Season 2, Episode 14
For Friday, November 13, 2015
“The Idol of Covetousness”
HOST: Wade Webster
Likely, when we think of idolatry, we think of other countries. However, our country may be the most idolatrous country in the world. I say this because covetousness is idolatry (Col. 3:5). As you know, our country is full of people who love mammon more than God (Mt. 6:24). Living in such an idolatrous (covetous) country, it behooves us to examine our hearts that we might cast away any idol that we find there.
I recently read a story about a missionary who was serving in a country that worshipped idols. As the missionary entered homes in that country, he noticed that the idol was always the focus of the main room. Every chair in the main room faced the idol. The missionary thought how foolish and how ignorant it was for men to give such devotion to an inanimate object. When the missionary returned home, and walked into his own den, his heart was pricked by what he saw. On the wall in his den was a huge tv. Sure enough, every chair in the room was positioned to face the tv.
Likely, when we think of idolatry, we don’t think of our own country. We think of foreign countries. However, our country may be one of the most idolatrous countries in the world. Before you disagree, consider a passage that Paul penned to the Colossian Christians. We read, “Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupisence, and covetousness, which is idolatry” (Col. 3:5). Notice that Paul defined covetousness as “idolatry.” When this idol is considered, then our country becomes very idolatrous. In this study, we want to compare covetousness to idolatry.
First, Like Idolatry, Covetousness Puts Something In The Place Of God. As you study idolatry in the Old Testament, you find that men put many things in the place of God. For example, the Gentiles “worshipped and served the creation more than the Creator” (Rom. 1:25). They fashioned gods like unto birds, fish, and beasts. They worshipped the sun, moon, and stars. At times, God’s people imitated the idolatry of their pagan neighbors. No doubt, you recall the golden calf that Aaron made shortly after the Israelites left the land of Egypt (Ex. 32). Isn’t it amazing that at the time that Moses was in the mount receiving the commandment not to make a graven image, Aaron and the people were fashioning one (Ex. 20:3-5)?
Like other kinds of idolatry, covetousness puts something in the place of God. Covetousness puts mammon or money in the place of God (Mt. 6:24). It should not be surprising to find that when Jesus selected individuals to be His disciples that he selected men who were willing to leave all to follow him (Mt. 4:20; Lk. 5:11). Even Matthew, a tax-collector, who belonged to a group known for loving money, left his tax booth to follow the Master.
Second, Like Idolatry, Covetousness Has A Way Of Spreading. As you study idolatry in the Scriptures, you find that it was very contagious. God was deeply concerned about idolatry and wanted his people to stay separate from it (Deut. 12:29-32; 18:9-14). He was concerned that His people would learn the ways of those around them. Through marriages, business dealings, and friendships that is exactly what happened. Even Solomon, the wisest man of the Old Testament period married foreign women and learned idolatry from them (1 Kings 11:1-12).
In the New Testament, God’s people are warned about the danger of learning covetousness. Paul warned the Christians at Corinth about fellowshipping with a covetous person. He wrote, “Yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs go out of the world. 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” (1 Cor. 5:10-11; cf. Eph. 5:3). Paul knew that the Christians at Corinth could not get completely away from covetousness because they had to live in a covetous world. However, he did not want covetousness to be tolerated in the church.
Imagine what would happen in some congregations if brethren started withdrawing from those who were covetous. What would happen if the church withdrew from those who spent lavishly on themselves and gave little or nothing to the cause of the Lord? I suppose that a lot of church parking lots would be empty. I realize that it would be hard to make the determination that a brother was covetous. No doubt, that is one reason why it is not done. However, I believe that another reason why it isn’t done is because we don’t truly think of covetousness as all that bad. We may even secretly may want to be like the covetous man. Likely, we would withdraw in a minute from a brother who was a drunkard, a fornicator, or an extortioner. Yet, Paul places the covetous man in the same category. We see the drunkard and the fornicator as potentially corrupting the congregation, but we fail to see the covetous man in the same light. Of all the things that could be named, covetousness is one of the things that God identifies as potentially keeping men out of heaven (1 Cor. 6:10; Eph. 5:5).
