“Paul and Covetousness”Categories: M. W. Bassford, Sermons
Just as we do today, the righteous men and women of the Bible struggled with temptation. Sometimes, these struggles are well known, as with the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness. At other times, though, they can escape our notice. For most of us, this is the case with Paul’s spiritual battle with covetousness.
Consider, for instance, his description of his own sin in Romans 7:7-8. It may be that covetousness was the first sin that Paul remembered committing. At the least, it’s clear from this that covetousness was a sin that he struggled with. By his own admission, sin produced in him coveting of every kind.
However, Romans 7 isn’t the last thing Paul has to say about covetousness. In fact, his relationship with money is a theme that runs through many of his letters. In his discussion of the subject, we learn how he fought back against covetousness and eventually overcame it.
This is both heartening and instructive. From it, we learn not only that overcoming our strongest temptations is possible, but also some strategies on how to do it. With this in mind, let’s consider the way that Paul dealt with covetousness.
First, we see that Paul PUT UP GUARDRAILS. Consider his words in 2 Corinthians 8:18-21. Contextually, this passage is about the collection and protection of the contribution for the needy saints in Jerusalem. Paul didn’t put all that money in his own wallet and go sailing off toward Antioch by himself. Instead, he asked churches who contributed to appoint men they trusted to travel with him and see that the money reached its destination safely.
Much of the time, we use this passage to show the importance of being above-board in the way we handle church finances. That way, people can know that somebody isn’t siphoning off their donations. However, there’s more to it than that. Notice that Paul says that he’s concerned not only with what is honorable in the sight of men, but also with what is honorable in the sight of the Lord. He wants everybody to see that he’s doing right, but he also wants to prevent himself from doing wrong.
If we know that there’s a sin that we struggle with, we ought to make practicing that sin as difficult as possible. Consider, for instance, the famous Pence Rule. Throughout his political career, Mike Pence has refused to meet alone with a woman who is not his wife. He’s caught a lot of flak for that, but you know what? If you’re never alone with a woman who is not your wife, you are never going to cheat on your wife with another woman.
I think that’s very wise, and throughout my preaching work, I’ve tried to follow a similar rule myself. Through the years, how many preachers have met their downfall over a woman? I do not want to add my name to that list! Whatever our weakness may be, one of the best ways to defeat temptation is to leave no room for it.
Second, Paul is willing to SURRENDER LIBERTIES in order to defend himself from sin. Look at what he says in 1 Corinthians 9:13-18, 24-27. A few weeks ago, Clay cited vs. 24-27 in one of his sermons, and in passing, he mentioned that he was using the passage outside of its context. That got me to wondering what the context was. How exactly was Paul disciplining his body to make sure he didn’t lose his soul?
I believe the answer lies in vs. 13-18. He sets out the principle that men who preach the gospel have the right to get their living from the gospel. However, he himself does not do that. It would be 100 percent lawful for him to seek support from the church in Corinth, but instead, he preaches the gospel for free.
Contextually, he gives two reasons for this. First, so that he doesn’t hinder the gospel. Second, so that he isn’t overcome by sin himself. To put things another way, Paul doesn’t want to establish a financial relationship with the church in Corinth because he is worried that such a relationship will open the door for covetousness. He would rather reject the money he can claim than give sin an opening.
In the same way, brethren, we need to be honest with ourselves about whether surrendering some of our liberties will help us in our struggle against sin. For instance, there is nothing wrong with a Christian having a smartphone or having a computer in a private location. I myself have both.
However, if you’ve got a porn problem, then it’s probably true that your smartphone or private computer (or both) are the gateways for your temptation. Which is better, to forfeit a liberty we enjoy or to lose our souls because the liberty led us into sin?
Finally, Paul was able to TRIUMPH THROUGH CHRIST. Let’s read Philippians 4:10-13. This is a famous text, and it’s a famously misused text. There are lots of people out there who think that doing all things through Christ means closing business deals or scoring touchdowns.
In the light of everything we’ve already studied this evening, though, it’s obvious that Paul is saying something completely different and much more powerful. He’s saying that through the strength of Christ, he is able to win his battle against covetousness. When he doesn’t have anything, no problem. Through Christ’s strength, he can be content and not be greedy. Likewise, when he’s fully provided for, no problem. Through Christ’s strength, he’s able to defeat materialism.
As we saw back in Romans 7, Paul had been haunted by the temptation to be covetous all his life. By the time of Philippians 4, though, he has learned the secret. Through Jesus, he can defeat any temptation.
Brethren, let’s pause for a moment to think about how encouraging this is! This isn’t just about Paul and him overcoming his temptations. This is about us and overcoming our temptations. No, we aren’t strong enough on our own, but we will be strong enough if we seek the strength that Christ is eager to give.
Sometime this week, then, why don’t we all carve out some time to pray for that strength? I don’t know what your greatest temptation is. Maybe it’s covetousness, or sexual immorality, or porn, or drunkenness, or gossip. I do know, though, that whatever it is, you can beat it through Jesus. Work to get rid of it, but above all, pray to get rid of it, and He will bless you.