Key to Happiness: Greed or God?
P. G. Mathew | Sunday, October 7, 2007
Copyright © 2007, P. G. Mathew
The great nineteenth-century English Baptist preacher C.H. Spurgeon said that although people confessed many sins to him, he never heard anyone confessing the sin of covetousness. Covetousness is the sin the author deals with in Hebrews 13:5-6.
It appears that the West largely has exchanged Christianity for the religion of Mammon (i.e., materialism). Yet Jesus said, "No one can serve two masters" (Matt. 6:24; Luke 16:13). Western man used to say, "In God we trust"; now he trusts in money and the pleasure money can buy. He seeks security in money, and lots of it. He does not know that riches deceive (Matt. 13:22).
Hebrews 13:5-6 opposes covetousness and materialism. These verses tell us to let our lives be without love of money and to be content with what we presently have. The key to true contentment and real happiness is not greed but the God of the Scriptures. Augustine did not say, "Our hearts are restless until they find more money," but "until they find rest in God." I would clarify further, "until they find rest in the cross of Christ." Only Jesus Christ can give rest to all who come to him.
Jesus Christ was poor, yet he was the happiest man who ever lived. The key to his happiness was not gold but God the Father. Paul was also poor, yet he learned to be content with Christ. I pray that we will pay attention to this passage and also learn to be content. Jesus can deliver us from the anxiety we experience due to our thirst for material things. Therefore, let us drink from Jesus, the water of life. My father used to tell me that all who drink from the well of this world shall thirst again. Let us love God, not gold, with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength.
The author already exhorted us in light of the doctrine he expounded in the first twelve chapters to love our brothers, to love strangers, to love prisoners, and to love our spouses. Now he tells us to love God, not money. We want to speak from Hebrews 13:5-6 about the commands of God, the comfort of God, and the confession of faith that we make in light of God's word.
1. The Commands of God
-"Keep your lives free from the love of money."
The first command is, "Keep your lives free from the love of money" (Heb. 13:5). Money and capitalism in themselves are not evil; it is the love of money that is condemned here. Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount that "pagans run after all these things" (Matt. 6:32). In other words, those who are without God and without hope in the world run after the things of the world. Jesus said that the Pharisees were lovers of money (Luke 16:14). They stored up treasures on earth where rust, moth, thieves, fire, and inflation destroyed them. The rich man of Luke 16 took no time to read the Scriptures and find the way of salvation. Instead, he trusted in his wealth. But his wealth failed him, and when he died, he went to hell to live an everlasting life of torment. The rich fool of Luke 12 told himself during the time of his prosperity, "You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry" (Luke 12:19). He had no thought for God or his eternal salvation. He was a fool because he denied God and trusted in his goods. But God demanded this fool's life immediately. He was rich in goods, not in God.
You may have heard the question, "How much are you worth?" This reduces man to a sum of money. Jesus says, "Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions" (Luke 12:15). The unbeliever finds his security, salvation, and happiness in money, and, therefore, more money should assure more happiness. But the truth is, a rich unbeliever lives a life of worry, anxiety, and misery. His is a life of pseudo-happiness. The worries of life, the deceitfulness of riches, and the pleasures of life eventually kill him.
A covetous man is never happy. He is always searching for another thousand or million or billion dollars. Like the people of Laodicea, he says, "I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing." Yet such a man is "wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked" (Rev. 3:17).
Covetousness is an inordinate desire to have more money than God in his sovereign wisdom has been pleased to give us. The covetous man worships creation rather than the Creator and lusts after honors, wealth, power, pleasure, and knowledge. Paul calls this covetousness greed "idolatry" (Col. 3:5). It is worship of the false god of materialism. Greed seeks happiness in stuff and is always grasping for more, saying, "Old is no good. New is better, and newer is still better. More and bigger is better."
Love of money is an addiction, and one who loves money may do many wrong things to gain more. He may cheat others or commit fraud and perjury. Such a person is envious, quarrelsome, and full of hatred and violence. He always wants to make another dollar no matter what it takes. Whoever loves money never has money enough. A covetous person is a slave to the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the boasting of things (1 John 2:16). He is always unhappy. He cannot endure hearing about others getting more than he has.
The covetous man lusts for his neighbor's wife and property. He is ever violating the tenth commandment, "Thou shalt not covet." Yet the psalmist declares that money cannot save us: "[The wicked] trust in their wealth and boast in their great riches. . . [But] no man can redeem the life of another or give to God a ransom for him . . . [Therefore], do not be overawed when a man grows rich, when the splendor of his house increases; for he will take nothing with him when he dies, his splendor will not descend with him. Though while he lived he counted himself blessed-and men praise you when you prosper-he will join the generation of his fathers, who will never see the light of life. A man who has riches without understanding is like the beasts that perish" (Ps. 49:6-7, 16-20). Elsewhere we read, "Do not trust in extortion or take pride in stolen goods; though your riches increase, do not set your heart on them" (Ps. 62:10).