Third, Like Idolatry, Covetousness Has Strong Ties To Sexual Immorality. You don’t have to study the subject of idolatry very long until you come across the gross immorality connected with it. Fornication is repeatedly connected with idolatry in the Scriptures. On several occasions, Paul encouraged Christians to abstain from three things – idolatry, fornication, and things strangled (Acts 15:20, 29; 1 Thess. 4:3). The word “abstain” means “to hold one’s self off.” Paul knew that idolatry was pulling saints toward fornication and other forms of uncleanness.
Twice in his evaluation of the seven churches of Asia, Jesus connected idolatry and fornication (Rev. 2:14, 20). Jesus brought up two different occasions in the Old Testament when these things made inroads into Israel – the time of Balaam and the time of Jezebel.
Perhaps, Corinth, more than any other New Testament city is known for its sexual immorality. As you recall, it was at Corinth where a brother had taken his father’s wife (1 Cor. 5). This is not all that surprising when you consider that Corinthian society was permeated with promiscuity. Prostitution was even a mainstay of some of the religions. Temple prostitutes would make their way to the temple where men would commit fornication with them as a religious rite. The sandals of these immoral women left enticements in the sand encouraging the men of Corinth to follow them to the temple.
In like manner, covetousness has strong ties to sexual immorality. Paul declared that “the love of money is the root of all evil” (1 Tim. 6:10). Amazingly, at the base of all sinful weeds, you will find the love of money. Many commentators have suggested that this is the reason why covetousness appears last in the list here. They argue that Paul is working from the various branches of the weed of sin to the root which was covetousness. It is not enough to cut down the weed, we must remove the root or it will quickly come back.
What do you think is behind the influx of filth in our society? What is behind the pornography that permeates our society? What is behind the skimpily dressed singers and their suggestive songs? What is behind the sexually explicit movies? No doubt, it is the love of money. One of the most dangerous things about an unlawful desire for material things is that it leads to unlawful desires for other things.
Fourth, Like Idolatry, Covetousness Has A Record Of Sacrificing Children. A number of things about Old Testament idolatry are appalling. However, nothing is as appalling as the sacrifice of children. For example, a major part of the worship of Molech in the valley of Hinnom was the sacrifice of children (Deut. 12:31;18:10-13). The innocent children were offered to appease the wrath of Molech, the fire god. Even some of God’s people engaged in this practice (2 Kings 16:3; 21:6; Jer. 19:5; 32:35; Ezek. 16:20-21).
Perhaps, you have never thought of covetousness as involving child sacrifice. However, I am convinced that it often does. Many fathers spend little or no time with their children. Their time is spent making money. Through neglect their children become sacrifices to the gods of career and covetousness. Please don’t misunderstand me. Fathers have a God-given responsibility to provide for their children (1 Tim. 5:8). Although it takes money to feed and clothe children, money is not the only need that children have. Children need someone to hug them, to love them, and to share with them.
Many mothers have entered the workforce to the detriment of their families. The extra money that they earn is nice, but it often carries a very expensive price tag. Children are left without the guidance and reassuring arms of a mother (1 Tim. 5:14; Tit. 2:4-5). Through neglect, many children end upon on the altar as sacrifices to the gods of covetousness.
Fifth, Like Idolatry, Covetousness Often Includes Acts Of Great Violence. As you study the idolatry of the Bible, especially the Old Testament, you repeatedly come across acts of great violence. The idolaters of the Old Testament were not a peaceful people. They were people who were extremely war-like and violent. Consider for example, the Assyrians who skinned those that they captured in war. History even records that they left stacks of heads outside of cities to let men know that they had been there. It is no wonder that Jonah had great difficulty going to deliver a message of warning and grace to them.
Behind the covetousness of today there are pools of great blood. What do you think is behind the car-jackings, the convenience store robberies, and other acts of violence that fill our society? As already noted, money is the “root of all evil” (1 Tim. 6:10). These folks think so little of human life because they think so highly of money and material things. It is their god and they will gladly kill for it.
