The Lord's Day Morning
September 5, 2010
“The Cure for Covetousness”
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
As we continue to prepare for worship, I want you to take your bulletins in hand if you would. Notice in the middle of the order of service this morning, you will be singing with the choir during the offertory. At that time you’ll sing John Rutter's arrangement of the wonderful hymn, “Christ Is Made the Sure Foundation.” And how many times do you get to sing parts of the ancient Trinitarian creeds of the church in your morning worship? You’ll be singing the words consubstantial and co-eternal, and all of the theologians in the room are so excited about that that we would love to talk with anybody who has questions about those terms. But you’re just singing parts of the Nicene and Constantinopolitan Creeds from the third and fourth centuries of the early church as they articulated the Bible's teaching about the Trinity and about the Lord Jesus Christ, so note that.
At the end of the service today we're going to be singing hymn number 670, “If Thou But Suffer God to Guide Thee.” It is virtually an application of the sermon passage that we're going to be studying today. Last Lord's Day we looked in particular at the passage about the parable of the rich fool, a passage that has to say a lot about covetousness, and we diagnosed the problem of covetousness last Lord's Day. This morning it's our joy to see Jesus’ cure for covetousness from Luke 12:22-34, and hymn 670, “If Thou But Suffer God to Guide Thee,” is virtually an application of the sermon. I'd draw your attention to a few things. In stanza 2, the whole of the stanza addresses the context of our battle against covetousness. In stanza 3, the words that we should not doubt that our inmost wants are known to God, that's one of the cures that Jesus gives for the battle against covetousness, and then stanza 5 as well. So be on the lookout for applications even as we sing that hymn at the end of the service.
Now as we prepare to worship, since we're going to be thinking about the kingdom of God in the passage that we read from today, let me share these words with you from J.C. Ryle.
“When can we be said to seek the kingdom of God? We do so when we make it the chief business of our lives to secure a place among the number of the saved, to have our sins pardoned, our hearts renewed, and ourselves made fit for the inheritance of the saints in light. We do so when we give a primary place in our minds to the interests of God's kingdom, when we labor to increase the number of God's subjects, and when we strive to maintain God's cause and to advance God's glory in this world.”
Let's prepare to worship the living God together.
Our Lord and our God, we come before You this day, our hearts dancing for joy because of the love and grace shown to us in Your Gospel. While we were yet sinners, at the right time, in Your love and mercy, You sent Your Son, Your only Son, to die in our place, to be raised again from the dead, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him, and our hearts are glad. And we ask that by Your Spirit You would make us even gladder in Christ as we contemplate His glory, as we sit under the means of enrichment and edification and growth that You have provided in Your Word. We ask, O Lord, that You would inhabit the praises of Your people, that the words of our mouths and the meditations of our heart would be acceptable in Your sight, that You would speak to us by Your Word as it is read and explained, applied and proclaimed, that You would receive the worship of our songs, and that You would teach us to love You and to trust You even as we sing. We ask, O Lord, that in all these things You would be glorified, in Jesus' name. Amen.
Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but to Your name give glory, because of Your steadfast love and faithfulness. O Israel, trust in the Lord! He is your help and shield. You who fear the Lord, trust in the Lord, He is your help and shield. The Lord has remembered us. He will bless us. He will bless those who fear the Lord, both the small and great. Let us worship Him!
(Hymn) “Christ Is Made the Sure Foundation” by John Rutter
“Christ is made the sure Foundation, Christ the head and Cornerstone,
Chosen of the Lord, and precious, binding all the Church in one.
Holy Sion's help forever, and her confidence alone.
All that dedicated city, dearly loved of God on high,
In exultant jubilation pours perpetual melody,
God the One in Three adoring in glad hymns eternally.
To this temple, where we call Thee, come, O Lord of hosts, today.
With Thy wonted loving-kindness hear Thy servants as they pray.
And Thy fullest benediction shed within its walls always.
Here vouchsafe to all Thy servants what they ask of Thee to gain,
What they gain from Thee forever with the blessed to retain.
And hereafter in Thy glory evermore with Thee to reign.
Praise and honour to the Father, Praise and honour to the Son.
Praise and honour to the Spirit, ever Three, and ever One.
Consubstantial, co-eternal, while unending ages run. Amen.”