Wealth is uncertain. Solomon says, "Cast but a glance at riches and they are gone, for they will surely sprout wings and fly off to the sky like an eagle" (Prov. 23:5). Paul tells us the love of money is a root of all evil (1 Tim. 6:10). Those who trust in their wealth become arrogant even as they are deceived into thinking that their money can redeem them. Covetous people thereby reject God and cannot enter into his kingdom. Even poor people can suffer from covetousness. For example, in this country many people incur great debt with their credit cards, thinking more stuff will make them happy. They try to buy happiness on credit, but they really are bringing torment upon themselves.
God commands, "Keep your life free from the love of money." Certainly, this applies to ministers. Paul says they are not to be lovers of money (1 Tim. 3:3), and Peter says they should be "not greedy for money but eager to serve" (1 Pet. 5:2). Yet many false ministers use religion to increase their wealth by preaching what people want to hear. They are spiritual prostitutes. Jesus exhorts us three times in Matthew 6 not to worry, for our heavenly Father knows that we need food and clothing, and he will provide them through our faithful labor.
The Bible gives many examples of covetous people, whose lives are revealed to us for our rebuke, correction, learning, and warning. Balaam loved the wages of wickedness, and he was killed. Achan was a greedy man who stole silver and gold that belonged to God. Because of his greed, he and his family were also killed. Gehazi was not interested in the double portion of the Spirit. He loved money, clothes, olive groves, vineyards, flocks, and herds, and lied to obtain them. He wanted to be rich and famous, but he became a leper, and his children after him. What a tragedy! Gehazi serves as a warning to pastors who are tempted to prostitute themselves for money. Gehazi could have served God in place of Elisha and ministered to the people of Israel.
We also read about Judas, one of the apostles of Jesus Christ, who sold Christ for thirty pieces of silver. Judas was a covetous thief who loved money more than Jesus and his salvation. But Judas lost his money, hanged himself, and went to hell. Jesus called him a son of perdition. Ananias and Sapphira loved money, power, and position. They lied to the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit killed them (Acts 5). Covetousness never helps us! Demas was a fellow minister of Paul who served with him for many years. But at the end of his life Paul writes: "Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica" (2 Tim. 4:10). Demas became a covetous man, a lover of money, and eventually abandoned Paul, God, and the gospel. Ministers, watch out for covetousness.
As king of Israel, Ahab had everything he needed. But he was a covetous man and desired the vineyard of Naboth. He got it, but in due time God killed him and his entire family. David was a married man with many wives. But he became covetous and took Bathsheba, Uriah's wife, violating the sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth, and tenth commandments. David was severely punished. Adam and Eve had everything in paradise. Yet they became covetous and ate the forbidden fruit so that they could become free of God, be wise, and live a life of pleasure. They were driven out of God's presence and died, plunging the world into sin and death (Gen. 3).
What should we do? Flee covetousness and the love of money! God is commanding us to save ourselves from destruction. We are told to let our lives be free of money, meaning our character and conduct must be free from the love of money.
- "Be content with what you have."
The second command is, "Be content with what you have" (Heb. 13:5). As God's children, we have a heavenly Father who knows our need for food and clothing. Jesus taught us to pray, "Give us this day our daily bread." He is Jehovah Jireh, which means "Jehovah sees our needs and provides." He who gave us existence will also give us all things to sustain that existence. He feeds the birds and beautifies the lilies of the field; how much more will he take care of us, the crown of his creation! We are God's portion, his own treasure.
Jesus said, "Do not worry about your life" (Matt. 6:25). Covetousness is a child of unbelief, but contentment is a child of faith in God. Arthur W. Pink says, "Contentment is a tranquility of soul, a being satisfied with what God has apportioned."1 It is the opposite of a grasping spirit.
The psalmist says, "The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance" (Ps. 16:6). We have God as our inheritance and treasure. What more can we want? Contentment is being happy in Jesus, who came that we may have life and have it more abundantly. We are content because of Jesus. In him we are blessed with every spiritual blessing in heavenly places. In Jesus we lack nothing.
It is sinful to be discontent. Discontentment questions both the sovereignty of God and his goodness. Pink says, "Discontent corrodes the strings of the heart."2 The heart is a musical instrument; discontent corrodes it. A discontent person is characterized by worry. He cannot sing and rejoice as Paul and Silas did in the Philippian jail in the middle of the night (cf. Acts 16). But a man of contentment gives thanks to God the Father in the name of Jesus Christ always and for all things. Pink said, "Christian, let me ask thee this question: Didst thou give thyself to Christ for temporal, or for eternal comforts? Didst thou enter upon religion to save thine estate or thy soul?"3 Paul says, "Godliness with contentment is great gain . . . If we have food and clothing, we will be content with that" (2 Tim. 6:6, 8).
