You’re driving down the road, looking at the vehicles passing by, feeling very dissatisfied by your own vehicle. You feel within you a strong desire for a particular vehicle you pass by. As I said before, I desire Land Rover Defenders. Or maybe it is a better house. Maybe you desire someone else’s body, personality, athletic ability, creativity, or income.
What does your heart desire?
As we continue our study through Colossians 3:5-11, Paul talks about desire in a more general way. He calls it evil desire. Or evil craving. Certainly this could be sexual (which we discussed in the previous post), but it is a desire often expressed in other ways too. For example, it could be coveting, strongly wanting something that belongs to another.
It can be very tricky to evaluate our desires. Notice that Paul specifically calls it evil desire. We all have desire, and most desire is neutral. So at what point does a desire cross the line into an evil desire? I wish Paul would have given us a precise guide, or some sort of measuring tool, or that God had built within us some kind of physical response, like our ears would start flashing beet red when we have crossed the line, something unmistakable.
You might think, “But, Joel, don’t you think that most people know when they have crossed that line into evil desire? Don’t we know it deep down inside?” Most people? Maybe. But plenty of people are callous, jaded or apathetic, and they cross the line often into evil desire. I think what is more important is for each one of us, in an ongoing way, to learn to discern if we have desires within us that have crossed the line. Then we put them to death, as we saw in the previous post.
Next in the list, Paul talks about a specific evil desire that is very applicable to our culture. Greed. Greed is an inner desire to acquire more and more money, possessions and experiences, when you don’t need them. This is a strong temptation in our culture, even among Christians, because so many American Christians have money to spend, and because we see so many other Christians spending it, and thus it seems normal to do the same.
Notice what Paul calls it. Idolatry. The worship of things other than God. The seeking of our satisfaction in things other than God.
Again I ask, “Where’s the line?” How does a person know if they have allowed evil desire of greed to take hold in their hearts and minds? How do we know if we have spent money or acquired possessions based on want, rather than on need?
I want to ask Paul, “Are you saying, Paul, that we should never buy anything, except based on need? And who will get to be the one who decides what needs are?” Some of you might be inwardly thinking, “I would love that job. I would love to tell the wealthier ones among us how to spend their money.” If you are thinking something like that, perhaps your heart is revealing some of that evil desire Paul referred to earlier. Do you covet the money of the wealthy? Do you covet the fact that they don’t have to worry about how they are going to pay their bills? Are you jealous of their cars that are paid off, their homes that are paid off, their second homes, their third homes, and their hobbies and vacations?
And then what about those of you who have the second and third homes, or the extra vehicles, or the savings accounts, or the vacation plans, or vacation homes, or stock market investments? Are you now thinking, “What a minute, Joel, those are all investments. I’m being a good steward. Didn’t Jesus tell the parable of the good stewards? And I give to the church. I tithe.”
Good points, but we also need to remember what Jesus said to the rich young ruler. Sell everything you have a give it to the poor. Did Jesus mean that literally? I think so. To that rich young ruler, he meant it literally, and for all we know, he might have meant it literally to many rich Christians in our day. Why? Because it is so easy for greed and evil desires to become idolatry.
Or take for example the typical practice of willing your estate to your kids. Are you convinced that after you die, your kids will handle that money in a way that is consistent with the Kingdom of God? If not, don’t will it to them. Will it straight to the Kingdom of God.
I am purposely trying to help us all think about greed, about evil desire, and how it might be a part of our lives. And why? Because I am very concerned about what Paul says in verse 6. Through of all those evil desires, whether sexual or coveting or lust or greed, Paul says the wrath of God is coming.
Yikes. I don’t want myself or any of you to have to face that. The wrath of God??? That’s something that is so plainly obvious that we should want nothing to do with it, right? And yet we just keep having our focus be on ourselves, not on loving our neighbor and not on sacrificial living. We can be all too casual about feeding our desiring, indulging ourselves.
Paul is issuing an ultra-clear warning here: “Put to death, I command you, all these actions and attitudes.” These actions do not flow from hearts that look like the heart of Jesus. They are unbecoming of a disciple of Jesus.