If you have your Bibles I'd invite you to turn with me to Luke chapter 12 as we continue our way through the gospel together. Last Lord's Day, as we were looking at this passage, we said that we saw, in the previous passage, we said we saw a diagnosis of covetousness. And a number of you have commented at the door, last Lord's Day and since, how the Lord had convicted you as we read that passage and studied it together. Well, the passage that we're going to study today has to do with the cure of covetousness. Jesus, having diagnosed the illness and help up the royal mirror of His Word that we might look into it and see our own sin, is now giving us direction on how we may, by the Gospel, and by the Spirit, and by faith, fight against that sin of covetousness. So let's pray before we read God's Word here in Luke 12, verses 22 to 34. Let's pray.
Heavenly Father, we thank You for Your Word. We know that we struggle with an inordinate love of this world and the things that it offers. We know that we often want what we do not have, that we are insufficiently grateful for what we have been given, that we compare ourselves to others and wish that we had the things they have, the money they have, the spouse they have, the children they have, the house they have, the status they have, the life they have. And we know that when we do this it betrays a certain ingratitude and resentment that dwells in our hearts. We know this is pervasive but we also know it's hidden because very often this is going on in our private world while we sit next to someone and we've got our bright smile on and we've got our best clothes on and we look happy and we look holy; all the while we're miserable inside, at least in part of our insides. And so we pray that as we come to this passage today that You would give us the only cure there is and that You would open our eyes to behold wonderful things from Your Word. This we ask in Jesus' name. Amen.
So, as we look at this passage together, look for four parts of the passage. In verses 22 to 30 of Luke chapter 12 you’ll see Jesus give a series of arguments. He's arming you with arguments against your worry and anxiety that's caused by covetousness. Then if you look at verses 32 and 33 there's a second part to the passage. Here, Jesus makes a profound counterstrike against coveting. He gives a direction that you would never ever expect as a key to defeating coveting in your heart. Then, especially in the second half of verse 31 you will also see a promise that He makes, a promise that is absolutely essential to defeating the powers of covetousness in our hearts. And then in verses 33 and 34 He gives a call. He calls us to a particular way of living this life that's ironically absolutely essential if we're going to defeat covetousness in our hearts.
Let's hear God's Word beginning in Luke 12:22:
“And He said to His disciples, ‘Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest? Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will He clothe you, O you of little faith! And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek His kingdom, and these things will be added to you.
Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.’”
Amen, and thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant Word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.
Covetousness, as we said last Lord's Day, is a pervasive sin. We all struggle with it in one shape or form, from one time to another, sometimes with great intensity, sometimes almost imperceptibly, but we do struggle with it. After last Sunday's sermon, one of our elders said to me, “You know you told us that you didn't want to create in us a vague sense of guilt. I now understand, after hearing your sermon, that you didn't want to create a vague sense of guilt; you wanted to create a very specific, definite, and precise sense of guilt!” And, of course, there's a sense in which that is true, because we need to know precisely where we struggle in this area if we're going to successfully struggle against it. But the reason I said that my goal was not to create a vague sense of guilt is because I want to be helpful ultimately. I don't want us to just go away and feel badly about this for a little while and then just fall back into our old ways of coveting. I want to see us, under God, by the help of the Holy Spirit, by the grace of the Gospel, make some progress in this area in the Christian life.
And it's important for us to remember, even as we focused mostly on material coveting because that's what Jesus mostly focused on in the passage last week, it's important for us to realize that covetousness involves far more than money. Covetousness is about more than having an inordinate desire for material possessions that you do not have or longing to have what your neighbor has materially — his money or his house. Covetousness can involve wanting your neighbor's husband or his wife. Covetousness can involve wanting your neighbor's status or his position or his prestige or his power. Covetousness can involve longing to have anything that you do not have or overly desiring anything in this world, good or bad. It is a very pervasive sin. And covetousness is a Gospel issue. Covetousness often forces upon us the question, “Do we love God more than we love stuff? Do we treasure the gifts of the Gospel more than we treasure the things that our hearts are preoccupied with in this world?”
