Does God legislate charity?

“Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness” (Luke 12:15, ESV).

What exactly is “covetousness?” What does it entail? Jesus warns to be on guard against “all” kinds of it. Covetousness, to define it in layman’s terms, is the attitude where enough is never enough; where the appetite, no matter the object, cannot be satisfied. It is the opposite of contentment, and it is a disease from which many of us suffer. M.R. Vincent, in his seminal work on New Testament words, quotes Socrates, who likened the covetous soul to a colander.

Covetousness is translated from numerous words, but they all carry the same concept – to long for or fix one’s passion upon. This can be good, as in Paul’s recommendation to the Corinthians that they set their longings upon the best of God’s gifts (1 Corinthians 12:31), or evil, as in the case of money (1 Timothy 6:10), or any thing we do not own, as in the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:17), or the statement of Jesus above (Luke 12:15).

The usual scapegoat of covetousness is worldly wealth. “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” (Luke 18:24, ESV). But money isn’t the only thing people covet. Paul compares covetousness to idolatry (Colossians 3:5), indicating that covetousness is first a disease of the heart, whose objects are as varied as the imaginations of those who desire them. Thus, the Lord’s admonition to guard our hearts against all forms of it is understood.

Having said that, there are numerous examples of people God endowed with tremendous wealth – Abraham (Genesis 13:2), Job (Job 1:3) and Jacob (Genesis 30:40-43) are other men of the Old Testament that come to mind. Perhaps having multiple thousands of heads of livestock doesn’t mean much to you, but these are expressions of tremendous wealth in that culture.

The religion of Jesus Christ is not communistic society. Some people have more or less than others, and it will always be so (John 12:8). Each must learn to be content in whatever state he finds himself (Philippians 4:11-12). The rich should not seek to increase riches for riches’ sake, and the poor should not strive for riches, thinking that they are the answer to their presumed misery (Proverbs 30:7-9).

Christians are clearly taught that if material blessings come our way – even in abundance, such blessings have come from God (1 Timothy 6:17; cf. James 1:17), and we must be ready and willing to transfer those blessings from our hand to another when necessary.

No man has the right to legislate charity (although some certainly try), but the one who has blessed us with the ability to be charitable will certainly hold his children accountable. He says, “If your riches increase, set not your heart upon them” (Psalm 62:10b, KJV).

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