother, Abel, because he was envious of the warm approval that Abel received from God for his offering.

How can you tell if you are envious or not? Can you rejoice when others are getting better grades than you? or when others are successful in areas where you are not? If you cannot rejoice when others increase or get promoted ahead of you, then envy lurks in your hearts, and it must be dealt with before it destroys you!

Another form of non-material coveting is coveting a desired outcome. This often leads to the sin of bribery and corruption. These sins are hated in the Bible (Exodus 23:8; 1 Samuel 8:1-3). When a judge can be moved to acquit the guilty by receiving a gift from a person, both that person and the judge are guilty of covetousness. The person covets an illegitimate result while the unjust judge covets the gift.

Sometimes people covet a desired outcome and get what they want through some legal loophole. E.g. some years ago, those who applied to buy some private apartments found themselves in a long waiting queue. Not being content with their place in the queue they try to jump the queue by offering large sums of money to those who are already ahead of them to sell them their place in the queue. This practice encouraged people to start queuing up early for private apartments just for the sake of making a tidy profit from selling their places in the queue!

How should Christians respond to things like these? Remember this: Just because something is not illegal, it does not mean that it is not unethical. When faced with an option to do something that is legal but questionable, ask yourself two questions: Firstly, will it give you an unfair advantage over others? Secondly, does this course of action in any way appear to put those who do it in a bad light in the eyes of the public? If the answer is "yes" to either of these questions, then steer clear from the option in question.

Gambling

This is one well-known form of coveting a desired outcome. In gambling, a person risks his assets on a speculated result, in the hope of getting gains for himself. Gambling is built entirely upon covetousness. The gambler covets a desired outcome or result in order to obtain his coveted material gains. He dreams of becoming rich quickly by hitting the jackpot. Some gamblers will resort to using deception to get the desired result - e.g. using a marked deck of playing cards or loaded dice. In many sports or games events, gambling takes the form of betting, and these games are sometimes fixed to end in a certain way.

In Judges 14:12-18, we are told that Samson made a bet with the Philistines for 30 sets of expensive clothing, that they would not be able to guess the answer to his riddle. They took on the bet but found that the riddle was too hard for them. Since they did not want to lose the bet, they coerced Samson's wife to trick him into revealing the answer. So Samson lost the bet. Such evil scheming and plotting still goes on even in organised or legalised gambling today. Christians should have no part in it!

Every time you see any form of gambling, please see how evil it is by associating it closely with the lots that some Roman soldiers cast for Christ's vesture when He was crucified, as recorded in Matthew 27:35. As we commemorate Good Friday this week, let this awful picture of the gambling soldiers at the cross be permanently etched in our hearts - how it added on to His torments!

Gambling is also a social evil that has ruined many lives and even whole families. It is addictive and causes people to lose sight of reality. Gamblers live in a dream world of riches, hoping for that unreal 'chance of a lifetime' to fall right into their lap. It makes people believe that good luck rather than hard work is the way to prosperity. It goes against the Christian work ethic. It causes people to become intensely self-centered. Nothing else matters to them except the indescribable thrill of risking one's assets to make some quick gain. It often draws people into a life of dishonesty and sin. Gamblers often resort to borrowing money, cheating, stealing and embezzling funds to feed their habit. 

In the light of all these, Christians should abstain totally from any form of gambling. To participate in it or promote it is to help create an atmosphere in which others will certainly fall into sin. Some may ask if speculating in stocks and shares or participating in 'lucky' draws are forms of gambling. To find out, please read Q&A no. 43 at the following webpage of our church web site: http://www.lifebpc.com/faq/index.php?p=default&cat=3 

Conclusion: Faithful Stewardship

The Bible tells us that God is deeply concerned about our attitudes toward our possessions. He wants us to regard them as things that He has entrusted or loaned to us. We are stewards or managers of all our possessions only for a very short time (cf. the parable of the Talents, Matthew 25:15-28). 

With that attitude, we would seek to sacrificially use and invest these possessions as wisely as possible for His glory. They are not to be used for our own glory. Neither should we covet what God has not entrusted or loaned to us to manage, but be content with what He has.

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

October 15 & 22 - The Cost of Discipleship

For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. Matthew 16:25