And he (Jesus) said to them, ‘Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.’ (Luke 12:15 NKJV)
Let your conduct be without covetousness: be content with such things as you have. For he himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5 NKJV)
There are certain character traits of Jesus Christ, the real man, which God calls all who believe in Christ to possess and grow. One of those significant traits is temperance, which is the quality of being self-controlled (Matt. 26:41; Acts 24:25; Rom. 6:12; 1 Cor. 10:12; 1 Pet. 5:8; 2 Pet 1:5-7; Jas. 3:2; Titus 1:8).
A real man (defined and depicted by Jesus) is temperate. This is because he is filled with Christ’s Spirit whose fruit is self-control (Gal. 5:22ff). He is also temperate because he learns and applies more and more the quality of grace, for he has been touched and blessed by God’s grace.
If you are in Christ, such temperance will be revealed by your control over your appetites. You have a sobriety of mind, soul and body, not being consumed by or coveting the incidentals or details of life. One important aspect of this God-given self-government is moderation as opposed to covetousness or greed.
God has much to say against covetousness or greed. For one, his 10th commandment tells us not to be greedy (Exodus 20:17; Deuteronomy 5:21). God’s prophets hammered against the injustices of Israel’s leadership and the rich for their greediness, which played out in a near absence of grace and mercy to others (Prov. 28:16; Jer. 6:13; Ez. 33:31; Mic. 2:2; Hab. 2:9). The psalmist in Psalm 10:3, makes it clear when he says, “…the wicked boasts of his heart’s desire; he blesses the greedy but renounces the Lord!”
Jesus warned against greed in Luke 12 when he pronounced that our lives do not consist, or as we would say, do not receive their value, in the abundance of things. The Apostle Paul warned God’s people that fornication, immorality and greed (which is idolatry) should not even be a characteristic by which Christians are identified (Eph. 5:3; Col. 3:5)! How revealing when we condemn sexual sins and immorality, especially of unbelievers, but ignore the fact that greed is just as heinous in God’s eyes. What’s more is that he tells us to kill off such negative traits in our own lives. Hard to swallow, isn’t it?
We are to put on self-control and renounce greed for several reasons. First, greed is idolatry. It is idolatry because it usurps the place that rightfully belongs to God. This idol of the heart clamors for the kind of attention and devotion only God deserves; and it causes us to forget about God (Deut. 8:13, 14). Covetousness is idolatry because it also pretends to answer the needs of our lives or fill the longings of our hearts. How often our consumption of things or the love of money fails in those ways (Eccles. 5:10). Such pursuits and things are fleeting and vaporous. Read Proverbs 23:5, 27:24, and 28:22 for a check on reality.
Second, greed is selfish. It’s an all-consuming desire to acquire far more than you need or deserve. The greedier, more selfish you and I are, the less likely we will be kind, gracious, caring, or merciful toward others, especially to those who are in need.
Third, covetousness, especially of money (the love of money) is a root of all kinds of evil (1 Tim. 6:10). We only have to turn on the news to see the results of such evil, not merely with Wall Street, but also on our neighborhood street. The pressure to keep up with the Joneses, the frantic pursuit of toys and pleasures, the motivation to sell our souls out to our jobs rather than for God or for our families, the allurement of power and prestige through greed drives the illicit drug trade, are only a few of the sinister effects of this disease. I believe this is something about which Paul writes when he says that “those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a trap, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition” (1 Tim. 6:9). James was just as poignant in his letter (see James 5).
Fourth, greed chokes out God’s Word. It diminishes our ability to really hear God speaking to our hearts (Matt. 4:19). Perhaps this is why so many of us are stagnant in our growth in Christ or why we are unable to apply and obey what God tells us to be like and to do?
Fifth, covetousness blocks your ability to enter into Christ’s kingdom! Jesus said in Matthew 19:23 that it is quite hard, often impossible, for a rich man (read: greedy-rich) to enter into his kingdom. Greed is s deadly sin (Acts 20:33; 1 Tim. 6:5-10; 2 Tim. 3:6-7); and that because of the reasons stated above.
A real man in Christ daily battles the monster greed. As a genuine, God-like man you control your appetites. The acquisition of money or things is not a central priority in your life (Luke 12:16-21; 18:18-23). Granted, your self-governance helps you to work hard, to be wise in the use of money and things, and to control them rather than to allow them to control you. It is not that having things, such as a nice house, a decent car, and wonderful amenities is evil. If that is what God has blessed you with, then you should be thankful and rejoice. After all, such things are considered blessings from God.
For a Christ-like man, heavenly pursuits and priorities, including the acquisition of God-like character, dominate your heart (Matt. 6:20; 13:44ff). You seek Christ’s kingdom knowing that all those good blessings and things which provide meaning, purpose, comfort and reward flow from Christ and his kingdom ((Psa. 37:16; Prov. 8:18; 10:22; Matt. 6:33; 19:21; Luke 12:33; 2 Cor. 8:9; Eph. 3:8).
A real man is temperate with things and money. Moderation is a key feature in your life. To be biblically moderate is to be content with things you have and with the place God has you in right now. There is great advantage to being content in Christ (1 Tim. 6:6,7), especially when you realize that you brought nothing into this world at birth and will leave with nothing at death.
We need to remind ourselves that Christ is the only one who gives value and purpose to our lives. Once we have come to truly know him and become like him then we can say with Paul that we are content with whatever financial or material situation God places us in. Paul reminds us that if we have food and clothing, that should be enough (1 Tim. 6:8).
Do you trust in Jesus Christ? Is his life being formed in you? If so, then one of the many character traits you will have and grow in more and more is that you will be temperate in that you are not greedy or covetous.