And it is a heart issue as well as a pervasive issue. The apostle Paul said it was the tenth commandment that forbids coveting that taught him that the law was spiritual. You know, when you lie, at least some people can know that. When you steal, people can know that and see that. When you murder, people can know that and see that. But when you covet, it is possible for you to be sitting right where you’re sitting in the pew, next to your wife or to your husband or to your children or to your best friends or to congregation members that you've known for years or months, and for them to not have the slightest idea that you’re struggling with coveting because coveting is something that is possible to do with no one in the world being aware, other than yourself, that you’re doing it. And that, Paul said, taught him that all sin has its root in the heart. It may be expressed outwardly, but all sin has its root in the desires of the heart. And so this is a heart issue.
And Jesus, in the passage today, gives us ways to fight against this heart issue. Let me say, at the very outset, the ways that God has given us to fight against this sin, and in fact against every sin, are three: We must believe, we must meditate, and we must pray.
The way that you fight the sin of covetousness is you believe. God wants you to believe certain truths about Himself and about His providence and about yourself that are absolutely necessary for you to believe in order to fight against covetousness. You must have faith to fight against covetousness — faith in God, faith to believe what He says in His Word, faith to trust Him. If you look at your circumstances and especially circumstances in which you are struggling with some lack, some want, some unfulfilled desire, and you deduct from your circumstances your opinions about God and this world, you will never win the battle against covetousness. But in the midst of your circumstances in which you are facing a lack or a want or an unfulfilled desire, God says, “Don't look at the circumstances. Look at Me. Look at My promise. Look at My Word.” And that means believing what He has said in His Word.
And then we have to meditate and reflect on what we say we believe in His Word because it doesn't just happen over night. When we are in a circumstance of life in which we are feeling some great lack and some desire, an inordinate desire has taken hold of our hearts and we can't get something out of our minds that we don't have but that we want, it requires placing that desire and our circumstances and what God has said in His Word side-by-side and meditating over and over and over on God's Word until what He has said is bigger than our circumstances and bigger than our unfulfilled desire before we will be able to believe in what He has said. And that requires meditation. That's why men get up at six-thirty in the morning and study God's Word together. That's why we read the Bible and memorize the Bible and study the Bible. That's why we come Lord's Day morning and evening and we sit under the Word as a means of grace because God must work His Word deep into our hearts until we believe it or we will not be able to fight against the sins of this life and especially against coveting.
And it requires that we pray, that we take our coveting before the Lord and we confess our coveting to Him. “Lord, You already know what I covet, but I'm going to name it. I'm going to name the coveting. I'm going to name how intense it is for me. I'm going to name how specific it is and I'm going to confess that sin to you. And then I'm going to ask You, by Your Holy Spirit, to break that coveting in me. Break me of it and show me a better desire, a deeper desire, a greater desire. Help me to believe Your Word.” And so battling this sin will require believing, and meditating and reflecting on God's Word, and praying.
I. Jesus’ arguments against our anxiety and worry that comes from coveting
But Jesus gives us specifics as we do those things in this passage and I'd like to look at them with you. First of all, in verses 22 to 30, you’ll see Jesus’ arguments against our anxiety and worry that comes from coveting. And here's what Jesus says. He says to you and me, “Fight covetousness with truth and faith.” That's what Jesus says in this passage. And notice specifically four arguments that He gives in verses 22 to 30. The first argument you see in verse 24 – “Consider the ravens.” Jesus’ point here is that we ought to look at these birds, birds that don't have jobs, birds that don't earn a paycheck, birds that don't have titles and work at businesses, and God provides the food that they need to eat. And Jesus’ argument is this — if God provides for the birds, He’ll provide for you.
Now that argument depends on at least two things. If you look at the passage, it depends on your coming to really believe God's providence. Do you really believe that God provides for you? That's why He points you to the birds in the first place. And then it depends on you understanding that you are made in the image of God and you are in fact more important to God than birds. So Jesus essentially puts two doctrines in front of you and He says, “If you will understand providence — that God provides for you — and if you will understand that you are far more important to God than birds, and then you will realize that God provides for the birds, your deduction will be — God will provide for me.” But my friends, that is easy to say, and when facing the lacks of life, it will require you to meditate on it until you believe it and to pray it until you believe it.
