Theme: Blindness starts with Coveting
1) Blindness to yourself
2) Blindness to your Savior
3) Blindness to eternal life
We’ve all heard tales of people who used wealth and money excessively and lost all they had. It seems like a weekly occurrence to hear about a former professional athlete or entertainer who is now broke after wasting millions. Because of the prestige and attraction of these stories, where millionaires lose it all, we often think that this is the way it always goes. There’s an inner sense of self-reliance because we figure that if you don’t have the money in the first place you don’t’ have to worry about it taking control of your life and eventually running it into the ground. It’s true that there’s a certain amount of truth in the famous song lyric, “More money, more problems.” But to think that’s the only way it ever works is complete foolishness. Very often, even though we don’t come into large sums of money, and the problems that come with it, we suffer from the silent killer – coveting.
Coveting is as big a problem as wasting a fortune, but it’s not considered as serious because it’s a matter of the heart. But all of the big problems in life start as little ones, and the actions that the public sees, begin in the heart. The danger of over-indulgence and wasting of money is not just a problem for the rich. Even the poorest of the poor can suffer. It really is a matter of what is most important in your life and how that shapes and influences the way you think and act. Things much smaller than vast fortunes and millions of dollars can run your life off course.
Consider this story told by a prominent Christian pastor: Money often comes between men and God. You can take two dimes, the smallest pieces of money, and shut out the entire panoramic landscape. Go to the mountain, to the ocean, to the open fields, and just hold two coins closely to your eyes – the landscapes are still there but you cannot see them because money has shut off the vision of your eyes. That’s the same way coveting works in a spiritual way. It doesn’t take much to shut out the vision of your heart – to get in between you and God. A little money, a few possessions, just placed in the wrong position, will effectively obscure your view.
Today, through Paul’s first letter to Timothy, we remind ourselves, that Blindness starts with Coveting. It can keep us from seeing ourselves, from seeing our Savior, and from obtaining eternal life. May God bless us and grant us wisdom as we read 1 Timothy 6:6-12:
Now godliness with contentment is great gain. 7 For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. 8 And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content. 9 But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. 11 But you, O man of God, flee these things and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness. 12 Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, to which you were also called and have confessed the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.
It seems that the majority of people live with the attitude that something is only bad if it hurts others. When it comes to coveting, people often say, “It’s okay to look but not touch.” By looking they mean much more, they mean desiring and wanting. Certainly, coveting only hurts our neighbor directly if it leads us to steal, or as Martin Luther elaborated in his explanations to the 9th and 10th commandments, trick or deceive our neighbor into losing what they have. And so the danger behind coveting goes subtly unnoticed. But, we must also think about our relationship with God. What does coveting do to that? Obviously, a person who denies God will not think about this but it doesn’t change the reality of the situation. Sins of the heart like coveting, though often looked at as harmless to others, wreak horrible damage on our relationship with God, and in turn that damage will lead to further damage against others.
But without God, no other earthly relationship matters. While we cannot steal anything from the Lord and Maker of creation, coveting can lead us to lack of contentment with what God has provided in our lives. Paul reminded Timothy about how little we actually need to survive. God has promised to provide for our needs, not all our wants. Sometimes, in the pace of life we forget that and we expect more from God. But what about others? God seems to allow the wicked to prosper so well and have so much. Don’t we, who trust in Him, deserve a little more? If you’ve ever thought that way you’re not alone. Many biblical authors lamented to God at the suffering of the faithful in the midst of the prosperity of the wicked.
At this point we’re led to the first thing that coveting blinds; the way we see ourselves. The more we’re surrounded by money and wealth, and we are in America, the more we feel entitled before God. It’s a simple desensitization to what the Bible tells us about ourselves. We must admit with David that “we were conceived in sin and iniquity (Psalm 51:5).” We must agree with Paul that “there is no one who is righteous before God (Romans 3:10),” and therefore no one who is entitled to anything. We expect God to give us things because He promises to provide and care for us, but often we want things according to our agenda, not His.
To see the true picture of who we are is to see that we deserve nothing, and not just in physical things. What Paul says in verse 7 of our text can apply to our souls as well as our bodies. In a way, remembering that we brought nothing into life and will take nothing out is remembering salvation by faith alone. If we can’t even be fed and clothed without God’s blessing, we certainly can’t be saved apart from His grace. Coveting blinds us to our true nature and leads us not only to want more, but to expect that we deserve it. And when we get to that point, there’s a temptation to allow that coveting to make us angry toward God and others when we don’t get our way. If we ignore God’s presence in our lives, we will remain blind to this danger. It’s not just the action that makes something wrong. Very often the thought in the heart can be much viler and twisted.
