One of the ironies of our culture is that we move from a holiday focused on being thankful for the things we have, to a holiday marked by frenetic shopping and the pursuit of more ‘things.’ We should be mindful of the great sin of covetousness and also make sure we have the proper perspective on gift giving.
Merriam-Webster online defines ‘covetousness’ as: feeling or showing a very strong desire for something that you do not have and especially for something that belongs to someone else. It’s important we understand the sin is not limited to a focus on what other people have, but it can also involve our existing possessions. Jesus warned of the little talked about sin of covetousness; “And he said unto them, Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth” (Luke 12:15). He then went on to give a parable about a rich man who God called a ‘fool’ because he stored up many things for himself and was not rich toward God (Luke 12:16-21). The murder of Naboth was due to Ahab and Jezebel’s covetousness and should stand as a stark reminder of where the sin can lead. (1 Kings 21).
It may be surprising to some, but covetousness is listed among the most grievous sins. When we understand that it is idolatry, it becomes more clear how God views it. “Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry” (Col. 3:5). One of the great indictments against the people that Jeremiah spoke against was that, “For from the least of them even unto the greatest of them every one is given to covetousness; and from the prophet even unto the priest every one dealeth falsely” (Jer. 6:11). We must be careful as we deal with our desires regarding the material things of this life.
Scripture does not condemn gift giving but we should consider those to whom we give, as well as when we ‘exchange’ gifts. The Proverbs make a startling comparison on those that give gifts to ‘the rich.’ “He that oppresseth the poor to increase his riches, and he that giveth to the rich, shall surely come to want” (Prov. 22:16). While none of us may consider ourselves ‘rich’, compared so some in this country and certainly in the world, that characterization would still be accurate. Sometimes giving to the rich was seen as a way to ‘prime the pump’ in order to receive something better in return. In other cases, it was associated with buying influence or bribing someone. Whatever the case, those words are true.
Exchanging gifts, is not the same as giving to those who are poor and can’t repay us. Jesus said, “For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same?” (Matt 5:46). The money we spend on gift exchanges should certainly not be counted for our contribution to God! Giving gifts or having material possessions is not wrong but as always, we must guard our heart in all we do. –Matthew Johnson