Over the past few weeks I’ve experienced deep conviction when preparing to share God’s Word with others; so much so that I felt a physical burden and inner distress. While I often bear inner distress when meditating on the Word, in prayer, and in intercession; and while this distress can manifest itself as a physical burden – the two instances over the past few weeks were pronounced. As I write this I am also aware of pain in other areas of life that Vickie and I have experienced in June. While I don’t often write of my own experience from this point-of-view, I am doing so now because I want to provide a framework for the deep conviction and challenge I am experiencing as a result of engaging Ephesians 5:1-6 and Paul’s (God’s) words concerning greed and the greedy person.
5 1 Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children
You may note that I’m using the NIV on this one; this is one of the few times that I think the NIV does a better job than either the NASB or ESV for the English reader. The other two versions use “covetousness” or a combination of “covetousness” and “greed”, but I think that neither quite hits the mark for the contemporary English reader, as I will explain below – and there may even be better words for “greed” and “greedy” for our generation to better understand what Paul is saying. From a technical viewpoint, covetousness is a fair rendering of the Greek word Paul uses – so I want to be clear that I don’t think the NASB or ESV is mistranslating the word(s) used in this passage – I just think we can miss the impact of what Paul is saying by using that English word.
When most Biblically literate, or semi-Biblically literate people, think of the word “covet” they think of the Ten Commandments, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house, you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.” [Exodus 20:17]. We think of coveting in terms of wanting what belongs to someone else, for this is the thrust of Exodus 20:17. Therefore we think that as long as we don’t desire to obtain that which belongs to others, as long as we don’t desire to take what belongs to others, that we are not coveting – and herein lies the problem with using the words “covet” and “covetousness” in translating the group of Greek words in the New Testament that we find in Ephesians 5:1 – 6 – the Greek words have a much broader thrust than found in Exodus 20:17 – they mean wanting more, then more, and then more. They are not confined to wanting what belongs to someone else – while wanting what belongs to others is included in their meaning, they really mean wanting more, then more, and then more. In other words, they mean wanting more whether or not the “more” belongs to others in the sense of Exodus 20:17 or not. More is more whether obtained lawfully or not.
Furthermore, while material things are included in wanting more, so are position, reputation, recognition, and power – more means more whatever the “more” might be.
This way of life, Paul writes, is idolatry (see also Colossians 3:5). Also note that in Romans 1:29, Ephesians 5:3, and Colossians 3:5 that greed is classed in proximity to sexual immorality. Christians who highlight sexual sins in others would do well to look at their accumulation of “things” lest they think they are free from the toxicity of lawlessness; they would also do well to consider that an insatiable lust for power, position, recognition, money, and material things can morph into a lust for bodies. This is no game (Ephesians 5:5-6), people who give themselves over to these things will not inherit the kingdom of Christ and God; and lest we say, “Oh, it can’t be all that bad,” Paul uses the word “any” – “…has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.”
We can’t serve two masters, we can’t worship the True and Living God and worship ourselves and more and more and more – it just can’t be done.
Yet, Americans have been programmed to be consumers, we have been raised and brainwashed to want more and more and then more. When we do happen to ask, “How much is enough?” At the least we say, “Just a little bit more.” Our identity is that we are consumers. We are communicated to by business, government, and sadly by most churches as consumers. We live in the opium den of consumerism and narcissism – whether in or out of religious gatherings. Our economy is built on getting us to purchase and accumulate more and more and more. We live in a land of unbridled desire, lust, and greed – we are idolaters, sacrificing ourselves and our children and grandchildren on altars of more, more, and then more.
After 9/11 we were told by our leaders to respond to the attacks by shopping. What will historians say to that?
I was convicted when preparing a Bible study on this passage because when preaching through Ephesians in prior years I missed the impact of the word group translated “covetousness”. I wrongly thought I knew what the word meant and I didn’t and I therefore did not serve my congregation well. I was also convicted about others things which I will share in future posts.
Are you after something “more” today? How much is enough for you?
To be continued…