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Thursday, August 13, 2015

It's Just Mere Covetousness

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. (Col 3:1-6)
I used to read this text and get to that phrase, "which is idolatry", and wonder "What in that list is idolatry?" Is Paul saying everything on that list is idolatry, or is he just saying that covetousness is idolatry? I couldn't tell. I couldn't tell until it dawned on me that the entire list was covetousness.

Think about it. What is covetousness? Primarily it is wrongful or inordinate desires, especially for that which does not belong to you. Okay so far. Now, what is sexual immorality all about? Is it not coveting sexual relations with someone you're not supposed to? Impurity? Coveting behaviors you are not supposed to do. Passion? The word primarily refers to lust, which is sexual covetousness. Do I need to go on? Isn't it clear that the answer to my question, "Is Paul saying everything on that list is idolatry, or is he just saying that covetousness is idolatry?", is "Yes!"?

But ... how is that "idolatry"? Well, Webster's dictionary defines "idolatry" as "immoderate attachment or devotion to something". It is anything that takes the place in our affection and devotion that rightly belongs to God. Covetousness is precisely that. It says, "God has not given me enough. The things I want are more important than the God who gives me what I need."

Here, think of it this way. Covetousness is wrongfully desiring something other than God. There are right desires -- desires for justice, for the best for those we love, for good things for others. But covetousness desires that to which it is not entitled. So if it is forbidden by God (such as sexual relations outside of marriage), it is idolatry, holding up as God that which is not. If it is not with gratitude, it is idolatry, replacing God with my rights. If it is selfish, with disregard for the welfare of others, it is idolatry, placing myself over God's commands.

Now, if I'm right and these things on this list all fall under the category of types of covetousness, and if Scripture is right and covetousness is idolatry, there are some conclusions to consider. First, now you can see both the primary source of sexual immorality (idolatrous coveting) as well as the seriousness of it (idolatry). Second, if these things, considered normal, acceptable, even approved today, are idolatry, there is no wonder why Paul says, "On account of these the wrath of God is coming." And that is no small deal.

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