Then He gives a second argument. Look at verses 25 and 26. He says, “Which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his life span?” In other words, Jesus’ second argument is that worry is ineffectual. It doesn't work. Don't worry because you’re locked in on this thing that you don't have because it won't help. When we are in circumstances that point us to our human limitations and finite, that we are not what we want to be and we do not have what we want to be, we cannot, by our own strength and effort, rectify that situation. And so, what do we do? Our tendency is to worry about it. We don't have the strength to change the situation so we’ll just worry about it. And Jesus says, “Hey gang, that doesn't work! It doesn't do anything. It doesn't make you feel better, it doesn't make the people around you feel better, and it doesn't change your situation.”
Instead, when you are in a situation in which your human lack and weakness and finitude is made aware to you, the answer is not to worry, the answer is to what? Rest in God's sovereignty. Every experience in life that points to your finitude points to His infinitude. Every situation in your life that points to your own limitations points to His lack of limitations. Every situation in your life that points to your weakness points to His power. So your limitation shouldn't lead to worry. It should lead to meditation on His sovereignty because you can't add an hour to your life or a hair to your head but God can supply all your needs.
Third, He makes this argument in verses 27 and 28 — “Consider the lilies. They don't toil or spin, yet they’re arrayed in more glory than Solomon.” In other words, Jesus argues if God would clothe grass, and gloriously so, He will clothe you. If God will decorate this world with beautiful grass and flowers and trees — in other words, God didn't just make this world functional. He made it gorgeous. It's beautiful, even though it's temporary, even though flowers that look beautiful today can be shriveled in tomorrow's sun, even though grass that can be rich and green today can be dried up the very next day, He makes it beautiful. The point is this — if God will make lavish provision and clothe His earth in beauty even though it's transient, even though it's temporary, even though it doesn't last, don't you think He's concerned about clothing you?
Again, this argument depends upon your understanding how lavish God is, that He is incredibly generous. You see, the person who is struggling with coveting, here's the sad and secret news — the person who is struggling with coveting, and that's me and you, we believe that God is stingy. We think that God is stingy. We think that He is parsimonious, He just sort of parcels out little tiny chunks of blessing, just enough to get you wanting more, when in fact He incredibly opulent and lavish and prodigal and generous in His giving, to the point that He cares about the aesthetics of the world that He made so much that He made trees and flowers and grass beautiful. He clothed this world beautifully. And Jesus is saying, “Do you believe that God would make lavish provision for grass and He wouldn't make that provision for you?”
And fourth He makes the argument, look in verses 29 and 30 — “Don't seek what you are to eat or drink, don't be worried. For the nations, the Gentiles, pagan unbelievers seek after these things” and then listen to these words “and your Father knows that you need them.” Now Jesus in that passage points you to three Biblical truths – the truth of the Fatherhood of God. Don't you understand that God is your Father?
And Jesus asks you to pause for a second. Do you know of a good father who doesn't care whether his children eat? Do you know of a good father who doesn't care whether his children are clothed? Do you know of a good father who doesn't care whether his children have a place to lay their heads at night? He says, “I want you to pause on the fact that God is your Father and He's good. I want you to meditate on the goodness of your Father, and furthermore, I want you to meditate on the fact that your Father already knows that you need.” Listen to His last words — “Your Father knows that you need these things.” He knows everything. He knows you. He knows the desires of your heart, so He wants you to meditate on His Fatherhood, the Fatherhood of God, on the goodness of God, and on the omniscience of God.
In other words, Jesus piles up arguments and reasons and very frankly He piles up doctrines and He says, “You have got to believe these things. You've got to have faith in Me. I'm telling you these things are true. You've got to believe them and mediate on them and pray them back to Me.” In other words, He's telling you to fight your covetousness with the truth of God and faith in that truth, faith in what God has promised, faith in what God has said. That's why we spend so much time working together to make sure that we understand what God teaches in His Word about Himself, about His providence, about His works, about His will, about His ways, because it's all designed to help us in the fight against sin.
II. We settle for too little when we covet.
And then if you look at verses 31 and 32, Jesus gives this counter strike against coveting. It really is extraordinary. Look at what He says — “Instead, instead of worrying, instead of seeking what you are to eat and drink, being all caught up in getting the things that you need, instead, seek His kingdom for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” You see what Jesus is saying there? He's saying, when you are coveting what you don't have, here's your problem — your problem is you don't want enough.
