Covetous leaders

A persistently covetous person cannot hold a position of responsibility in the church.

It is very significant, and often overlooked by most of us, that covetousness is listed as a sin that cries out for disciplinary action (1 Corinthians 6:9,10). In God's assessment, covetousness is just as grievous in his sight as idolatry and immorality. Now while the latter two are blatantly obvious whenever a person indulges himself in them, covetousness is often hid in the heart. Even so, sometimes it surfaces in the actions of the person. And if this happens consistently then that same person has disqualified himself for his leadership position in church.

Even a cursory look at the high qualifications for eldership in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 should convince us of the high piety and holiness required in the pastor. If he is pugnacious, of fails to take care of his own household, or is a drunkard, everybody agrees and sees that point that he has forfeited the right to minister. By the same token, covetousness disqualifies him, for he is meant to be generous, hospitable, and loving; not always craving for more material things.

Leading to excommunication

The drastic and final step of excommunication in church discipline is to be taken when all else has failed to leave its desired results. The church should not be lenient neither should it act in haste. When a pastor shows by his life-style that covetousness is a characteristic of his own personality then the church would be in a position, on the basis of such texts as 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, to take disciplinary measures against him. Such a situation would be most delicate for it is difficult to prove a man covetous except by his acts and direction in life. He may prove devious, but the church should be ware lest it judge the thoughts and intentions of the hearts (something God alone is able to do). The Lord has entrusted the church to judge righteous judgment and not to allow blatant and recurring sin.

Character flaws associated with covetousness

1. The most insidious is the charge of idolatry, as Paul declares in Colossians, that "covetousness is idolatry." For in being greedy for more would be tantamount to despising God and setting him aside. Covetousness, prohibited in the final commandment of the Decalogue, ties in perfectly with the first: "Thou shalt have no other gods before me."

2. Secondly, there would necessarily be lack of contentment. A covetous person is never and cannot be joyous and content with what he has, as commanded to do (Hebrews 13:5,6). God abhors grumbling and malcontentment: witness his dealings with the people of Israel after their redemption from Egypt.

3. The Christian finds his summum bonum in God alone. "Whom have I in heaven but thee? And on earth I desire nothing besides thee." When he seeks satisfaction in temporal things, then it signifies that he has lost his direction in life.

Covetousness leads into other sins

1. Covetousness, in its basic assumption, is tantamount to challenge God's sovereignty over us, and his propriety upon us. Earthly things enter in competition with the living God.

2. Whether it be silver or gold, real estate or greed for renown, dignity, or whatever, covetousness is the setting up of a target, a fundamental position in life, of achieving more and more, come what may. It is idolatry in the heart.

3. In regard to the third commandment, covetousness brings dishonor and disrepute upon God's name. The material things of the creation are not used as they should, with sobriety and modestly, but rather inordinately. Covetousness is thus treating God's works in an improper way.

4. If a man is set to gain more and more, he will eventually come to despise the Lord's Day. He will restlessly endeavor to labour without ceasing, as the Jews were often charged with profaning the Sabbath by trading, selling and buying.

5. Covetousness may also lead you to despise lawful authority over you, whether they be parents, employers, civil government or pastors. The covetous person does not take orders; his submission is only to his own greed.

6. The covetous man, when hindered from his sinful aims, will be tempted even to murder others, to accomplish his goal. The drive within him leads him on and on, hating others as long as he lavishes comfort upon himself.

7. A person may be covetous for some particular indulgence. Often it is the abuse of sex. This leads him to immorality. He is not content to enjoy the wife of his youth. He thus becomes a covenant breaker.

8. "Thou shalt not steal." A covetous person takes what it not his own. The portion of goods the Lord has accorded him is not enough. Whenever an opportunity arises to obtain what he desires, he will take it.

9. In most cases a covetous person has no interest in the truth; he will lie and bear false witness as long as he gains all the more. His disrespect and virtual denial of God's providence leads him on in his own way of self-destruction.

10. In a direct way, the tenth commandment prohibits covetousness, whether it be another's wife, possessions, or property. The covetous person is living constantly and persistently in direct violation of this command, a radical departure from God's holy, righteous and good ways.

The significance of covetousness when applied in a church situation

To define covetousness: it is a form of distorted, misplaced or unlawful strong desire focused on another's possessions or property, or even on another person (Exodus 20:17; Deuteronomy 5:21). As such, it is a grievous transgression of God's Law, since it is directly and explicitly incorporated in the Decalogue.

A sinful cycle can develop whereby a person's distorted desires lead to a greed which will unlawfully dispossess another in order to satisfy cravings and in turn these can become more insistent, compounding the initial desire. In the context of the church, this is seen in the case of Diotrephes, whose greed manifested itself in a desire to have the pre-eminence (to which Christ alone is entitled). Diotrephes' brazen covetousness was such that he came to decide which people are to be received in the church and which not. His sinful self-esteem, pampered by his flesh, drove him to such an extent that even the apostle John did not find his approval (see 3 John 9,10).

The church, while it is definitively holy, often falls prey to the snare and seductions of covetousness. Paul recognized the danger in himself when he cited the command not to covet as stirring in him every kind of covetous desire (Romans 7:7,8). If this is the experience of a brilliant church leader, then what is to be expected of the members? So whatever our weaknesses are, as the body of church, we should bind ourselves by covenant not to be covetous of each other. In the case of Paul he worked this out by abiding to a principle: he chose to support himself, as a protection against desiring the possessions of those he sought to serve (Acts 20:33).

Coming to the actual dynamic of the body, how Christians are to relate to each other, it must be taught repeatedly that there should be interdependence, a give and take attitude so that all may learn and all be edified. Thus a person gifted in one area is not to be covetous of other gifts that other Christians manifestly have. The Holy Spirit gives us gifts to minister to others, not for our own sakes. Here, a careful reading of 1 Corinthians 12-14 would be appropriate. Above all, we are to earnestly long for the ability to love each other.

When summarizing the law (Romans 13:9), Paul includes not coveting as an expression of loving one's neighbour as oneself. To covet is to maltreat one's neighbour. By implication, not to covet is a form of respectful care (Romans 13:10). I am persuaded that many problems and unnecessary divisions arise in the church because of failures in this area.

Pastors should cultivate among the brethren a sense of warmth: the necessity of welcoming each other as they are with the thought of further edification. We are to consider others better than ourselves, whoever they might be. For he that is last shall be first of all.