Speech #2 of The Antithesis: Godly Living in Ungodly Times
Rev. Garry Eriks
The antithesis is a fundamental aspect of a Reformed Christian’s worldview. Although the term “worldview” is of fairly recent origin, the concept is not new for the Reformed Christian. Worldview is simply an understanding from Scripture of the Christian’s place and calling in this world. For the Reformed Christian this worldview is based upon the doctrines of God’s Word. There is much discussion today about a Christian worldview, and even a Reformed worldview at conferences and in print. It is not my intention to treat worldview as such. But I call to your attention, that when we treat the antithesis we are considering a vital aspect of the Christian’s worldview.
Much of what is said about worldview today purposely excludes the antithesis. Instead, much of what you read and hear of worldview in the church world today speaks of engaging culture and reforming and changing the world and the culture in which we live. This is the worldview of common grace.
The antithesis is an essential element of the Reformed worldview, because it is a truth that is taught throughout Scripture. The antithesis is that spiritual separation God has created by saving His people, the children of light, out of the world of darkness. God separates His people from the world by saving them. He elects His people from before the foundation of the world, redeems them from their sins in the blood of Jesus Christ, regenerates them through the working of the Holy Spirit, and calls them out of the world of darkness into His marvelous light. God calls His separate, redeemed people to live antithetically in this world. This antithetical life is not a life of physical separation, but a life of spiritual separation. Essentially, when you boil it all down, the antithetical life is saying “no” to sin, and “yes” to God.
It is my contention that a consideration of covetousness and its opposite, contentment, lie at the very heart of the antithesis. This is true, first, because a consideration of covetousness and contentment force us to face this question: who or what is your God? And along with that then, where is your heart? What is the focus of your life? Or, who is the focus of your life? Those who are covetous are not focused on God, but they are focused on the things of this earth. But those who are content are focused upon God. They know that the one, true and living God is their God, Whom they love and serve.
If a man’s life reflects that his god is money then that man will do whatever he can to obtain riches. This pursuit then controls his life. But if a man’s life reflects that Jehovah is his God then the pursuit and goal of his life is living to glorify the God of his salvation.
Secondly, the Heidelberg Catechism’s explanation of the tenth commandment of God’s law, which is, “Thou shalt not covet…”, shows that covetousness and contentment are the very core of the antithetical life. Answer 113 of the Heidelberg Catechism explains the requirement of the tenth commandment this way: “That even the smallest inclination or thought contrary to any of God’s commandments never arise in our hearts; but that all times we hate all sin with our whole heart, and delight in all righteousness.”
Thirdly, covetousness and contentment are the core of the antithesis because they are two responses to the truth of God’s sovereignty. The Reformed Christian confesses the truth of the sovereignty of God. This means God reigns over all. He rules over all things. God is the One Who sovereignly saves. Sovereignly He chose His people. Sovereignly He redeemed them. Sovereignly He works in them the blessings of salvation through the Spirit of Christ. Covetousness and contentment are two opposite responses to the truth of God’s sovereignty. Covetousness is the unbelieving, disobedient response to God’s sovereignty. Those who are covetous, say, by their covetousness, that they are not pleased with what God has given to them. They want more of things. Or they want different circumstances in their lives. But contentment is the believing response, the obedient response to God’s sovereignty. It is to say, “Have Thine own way, Lord. Not my way. Have Thine own way.”
As we develop living antithetically in an age of covetousness, we have to look at these opposites: covetousness and contentment.
Living spiritually separate from the world in this age of covetousness in which we find ourselves is of utmost importance. This is of utmost importance, first of all, because of what the Scriptures say in Ephesians 5:5. There we read, “For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.” Those who continue living in covetousness have no place in the kingdom of God. So we must be aware of the importance of our consideration of covetousness. It is a matter of life and death.
Secondly, this is important because the Scriptures tell us in II Timothy 3:2 that in the perilous and last days in which the church lives the world is characterized by covetousness. The people of the world are covetous. And so is vital right now that the church lives a life of spiritual separation from the world. We must not be covetous, but content.
Finally it is important that we consider this subject because covetousness is one of the great struggles of the Christian life, as we live in an age of covetousness. Contentment is not something that comes naturally to us. What does come naturally to our sinful natures is complaining and covetousness. What comes naturally is seeking happiness and joy and fulfillment in an abundance of things. The Word of God calls God’s people to live antithetically by rejecting covetousness and walking in contentment.
The Sin of Covetousness
Covetousness is the sin of desiring what God has not been pleased to give. It is disagreement with God concerning what He has willed for us. Those who covet foolishly think that their lives would be happier and more fulfilling if the circumstances of their lives were different. They think that they know better than God what they need to have a good life on this earth.
The Scriptures expose the awfulness of the sin of covetousness: at bottom covetousness is idolatry. Ephesians 5:5 makes this connection when it says the “covetous man…is an idolater.” Covetousness is the sin of setting one’s heart on something other than God. This is the awful sin of thinking that there is something bigger and greater than God. This object of coveting controls that person. It is what he thinks about, desires more than anything else, and pursues in life. Covetousness is the sin of having something other than God at the heart and center of life.
