I See, I Want, I Take
The love of money and material possessions can come at us from many different angles. Ellen G. White describes the devil’s ploy to lure us through the wiles of materialism. “ ‘Go, make the possessors of lands and money drunk with the cares of this life. Present the world before them in its most attractive light, that they may lay up their treasure here, and fix their affections upon earthly things. We must do our utmost to prevent those who labor in God’s cause from obtaining means to use against us. Keep the money in our own ranks. The more means they obtain, the more they will injure our kingdom by taking from us our subjects. Make them care more for money than the upbuilding of Christ’s kingdom and the spread of the truths we hate, and we need not fear their influence; for we know that every selfish, covetous person will fall under our power, and will finally be separated from God’s people.’ ”—Counsels on Stewardship, pp. 154, 155. Unfortunately, this ploy seems to be working well. Let us look then at these dangers and what the Word of God says to us so that we can avoid this spiritual trap.
* Study this week’s lesson to prepare for Sabbath, January 13.
A popular television preacher has a simple message: God wants to bless you, and the proof of His blessing is the abundance of material possessions that you own. In other words, if you are faithful, God will make you wealthy.
This idea, or variants of it, has been called the prosperity gospel: follow God, and He will make you wealthy in worldly goods. This idea is nothing but a false theological justification for materialism, because what it’s really saying is, Do you want to be materialistic and to feel good about it? Well, we have got the “gospel” for you.
Yet, connecting the gospel with guaranteed wealth is a misdirected sideshow. This belief creates dissonance with Scripture and reflects a self-centered theology that is nothing more than half-truth clothed in biblical language. At the core of this lie is the issue at the core of all sin, and that is self and the desire to please self above everything else. The theology of the prosperity gospel teaches that, in giving to God, we gain in return a guarantee of material wealth. But this makes God a vending machine and turns our relationship with Him into nothing but a deal: I do this and You promise to do that in return. We give, not because it is the right thing to do but because of what we get in return. That’s the prosperity gospel.
These people, although in “extreme poverty” (2 Cor. 8:2, NIV), were nevertheless very generous, giving even more than they could afford. Verses such as these, and many others, help refute the false theology of the prosperity gospel, which teaches that if you are living right with God you will have many material possessions to show for it.
We don’t need the Bible to teach us one obvious truth: the cares of this life and its riches are temporary. Nothing here lasts, and certainly not long either. As Paul said: “We look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Cor. 4:18). Christians have myopic vision when they are fixated on the cares of this world rather than on the path to heaven. And few things can blind their eyes to that path more than the deceitfulness of riches. Helen Keller, who was blind, said: “The most pathetic person in the world is someone who has sight, but has no vision.” The Bible is filled with examples of those who could see but were, indeed, spiritually blind.
“Some love this world so much that it swallows up their love for the truth. As their treasures here increase, their interest in the heavenly treasure decreases. The more they possess of this world, the more closely do they hug it to them, as if fearful their coveted treasure would be taken from them. The more they possess, the less do they have to bestow upon others, for the more they have, the poorer they feel. O, the deceitfulness of riches! They will not see and feel the wants of the cause of God.”—Ellen G. White, Spiritual Gifts, vol. 2, p. 267.
Blurred spiritual eyesight puts eternal salvation in jeopardy. It is not enough to keep Jesus in view; we must keep Him in focus.
First, Jesus warns us regarding “the cares of this world” (Matt. 13:22, NKJV). Jesus knows that we all have cares, including financial ones. The poor worry that they don’t have enough; the rich worry about what else they might want. We just need to be certain that we don’t let such cares “choke the word” (Matt. 13:22, NKJV) in our lives. Second, Jesus warns us of “the deceitfulness of riches” (Matt. 13:22, NKJV). Although riches themselves are not evil, they still possess the power to deceive us in ways that can lead to our ultimate destruction.
What are ways that you can see the “deceitfulness of riches” in your own life? What practical choices can you make to protect yourself from this deception?
Like all sins, covetousness begins in the heart. It starts inside us and then works outward. This is what happened in Eden.
“So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate” (Gen. 3:6, NKJV).
