It made sense that greed was wrong. But coveting just did not seem as big a deal as the others.

Like many children who grew up going to Sunday school I often returned to the ten commandments. Commands like, ‘have no other gods,’ ‘do not make graven images,’ ‘do not murder … steal … commit adultery,’ all seemed very serious to me. It made sense that they made ‘the top ten.’ But there was one I sometimes wondered about; ‘do not covet.’ (Exodus 20:17)

It made sense that greed was wrong—as was the desire to be like those who lived to get rich or famous or have more stuff (e.g. Matt 6:24;1Tim 6:6-10). But coveting just did not seem as ‘big’ a deal as the others.

In actual fact covetousness has been at the heart of sin from the moment Adam and Eve gave in to the serpent’s temptation (Genesis 3:1-8):

‘God knows that on the day you eat of it (i.e. the one fruit God told you not to eat; Gen 2:15-17) … you will be like God.’ (3:5)

A Seed of Doubt

The message is, in other words, ‘God is denying you what you really need. How God made you and what He gave you is not enough.’ A seed of doubt had taken root: ‘Maybe our situation in the garden could be better …maybe there’s a more effective way to be ourselves … maybe autonomy is better than dependence on our Maker.’ The seed of doubt took root and its out-growth in the human race has been one of thankless dissatisfaction and resentment; one that has born the fruit of envy and covetousness.

For although they knew God, they neither glorified Him as God nor gave thanks to Him … They have become filled with every kind of wickedness … They are full of envy … (Romans 1:21, 29)

Learning to Receive God’s Gifts for Me

Christians are not exempt from the temptation to covet, and neither are gospel ministers.

Christians are not exempt from the temptation to covet, and neither are gospel ministers. It may not be about money, fame, travel or stuff (Mammon)—although, let’s be honest, it may well be about those very things—but the temptation to dissatisfaction is something which the Holy Spirit convicts us of and leads us to recognise and ruthlessly rip out. For the weeds that grow up lead to resentment, bitterness, anger and despair; undermining our love for one another and our willingness to serve others for Christ’s sake.

If only I Were More Like …

In our various ministries amongst God’s people, covetousness may express itself in this way: ‘If only I was more like that believer over there; If only I … had their gifts/their health … didn’t have to go through this struggle … got their position … had their kind of family life … received that kind of education … then I would not be so limited in my ability to live for God. I’d go from strength to strength; I would succeed in my ministry.’

A fundamental aspect of discipleship that each of us must continue to learn (through different means—both welcome and unwelcome) is learning to accept the gifts, situation and experiences God gives to us, instead of coveting the gifts he has given to the next person. The Puritan pastor Jeremiah Burroughs put it this way:

‘all things are yours,’ says the Apostle, ‘life and death, everything is yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ’s God’s.’ (1Cor 3:22) All things in the world are serviceable to that man or woman who is serviceable to God…There is nothing in the world but, says God, it shall work for your good, and be serviceable to you, if you will be serviceable to me. [1]

And yet we may still ask: ‘… is it not true that I would be more useful to God and to his people if I had more of those gifts that I see in others; if I was not so limited by my situation and struggles?’

Strength in Weakness – in Creation and Redemption

The great 19th century preacher and evangelist Charles Spurgeon often reminded himself, his colleagues and younger ministers of the fact that there is no exception: All Jesus’ disciples walk under the sign of the cross. God’s strength in our weakness is seen in both our creation and redemption.

Do not take an exaggerated view of what the Lord expects of you. He will not blame you for not doing that which is beyond your mental power or physical strength.

—Charles Spurgeon

Do not take an exaggerated view of what the Lord expects of you. He will not blame you for not doing that which is beyond your mental power or physical strength … We are not the Father, nor the Saviour, nor the Comforter of the Church … While vexing ourselves with fancied obligations, we may overlook our real burdens.

What is the practical result of making yourself, as one person, responsible for the work of twenty people? Will you do any more? Will you do it any better …  Does your Lord and Master treat you in this fashion? No, we overload ourselves. We get tugging away as if the salvation of the world depended upon our straining ourselves to death.

