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"Let your conversation be without covetousness, and be
content with such things as ye have."—Heb. 13:5 .
THE Authorized Version of the Bible uses the word conversation in the broad sense of conduct, including, not only the words, but the looks and the acts of life. The force of the text,, therefore, is, Let your conduct be without covetousness. How could a covetous thought affect our conduct? As some see others possessed of larger wealth or larger opportunities in the service of the Lord, of better conveniences than they possess, or who are better looking than themselves, etc., they have a spirit, or disposition, of covetousness, dissatisfaction with what Divine providence has shaped for them.
When we say, "what Divine providence has shaped for them," we do not mean that one should make no endeavor for advancement. If a person is happy, he should still strive to attain to something more than he possesses. A certain amount of ambition is laudable. The ambition against which the Apostle is speaking is that of a dissatisfied heart, mind, overlooking the blessings already possessed and desiring the things that he has not. Rather, such a one should say, God could grant greater blessings to me if He chose. I am His child and what, therefore, He grants me in the way of reward for my endeavors must be all right. I shall not envy others their possessions; but I shall wait for the Lord and believe that what He gives me is best for me, and much better than anything I could carve out for myself.
Covetousness is a desire to have, keep, enjoy—especially applied to something that belongs to another and which we do not possess. The principle of covetousness is a principle of selfish desire. It may manifest itself in two ways: First, when it extends to another man's goods; and, second, when it pertains to things already in our possession. This is specially true of Christians, who have given themselves and all they have to the Lord. From the moment of such consecration all the powers possessed or to be possessed belong to the Lord; and to seek to use these for one's self and to refuse to use them in the [page 350] service of the Lord would be holding back what belongs to the Lord according to our own arrangement with Him. What distribution should be made of whatever one may have, as the Lord's steward, is to be left to the individual himself. Under some very special conditions another might give counsel, in the way of helping a brother to do a service which he was apparently overlooking, or respecting an element of character which the brother was evidently cultivating, contrary to the spirit of his covenant of sacrifice.
Some of the Lord's dear children fail to realize their privileges of (1) sacrifice, and (2) the cultivation of the spirit of contentment and generosity. There are some who, after being well fed on spiritual manna, permit a selfish craving or a covetous spirit to interrupt their fellowship with the Lord to some extent, hankering for earthly, fleshly, good things, forgetting the wisdom of their Leader, the Lord, and that His love, which has thus far delivered them and fed and led them, is still with them, the same as ever. Sometimes the covetousness is a repining against their lot in life, a desire for more ease and comfort and wealth and social influence than are within reach. Sometimes it is a protest against their share of the aches and pains of the groaning creation and their inability to get rid of these. Sometimes it is a protest against the illness and death of a loved one.
How unwise! Should not those who have been fed on the spiritual manna realize that all of Spiritual Israel's affairs are under the Lord's special supervision? Should they not remember that "He doth not afflict willingly nor grieve the children of men," but for their good? (Lam. 3:33; Heb. 12:10.) Ah! some have found that the prayers of murmurers, even when answered, have brought unexpected drawbacks.
Covetous (selfish) prayers are too expensive. Some have gained wealth and lost the Truth and its service. Some have gained health only to find that with it they gained trials no less severe. Some have had their dear ones restored to them from the very jaws of death, only to wish afterwards that God had not answered their payers, or more correctly, to wish that they had accepted the Lord's wisdom and providences trustfully, contentedly, uncomplainingly. Spiritual Israel should use wisely such things as are within their reach, accepting all as God's gifts with thanksgiving. Their petitions should be for spiritual gifts, including patient endurance and heart contentment, accompanied with heartfelt thanks for blessings already received.