Covetousness is a deadly poison, destructive of all virtue; it dries up the milk of human kindness in a man’s breast, and makes him hard, callous, indifferent towards the needs of his fellow creatures. The man whose heart is set on covetousness will do anything for gold. I scarcely know any other vice which can more effectually damn its victim: and I speak the more earnestly about it because covetousness can readily enter into a man’s heart, and he may not know it.
St. Francis de Sales, said that many came to him to confess all manner of sins, and many of them of a glaring nature; but that all his life long he never knew anybody acknowledge covetousness. Do you exclaim, “I wonder why this is?” Well, it is because a man does not like to think that he can be covetous; he cannot bring himself to acknowledge that he has quite gone that length. When his avarice is the most heartless he generally calls it by a prettier name, such as prudence, thrift, or carefulness, so as to make it look more respectable. There is a great propensity about gold and silver, and houses and lands, to stick to one’s heart and blind the judgment.
It is difficult for those who have much to do with wealth to be quite clear of self. Some men, by Divine grace, get much, and give much, and use the world, and do not abuse it: but it is of the earth earthy after all, and when it comes into contact with these hearts of ours it will corrupt and corrode. He that has this world’s goods has need to watch himself lest his possessions should injure him; and he that has them not had need to watch himself lest his indigence should injure him. There is an evil that cometh by either the having or the not having. And let each man, therefore, be on his guard against it while he listens to the warning voice of the apostle, “Let your conversation be without covetousness.”
The term “conversation” includes, as you know, the whole of our lives. It is true that we are not to talk covetously, but conversation means far more than speech; it includes thoughts, words, and actions: in fact, the whole of life. Taking the first meaning of conversation, namely, talk, we ought not in our words to be on the side of those who grip for wealth or growl for wage, who grasp for power or grind the poor. Let your conversation savour of grace and generosity, and of kindness altogether unselfish: and never let it flatter the successful trickster or the greedy grinder of the needy. Never let your language be such as might help to sharpen the cunning of a Laban or sanction the churlishness of a Nabal. This be far from you.
But our conversation has to do with our actions as well as our words. Let our whole life in our dealings with our fellow men be moved by liberal principles, and enriched with a generous spirit. Let us be full of kindness, full of thoughtfulness, full of a desire that others may live as well as ourselves. There are some whose whole life is the use of the rake to scrape everything to themselves, and these men leave nothing for others, however honest and industrious they may be. This is not Christ-like, nor will Christ own one who thus lives to himself. Let your actions, then, in trade and labour, as well as your words, be without covetousness.
We must be without covetousness within, for if that vice reigns in the soul it is sure to rule in the life. Our prayer should be that of David, “Incline my heart unto thy testimonies, and not to covetousness.” Why is a man miserly in his actions? Why, because he is miserable in his thoughts. If the inner man were right, the outer man could not be wrong. Beloved, may God cleanse our way, both in private and in public, from anything like greed, that we may be obedient to the text, “Let your conversation be without covetousness.”
It is so very easy a thing to be covetous, that no class of society is free from it. A man may be very poor and covetous withal, and a man may be exceedingly rich and still may think that he is not half rich enough. It is not possible to satisfy the greedy. If God gave them one whole world to themselves they would cry for another, for their greed is such that they must have everything or else they have nothing. Unless they can call all things theirs, they are as miserable as Haman. Covetousness has many ways of manifesting itself; and the text does not warn us against one of those ways, but against them all.
I have said that covetousness has many ways of showing itself; in some it is most seen in repining and complaining against their lot. We have not learned to say, “Not as I will, but as Thou wilt.” Here is the neglected part of our education, and we must go to school again to the Holy Spirit. There are some complaining ones who would be no happier if their lot were changed. If they were lifted from a cottage to a palace they would repine still, for repining is far more a matter of the heart than of the condition; and a mind that has not bowed to the will of God in one place would be rebellious also in another, and would rebel still.
There be some who have all that heart could wish who still murmur, and still think that God deals hardly with them. This disease is born and bred in our very bones, and it needs the Grace of God to get it out of us. It is ill when it shows itself in a perpetual fault-finding with all that providence appoints, in always grumbling that we are left out in the cold, as if in every distribution of divine love we came in for the last portion and the least share, and were doomed to be the forgotten ones of the family. Shake off that spirit, beloved. God help us all to get rid of every particle of it, for it savours not of grace, but it is earthly, sensual, devilish.
In some others this covetous principle shows itself in envying others. Now, if I envy a man, I am clearly guilty of covetousness, for I wish that something which he has were not his, but mine. And that may happen to you when you do not think about his property. You may be covetous of his gifts. If we were right at heart with God as we ought to be we should glory in being excelled by our fellow-servants; we should be glad for our heavenly Father to be better served than we can serve Him, and for the church of God to have more valued servants in it than we are ever likely to be. This is not easy, because envy preys upon us, that compound of meanness and malice, that vilest reptile of the old serpent’s brood, This ill-natured vice shows itself generally in finding fault. Of course our brethren are not perfect; but why should we take a delight in pointing out their peculiarities, their eccentricities, or their shortcomings? Would God that Christians would cease from tearing one another!
Let your conversation be without that covetousness which shows itself in envy. If the Lord has given you one talent, use it; but do not waste your time in finding fault with him who has five talents. If your Master makes you a hewer of wood, throw your strength into your felling and cleaving, do not throw the axe at your fellow-servant. Do your own service well, and bring what you have done and lay it at your Master’s feet. This will be thankworthy: this will be Christlike.
Many a man lies awake at night desiring to increase his income, not because he is ambitious to be rich, but because he is haunted with the fear of being poor. Gifted, perhaps, for the present with competency, he is still scared with dire forebodings— “What will become of my family if I die?” “Or should such and such a source of income be dried up, and it is very precarious, what then will become of my household? What then?” Full many are not content with such things as they have because the dread of a distant season of trial is constantly harassing them. They cannot be happy in the present sunshine because mayhap a storm is brewing out of sight. They cannot lie down in peace because they want to lay up against a rainy day. In vain for them their table is bountifully spread unless they have a store in hand against every contingency that may happen.
Do you notice how precious is that promise which provides for all possible casualties that may befall you? “He hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.” The censure, therefore, falls where this sacred pledge is unheeded; and he is accounted covetous who walks after the cravings of the flesh rather than after the counsel of the Spirit of God. If God would have thee live by the day, why dost thou want to gather enough for seven days at once? If thy Father bids thee trust Him, why dost thou distrust His paternal care? Use prudent thrift by all means; do not waste what He gives, nor heedlessly forget that you will have wants on the morrow as well as to-day; but abstain from fretfulness, abjure murmuring, and abhor every tendency to unbelief, lest you provoke Him to anger: — He would not have you careful about those earthly things after which the Gentiles seek. “Your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of these things.”
Ye know who hath said — “Thy bread shall be given thee, and thy water shall be sure.” Between now and heaven I do not know who may starve; but I never shall, because the Lord is my Shepherd, and I shall not want. Those young lions may lack and suffer hunger; but they that fear the Lord shall not want any good thing. God’s word ought to be taken as truth itself. He will feed thee somehow — by the ravens if not by the doves. If the brook Cherith fails, He will find a widow woman, even in a distant land, who in all her straits shall, nevertheless, feed the servant of God. He has said, “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.”
Excerpted from the sermon in Volume 24 titled “A vile Weed and a Fair Flower” (Hebrews 13:5.6) by CH Spurgeon. You are encouraged to read the full text of the sermon from https://www.spurgeon.org/resource-library/sermons/a-vile-weed-and-a-fair-flower/#flipbook/