There are many things in this world that wicked man sets his heart on so that they become his idols. Men think that if they have this certain dream job they will discover great happiness and fulfillment in life. If he has this certain woman to be his wife, then he will be happy. It doesn’t matter that he already has a wife and a family. He says, “I don’t love her anymore. But I do love this other woman and she makes me happy so I should be with her.” I read on the Internet a story in which psychologists now believe that playing video games fulfills a “need.” Not only is not bad to play video games, but also it is a need. Playing such games fulfills a certain need so that a man can find fulfillment and joy in life. When we begin looking around we see that virtually anything in this earth can become a god and an object of covetousness.
Money, according to Scripture, often becomes the idol god of covetousness. I Timothy 6:10 speaks of “The love of money.” The sin identified in this passage is covetousness. The object identified is money. One of the words that is translated covetousness in the New Testament, means literally, “money loving,” or “silver loving.” That is the term that you find in Hebrews 13:5: “Let your conversation be without covetousness.” Scripture identifies money especially as something that becomes a man’s idol god.
I Timothy 6:10 is not teaching that money, possessions, or riches, are wrong of themselves. The remedy for money-love is not getting rid of everything that you have. You can sell all you have and empty your bank accounts and still be covetous. Covetousness is a sin of the heart. Covetousness is often manifest as a desire for the money or possessions that God is not pleased to give. It is really a denial of God’s sovereignty and His ownership of all things. The answer is a change of heart!
The covetous man foolishly places a very high value on the things of this life. This is a driving force in the world of today. The thinking today is that money can provide happiness. Many in the world today would protest saying, “No, we’ve come to the understanding that you cannot buy happiness.” They say it with their mouths, but their conduct says otherwise. The thinking today of the world is that if you have much of the things of this earth, that you will find happiness and fulfillment in life. If you have a nice fancy car that others notice and talk about, that will bring fulfillment. If you have a new, large house, that will bring happiness and joy in life. If you have big bank accounts and plush 401K plans that will bring joy. And so that becomes the pursuit of the men of this world.
This is the covetousness, which we find in the world today. But the question when we are considering living antithetically in this covetous age is “what does the Word of God call the child of God to do? What does the Word of God call us, as Reformed Christians, to do?” The antithetical life of the Reformed Christian demands that we remove from our lives all covetousness. That comes out in Hebrews 13:5. “Let your conversation [let your life] be without covetousness.” At every moment of our lives we must spurn covetousness. Ounce of covetousness must not remain in our lives. We must rid our marriages, our homes, the church, and every part of our lives of all covetousness. This covetousness is not just found in the world, but it is the bitter struggle of the child of God who wants to live antithetically in the world.
Jesus sounds the warning against the sin of covetousness in Luke 12:15, when He commands, “Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.” That was not just something that Jesus was throwing out there. He was teaching this because there was this sin in the world at that time, in Israel. This sin was found among the leaders of the Jews who sold animals in the temple at the time of the Passover. Not only was this convenient for Jews traveling from all over the world so that they did not have to take their own animals to sacrifice, but the Jews made a large profit from exchanging money and from the sale of these animals. Certainly there was the thinking among the people of that day, that there was joy and happiness in riches.
Jesus spoke of covetousness when He addressed the rich young ruler, whom He told to go and sell everything that he had. Jesus put his finger on this man’s great sin: he loved his money and possessions more than God. Is there anything in our lives that we love more than God?
That is a struggle that we have as well. Easily it happens for us that we go to work for a paycheck, so that we can buy the things that we want. Now there is nothing wrong with that in itself. But our hearts can be so focused on this that the pursuit of money and possessions becomes the chief goal, aim, and desire of life instead of working to serve God and to do all things to the glory of His name. Then we begin to think it is a burden to pay Christian school tuition, the budget of the church, and then put a little in the collection plate for the other causes. Or we think of all the things that we could possibly buy with that money.
We live in an affluent society. But yet for a young family it is a struggle to pay the bills. The bills add up and we begin to think, “If we just had a little bit more all of our problems would be solved. Then it would be so much easier. That is what we really need.”
We must be extremely sensitive to this sin because we can so easily twist what the Word of God says. We can easily convince ourselves that it is good for us to pursue riches because we want more to give to the church and to the schools. Giving cheerfully for the causes of the kingdom is good. But we must not use this good goal to mask a carnal lust, thinking that both may exist in us. The truth of the antithesis does not allow for being two-faced. We are called to flee from sin and obey God!