You are not the ruler of providence, and you have not been elected sole managers of the covenant of grace; therefore do not act as if you were…’

Christ’s victory was in the extremity of His weakness, namely, in His death; and it must be the same with His trembling Church. She has no might; she must suffer, she must be slandered, and derided, and so the Lord will triumph through her. The conquering sign is still the cross.[2]

God is Our Maker

God knew what he was doing when he formed us—when he wired each one of us up in the way that he did; when he caused us to be born at the time and the place and into the family that we find ourselves. This means that personality matters. As Phillips Brooks’ puts it:

Preaching is the communication of truth by man to men (sic.) It has in it two essential elements, truth and personality. Neither of those can it spare and still be preaching … The truth is in itself a fixed and stable element; the personality is a varying and growing element.[3]

We are not automatons … we will become more truly the people that God intended us to be in our creation and redemption.

This could be extended to every form of ministry and to all the good works that God prepared in advance for each one of us to walk in (Eph 2:8-10). There is no one ideal personality type or skill set that limits God’s way of working. He made each one of us in His image ‘fearfully and wonderfully.’

From our conception to the moment of our death, God our Maker sustains us as we adapt and change over the course of our lives while remaining uniquely ourselves. He is committed to working out his purpose in and through each one of us in such a way that the all sufficiency of his grace is magnified (e.g. Psalm 139:1-18). By the Spirit who lives in us, we are being conformed into the image of his Son, with the goal of finally sharing in his glory (2Cor 3:18).

We are not automatons; a faceless work-force. Nor does he intend for us to cease to be ourselves. Rather we will become more truly the people that God intended us to be in our creation and redemption.

God is Our Saviour

For those he predestined, he also called; those he called he also justified, those he justified he also glorified. (Rom 8:30)

God knows the complex depth of sin within each one of us and the confusion of our motivations, feelings, desires and thoughts far better than we ever will. In Christ his forgiving love for us is unwavering. He knows the unique impact that the sin of others has had in our lives, and that ours has had on others. He knows the frustrations and the disappointments that we experience in our fallen world. His goal of saving us through Christ’s death on the cross in our place is sufficient to pay for all our sin without remainder. It is sufficient to cleanse us from all unrighteousness and to finally heal us from every wound (Is 53:4-6, 10-12; Psalm 103:8-12; Luke 19:10; 1Tim 1:15-17; 1John 1:8-2:2).

If I Were a Butterfly

Another thing most people learnt in Sunday school (c.1950-1990) was a song that brings these themes together in a profoundly beautiful way.[4] Maybe we need to bring it back; and not just to Sunday school.

If I were a butterfly, I’d thank you Lord for giving me wings
And if I were a bird in a tree, I’d thank you Lord that I could sing
And if I were a fuzzy wuzzy bear, I’d thank you Lord for my fuzzy wuzzy hair…

But I just thank you Father for making me, me!
For you gave me a heart and you gave me a smile,
You gave me Jesus and you made me your child.
And I just thank you Father for making me, me!’


 From a Puritan minister’s prayer of confession

O God, I know that I often do your work without your power.
Help me to see what good I have done and give you glory.
Thank you for showing your power by my frailty, that you pitch a tent of grace in my weakness.
Let me learn of Paul, whose presence was mean, his weakness great,
his utterance contemptible, yet you did account him faithful and blessed.
Lord let me lean on thee as he did, and find my ministry thine.
For Jesus’ sake. Amen.[5]]

[1] Jeremiah Burroughs, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, (Edinburgh; The Banner of Truth Trust;1648 (2013)),218.

[2] CH. Spurgeon, An all round Ministry, (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust; 1900 (1972)), 214, 215, 226.

[3] Quoted in John RW. Stott, I Believe in Preaching, (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1982), 266.

[4] I give great thanks to God for Helen MacKintosh and my other teachers. Let us give thanks for all the faithful parents and Sunday School teachers he has raised up like a mighty army for his church. If you teach Sunday school; we give thanks for you! Thank you for teaching our children and our grandchildren the gospel of grace. Pray to the Lord of the harvest, that he would send out more Sunday school teachers into the harvest field.

[5] Arthur Bennett (Ed.), The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotions, (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust; 1975 (2011)), 185.