“Do not covet” (Colossians 3:5, 2 Chronicles 18:1)

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Today, I want to talk about “greed(covetousness).” I’m going to share with you, using King Jehoshaphat, the fourth king of Judah, as an example. Jehoshaphat became wealthy as a result of obeying God’s word. There are many testimonies of people becoming rich after believing in Jesus. I believe there are such testimonies in IBF Church too. However, just believing in Jesus does not necessarily mean that whoever believes in Jesus will become rich. You know that well, don’t you? Many times, people suffer as a result of believing in Jesus. Living a good and righteous life with a monotheistic faith in “one God” is not easy, especially in pluralistic, pantheistic, and polytheistic societies like Japan.

After having faith in Jesus, the basic biblical teachings on how to think about and handle money is in Proverbs 30:8-9. Let’s read it. “Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ Or I may become poor and steal and so dishonor the name of my God.”

In other words, it is contentment.(1 Timothy 6:6) Contentment is a state of mind that appreciates having enough food, clothing, and a place to rest without being greedy. But problems begin to occur when we desire more than what we need. It is good to be neither overflowing nor drying.

Jehoshaphat gained not only wealth but also honor. He became known as a good king. We may say him as a popular president or prime minister among the people. This was because he believed in God, trusted in Him alone, and did not engage in idol worship. Jehoshaphat is a case where life turned out well by having faith in God.

However, when we look at today’s verse, we can see that Jehoshaphat made a wrong choice. What was that wrong choice? It was forming an alliance with King Ahab. That’s when problems began to arise. Ahab was the king of northern Israel, ruling from the city of Samaria. He married Jezebel, who was the daughter of the king of Sidon. Jezebel worshiped Baal, an ancient false god. Ahab, by marrying her, also worshiped Baal, whom God detested.

So, Jehoshaphat made an alliance with Ahab, who worshiped idols. What’s worse is… Jehoshaphat even made a decision by arranging a marriage between his son Jehoram and Ahab’s daughter Athaliah (2 Kings 8:26) as a political strategy to strengthen the alliance. As we know, the mother of Ahab’s daughter was none other than the infamous Jezebel. Jezebel was one of the most wicked women in history, using her husband’s power throughout her life to commit all sorts of evil. She killed God’s prophets and offered sacrifices to Baal along with 850 false prophets.

Because Jehoshaphat made an alliance with Ahab instead of God, his life began to go astray. Perhaps Jehoshaphat made an alliance with Ahab because Assyria had become a strong nation. However, Jehoshaphat had a strong army and fortified almost all cities into strongholds, so even if Assyara had attacked, they could have defeated it easily. Above all, God was with Jehoshaphat. So, he didn’t need to form an alliance by marrying his son to Ahab’s daughter. I believe Jehoshaphat made the alliance out of ‘greed’ (covetousness)—a desire for something unnecessary, something not permitted, and something that doesn’t belong to oneself. Jehoshaphat didn’t need the help of northern Israel.

When we look at Exodus chapter 20, there’s a scene where God gives Moses the Ten Commandments. The first commandment is “You shall have no other gods before me,” and the last commandment is “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”

The Bible teaches that coveting is idolatry (Colossians 3:5). In fact, the beginning and end of the Ten Commandments are “not engaging in idolatry.” The remaining eight commandments also relate to covetousness(idolatry). Breaking the Sabbath comes from coveting wealth and possessions, while murder, adultery, and theft arise from coveting what belongs to others.

Everything has an owner. People say money has no owners, only spenders. But anyhow, every possession belongs to someone. Of course, the ultimate Owner of everything is God. But if I possess something that doesn’t belong to me, it becomes an idol in my life. Even if someone gives you a diamond ring or a Mercedes Benz, you should first pray to discern whether or not it’s something God permits. We shouldn’t receive expensive gifts without considering if it truly belongs to us. Coveting someone else’s belongings messes up our lives. We shouldn’t desire what belongs to others; we need to distinguish whether we can take it or not.

Especially, we as a church must respond to money wisely. Simply stockpiling money within the church can turn that money into an idol. It becomes serving an idol within the church. Greed may arise within the hearts of the congregation. Instead of focusing on Jesus, attention shifts to that money, capturing our hearts. Ultimately, the church might sin because of money. So, we should not accumulate money in the church. We should let it flow to where it’s needed. Only then can spiritual money flow into our church when needed, following the financial principles of the Kingdom of Heaven.

The same is true with people. We shouldn’t be obsessed with people. In business or ministry, there’s a need for skilled individuals or those with talents and spiritual gifts. We need talented people. We need gifted people. But no matter how capable or talented someone might be, I believe that it is wise to send them elsewhere if they aren’t the person God has sent for us. In fact, trying to possess people leads to ruin. The desire to monopolize popular, famous, or capable individuals is covetousness. Covetousness leads to idolatry, and the result of idolatry is spiritual death.

Honor and popularity are temporary. They don’t last forever. They come and go quickly. We shouldn’t desire them too much. Similarly, it’s important not to covet when we work or serve the Lord. We need to distinguish what God allows us to do. Otherwise, our work or service can become like idols, slowly eating away at us.

In my opinion, Jehoshaphat struggled with this kind of excessive desire. Jehoshaphat should have been content with God alone because God had already given him everything he needed and more. Because of this desire for more, Jehoshaphat held onto things he shouldn’t have.

Brothers and sisters, let us take a moment to see if there is anything or anyone in our hearts, our homes, our workplaces, our church that doesn’t belong to us, but has settled in like a bird nesting. If someone or something that God doesn’t permit has entered our lives, it might be the result of coveting, which is essentially idolatry – something that God really doesn’t like. Let us break down these idols by getting rid of what shouldn’t be there and giving back what belongs to others. I am hoping and praying that this week, we can control any desires that lead to coveting in our hearts, with the help of the Holy Spirit and by obeying the Word of God. Let’s pray for the year, 2024 where we don’t serve the idol of coveting, but only serve God.

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