The unbeliever seeks contentment in riches and material circumstances. The Stoics sought contentment in self-sufficiency, irrespective of circumstances. We Christians enjoy contentment in Christ's sufficiency and grace, not in changing circumstances.
Paul speaks about this in Philippians 4. He learned to be content in all circumstances-in extreme poverty or in extreme plenty. He knew how to be abased and how to abound. He was learning as he experienced divine trials. Finally, he arrived at the state of contentment and he gives us the secret: "I can do everything through him who gives me strength" (Phil. 4:13). Therefore, Paul was content even in prison while chained to two soldiers. He had learned the secret from the mouth of Jesus: "My grace is sufficient for you" (2 Cor. 12:9). So he writes, "In all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose . . . If God is for us, who can be against us?" (Rom. 8:28, 31). He saves us and no one can destroy us. Vital union with Jesus Christ is the secret of contentment. Jesus said, "I am the vine; you are the branches" (John 15:5). Branches receive everything they need from the vine.
We are commanded to "be content with what you have." What we have is what God gives us through our own industry. God enables us to obtain wealth, but we must work six days a week, and always try to work smarter and harder. We do not believe in asceticism; poverty is not a virtue to seek after. Paul tells the thief who believed in Christ to steal no longer, but work with his hands, that he may have something to give to those in need (Eph. 4:28). Elsewhere he says that he who does not work shall not eat (2 Thess. 3:10) and he who does not provide for his family is worse than an unbeliever (1 Tim. 5:8). Sadly, many men today live off their wives. But such laziness is a serious sin. (PGM) A lazy person is a rebel who opposes God's law that says we must work six days. God gives us daily bread by giving us health and the ability to work with our hands. The Lord is our shepherd, and we shall lack nothing because we work with our hands. Our hands are for work, not for handouts.
God provides. But he does not provide for lazy people who oppose God's order to get wealth. Be content, therefore, with what you have, with what God has provided as a reward for our six days of labor. What God prohibits here is covetousness and love for money, not labor for money. Money is not evil; we cannot live without it. Even Jesus used money. Paul tells us in Romans 12:11 to be not lazy in business, so we acquire money by labor, use it, invest it, and give it away. But we never trust in money; we trust in Jesus Christ alone. Job tells us that he considered it sinful to trust in his gold (Job 31:24-28).
2. The Comfort of God
We can keep these commands because God gives us comfort from his word. "Because God has said, 'Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you'" (Heb. 13:5). God is our sufficiency. We can obey God's commands to not be covetous and to be content, because God himself has spoken and his word is always authoritative. We are not relying on the word of a man or an angel, but on the word of God Almighty. The thrice-holy God, the Creator of the ends of the earth, has spoken, and he must be trusted.
In the Greek text there are five negatives in that statement. We could say it this way: "He will never, never, never, never, never fail us nor forsake us." The last verse of the hymn, "How Firm a Foundation," reflects the same idea: "The soul that on Jesus has leaned for repose I will not, I will not desert to his foes. That soul, though all hell shall endeavor to shake, I will never, no, never, no, never forsake".
These five negatives tell us that God can be trusted. It means God is always with us, as he was with the people in the wilderness, in the pillar of fire and cloud. He is the good shepherd who gives his life for his sheep. He never abandons them, but he cares for them and brings them all safely home without losing even one. He provides them with manna, water, guidance, and protection.
What, then, is the comfort of God? It is the presence of God. God is with us; this is the greatest reality in the world. When Jacob left his home and went to Aram, God told this lonely man he would never forsake him but bring him back safely, and he did (see Gen. 28:15). God told Israel the same thing: "Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. . . . The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged" (Deut. 31:6, 8).
God also told Joshua: "I will never leave you nor forsake you" (Josh. 1:5). At the end of his life, David said to Solomon, "God will not fail you or forsake you" (2 Chron. 28:20). Jesus told his disciples, "Surely I am with you always, even to the end of the ages" (Matt. 28:20). Jesus also told them he would not leave them as orphans but send another Comforter to be with them forever" (John 14:16-18). The Holy Spirit has now come. He is with us always to guide us, empower us, and gift us with all grace. Though our parents or friends forsake us, God will never leave us nor forsake us. Note the language God uses in Isaiah 49: "Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me" (vv. 15-16). God sees us every day. He knows all our problems and helps us. Therefore, we do not have to be greedy or put our trust in money. God is with us and for us.
This was Paul's secret of contentment: "I can do all things through Jesus Christ who strengtheneth me." God was with him in prison and in the open sea. There were times when his friends and fellow ministers abandoned him: "You know that everyone in the province of Asia deserted me. . . . Demas, because he loved this world, has abandoned me and has gone to Thessalonica" (2 Tim. 1:15, 4:10). In his time of great need, no one was there: "At my first defense, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me" (2 Tim. 4:16). Yet Paul was not alone: "But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength" (2 Tim. 4:17).