If one didn’t know better, one could think that the advertising industry got its paradigmatic example of how to sell its products from the Eden story. The devil presented the fruit of the forbidden tree in a way to create in Eve a desire to want more than she already had and to make her think that she needed something that she really didn’t. How brilliant! Her fall is a demonstration of the three steps each of us takes when we fall to covetousness: I see, I want, I take.
Covetousness, of course, can be a quiet sin. Like lust, it’s hidden behind the veil of our flesh. But when it finally brings forth fruit, it can be devastating. It can damage relationships, leave scars on loved ones, and pummel us with guilt afterward.
Let covetousness surface, and it will override any principle. King Ahab saw Naboth’s vineyard, wanted it, and pouted until his queen had Naboth murdered for it (1 Kings 21). Achan could not resist when he saw a garment and money, so he coveted and took them (Josh. 7:20–22). Covetousness is, ultimately, just another form of selfishness.
“If selfishness be the prevailing form of sin, covetousness may be regarded as the prevailing form of selfishness. This is strikingly intimated by the Apostle Paul, when describing the ‘perilous times’ [2 Tim. 3:1] of the final apostasy, he represents selfishness as the prolific root of all the evils which will then prevail, and covetousness as its first fruit. ‘For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous’ [2 Tim. 3:2].”—John Harris, Mammon (New York: Lane & Scott, 1849), p. 52.
For us as fallen beings, greed can be as easy as breathing. And just as natural, too. However, it’s hard to imagine anything in the human character that is less reflective of the character of Christ than greed. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9, NKJV).
Only the Lord knows the damage that greed has wrought throughout history. Greed has led to wars. Greed has caused people to commit crimes that brought ruin upon themselves and their families. Greed can be like a virus that will latch onto its host and consume every virtue until all that remains is more and more greed. Greed is a malady that wants everything: passion, power, and possessions. Again, I see, I want, I take.
Notice Judas’ words: “ ‘What are you willing to give me if I deliver Him to you?’ ” (Matt. 26:15, NKJV). Talk about letting greed override everything else! Judas had been privileged as very few people had been in all history: he lived with the incarnate Jesus, witnessed His miracles, and heard Him preach the words of life. And yet—look at what greed and covetousness led him to do.
“How tenderly the Saviour dealt with him who was to be His betrayer! In His teaching, Jesus dwelt upon principles of benevolence that struck at the very root of covetousness. He presented before Judas the heinous character of greed, and many a time the disciple realized that his character had been portrayed, and his sin pointed out; but he would not confess and forsake his unrighteousness.”—Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, p. 295.
2 Pet. 1:5–9
These texts are so rich and filled with a lot of divine injunction regarding how we should live. But notice one common thread:
self-control. This trait can be particularly difficult when it comes to greed, covetousness, and the desire to own things. Only through self-control, first of our thoughts and then our actions, can we be protected from the dangers of the things we have been talking about.
We can exercise that control only to the degree with which we give ourselves over to the power of the Lord. None of us, on our own, can defeat these sinful traits, especially if they long have been cultivated and cherished. We truly need the supernatural working of the Holy Spirit in our lives if we are to gain victory over these powerful deceptions. “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it” (1 Cor. 10:13, NKJV).
Further Thought: The ultimate human goal is to be happy and satisfied.
But being self-fulfilled through materialism will not achieve this goal. Deep down people know this is true, and yet they continue in their obsession with possessions: I see, I want, I take. What could be simpler than that? Seventh-day Adventists, just like everyone else, are faced with the temptation to subscribe to the values of materialism. Yet, the continual acquisition of goods does not produce happiness, satisfaction, or contentment. Instead, it produces problems, as seen when the rich, young ruler turned away from Jesus unhappy, despondent, and downhearted because he did not hear or get what he wanted. “Materialistic values are associated with a pervasive undermining of people’s well-being, from low life satisfaction and happiness, to depression and anxiety, to physical problems such as headaches, and to personality disorders, narcissism, and antisocial behavior.”—Tim Kasser, The High Price of Materialism (Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press, 2002), p. 22.
Materialistic Christians, in other words, proudly drink from the well of wealth yet are spiritually dehydrated. But we will never thirst from drinking the water Christ gives (John 4:14).