Tonight some friends from Emmaus Life and I discussed Psalm 73 and how earth with all its stuff isn’t our home. Several stories were shared about friends and extended family members having passed away with the beautiful mindset of going home – although they were literally on their deathbed, they knew full well they were going to Jesus. And as it often does, our focus on the world to come caused us to see this current world with much more clarity.
In this moment of clarity, something hit me about the act of coveting – of being jealous of what someone else has – and what’s really going on.
When I was a kid, my grandpa would buy me the same thing that he bought my older brother. On many of our old toys (now dispersed to various Goodwill locations) we had put our initials because if we didn’t we wouldn’t have known whose Lego guys were whose (even though there were two of every single one of them). If there were ever an item that my brother got and I didn’t (or vice versa), someone wouldn’t be fully happy. Well, at least I know I wouldn’t be happy – even if the of-equal-value item purchased for me was really awesome. In being taught a system of fairness, I also learned how to envy the possessions of others.
For they have no pangs until death; their bodies are fat and sleek.
They are not in trouble as others are; they are not stricken like the rest of mankind.
Therefore pride is their necklace; violence covers them as a garment.
Their eyes swell out through fatness; their hearts overflow with follies.
They scoff and speak with malice; loftily they threaten oppression.
They set their mouths against the heavens, and their tongue struts through the earth.
Therefore his people turn back to them, and find no fault in them.
And they say, “How can God know? Is there knowledge in the Most High?”
Behold, these are the wicked; always at ease, they increase in riches.
All in vain have I kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence. – Psalm 73: 4-13
Coveting is sinful because we envy what someone else has, yes, but it is also sinful because we declare to God that we are not content with what He has given us. Look at what the Psalmist says in verses 12 and 13; “Behold, these are the wicked; always at ease, they increase in riches. All in vain have I kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence.” He declares his entire walk with the Lord as worthless because he didn’t get what they had. What I see happening here, though, goes beyond discontent with God; it’s getting duped into thinking that we have to have riches, possessions, and every luxury we could ever think of.
Advertisements annoy me. No, it isn’t because many of them are really dumb, but rather because of how they make you feel. I mean sure, some are funny and utilize a lot of creativity, but what’s usually the goal? It’s to get you, the consumer, hooked – to their product, program, or ideology. They want you hooked in order to get your dollar some way, some how. Usually, they leave you to think that if you just had that nice car, that fancy nose trimmer, or that six-pack set of abs, you’d finally be happy – you’d finally be content. But what we oftentimes don’t realize is that we’re being taught to believe that we actually need those things. In reality, if we have God, we have all that we need. Heck, we have more than we need.
And by “more” I don’t mean we’ll suddenly have an insane amount of riches, possessions, and prestige. As we talked about tonight, having the “more” that God freely offers is beyond money, things, and images – it’s beyond time itself. It’s Ephesians 3:20-21 (thanks Jenn); “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” “More” is not limited to material items, but rather directed toward eternal items – our souls.
What happens if we don’t recognize that we got duped? If we believed that we had to have the things that the “wicked” people (as the Psalmist describes them) had? We see hints dropped in verses 4-5 and 10-11; “For they have no pangs until death; their bodies are fat and sleek. They are not in trouble as others are; they are not stricken like the rest of mankind…. Therefore his people turn back to them, and find no fault in them. And they say, ‘How can God know? Is there knowledge in the Most High?’” If we believe the first lie that we need things to satisfy us, then we’ll likely believe the second: That everyone has it better off than we do and that our God doesn’t get it. Our view of reality will be distorted. Instead of being ambassadors of peace in a chaotic world, we’ll be lost in the chaos of discontent with the rest.
“But when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task, until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end,” Psalm 73:16-17
Only when the Psalmist sought God’s counsel on the matter did he see how he had been duped. Some of us may not have the tendency to turn to the Lord for guidance (unless of course, some crisis broke out), but like muscles, it gets stronger the more you use it. The more you make time to seek God for understanding, the deeper your understanding will grow. And what happens when it grows? As the Psalmist concludes: “But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord God my refuge, that I may tell of all your works,’ – 28. We fear nothing and no one.
What do your possessions mean to you? Are they simply tools to be used to declare God to the people around you or are they what you place your contentment in? Are they evidence of God’s blessing or your accomplishments?
As the Psalmist did, perhaps we, too, should seek the Lord on the matter.