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Sunday, August 28, 2011

8/29/11 Coveting and Being Radical

The Tenth Commandment: "Do Not Covet." 

21 Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
22 When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.
23 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?”
26 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:21-26)

(M. Leone Bracker- 1924-"Thou Shalt Not Covet")

Thoughts: Not coveting means giving up our desire for things and placing our security of this life in things.  Coveting can control us, enticing us to be un-neighborly to the point of lying, stealing, killing, or taking someone who is not ours to take.  The fruit of the Spirit gives us a help- one of the fruits is self-control.
   David Platt has written a book last year that has sored in readers- "Radical: Taking Back Your Faith From the American Dream." His solution to the greed, the coveting, the constant advertising is to radically give up everything.  His solution to free ourselves from the selfishness is a radical fasting from material goods.  But there is always danger in making one example in scripture the norm for all of us.  Commands are for all of us.  Examples may be for parculiar situations or people (not all are called to go into the ark like Noah; or speak to Ninevah like Jonah).  We may learn from such examples, but that does not mean we are all called or commanded to such things. The rich young ruler teaches us much, but Jesus does not command this of everyone.  Zaccheus wasn't rebuked for only selling half his possessions to the poor.  The Old Testament standard of giving 10% was not condemned by Jesus.  If the option for us is sell everything or sell nothing- most will sell nothing. Is it right to sell everything you have and then live off the generosity of others (as the monks in the middle ages did)?  The Reformers saw this as a digression from the gospel of grace, and the idea that we are to appreciate and be good stewards of what God has given us. 
    To get rid of greed, does not necessarily we mean we need to go on a non-eating fast for most of us. But rather not being a glutton, and cutting back for the long haul.  The best, and lasting diets are the well-balanced ones designed to last a lifetime, not the radical 15 pounds a week purgings.  Not coveting is a way of life for an entire life.  Giving to the poor and caring for those in need is not a one time- one year deal (where does scripture say "one year?").  The motivation behind Platt's desire to get rid of greed and the need for terrific transformation needs to be heard.  The American dream is not the Christian dream.  But they are not always antithetical either.  God may bless people in order to be a blessing, and use their sphere of influence (think of the parable of the talents where some are given many and others little), for a higher cause.  We are called not to covet. Perhaps it would appear to be easier if we removed ourselves from all things-- and from the world itself.  But the obedience to this commandment is most clear when people do it day by day for the long haul. 

Prayer: Help me, O God to not give myself to things- but to you.  Give me grace to share with the poor.

John Calvin Abridged: Christ points out that the young man lacked one thing in keeping the Law.  The Law nowhere obliges all of us to sell everything.  Yet the Law encourages us to bear the cross and to avoid sinful desires and covetousness.  He says to him that one thing is wanting because he did not need to preach to him about fornication or murder or other parts of the Law.
     It should be observed he does not just ask him to sell all- but to also give to the poor.  To sell everything would be an attention-grabbing ambition.  As charity is the bond of perfection (Col. 3:14), the one who deprives others of the use of money deserves no praise; So Christ doesn't just ask him to sell all, but to give to the needy.
     The worker who lives by his work to support himself or his children would do wrong if he sold all unless it was necessary. To keep what God has given us, using it in a wise and frugal manner- including providing for the poor is a greater virtue than squandering it all.  Some monks are idle while feeding on the bread of others. It is a sad exchange when those called to give to the poor, have to feed themselves on the possessions of others. 

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