For those many moments we have succumbed to covetous intentions, God offers free forgiveness. But it’s at this point that we must heed the next warning of spiritual blindness, for coveting itself can get us to lose sight of Jesus, our Savior. Paul lays out the goal that God has for each of us at the very beginning: godliness with contentment. The idea of godliness is often despised in our culture. Those who aspire to be godly are often shown to be hypocritical because after everything they say and do, sin catches up. The very idea that someone could be godly seems like an oxymoron to many people. If there’s one thing we know well, it’s the decay of our entire being. Who can attain such a goal?
We must remember our Savior. Paul is not pushing for an outward human piety. The kind of godliness he speaks about is that which God the Holy Spirit has put into our hearts by faith. It is a gift that is entirely dependent on Jesus’ atonement and one that comes to us outside of any effort or good intention on our part. In this vein, it is very parallel to the biblical concept of justification, another word that Paul uses a lot. They are both gifts of grace from Jesus, the One who earned the right to give them. That’s why Paul also says that we were called to the confession that we make in this state of godliness. It is not something we take hold of on our own, but something we hold dearly because God brought it to us in our fallen state. Godliness certainly implies an attitude that we have and something we offer to God and that’s true. But that doesn’t change the fact that even the right attitude is a fruit of the Holy Spirit who is at work through the Gospel.
When Paul adds contentment to godliness, we see the antidote to the sin of coveting. It reveals to us that being godly does not have anything to do with how much or how little we have. Just as in the way it comes to our hearts, so it also expresses itself entirely independent of what we stake claim to in this life. Godliness is a virtue of the heart; it cannot be bought with money or lost in debt. It is why Peter wrote that “we were not redeemed with gold or silver but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without spot and blemish (1 Peter 1:18-19).” Though we did not have to pay for our redemption, it still came at a cost. Paul wrote in another letter: For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich (2 Corinthians 8:9).
You don’t have to be a millionaire to have this gift. The poorest and the meekest of the earth are heirs of the kingdom of heaven. But you also don’t have to be a millionaire to lose sight of it. Coveting blinds, and it can lead you away from the cross, where Jesus freely shed that precious blood for you. And it’s not just coveting of money. It can be anything. Anything that blocks your view of the truth. Anything that comes between you and God and takes time away from His Word and Sacrament. Anything that you desire more than safety in His grace and at His side. Anything that leads away from godliness with contentment. It’s not just human relationships that coveting can destroy, it can destroy the faith that connects you to God.
Paul says that godliness with contentment is “great gain.” Isn’t is strange and sad that we so often live as if it isn’t? We think that the next big, or small, thing that we want is really the great gain, really what we need. The pair of jeans or shoes, the smartphone, the gaming system, the tv, the job or house, the car, even the way that others view us. We want and want and want, and convince ourselves that that next big thing is the great gain, what we really need to calm our desires. Brothers and sisters, these things are not the great gain. In fact, that’s not even gain for us. It leads toward the path of those who “pierce themselves through with many sorrows.”
There is only one thing that is the “great gain” from godliness with contentment, and that is the promise of eternal life. Coveting can blind that vision too. None of the treasures of this life can satisfy the void that sin has left on your heart. It’s not just the Bible that teaches that, even secular research agrees, money cannot buy happiness. There is only one way to godliness with contentment: faith in Jesus. A gift won for you at the cross and a gift given to you through the Holy Spirit.
It’s pretty striking that at the end of our text Paul speaks of holding onto eternal life as a struggle. The idea of fighting doesn’t necessarily mean combat against others, even though the Christian life is like that at times when it comes to Satan and temptation. The fighting can also just be contending or competing for something of value. The Greeks used the same idea for the Olympic contests. There is a prize to be held and one desires to compete for it.
To the generation of Christians that Paul was writing to, many would have to give up all in the heat of this competition. They would offer the greatest that they had, their very lives, rather than turn away from Jesus. The very word for “witness” is where we also get the word “martyr.” All martyrs stand as a testimony that eternal life can be had at no cost and often when all has been lost. When these Christians were at their end, all they had was to hold onto eternal life; to cherish that for which their Savior died for them.
What does coveting get us? How helpful are the greatest treasures of the world to the ultimate prize of life with God? Beware of the blindness. It can happen much easier than you think and through much simpler things than you might assume.
We brought nothing into this life and we won’t take anything with us when we leave. Why struggle so much under the weight of materialism? There is much pain and suffering through it. Instead, contend for something with much greater gain – godliness with contentment. Contend the way that God wills. By staying close to His Word. By trusting in Jesus and not yourself. By remembering that it is He who works in you both the will and purpose of His good pleasure. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.