Beware of Covetousness
"Then one from the crowd said to Him [i.e., Jesus], 'Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.' But He said to him, 'Man, who made Me a judge or an arbitrator over you?' And He said to them, 'Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses'" (Luke 12:13-15).

This man in the multitude evidently perceived Jesus' authority and thought it would be wise to appeal to Him for assistance in getting his brother to divide the inheritance. Perhaps this man felt he was being cheated in some way and thought that appealing to a righteous man like Jesus would help.

Essentially, Jesus refused to get personally involved in the matter. It is certainly true that Jesus taught general laws of justice and generosity, but He, while in the flesh, did not enforce these laws by any other power than love (cf. John 14:15). If love for God, and the desire to do right, did not motivate the man's brother to rightly divide the inheritance, then the mistreated party must look to the state, not to Jesus, for assistance.

Instead of helping the man resolve his financial difficulty, Jesus issued a double warning to him - "Take heed and beware of covetousness". Not only should one be aware (or "beware") of the sin of covetousness, he should also guard himself from it ("take heed"). Although the words of the man seem innocent enough, Jesus knew his heart--as He does ours (John 2:25). Our Lord evidently believed this warning was appropriate. "Covetousness" is generally defined as a greedy desire for earthly things. Covetousness is a form of idolatry in that one puts his trust in uncertain riches rather than in the living God.

Let's read several verses and reflect upon what they teach regarding covetousness. Colossians 3:5 - "Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry." Ephesians 5:5 - "For this you know, that no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God." I Timothy 6:17 - "Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy." A covetous person seeks to please himself, not God, although actually he will end up destroying himself (cf. I Tim. 6:9,10). Let all learn to be content with what they have (Heb. 13:5; Phil. 4:11,12), and those who are rich, "let them do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share" (I Tim. 6:18). If you are more concerned about the possibility of getting cheated financially than you are focused upon doing good with what you have presently been blessed with, you are likely afflicted with a spirit of covetousness.

After the double warning, Jesus then declared - "One's life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses." This is a difficult lesson for many to learn, especially in our excessively materialistic world. If one has a clear view regarding the limitations of the power of earthly things, he will be less likely to be covetous. Jesus proceeded to emphasize, by the use of a parable, the inherent limitations of earthly treasures. We will study that parable tomorrow.