COVETOUSNESS, WHICH IS IDOLATRY
By John C. Carpenter
 
The great apostle Paul wrote the church in Colossae, If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory. Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry: For which things’ sake the wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience: In the which ye also walked some time, when ye lived in them. But now ye also put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth. Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds; And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him: Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all. Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him (Col 3:1-17). What is covetousness, and why does God consider it idolatry?
 
SET YOUR AFFECTION ON THINGS ABOVE, NOT ON THINGS ON THE EARTH
 
The apostle Paul begins our subject verses by saying that if we have come to faith in and are risen with Christ, we should then seek those things which are above, and not on the things on the earth. The word “above” is translated from the Greek word “ano,” which means “above, brim, high, or up.” “Above” simply means high, up, or upward, or as we see in verse 1,“the place where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God.” “Above” refers to the Heavenly, or spiritual, aspects of life. In verse 1, the English word “earth” is translated from the Greek word “ghay,” which means “country, earth, earthly, ground, land, or the solid part of the whole of the globe.” “Earth” refers to the earthly, or physical, aspects of life. Paul goes on to instruct us to set our affections on Heavenly, or spiritual, things of life, and not on the earthly, or physical, things of life. He further promises that if we will focus on the Heavenly and spiritual things of life, when Christ appears, then we shall also appear with Him in glory. One important point should be made: earthly focus leads to separation from Christ, and death, while spiritual focus leads to togetherness with Christ, and life. Paul then defines for the Colossians, and for us, what behaviors God the Father considers to be earthly and physical: fornication [porneia, i.e., all harlotry, including adultery and incest], uncleanness [akatharseeah, i.e., impurity, physically or morally], inordinate affection [pathos, i.e., inordinate affection or passion, lust], evil concupiscence [apithumia, i.e., depraved and injurious longing for what is forbidden, desire, or lust], and covetousness [pleonexia, i.e., with greediness and deception, to desire more in quantity, number, or quality, or to have the major portion of anything], which is idolatry.
 
TAKE HEED, AND BEWARE OF COVETOUSNESS
 
In the Holy Scriptures, God the Father has warned us many times about the dangers of greedy, deceptive desire and lust for more. In the Old Testament, God revealed through Moses's father-in-law the types of leaders He desired, God fearing men of truth who did not covet: Moreover thou shalt provide out of all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness; and place such over them, to be rulers of thousands, and rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens” (Exo 18:21), while in the book of Deuteronomy we are instructed, “Neither shalt thou desire thy neighbour’s wife, neither shalt thou covet thy neighbour’s house, his field, or his manservant, or his maidservant, his ox, or his ass, or any thing that is thy neighbour’s (Deut 5:21). The psalmists accurately linked the wicked with coveting, writing, For the wicked boasteth of his heart’s desire, and blesseth the covetous, whom the LORD abhorreth (Psa 10:3), as well as Incline my heart unto thy testimonies, and not to covetousness (Psa 119:36). The authors of Proverbs teach, The desire [greed, lust] of the slothful [lazy] killeth him; for his hands refuse to labour. He coveteth [desire, longing, lust] greedily all the day long: but the righteous giveth and spareth not (Pro 21:25-26), as well as, ...he that hateth covetousness shall prolong his days (Pro 28:16). Jeremiah wrote, Therefore will I give their wives unto others, and their fields to them that shall inherit them: for every one from the least even unto the greatest is given to covetousness, from the prophet even unto the priest every one dealeth falsely (Jeremiah 8:10).
 
