“Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.
So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me. “
How frequently the Word of God sounds its warning to be not too concerned about earthly things, nor to have undue anxiety respecting the future!
How deliberately Scripture exhorts the people of God to flee from covetness!
“Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselvestreasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal. ” “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.” “Therefore I say unto you, take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? ” “Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.” “Be not anxious for the morrow, for the morrow shall take care for the things of itself.” Such were the exhortations which the Lord Jesus directed to His disciples in His great sermon from the mount. And the apostle Paul, writing to his son Timothy, warns: “For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.”
Such warnings, and many more could be quoted, show plainly the frequency wherewith Scripture warns against anxiety over earthly things.
And the actual life and walk of the children of God in this present world shows that this note of warning cannot be sounded too often. Especially is this true in our day. Today it is necessary to emphasize the need of the grace of contentment.
What is it?
It is the very opposite of worldly covetousness!
And worldly covetousness may be conceived of as consisting, in the first place, of the aggressive sin of seeking and grasping after the things of this world. Such covetousness in its urge to acquire may often be bold and aggressive; while it may also be free in scattering and squandering as it was eager and unscrupulous in acquiring. In the second place, worldly covetousness may also assume a more passive mood. It may seek to retain, and by accumulating to multiply that which it already has amassed. It is the miser’s sin. And therefore, according to its nature, will be cautious and even sometimes timid. It does not necessarily always cast off the outward show of piety and uprightness. It is perhaps this latter sense that is stressed in the text; though the first sense is not entirely excluded. The word that is translated “covetousness” in the text means literally: “love of money.”
Money! Money! Money!
Magic word! Worthless in itself! You cannot eat or drink it. You cannot clothe yourself with it so as to protect yourself from the heat or cold. But as a medium of exchange it provides you with the key to all the treasures of the world! With it you can obtain food and drink, clothing and shelter. With it you can get for yourself pleasures, honor, power, and influence. It is largely the power that rules the world. All the world becomes concerned when the dollar inflates or deflates. Money controls the lives of men, corporations, and commonwealths.
And how many there are who love money only for money’s sake! In the solitude and quiet of the night the miser will rise to sit and gloat over his shining shekels. He knows the power of each coin. There he sits, allowing each silvery piece to be assessed with his bony fingers. Oh, the satisfaction expressed on his face as he counts and recounts his horded gain. Gradually his pile increases, yet he dare not use any of it, lest some part of his- life should be lost. Oh, the sense of security and safety it affords him!
Though the text says literally: “Be free from the love of money,” we must not conclude that covetousness consists only in the love of money. It is the carnal passion that hankers after the world and its things. Often it is characterized by and attended with dissatisfaction with one’s present condition. The covetous man is the grumbler who is never satisfied. Nothing in this world or another seems to satiate him. If he has money, he wants more. If he has no money, he grumbles because he has not.
Covetousness is a great evil!
A deeply rooted sin!
Chief characteristic it is of the depraved and sinful nature! By nature we are not rich toward God. By nature we turn away from the Fountain of all good. The sinner seeks himself, apart from God. What God ordained as a means to an end, he makes an end in itself. It is small wonder then that covetousness marks all his walk and conversation. He is not satisfied with bread for today, he wants more. He must be able to see ahead, and have assurance that his basket will be filled for a long time to come.
Because of covetousness the sinner, the world, will do most anything. For the love of money, a man will murder his fellowman, and lose his own soul. The employer will suck the life’s blood out of his employees; while the employee will seek refuge in the power of strike and boycott. The rich will oppress the poor, and the poor will curse the rich. The big will swallow up the small, and nation will rise against nation. Totalitarian states operating under the philosophy of communism will seek to exploit capital and distribute its wealth; while democratic nations will arm themselves to the teeth, and challenge the exploiters with threats of war.
It is hardly imaginable what this world would be like if covetousness were taken out of it.
Yet, it is evident that the world of sinful men will not change. The evil can only progress, and become steadily worse.
