2. A second antidote to covetousness is exemplified in the life of the apostle Paul, who practised self-discipline and self-denial. Was there ever a person in such a position of opportunity for power and plenty as Paul? He was called to be an instrument for the conversion of very large numbers of people, including the rich. Such a man could surely be tempted to pursue influence and esteem in a wrong and covetous way, because many people would have given Paul whatever he wanted or needed, out of love and appreciation. If he had been inclined to rein back his labours to secure more comfort, and to be less rigorous in requiring a high standard of practical godliness and evangelism in the churches, he could have amassed wealth just as some of the ‘megachurch’ pastors do today.
We certainly see in Scripture hints of the enormous love and gratitude that many held for him. Why is it that Paul is able to say to Philemon (when he returned Onesimus, the runaway slave), ‘If he hath wronged thee, or oweth thee ought, put that on mine account’? Philemon owed an immense debt of gratitude to Paul, and the apostle seems to say,‘Remember all those things you would have given me? – please regard this poor slave’s misdemeanours as debited from those.’ Elsewhere Paul speaks of certain procedures he adopted to guard against various temptations, particularly mentioning how he ‘kept under’ his body (see 1 Corinthians 9.25-27). We give ourselves no chance at all against the temptations of self-seeking and covetousness if we never practise self-denial or self-discipline, and the apostle commends it to us.
Paul seems to say that there were many things he could have indulged in or possessed – ‘But I keep a tight rein on myself; I ¬practise self-denial; I do not unnecessarily give way to myself or weaken myself by pampering the body.’ Paul did not take a vow of poverty or wear a hair shirt, and certainly did not submit himself to deliberate hardship or self-affliction like a medieval monk, but he was very firm with himself. By keeping a firm rein on ourselves in the matter of possessions, we too may deliver ourselves from much temptation. If, on the other hand, we pamper ourselves with many small self-indulgences, we must not be surprised if we become weak, and fall to bigger temptations.
If you have substance, never let it spoil you. Steward it, invest it, do what you think right with it, but never let it take over your heart, rule you, and become essential to you for your well-being. By all means own things which bring beauty and enjoyment into life, but do not acquire too many of those things, because if you do, you will place yourself into a terrible snare, and weaken yourself for Satan’s next major attempt to bring you further still under the power of covetousness. Be firm to draw the line on unjustifiable purchases and pleasures, or things of unjustifiably high quality. If the apostle Paul found it necessary to keep under his body and to set limits upon himself, who are we to imagine that we can survive the scourge of covetousness without such discipline? We are not urging total austerity. Balance is necessary, but we must avoid giving way to the flesh, so that we always have the very best that we can afford, and never curb our desires.
. . . to be continued