In the New Testament, Christ instructed His disciples about evil, defiling things which come from within, including coveting: That which cometh out of the man, that defileth the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, Thefts,covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: All these things come from within, and defile the man (Mark 7:20-23). Paul exclaimed to his disciples I have coveted no man’s silver, or gold, or apparel (Acts 20:33). Referring to individuals who when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful, (Rom 1:21), the apostle Paul wrote believers in Rome, And even [specifically] as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient (becoming, fit); Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful: Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them (Rom 1:28-32). Covetousness is one inconvenient result that God the Father gives to those who refuse to glorify God and be thankful. Paul further explained that it would not have been possible to lust (covet) without the law: What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet (Rom 7:7). Paul also teaches us that coveting and love are incompatible: Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law (Rom 13:8-10). Paul further explains that covetousness is such as evil that believers in Christ should not even associate with those who are covetous: But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat (1 Cor 5:11). Paul wrote believers in Ephesus But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints (Eph 5:3), as well as warned For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God (Eph 5:5). Paul also warned Timothy about the dangers of lusting after money: But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment let us be therewith content. But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness (1 Tim 6:6-11). Paul also warned Timothy that covetousness would be one of the characteristics of the last days: This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy (2 Tim 3:1-2). The apostle Peter explained that covetousness was the motivation behind false teachers and preachers when he wrote, But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction. And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of. And through covetousness [fraudulent and covetous practices, greediness] shall they with feigned [artificial, false] words make merchandise of you [use you for their benefit or profit]: whose judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not (2 Pet 2:1-3). Peter later added that these false prophets also have eyes full of adultery, and that cannot cease from sin; beguiling [delude and entrap] unstable [easily persuadable] souls:an heart they have exercised with [trained and practiced] covetous practices; cursed children (2 Peter 2:14). Jesus Christ clearly and bluntly instructs us, ...Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth (Luke 12:15).
 
GREEDY FOR GAIN
 
Covetousness is also often accompanied by greed. Regarding being enticed by greedy, violent sinners, Holy Scriptures instruct believers: My son, walk not thou in the way with them; refrain thy foot from their path: For their feet run to evil, and make haste to shed blood. Surely in vain the net is spread in the sight of any bird. And they lay wait for their own blood; they lurk privily for their own lives. So are the ways of every one that is greedy of gain; which taketh away the life of the owners thereof (Pro 1:15-19). The authors of proverbs teach He that is greedy of gain troubleth his own house; but he that hateth gifts shall live (Pro 15:27), and The desire of the slothful [idle] killeth him; for his hands refuse to labour. He coveteth greedily all the day long: but the righteous giveth and spareth not (Pro 21:25). God compared His false prophets to dumb, greedy dogs: All ye beasts of the field, come to devour, yea, all ye beasts in the forest. His watchmen are blind: they are all ignorant, they are all dumb dogs, they cannot bark; sleeping, lying down, loving to slumber. Yea, they are greedy dogs which can never have enough, and they are shepherds that cannot understand: they all look to their own way, every one for his gain, from his quarter. Come ye, say they, I will fetch wine, and we will fill ourselves with strong drink; and tomorrow shall be as this day, and much more abundant (Isa 56: 9-12). The prophet Ezekiel prophesied God's wrath on the city of Jerusalem, not only because they had forsaken God, but because of their greed and extortion: Thou hast despised mine holy things, and hast profaned my sabbaths. In thee are men that carry tales to shed blood: and in thee they eat upon the mountains: in the midst of thee they commit lewdness. In thee have they discovered their fathers’ nakedness: in thee have they humbled her that was set apart for pollution. And one hath committed abomination with his neighbour’s wife; and another hath lewdly defiled his daughter in law; and another in thee hath humbled his sister, his father’s daughter. In thee have they taken gifts to shed blood; thou hast taken usury and increase, and thou hast greedily gained of thy neighbours by extortion, and hast forgotten me, saith the Lord GOD. Behold, therefore I have smitten mine hand at thy dishonest gain which thou hast made, and at thy blood which hath been in the midst of thee. Can thine heart endure, or can thine hands be strong, in the days that I shall deal with thee? I the LORD have spoken it, and will do it (Ezek 22:8-14). Paul explained to Timothy one of the requirements of being a leader [bishop] in the church: A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach; Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous (1 Tim 3:2-3); and later added, Likewise must the deacons [minister, servant] be grave, not doubletongued, not given to much wine, not greedy of filthy lucre (1 Tim 3:8). In teaching that servants should honor their masters, Paul wrote,If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even [specifically] the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness; He is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings, Perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing [incorrectly] that gain [greediness for money] is godliness: from such withdraw thyself (1 Tim 6:3-5). Regarding ungodly men who had crept into the early Christian church (Jude 1:3-10), Jude warned in his letter Woe unto them! for they have gone in the way of Cain, and ran greedily after the error of Balaam for reward, and perished in the gainsaying of Core. These are spots in your feasts of charity, when they feast with you, feeding themselves without fear: clouds they are without water, carried about of winds; trees whose fruit withereth, without fruit, twice dead, plucked up by the roots (Jude 1:11-12). Regarding how believers should live their lives (Eph 4:1), the apostle Paul wrote Ephesian believers: This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind, Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart: Who being past feeling have given themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness. But ye have not so learned Christ; If so be that ye have heard him, and have been taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus: That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; And be renewed in the spirit of your mind (Eph 4:17-23). Holy Scriptures make it clear that God the Father will exercise judgment on those of us who are greedy for gain.
 
