(Scripture Reading: Philippians 1:21; Suggested Hymn: My Faith Looks Up to Thee, Seventh-day Adventist Hymnal #246)

By David B Smith, The Voice of Prophecy, Los Angeles, California

Summary: You can't get enough things, be it money or power or trinkets and toys. The quest never ends.

Not quite enough. Dr. Tony Evans, pastor of the Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship, tells an anecdote about a man who came to church one weekend looking very discouraged and sad. The pastor noticed and asked him, ?Hey, what’s the matter??

And the man replied, ?Oh, my uncle died two weeks ago, and he left me $75,000.?

That was mixed news, so the preacher tried to comfort him. Then the man added, ?Then last week my aunt died, and she left me $50,000.? The preacher exclaimed, ?Wait a minute! I don't get it. Two weeks ago your uncle died and left you $75,000. Then a week later your aunt died and left you another $50,000. So why are you so sad?? The man answered, ?Because this week nobody died.?

Do you ever feel like that? You get a big windfall, but it's not quite enough. Then another windfall and it still isn't enough. And you begin to feel that no matter how much you receive, it will never be enough. There can't be enough rich-uncle deaths in the family to bring you lasting joy? I’ve discovered that the Bible says more about coveting than I imagined. It's there in the tenth commandment, of course, but the New Testament is also rich with counsel on this hugely important topic. In the very practical book of

James, we find this in chapter four: ?What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don't get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want? (Jm 4:1, 2).

Psychologist Leonard Felder authored a wonderful book called, The Ten Challenges. He describes covetousness this way: ?To covet is to yearn with so much

longing that you feel you'll never be complete ? unless you satisfy this desire.?

A simple plan. I have discovered, both through case histories and the Bible itself, that it is a fruitless quest ? to attempt to satisfy this desire. You can't get enough things, be it money or power or trinkets and toys. The quest never ends. You may be familiar with a best selling story that came out a few years back entitled, A Simple Plan. There is probably no better depiction of the raw, downward spiraling power of sin ? especially the twin sins of covetousness and greed. Several friends were hiking along in the snow and stumbled onto a half buried, crashed single engine airplane with two deceased people inside. Also at the sight was a duffel bag containing nearly four million dollars! They debated back and forth, ?What do we do with this money? Do we turn it in? Do we call the police? Do we split it three ways??

They decide to keep it: four million dollars in hard cash, probably from some drug deal cut short by the collision in the snow. One of the men went home and asked his wife a hypothetical question. You know the kind: ?Honey, if we found a bunch of money, like several million dollars, what would we do with it? Would we keep it??

Well, his wife was indignant. ?No way! We'd turn it in.? That would be the only thing to do with four million hypothetical dollars. She was very sure of herself and her conscience convicted her. He then pointed to the kitchen table and the duffel bag. There are four million real dollars in that bag. Forty thousand hundred dollar bills.

And do you know what she did? Instantly she inquired, ?Where can we hide the money? How long do we have to keep it in the attic? Why do we have to split it three ways??

As the story is told, greed asserts itself instantly. ?I want that money. I need it. I deserve it. My life, which was fine ten seconds ago, would be unthinkably drab if I couldn't keep that money.? The whole story is one wrenching portrayal of the power of sin. People end up dead before it's over; and several lives are destroyed by the overwhelming grip of covetousness.

Pride means enmity. It's no wonder that Paul exalts the standard in his letter to the Christians living in Ephesus: ?But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual

immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people.? Did you notice? He says, ?not even a hint of greed?? It’s God ideal that this deadly temptation should be completely foreign to His people. But the difficult thing is that, instead of being foreign to us, greed and covetousness seem to be built in to our systems. It’s like that little musical theme that plays when your computer starts up.

There is a direct-to-the-heart essay written years ago by C. S. Lewis in his book, Mere Christianity. In it Lewis suggests that our covetousness all boils down to pride. We want what our neighbor has because we’re proud. We covet things that aren’t ours because of how we believe they will make us feel and because we believe we are more important than our neighbor—especially if we can secure things by taking them from him. And of course, pride involves not trusting God or being thankful for the things He has chosen to give us. In fact, as Lewis puts it, pride actually proclaims a declaration of war on God and His ideals and plans for us. ?Pride always means enmity,? he writes. It is enmity. And not only enmity between man and man, but enmity between man and God.

But then he goes on to paint a picture of possibilities. Could we simply abandon the chase for things, for feeding and stroking our egos? Could we possibly just step off the roller coaster of desire, of wanting more and more blow-up toys and patronizing friends? It is as if there is a diving board out there called self ? and we’re invited to simply jump off that board and trust in God alone for our being, for our identity, for our very lives. Here’s how Lewis puts it:

?If you really get into any kind of touch with Him you will, in fact, be humble, delightedly humble, feeling the infinite relief of having for once got rid of all the silly nonsense about your own dignity which has made you restless and unhappy all your life. He is trying to make you humble in order to make this moment possible: trying to take off a lot of silly, ugly, fancy dress in which we have all got ourselves up and are strutting about like the little idiots we are.?

Leaping off. Maybe the apostle Paul had some of this strutting about persona back when he was still Saul, the ambitious persecutor. Saul was zealous to throw Christians in jail. He loved to push his way around, make himself feel important by locking up people who seemed to have something he didn’t have. He was a member of the Sanhedrin, a group that was fixated on position, power and upward mobility. And then Saul took that leap of faith. Right off the diving board. I’m willing to be a fool for Christ, he wrote later. If I’m rich or poor it’s okay. If I’m well fed or hungry. If I’m free or in prison. It didn’t matter anymore. His identity was in Jesus Christ. ?For to me, to live is Christ,? he wrote (Php 1:21). And you can tell that he means it. The chase is finally over. The endless pursuit of personal glory, over. The ego and built-up sense of self-worth from your own résumé, over.

And you know, friend, this leap off the diving board has to happen 365 times a year. Maybe 365 times a day as well. In a later chapter of Mere Christianity, Lewis comes back to this very question: ?The terrible thing, the almost impossible thing, he writes, is to hand over your whole self, all your wishes and precautions, to Christ. But it is far easier than what we are all trying to do instead?. The ? real problem of the Christian life ? comes the very moment you wake up each morning. All your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals.?

That’s true, isn’t it? Climb the ladder! Lift yourself up! Knock your enemy down! Go! Go! Go! Try to find an airplane with four million dollars in it so that you can wear the millionaire tag on the lapel of your Armani suit for a few years before they bury you in that suit. These desires, these selfish, self-centered thoughts and aspirations rush at us like wolves every single morning, the minute the alarm clock goes off.

So what’s the answer? Here’s the rest of Lewis’ suggestion: ?The first job each morning consists in simply shoving them all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in. And so on, all day. Standing back from your natural fussings and frettings; coming in out of the wind.? If I may borrow the title, it really is, A Simple Plan!

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October–December, 2001

Simplicity