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“And one of the company said unto Him, Master, speak to my brother, that he divide the inheritance with me. And He said unto him, Man, who made Me a judge or a divider over you? 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. And He spake a parable unto them, saying, The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully: and he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I hive no room where to bestow my fruits? And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry. But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided? So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God”—Luke 12:13-21.
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There is one sin expressly forbidden in the Ten Commandments that few people think of as wicked: namely, “Thou shalt not covet.” The apostle Paul tells us in the seventh chapter of the Epistle to the Romans that this was the only commandment that convicted him of the sinfulness of his nature. Elsewhere he says that so far as the righteousness of the law was concerned he had lived a blameless life. He had never bowed the knee to an idol; he had never taken the name of God in vain, nor had he dishonored his parents. He had not lied, stolen, murdered, nor been guilty of adultery. He had not committed any of the sins forbidden in the first nine commandments, but when it came to the tenth he had to plead guilty. The commandment said, “Thou shalt not covet.” He found that it actually stirred within his heart unlawful desires, and he realized he was a sinner because of this. Within himself he found all manner of covetousness. He was unable to control his thoughts and desires, and so he knew he was a transgressor of the law. How few people think of covetousness as an actual sin. What is covetousness? It is a desire to grasp that which God has withheld from us though He may have given it to others. We ought to be content with such things as we have, but we grasp after other things which God has not seen fit to bestow upon us; thus we are guilty of the sin of covetousness. It is one of the most subtle of sins. People may put on a show of piety and religiousness and yet be guilty of this sin. Our Lord Jesus Christ reproved men for this sin of covetousness in no uncertain terms.
We have in this instance, the story of a man who came to Jesus and said, “Master, speak to my brother, that he divide the inheritance with me.” Now there does not seem to be anything wrong about that. Evidently the father had died and the inheritance had been left in charge of this man’s brother. Perhaps one son was living at home and the other at a distant place, and the son at home concluded the possessions were his. Both brothers may have known Jesus and had great confidence in His justice; so the one said to Him, “Speak to my brother about this matter.” But Jesus did not come into the world to regulate things of that character. He did “not come to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” He said, “Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.” This very request indicates restlessness, dissatisfaction, a state of the heart reaching out for something which God for the present has withheld. Why not be subject to His will and be content with what He has already given? Beware of covetousness! This is not only love for money, but it is also the attempt to find satisfaction in temporal things. “A man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.” We go through life accumulating “things,” many of them absolutely worthless; but we hoard them. We strive to have a beautiful home, more land, more expensive furniture than other people possess, a nicer set for the table, more elegant apparel, and in many other ways we go on hoarding and accumulating, until at last death comes, and my! what a time our executors have dividing up the rubbish! “A man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of things which he possesseth.” Yet people act as though the greatest good on earth consists in adding to their possessions. Some may say, “Well, what should be done with the things we do not need?” Elsewhere the Lord Jesus tells us if we want happiness we should distribute our possessions to others instead of hoarding them for ourselves. The happiest man is not the one who possesses the most, but the man who gives the most, the man who shares with others the good things God has intrusted to him. We can get more happiness in dividing a dollar with someone else than by spending it all on ourselves. The rich young ruler went to Jesus and said, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” The Lord said, “Sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven.” He did not mean he could earn salvation by giving away money or goods. But it is quite possible to miss salvation by violating the commandment which says, “Thou shalt not covet.” No man will ever be saved who is living just for himself. He must come to the place where being convicted of his sin, he confesses and turns from it, and puts his trust in Christ alone for salvation. We all do well to take this warning to ourselves: “Take heed and beware of covetous-ness.” Paul said, “For me to live is Christ.” Living for Christ means living for others, and this is life at its best.
The Jews used to say that a child is born into this world with his hand clenched, that is, with his fists clenched, grasping after everything he can obtain. But we die with our hands wide open; we have nothing in them. We cannot take anything with us; we have to go empty-handed. Why hoard things? Why not use them and enjoy them while we live? The Lord related a parable in order to impress this. He told of a certain landowner, a rich man, who thought only of himself and his own comfort, and never realized for a moment that what God had intrusted to him should be used for His glory and for blessing of others. He said, “What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits? And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods.” There is nothing in this parable to warn us against making proper provision for the future; there is nothing here to condemn any of you housewives who put up fruit in the summer to use in the winter; there is nothing to condemn putting something away while one is earning wages in order to provide for old age. But this man was thinking only of himself. He said, “I will build greater barns and I will bestow all my goods.” If he had said, “I shall not need all these goods. There is that poor widow down the lane who lives in that little cabin… How much it would mean to her to have a little fruit and other things. Then there is that poor crippled boy. I shall leave a lot of things on his doorstep. When he wakens in the morning he will not know from whom they came; he will not know they came from a stingy old man like me. I shall have the joy of knowing I have done something really unselfish.” So he might have gone down the line from one needy person to another. But he was thinking only of himself. He said, “I will bestow all my fruits and goods in this new barn I am going to build, and say to my soul: Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry.” A selfish, covetous, godless man thinking only of gratifying his own desires, contemplating a life of ease through the years to come instead of seeking to be the blessing to others he might have been! Smug in his own conceit, smug in his covetousness and grasping spirit, he goes to his bed that night, perhaps between beautiful linen sheets and enjoying every luxury. Suddenly in the midst of the night he is wakened, perhaps with a terrible pain, and he cries, “A heart attack! What is going to happen!” Then he seems to hear ringing down through the darkness of the night, “Fool, tonight thy soul shall be required of thee: and then whose will these goods be?” And within a day or two friends are passing by his coffin. They are looking down into his face and saying, “My, how natural he looks!” Then they go on their way, and within a little while the lawyers are squabbling over his estate, and all the things he laid up are being scattered far and wide. That is the end of earth for the covetous man, but it is not the end of his existence. He goes out into eternity to meet the God whom he has ignored, to meet the God who has showered mercy upon him all his life, but who has never received a thought of gratitude. He goes out into eternity to face the Lord Jesus whose claims he had never recognized. He has been so busy laying up treasures for himself on earth that he has made no provision for eternity.
Let me say to you: no man is rich whatever his wealth may be, however vast his lands and estates may be, if he does not know the Lord Jesus Christ. There were those in the church of Laodicea who said, “I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing.” The Lord Jesus said, “Thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.” They thought they had everything, but actually they had nothing! They were without Christ. If one is without Christ he is poorer than the poorest. Such a one may pride himself on having a little of this world’s goods, but he stands before God an absolute pauper. The Lord says to all such, “I counsel you to buy of Me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich.” That wealth God gives to all who will ask Him. If you do not have Christ you are miserably poor.
After we have trusted Christ we are warned against laying up treasures for ourselves on earth, where moth and rust corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal. Even Christians are in danger of this spirit of covetousness. Happy is he who, instead of laying up treasures on earth, is sending treasure on ahead to be enjoyed in heaven. How do I lay up treasure in heaven? Why, everything I do for others in His name, everything that I give to the needy in His name, is treasure deposited in the bank of heaven. Such deposits draw ten thousand per cent interest; for Christ said, “There is no man that hath left house, or parents, or brethren, or wife, or children, for the kingdom of God’s sake, who shall not receive a hundredfold in this life.” A hundredfold is ten thousand per cent. But that is only in this life, for He adds, “And in the world to come life everylasting.”
One may say, “I do not see that there is much wrong in covetousness. What is there about it that is actually wrong?” You may not see anything very serious about it now, but if it keeps you out of heaven you will find it serious indeed. Untold thousands have been kept out of heaven by this sin of covetousness. It has come between them and the salvation of the soul.