TO FULFILL THE LUSTS THEREOF
 
Covetousness also involves inordinate lust. Paul instructed Roman believers Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof. Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God (Rom 6:12-13), as well as ...put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof (Rom 13:14). Regarding God overthrowing Israel while they wandered in the wilderness, Paul told the Corinthian believers, Now these things were our examples, to the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted. Neither be ye idolaters, as were some of them; as it is written, The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play (1 Cor 10:6-7). Paul explained how to overcome lust and idolatry when he wrote, This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would (Gal 5:16-17); and, ...they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts (Gal 5:24). Paul encourages us to flee youthful lusts, to follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart (2 Tim 2:22). Paul wrote Titus, For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ (Titus 2:11-13). James explained the source, and outcome, of sin when he wrote the twelve tribes scattered abroad: Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man: But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death (Jam 1:13-15), as well as the source of fighting and wars: From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members? Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not. Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts (Jam 4:1-3). Peter wrote, Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; As obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance (1 Pet 1:13-14), then added, Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul; Having your conversation honest among the Gentiles: that, whereas they speak against you as evildoers, they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation (1 Pet 2:11-12). Peter also taught that believers could expect to suffer in the flesh: Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind: for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin; That he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh to the lusts of men, but to the will of God (1 Pet 4:1-2). In explaining that lust results in corruption and death, while knowledge of Christ results in godliness and life, the apostle Peter wrote, According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue: Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption [decay, destruction, perishing] that is in the world through lust (2 Pet 1:3-4). Jesus Christ not only explained that our worldly lusts come from the devil when He instructed us, Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it (John 8:44), but added that lust hinders the gospel from bearing fruit: ...the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in, choke [strangle completely; i.e., hinder, destroy] the word [message of the gospel], and it becometh unfruitful (Mark 4:19). The Scriptures are plain that, for many reasons, and with great difficulty and struggling on our part, lust must be subdued and crucified.
 
TURN YE NOT UNTO IDOLS
 
In the Old Testament, there are three Hebrew words translated as “idol”: “otseb,” which means “idol, mental or physical pain, sorrow, or wicked, an earthen vessel, toil, grievous, labor, or sorrow”; “eliyl,” which means “good for nothing, vain, vanity, no value, or thing of nught”; and “semel,' which means “to resemble, likeness, figure, image, or idol.” In the Old Testament, the word “idolatry” is translated from the Hebrew word “teraphiym,” which means “a healer, a family idol, images, teraphim, to mend, to cure, heal, repair, or make whole.” In the Old Testament, God clearly warns believers that idolatry is a hook, a snare, and a trap, which results only in death (Psalms 106:36).
 
In the New Testament, the English word “idolatry” is translated from the Greek word “idololatreia,” which means “image worship, literally or figuratively, idolatry.” Idololatreia is translated from two root words, “eidolon,” which means “an image that is for worship, by implication a heathen god, or the worship of a heathen god,” and “latreia,” which means “ministration of God or a god, worship, divine service.” Latreia is translated from the root word “latreuo,” which means “a hired menial worker, to minister, to render religious homage, serve, do the service, or worship.” The Greek words for idolatry appear to mean: “to worship, minister unto, give service to, or serve any object which we consider to be divine, god-like by nature, or a god, but which is not the true and only God of creation.” Websters New Collegiate Dictionary defines “idol” as “a representation or symbol of an object of worship; a false god,” and defines “idolotry” as “the worship of a physical object as a god, or immoderate attachment or devotion to something.” Webster defines “idolater” as “a person that admires or loves intensely and often blindly an object not usually an object of worship.”
 
