Jul 6, 2012

How your desire for good things has power to destroy your church

When we want what others have community begins to fall apart

Why do we prefer to compare ourselves with those who have more than we have rather than comparing ourselves with those who have less? When we choose to covet what others have we begin comparison becomes a destructive influence. Rather than love our neighbour, we become envious of our neighbour.

Coveting is a gate-way to all kinds of sin. We break commandments 5 to 9 because we have broke commandment 10 first. Why do we steal, lie, murder, commit adultery, etc. because we need to have what is not ours and will do anything to get it.

James has something to say in 4:1-2 about the relationship between coveting, envy and damage to the church; What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight.

James describes, in these verses, how wrong desires have the power to destroy Christian community. (It is important to note that ‘you kill’ in v.2 is not a reference to literal murder but a powerful metaphor to describe real anger and deep hostility.)

Philip Ryken comments: Arguments, factions, hatred & plotting revenge…you can trace them all back  to the desperate desire to want more than we have, to want what God has chosen to give to others and not you..whether  it be their position or their possessions.

Thomas Manton writes: Covetousness makes people have this sort of sour dispositionCovetousness may be known by its companions – fighting and envy.

In yesterday’s post Charles Saatchi wanted to suggest that coveting is harmless sin but the truth is that a preoccupation with what others have  is a way of thinking that will harm us and it will harm the church. That is why God says ‘no’ to it.

We break the 10th commandment by coveting what others have 

The easiest way to spot a coveting heart is how we use our money and how much debt we are willing to amount in order to have what others have.   When we read the warnings of Scripture we see how deadly this is. Why not read  1 Timothy 6:6-11, Hebrews 13:5 & Luke 12:15 and ask yourself:

How does your use of money reveal the desires of your hearts?

How tempted are we to get into debt (or further into debt) so we can have what others have?

We break the 10th commandment by coveting who other people are

Much coveting is the coveting of the life-style of others or the gifts and aptitudes of others or perhaps the circumstances and situation of others. In the secular world we see it in all the celebrity lifestyle magazines  and in the quest for fame in ‘X’ factor but there are plenty of examples from church life of how we envy and want what others have got.

In 1 Corinthian 12:14-20 Paul challenges Christians to stop comparing themselves to others.  Calvin writes in his commentary on 1 Corinthians each member should be content with its own place and relative position, and not be envious of others.

Don’t you find it all to easy to want to be someone else at church, or in the wider church?

So, who do you want to be and why?

Do you want to learn from them or simply wish you could be them, even replace them?

How does this covetous desire affect our relationships with those other people?

Thomas Manton warns of the extraordinary power of desire to destroy a church;  Self-love is the root of all three; it makes us covet and desire what is good and excellent, and it makes us envy others for enjoying it, and then to break all bonds of duty and love so that we may snatch it from them.



1 Comment

  • Hi Neil

    Good post! It’s a real issue this. I know covetousness affects all in different ways. When you’ve been to a competitive school then university then into a competitive career you (I) just accept the world of it and always compare myself to those who’ve risen to the top quicker, got the “best” jobs etc. The comparison is never with those who have more obviously had problems and suffered in life.

    Part of it, is that the surface success we envy, hides much of the internal heartache which goes with rapid success and when we as Christians stop and consider the issue, the answer is that we compare ourselves to those with obvious success because that’s what we really feel would properly define us. We can often mask this with the opinions such as “Well, if I have a promoted/more important role then I will be of greater influence for the Lord”. Maybe a true test of our hearts is, “Well, if the Lord has given me this additional role I won’t need any extra pay to do it in gratitude for the responsibility he has kindly given me”!

    I’ve worked for 25 years this year and it is a milestone which tends to make me stop and think. Inevitably all the above thoughts of comparison spring to mind and those I’ve compared myself to have always tended to be more successful as I’ve illustrated above. I got to the level in my field I’d hoped to at 30, when I was 39. Even then, with a slightly better sense of perspective, I’d not done badly, but the other day I found a (very rare) diary note from 6 months after promotion which was written when ill due to being burnt out, I’d noted what a hollow victory it felt it was. It was an important reminder to me looking back on what I consider(ed) to be the best time of my career!

    So what’s the answer? Well, we all need to seek contentedness as your blog points us towards. Maybe the best way in church community is we keep encouraging each other, in whatever fields/jobs we’re in where true contentedness lies and to remind ourselves where our true treasure lies. So one example is that it’s good for guys in their mid 30’s in rising levels in professions to hang out a bit, watch some sport or have a drink and discuss what’s going on in our hearts and to challenge each other. It may stop us in our tracks a bit, but we’ll see the fruits of it later on in life.

    Whilst covetousness affects evryone in different ways it’s a spiritual cancer to those who’ve grown up in a similar background to me and one of the issues underlying the problem is the constant question “have I got/will I have enough?”. Maybe again it’s to be open to someone or to find a wise financial advisor who can say “actually, you’re doing OK – have you thought that you could give to this/that and support this venture?”.

    Your blog hit a note with me!

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