But to us, to the church of Jesus Christ, the exhortation comes.—”Let your conversation be without covetousness!” This is, of course, a negative admonition which is necessary because so long as we dwell in the flesh the inclination is toward covetousness.
The positive exhortation, however, lies in the rest of the text, —”And be content with such things as ye have!” Christian contentment! Again we ask; what is it?
Understand well, contentment does not mean to be indifferent. It does not assume the attitude so often seen in the world of “I don’t care.” One who assumes such an attitude is in Scripture called “the sluggard.” He is the one who is satisfied to let others do his work, or to bring to him his daily bread. In the deep sense this is nothing more than covetousness in another form. Nor is contentment that attitude of mind that never longs for the fulfillment of our earthly needs, that never desires bread when hungry, or craves water when thirsty.
On the contrary, contentment is that inner state of the soul which is in harmony with one’s outward circumstances, The text presupposes, as all Scripture teaches, that we have our present needs supplied. The Psalmist observed that the righteous is never forsaken, nor does his seed go begging bread. He does not go hungry, naked, homeless; but at the same time he has no promise of surplus. He has bread for today and no more. He has a house to live in, though it is not a palace. He has all his needs fulfilled, but does not bathe in luxury. He has enough for today, but knows nothing of tomorrow. Normally this is the way the Lord in His providence cares for us each day.
But the question arises: Suppose that I do not have enough for the present? What then?’ The Lord has a way of bringing about situations like that, you know. What will we do then?
Should we rebel, and say that the way of the Lord is not right? Should I then take matters into my own hands, and go out and steal, and, if necessary to obtain what I need, perhaps murder? The answer to these questions is, of course, negative.
Rather, the Christian assumes the attitude so aptly expressed by the apostle Paul to the Philippians: “Not that I speak in respect to want: for I have learned in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: everywhere and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” This can only mean that because he possessed the grace of contentment as a gift of Christ, he could also endure hardship, suffer hunger, and in the final analysis be willing to die if it was the Lord’s will to remove him from the scene of the present through the lack of bread.
But the text, as we pointed out, assumes that we have the fulfillment of our present needs. It says: “Be content with such things as ye have.” And one who is content says: “I have enough. I crave no more. The lack of more does not fill my heart with envy or malice. My heart and soul are at peace with my outward circumstances.”
Contentment is a grace!
Which the natural man does not possess. Which only the child of God receives as a gift of Christ.
And it lies in the very nature of Christian contentment to lay hold on the promise of God: “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.”
Such a promise of the Lord was spoken by Moses to Israel and especially to Joshua as a word of encouragement prior to their entrance into the land of Canaan. “Be strong and of good courage, fear not, nor be afraid of them: for the Lord thy God, he it is that doth go with thee; he will not fail thee, nor forsake thee.” (Deut. 33:6,8). And after Moses’ death, the Lord spake directly unto Joshua the same comforting words: “There shall not any man be able to stand before thee all the days of thy life: as I was with Moses, so I will be with thee: I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee.” (Josh. 1:5). Later David spoke these same words to Solomon his son: “Be strong and of good courage, and do it, fear not, nor be dismayed: for the Lord God, even my God, will be with thee; he will not fail thee, nor forsake thee, until thou hast finished all the work for the service of the house of the Lord.” (I Chron. 28:20).
Verily, the source of the peace of contentment must be sought in the grace of Christ, and in His unchangeable, unfailing promise,—”I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.”
And the one possessing this grace of contentment, and relying on this precious promise of God, will also give a confident expression of this contentment as the Word of God in our text clearly indicates.
“So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me.”
Such confident expression one finds reiterated in the Psalms. Listen: “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” (Ps. 27:1). And again, “In God I will praise his Word, in God I will put my trust; I will not fear what flesh can do unto me.” (Ps. 56:4, 11). And once more, “The Lord is on my side; I will not fear: What can man do unto me? (Ps. 118:6).
Such confidence is not the expression of mere stoical indifference!
It is the expression of the boldness of faith!