Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology defines covetousness:
“Strong desire to have that which belongs to another. It is considered to be a very grievous offense in Scripture. The Tenth Commandment forbids coveting anything that belongs to a neighbor, including his house, his wife, his servants, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to him (Exod 20:17). Jesus listed covetousness or greed along with many of the sins from within, including adultery, theft, and murder, which make a person unclean (Mr 7:22).”
When a stranger recently knocked on our door at home and asked for gas money, I gave him $10.00, no questions asked and I shared the Gospel with him. That was Christian charity. (I share this not to glorify myself for I am a sinner saved by grace. Let God be glorified.) My wife and I have never made more than $40,000 combined in a year and we have two teenagers so $10.00 is a stretch for us. We also have a young friend who is single and pregnant and penniless. We are helping her with expenses, transportation, etc. etc. That is Christian charity. The command Jesus gives to believers to love our neighbors is not given to bureaucracies or even to Christian aid agencies. The Good Samaritan did not call Social Services. The command is given to individuals. Some high profile Christian leaders would have us believe otherwise.
Voting for a politician who promises to “soak the rich” is not Loving your neighbor. Neither is calling for a “moral budget” where moral means taking and spending more tax dollars on social programs. In fact, there are several problems, Biblically, with this line of thinking.
1. There is an assumption communicated by Liberals, Christian and otherwise, that those who have gained an above average wealth must have done something wrong to acquire whatever they have. This is both guilt manipulation and the kind of judgement Jesus warns against and it is an example of covetousness.
2. As we are commanded to be stewards of all God gives us, nothing could be more irresponsible than spending more money on government handouts, the administration of which are hugely expensive and rife with corruption, inefficiency, and waste. Church-based charity operates efficiently out of necessity. There is no bureaucracy seeking only to preserve its own existence. Moreover, there is nothing more efficient or more Biblical than one-on-one charity performed in the name of Jesus. No infrastructure or bureaucracy required.
3. The command to be charitable was not directed at the state but at individuals and the administration of the Church. The Christian priority is to meet the needs of family first (I Tim 5:8), then Brethren, then strangers.
4. Most importantly, it is one thing to struggle with covetousness within one’s own soul. It is something else to act with covetousness supposedly in the name of charity, and it is a far more serious sin to encourage covetousness in others. The existence of poverty in the world and even the existence of greedy people do not justify making government policy based on covetousness. God will deal with the greedy. He will also deal with those who lead others into sin supposedly in His name.
In recent years “The Church” has come under increasing criticism for not doing more to “give to the least of these.” First, this is a misinterpretation of Matthew 25: 31-46. This passage is about our response to the Gospel and God’s messengers; not how we treat the poor, etc. But assuming for a moment their interpretation, I have heard Jim Wallis, Tony Campolo and others use this accusation to encourage higher taxes so that government can spend more on social services. Speaking as one who is not far removed from being among “the least of these,” I have been on both the giving and receiving end of Christian charity often enough to know that the Body of Christ is performing its assigned tasks much better than some Liberals would like us to believe. The Church is not perfect. If it were, we wouldn’t bother with studying Paul’s Letters. But that does not justify demeaning the Bride of Christ. There is no charity being administered by the state that could not be done better by the Church.
It should be noted that in the entire Bible, the eradication of poverty is never mentioned either as a possibility or a goal. Jesus Christ, the Lord never talks about it. Neither is it mentioned in the epistles. What is spoken of in both the Old Testament and the New is Charity. In the Book of leviticus, it is recorded that God, the Father, giving Moses the Law for the administration of the Nation of Israel, gives specific instructions on how those who are able are to care for the poor. Farmers were instructed to leave the outside edges of their fields unharvested so that the poor could glean from them. In the book of Acts, we see the twelve setting up a structure within the church for taking care of the widows. In I Corinthians, we see Paul instructing the believers to take a collection for the believers in Jerusalem.
Consider this, if you encounter someone claiming Christ who, relatively speaking, has more wealth than most, and is not charitable with it; …in other words, if, after having first examined yourself, you do not see fruit in a fellow believer, what makes you think that that person is really saved? No one changes from the outside, in. Charity is an evidence, a manifestation of the fruit borne out of a life redeemed. But charity does not save us. Without faith, it is impossible to please God. Perhaps the Body of Christ is not nearly as populated as some would like to believe or assume. Barna Research indicates that a majority of Americans claim Christianity but less than 10% of self-described “Born-Agains” can correctly answer the most basic questions about the faith. (Barna Update-12/1/2003)
I suggest that we should be concentrating more on evangelizing and making disciples. (You know, The Great Commission) Do you doubt that the Holy Spirit will lead Christians to do what is right?