Why should we be greedy and covetous when God is with us every moment of our lives? In Exodus 33 Moses told God, "If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here" (v. 15). We need God and his presence; in him we have all things. The key to our Christian pilgrimage to the city of the living God is God's presence with us. "Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith" (Heb. 12:3). He will not fail us nor will he forsake us. He is the Alpha and the Omega for us. He is our Savior who saved us, is saving us, and will save us.
3. Confession of Faith
Finally, there is the confession of faith we make: "So we say with confidence, 'The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?'" Based on God's spoken and written word, which promises his presence with us, we can confidently and courageously confess our faith in God. God's word guaranteeing his presence with us enables us to be courageous. The author is quoting Psalm 118:6-7: "The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me? The Lord is with me; he is my helper. I will look in triumph on my enemies."
The author uses the word, tharrountas, from tharreô. It is translated "confidently" in Hebrews 13:6. We find it also in Matthew 9:2, where Jesus speaks to the paralytic, "Take heart!" God is telling us, "Cheer up! Take heart! Rejoice! Fear not, for I am with you and I will help you. I will save you and deliver you. I will not fail you. I will never forsake you."
In John 16:33 Jesus says, "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world". Christ has defeated the world and set us free from the dominion of the world, sin, Satan, hell, and death.
Why should we not fear? Here we see the first confession: "The Lord is my helper." The word "helper" is boęthos, which comes from boętheia. It means to run to the cry of those in danger to help. We cry out to God, and he runs to rescue us out of our troubles.
The word was used by the Syro-Phoenician woman who cried out in a loud voice, "Jesus, help us. My daughter is demonized," and he helped (Mark 7:24-30). In the will of his Father, the Son became incarnate to help us. He taught truth, performed miracles, overcame temptation, suffered the death of the cross, rose from the dead, ascended to heaven, and is seated on the throne as King of kings and Lord of lords to help us. He sent the Holy Spirit, gave us the Bible, and raised up ministers to help us. Our God is looking after us.
The author used this word earlier to speak about Jesus Christ: "Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, Jesus is able to help those who are being tempted. . . . Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need" (Heb. 2:18, 4:16). Cry out to God, and he will run to your aid to help you.
The second confession is, "I will not be afraid." Hebrews 2:14-15 tells us our fear is based on fear of death. By his death, Jesus Christ destroyed death and set us free from the fear of death and death itself. That is why we can say, "I will not be afraid."
If God is with us, we need not fear. God came to Abraham and said, "Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward" (Gen. 15:1). Later, Paul says in great jubilation, "Neither death nor life . . . nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom. 8:38-39). We do not fear because of our inseparable vital union with God himself.
The third confession is, "What can man do to me?" The expected answer is, "Nothing." Why should we fear weak, sinful, mortal men? Our life is hid with Christ in God. Now Christ is our life. We are invincible and indestructible. Yes, man may slander us, sue us, beat us up, confiscate our property, evict us, kill us, cut us into two, put us into prison, or fire us from work; yet neither death nor life nor anything else in all creation is able to separate us from God's love for us in Christ. We are united with Christ-we died with him, were buried with him, were raised with him, and are seated with him in heaven. We are in him and he is in us. Before a man can destroy us, he must destroy our God.
God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are all with us. Moreover, God's people are with us. Yet this was not true of Jesus. His own disciple Judas betrayed him, Peter denied him three times, and all his disciples abandoned him in his hour of need. Even his heavenly Father abandoned him, so that he cried out, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" God poured out his just wrath, which was due us, upon Christ, so that God may be just in justifying us sinners. Jesus said, "Foxes have holes, birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head." But there was one place he could lay his head: the cross. And because of his suffering, we shall never be abandoned. God says he will never, never, never, never, never fail us or forsake us, which means he is with us always-in our pain, in our suffering, in our problems, in our troubles, in our persecution, in our darkness, and in the hour of our death.
Let every man abandon us; God's presence shall be with us. He will run to our aid. We shall never lack his help. Heaven and earth may pass away, but Jesus never fails.
If you have not repented and savingly trusted in Jesus, you are trusting in money to save you. You are a covetous and unhappy man. Only Christians can be truly content in what they have, in what God has provided. The key to happiness is not greed or gold; it is God's presence and his present help. So work hard, make money, and enjoy God's good life. Distribute generously and store up for yourselves treasure in heaven, which is indestructible. May God help us not to be greedy, but to be content because God is with us. He is our helper, and he will never fail us or forsake us.
1 Pink, Exposition of Hebrews, 1147.
2 Ibid., 1145.
3 Ibid., 1145.
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Copyright © 2007, P. G. Mathew
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