Beware, and be on your guard, against every manner of greed and covetousness. That is the sober and serious warning from your Lord Jesus Christ and from His servants, the Apostles. St. James records and reveals that covetousness is the fountain out of which all temptation flows, which conceives and gives birth to sin; and that sin, when it is fully formed, brings forth death.
St. Paul has likewise stated forthrightly that covetousness is idolatry. It is forbidden by the Ninth and Tenth Commandments, but it is really no less a sin against the First Commandment. When you lust after that which God has not given you, when you hunger and thirst for that which He has given to your neighbor, and when you are obsessed with the things of this world, as though your life and happiness depended on them, then you make of those things your god and worship them as idols. It is a false worship of that which is not God but His own creation. You thus accuse the one true God of being unjust, as though He were withholding from you something you deserve. For though He blesses you with all that you need, you crave and demand what He has not given.
If it is not so easy or obvious for you to recognize and understand that your covetousness and greed are idolatrous, I suspect that you may be more aware of and familiar with the way that greed and covetousness destroy love and fellowship, even among friends and within families. How often are people set at odds and torn apart by squabbles over stuff, including the enmity of adult siblings bickering over their parents’ legacy and inheritance, like little children fighting over toys.
When you are driven by your lust for what you do not have, it cannot help but lead to envy and jealousy, to bitterness and resentment, to hatred instead of love. Then, not only do you fail to fear, love, and trust in God; and not only do you fail to love and serve your neighbor as yourself, as the Lord your God commands; but you are consumed and destroyed by those hungers of your flesh.
You make false gods out of what you do not have but covet; and you make false gods out of what you have been given. You horde stuff to yourself, while living in fear that it will be taken from you, that something will happen to it. You look around jealously to see how you’re doing in the great competition. Who has the most toys? Who has the most ability? Who has the most prestige?
But your life does not consist in your possessions, no matter what kind they may be, and no matter how many of them you may have. Whether it’s money, or power and position, intelligence and knowledge, or charisma and lots of friends — whatever the false gods you fear, love, and trust in (anything other than Christ Jesus) — all of those idols will fail you, and you will die forever.
There is nothing of this temporal world that can save your life. There is nothing of this temporal world that will forgive your sins or satisfy your covetous greed. The more you have, the more you want; and all the while, everything but Christ and His Word is perishing and passing away.
In contrast, the Lord your God does not withhold any of His riches from you, not even His greatest Treasure. The Father gives to you His Son; and the Son, who has given Himself for you, now also gives Himself to you in love; He pours out the Holy Spirit generously upon you and gives you life.
The Lord Himself and His Word to you are your only sure and certain hope. For He is your Life and your Salvation, and there is no other help or hope in heaven or on earth. He has prepared and established for you a home — a true and lasting home — where thieves do not break in and steal, where moth and rust do not destroy. The Son has made a place for you with the Father in heaven.
Your dear Lord Jesus Christ has saved you from your sin, from sure and certain death, and from all the power of the devil. He has delivered you from your false belief, from your terrible despair, from all your other great shame and vice, and so also from your greed and covetousness. He has called you by His Word and Spirit away from your idolatry — away from your false gods, which cannot save you — back to Himself: To be reconciled to God the Father in Him, and so also to be reconciled to each other, to all your neighbors — to your family and friends, and even to your foes and enemies. To be reconciled in the Peace of Christ by faith in His forgiveness of all your sins.
Now, it is true, and make no mistake about it, that He has put you to death by His preaching of repentance, and His Law continues to do so day after day after day. He crucifies you with Himself by way of contrition and repentance. His Word of the Law does not pull any punches. It does not simply gnaw at you. It does not just cajole and chide you to try harder. It puts you to death.
But the Lord thus puts you to death with His Law, not to destroy you or damn you, but in order to resurrect you by His grace of the Gospel. He does it to save you. He kills you to give you life.
In Holy Baptism, you have died. You have died to yourself, you have died to your sins, you have died to the world. You have died there with Jesus Christ the Crucified, so that, having shared His death, you also share His Resurrection from the dead, His eternal Life, and His great Salvation.
What on earth can harm you, then? Why are you so afraid? You are already dead to the world! And the world is dead to you. There is nothing anyone can do to you. Fear not those who can hurt the body but cannot hurt the soul. Rather, fear the Lord your God, the Lord of both body and soul.
By the same token, what on earth can save you? Why do you persist in the sins of your flesh, in which there is no life? Why do you go after the things of this world, as though they could save you and give you life? They cannot. This earth with all of its pursuits, with all of its stuff, is passing away. All of it will be destroyed. If you put your hope in that perishing stuff, you will be lost.
What, then? Your life — your real life — your never ending life — is hidden with Christ in God.
It is hidden. It is under the Cross. From day to day you often cannot see or feel or experience it. It appears to be, not life, but death. And yet, that Life which is yours in Christ Jesus is not a joke. It is more real, sure, and certain than the world you see and feel all around you. It is more solid than any of those things you are so convinced will make you happy. It is sure and certain, because it is in Christ Jesus. It is in the one true God, who loves you, and who will never fail you. Even when you are faithless, He remains faithful. He cannot deny Himself. He does not renege on His promises. All that He has spoken, He does. He will never leave you nor forsake you. Not ever.
With fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, He daily and richly provides you with all that you need. Which is what? What is it that you actually need? The Holy Scriptures have taught you rightly: “With food and clothing, let us therewith be content.” And for all of your greater greed, Repent!
Stop fretting, and consider that your Father in heaven knows your needs and well provides them. He feeds you and clothes you and shelters you. He does take care of you. All because He loves you. Not because you are so nice. Not because you pray. Not because you are sincere. He does it all for the sake of His own Love. And He keeps on doing so, day after day throughout your life.
But what is more and greater than even that, He feeds and clothes and shelters you, not only for your body and life here on earth, but for both your body and your soul unto the Life everlasting.
He withholds no good thing from you. If you do not have all that you want, you actually have far more than you need. Indeed, He gives you far more than you could ever have hoped or imagined. And He gives you more than you are able to see or feel or experience with any of your finite senses here in the midst of this present perishing age. For everything is yours in the Lord Jesus Christ.
As St. Paul has written in his letter to the Church at Rome: “He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, will He not also, in and with Him, freely give you all good things?”
Indeed, He does — by and with the free and full forgiveness of all your sins — again and again and again. And where there is forgiveness of sins, you know, there is also Life and Salvation.
Your Father in heaven feeds you with the very Body and Blood of His incarnate Son, Christ Jesus, your Savior, given and poured out for you in the Holy Communion. He puts that living and Life-giving Body of Christ into your mortal and perishing body. Whatever ails and afflicts it, whatever is amiss, He feeds and heals you in body and soul, He forgives you all your sins, and He gives to you His own imperishable Life. He gives Himself to you, that you should thus abide in Him.
So does He likewise pour out for you His holy and precious Blood. “This is the New Testament,” He says. It is for you. Thus does the Lord your God bind Himself to you, and you to Him.
It is by these good gifts of His grace that you are truly rich toward God, wealthier than you can even imagine. For His Kingdom and His Righteousness are yours in Christ Jesus, forever and ever.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.