Listen to me loud and clear. Jesus’ counterstrike against our coveting those things that we don't have is – you don't want enough. What you've set your heart on is too little because even if you got what your heart is set on, when it's not set on God, when it's not set on the kingdom, even if you got it, it wouldn't satisfy you, it wouldn't rid you of worry, it wouldn't give you joy because if your heart is set on anything less than God and His kingdom through Jesus Christ, it will not fulfill your desires.
That's why C.S. Lewis said, “Our problem is not that we want too much, it's that we're satisfied with too little.”
Our eyes are set too low. Our desires are set below that which God has prepared for us. And Jesus says, “Seek the kingdom” because what does the Father want to give to you? He wants to give you the kingdom. You want a Lexus and He wants to give you the kingdom. You want a bigger house and He wants to give you the kingdom. You want a smarter husband or a better looking wife and He wants to give you the kingdom. You want to be important and He wants to give you the kingdom. He wants to give you far more than you have your heart set on. So Jesus is saying, “Make sure you want what God made you for, not something less. You’re not asking for enough. You’re not wanting enough. You don't want something that is really going to satisfy you until you seek the kingdom.”
III. How to fight covetousness.
And then He adds to this word, look at the end of verse 31, He adds a promise. This is the third thing I want you to see. How do you fight covetousness? You fight it by believing the truths that Jesus teaches in verses 22 to 30, you fight it by making sure that your desires are set on the kingdom and nothing less, and third, you do it by believing the promise. And what's the promise? “All these things will be added to you. Seek first the kingdom and all these things will be added to you.” What is Jesus saying here? He's making a promise to kingdom-seekers. He's saying He will supply all your needs. He's saying God will supply your needs. What does Paul say in Philippians 4:19? “My God will supply every need of yours according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” What does Paul say in Romans 8:32? “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how will He not with Him freely give us all things?” It's a promise. And Jesus says to you, “Believe the promise.”
And then, this is really extraordinary. Look at verses 33 and 34. Jesus gives a call to disciples who want to reject the life of coveting. He says, if you want to reject the life of coveting, always wanting to hang on to what you have and get enough more that you’ll really be happy, look at what He says — “Sell your possessions and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Jesus says, here's the last thing you need to do to defeat coveting, you need to be generous. Be generous with what you already have. If you are overly preoccupied with what you don't have, Jesus says, here's how you defeat that — you believe what God has said in the Word, you make sure that what you really want is the kingdom, you believe God's promise, and then if you’re struggling with trying to find joy in what you don't have, you start giving away what you already have.
And what does that do? It does two things. First of all it reminds you that God has provided for you generously because He's given you enough to be able to give some away. And secondly it reminds you that that stuff you’re giving away isn't where you get your joy. It is not the source from which your happiness comes. And you’re just blessed to be able to help someone who's less fortunate than you. So He calls us to be generous with what we already have. This is why generosity is not an option in the Christian life. You will not be able to defeat covetousness if you are not generous because if you are not generous there is every likelihood that you are still coveting stuff.
Now my friends, all of these things, all of these things are absolutely in vain if the Spirit is not working the Gospel deep into our hearts because coveting is a Gospel issue. Coveting comes down to the issue of what you desire more. And this is exactly the struggle that Eve faced with Satan in the Garden. What do I want more – God or this piece of fruit? And she chose the piece of fruit, and so did Adam. That's what's happening every time we covet.
So what can avail for us in that battle? Only the Gospel, only the Gospel can what — what did we just sing in the opening hymn? Only the Gospel can “break the power of reigning sin in us and set the prisoner free” from worshipping that apple to worshipping the living God, seeking His kingdom. And how do you seek the kingdom? You care more about God than anything in this world. You care more about your soul and the souls of countless others than you care about the treasures and spoils of this life. You long to see the Gospel advanced in your heart and in the hearts of others, with people being converted and built up. You long to see God's kingdom advance. You long to see God's glory in this world displayed. You care more about those things than anything else and only the Gospel can do that in a person.
Our Heavenly Father, we know how prone we are to this sin. Some of us are utterly engulfed in what seems like an interminable conflagration in our soul, battling against and seemingly being defeated by unfulfilled desires that just will not go away. O wretched people that we are. Who can deliver us from this bondage to the flesh? Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through Jesus Christ our Lord! Give us the victory, O Lord. We pray in Jesus' name. Amen.
Now receive the blessings of God's kingdom. Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.