What do you think is behind the millions of abortions that are performed every year in this country? No doubt, it is the love of money. Doctors who are sworn to save lives switch to taking lives. Why do they do it? Let’s face it, because of the money. They are not doing abortions for free. Furthermore, why do many women choose to have an abortion? Because a pregnancy isn’t in the plans at the moment. They want to pursue their educations, their careers, their opportunities. In a word, a pregnancy would interfere with their pursuit of money. What do you think is behind that drugs that fill our streets? Let me suggest that it is the love of money. Drug dealers will destroy people’s lives and risk imprisonment because of their love of money.
While those in our congregations might not be guilty of these things, there is violence associated with their covetousness. They are not actively robbing people or killing people. However, by their neglect and their indifference people are dying every minute without the help that they so desperately need. They are dying without the gospel (2 Thess. 1:7-9).
Sixth, Like Idolatry, Covetousness Worships That Which Man Made Rather Than That Which Made Man. As you study the idolatry recorded in the Scriptures, you will find that men worshipped the work of their own hands. Rather than worshipping the God that made them, they worshipped the gods that they made. Over and over again, the Scriptures speak of idols which were the work of their hands (Deut. 4:28; 2 Kings 19:18; Isa. 37:19). Imagine bowing down before that which did not exist until you made it. Yet, this happened over and over again in the Old Testament.
Covetousness involves worshipping what man makes. Likely, we can see the foolishness of idolatry in Bible times. We can see the foolishness of worshipping that which you carved out of wood, chiseled out of stone, or molded out of metal. It bears your likeness rather than your bearing its likeness (cf. Gen. 1:26-27).
We can see the foolishness of worshipping that which can’t do what we can do – move, speak, hear, and see (Psa. 115:1-8). Do you really want to serve a god who is less powerful than you are? Do you want to serve a God who can’t hear your prayers or your praises?
Yet, aren’t men today engaging in the same foolishness as the idolaters of the Old Testament when they worship clothes, cars, and cash?
Seventh, Like Idolatry, Covetousness Comes In Many Forms. As one studies the idolatry of the Bible, they see many different forms. The idols of the Egyptians often bore the likeness of animals. The idols of the Greeks and Romans often bore the likeness of men.
Covetous cannot be isolated to one form. For one person, covetousness might be a car. For another, it might be a house. For yet another, it might be a certain brand of clothes.
Eighth, Like Idolatry, Covetousness Is Pursued With Great Zeal. As one studies the idolatry of Bible times, they have to be impressed with the zeal that the followers of those false gods displayed. Elijah dealt with those who cried for hours and cut themselves with knives in devotion to their god (1 Kings 18:26-29). Of course, nothing happened. However, it wasn’t because those who worshipped Baal sat passively by. At Ephesus, you may recall that Paul faced those who cried out “Great Is Diana” for two solid hours (Acts 19:23-41).
Today, individuals who practice the religion of covetousness often have the same type of zeal. Some work extra hours while others work extra jobs. Some destroy their health in pursuit of mammon. Consider professional athletes who ruin their health to win. Consider executives who don’t sleep right, eat right, or exercise right to meet the demands of their gods. Consider models who starve themselves to remain a “perfect” size.
It is a shame that those who serve false gods often have more zeal for their gods than those who serve the true God have for Him. Yet, we are to be a people zealous of good works (Tit. 2:14).
Ninth, Like Idolatry, Covetousness Is Often Passed On From One Generation To The Next. The idolatry that we read about in the Bible was often passed on from one generation to the next. Sons often followed in the footsteps of fathers. Just look at the bad kings of Israel and Judah (2 Kings 16:3; 21:6). Sometimes even nations continued in the religious practices of those that they had conquered. There are certainly parallels that exist for example between the gods of the Greeks and the Romans.
Covetousness often goes from one generation to the next. I am convinced that many parents breed within their children an insatiable desire for things. In turn, those children will then teach their children the same. Parents who make mammon their god should not be surprised when their children do the same. If they forsake the services for money, they should not be surprised when their children do the same (Heb. 10:25). If they don’t make time to visit, to study, to pray, or to do a host of other things because of their pursuit of earthly things, they should not be surprised when their children’s affections are not on things eternal either (Col. 3:1-2).
As we get ready to worship this week, we need to make sure that our hearts have not be given, even in part, to the idol of covetousness. Let’s cast aside every idol and worship God alone.
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