In Unger's Bible Dictionary, Merrill F. Unger defines idolatry as “the paying of divine honors to any created thing, or the ascription of divine power to natural agencies,” and may be classified as (a) the worship of inanimate objects, as stones, trees, rivers, etc.; (b) of animals; (c) of the higher powers of nature, such as the sun, moon, stars, and the forces of nature, as air, fire, etc.; (d) hero-worship, or of deceased ancestors; (e) idealism, or the worship of abstractions or mental qualities, as justice; (e) the worship of Jehovah under image or symbol; (f) the worship of other gods under image or symbol; or (g) the worship of the image or symbol itself.”
 
Sadly, the world, and much of the modern Christian church, are not only continuing to lust after and idolize the above mentioned worldly behaviors, which are displeasing to God the Father, but have unfortunately lusted after, coveted, and made idols of many other things as well. Many in the Christian church (and the world) idolize world leaders and dictators (admittedly some pretend to idolize these leaders out of fear), politicians, actors and actresses, musicians, artists, athletes, church leaders and pastors, civic leaders, nature, sex, sexual orientation, clothes, movies and television, being entertained, education, attention, greed, narcissism, food and eating, drugs, beauty, power, money, success (however you may define it), and fame, and a thousand others.
 
Idolatry is a two sided coin. On one side, individuals we idolize not only enjoy being idolized, but they use, manipulate [through false humility], and prostitute and use others, including many Christians, to fulfill their idolatrous desires for fame, wealth or power. On the other side of the coin, many Christians, due to their biblical and spiritual ignorance (Mat 22:29) and naivete (Gal 2:4, Jude 1:4), are willingly and eagerly allowing themselves to be used and manipulated by those lusting after money, fame, or power. We have made idols of movie stars walking the red carpet, waving at them, praising them, hoping to get just a glimpse of the so called “star.” Many Christians waste their money going to vain movies or other performances simply to be included and accepted by their peers. Many a so-called Christian pays significant money to sit in the stands idolizing an individual they consider to be a sports hero, desiring to shake his or her hand, talk with them, to get a photo with them, or an autograph. This is all so sad. God wants us to lust after Him and His will for our lives, and idolize and worship Him.
 
Regarding idols of the heathen, God says, Their idols are silver and gold, the work of men’s hands. They have mouths, but they speak not: eyes have they, but they see not: They have ears, but they hear not: noses have they, but they smell not: They have hands, but they handle not: feet have they, but they walk not: neither speak they through their throat. They that make them are like unto them; so is every one that trusteth in them. O Israel, trust thou in the LORD [and not in idols of silver and gold, or any other idol]: he is their help and their shield (Psalms 115:4-9). Paul wrote Corinthian believers, Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; And were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; And did all eat the same spiritual meat; And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ. But with many of them God was not well pleased: for they were overthrown in the wilderness. Now these things were our examples, to the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted. Neither be ye idolaters, as were some of them; as it is written, The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up toplay. Neither let us commit fornication, as some of them committed, and fell in one day three and twenty thousand. Neither let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed of serpents. Neither murmur ye, as some of them also murmured, and were destroyed of the destroyer. Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come. Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall. There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it. Wherefore, my dearly beloved, flee from idolatry (1 Cor 10:1-14). With regards to our inclinations to be idolatrous, as well as our refusal to worship God the Father, God even describes our own stubbornness in these areas as idolatry: For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry...(1 Sam 15:23). God caused Isaiah, the son of Amoz, to see a word of prophecy concerning the idols of Judah and Jerusalem, as well as the idols of modern day Christians, and what God said He would do about this idolatry. Amoz prophesied, And the idols he [God] shall utterly abolish (Isa 2:18). My fellow believer in Christ, I don't know about how you feel, but I look forward to the day that God the Father, through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, destroys our idols of money, power, politicians, celebrities, athletes, actors, and the like. To believers in Philippi, Paul explained the truth behind our idolatry when he wrote, For all seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ’s (Phil 2:21). In His mercy, God the Father warns believers about making for ourselves molten and false gods, or any other kind of idol, god, or item or person of worship: Turn ye not unto idols, nor make to yourselves molten gods: I am the LORD your God (Lev 19:4), because, as Paul taught in our subject verses, For which things’ sake the wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience... (Col 3:6).  AMEN.















 
 
THE CHRISTIAN HERALD
                                                           A Judeo-Christian Bible Study
 
"For by him were
all things created, that are in
heaven, and that
are in earth, visible and invisible,
whether they be thrones,
or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created
by him, and
for him"
(Col 1:16)




 
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