There is another popular error that is worthy of mention in this connection. Churches today feed people’s greed and use it for their own advantage. This is what the health and wealth gospel is all about. There are many preachers today promising untold riches from God’s hand if they will just contribute to their ministry. They encourage people to write out checks for more money than they have, trusting that God will provide that amount and much more. God’s Word in II Corinthians 9:6 does say, “He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully.” This does not mean that God blesses liberal contributions with riches. God’s Word makes clear that He will take care of those who seek first the kingdom. But nowhere does God promise riches. What men today are doing is using greed and covetousness as a motive for giving. “Give and you will be come rich,” they say. This cannot be right because God demands that we put away all covetousness.
The Grace of Contentment
When the Word of God calls us to put off all covetousness, it demands positively, “Be content.” If the antithetical life is saying “no” to sin and “yes” to God, we must say “no” to covetousness and “yes” to contentment.
What is contentment? The word contentment literally means, “to be satisfied,” or “to be sufficient.” To be content is to know that we lack nothing. It is to say, “I have everything that I need.” It is to confess with David, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.”
Contentment has nothing to do with how much or how little of the things of this earth that we have. Paul says in Philippians 4:11, 12: “Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.” The child of God can and does confess contentment no matter what the circumstances of life may be.
If a man owns nothing he can still be content. If a man lives in an apartment, has little furniture, and lives month-to-month, or even day-to-day, he can still be content. He can still confess, “I am content. I have everything that I need. I have sufficient.” This is true because contentment is not based on how much of the things of this earth we have. Contentment is a spiritual gift of God’s grace, in which we understand that in Jesus Christ we have everything that we need. This is why I lack nothing. God’s grace is sufficient for me. That is enough. In His grace and in His work through Jesus Christ, I have everything I need.
The Word of God comes to the people of God and says, “Be content with such things as ye have.” Sometimes when people ask us how we are doing, we think (we don’t say it), “Things aren’t so great. I don’t have enough money. My house isn’t big enough. My children are naughty. I’m behind in my work. I’m overburdened with all of these things. If some of these cares and concerns could be taken away, that is what I need.” We think, “If only I had this, or if only I had that, or if only this were different in my life, I would be so much happier.”
In Jesus Christ we have everything that we need. We are satisfied because the Bread of Life has satisfied for all of our sins. The Word of God reminds to be satisfied with Christ’s work, the knowledge of God, and the treasures of salvation in Jesus Christ. Be satisfied with God’s sovereign rule over your life. This is essentially what God said to Paul when he prayed for the removal of his thorn in the flesh (II Corinthians 12:9). Paul asked God three times to remove that thorn in the flesh. What was God’s answer? “My grace is sufficient for thee. You don’t need that thorn removed. My grace is what you need.” This grace is what we need.
As we look at this calling to live antithetically in this age of covetousness, we must understand why we are not to be covetous, and why we must be content. Scripture does not simply calls us to put away covetousness and be content. God teaches us why we must do this.
Why must we put away covetousness? First, coveting riches is vanity. Many today imagine that happiness, good self-esteem, and success are found in proportion to one’s possessions, bank accounts, house, and dress. They try to find happiness in things: in buying and hoarding to themselves the things of this earth. This is why gambling prospers today. People play the lottery, play the slots, and journey to the Mecca of gambling, Las Vegas, to strike it rich and solve all their problems. Others rack up credit card debt into the tens of thousands of dollars, thinking that buying the things their hearts desire, even though they do not have the resources, will solve all their problems and provide them happiness.
The Word of God exposes this thinking for what it is: vanity. I Timothy 6:7 says, “For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.” Jesus makes that same point in Luke 12 in the parable of the rich man, who tore down his barns to build bigger barns, so that he could fill those barns with the harvest that he had taken in. This man thought he should rest, be merry, and enjoy the good things of this earth. But that man’s life was taken. What was the profit of all those things that he had?
There is nothing like death to expose the vanity of the things of this earth, because we leave them all behind. We do not take any of these things with us. Yet is it not striking that after a person dies some families fight over the possessions that remain? Death reminds that these things cannot provide any eternal happiness. They are all vanity. One day they will melt with a fervent heat. Why would we set our hearts upon the things that moth and rust corrupt?
Covetousness in the end really makes man no different than an animal that only thinks about his next meal, and the next thing that he can have. And so man becomes that very same thing in covetousness.
Secondly, we must not walk in covetousness because it leads to all kinds of sin. I Timothy 6:10 makes this point: “The love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” The idea is not that every single evil we find in this earth can be traced to the love of money. The idea is that the love of money leads to all kinds of different sins. For example, if a man loves money, he will do whatever he can to obtain that money. He may even resort to stealing from his employer or clients in his work. Covetousness leads to all kinds of sin.
In covetousness we will not find happiness. I Timothy 6: 10 says, “and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” There is no happiness to be found in money-love. Instead, there is only sorrow, pain, and suffering. This is true because those who live covetously without turning from that sin will face Almighty God, the Judge of all. Jesus said, “What is a man profited if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul?” The love of money is spiritually bankrupt.
We must also consider the Biblical reasons for walking in contentment. We must be content in life because, as Reformed Christians, we believe the Word of God. The Reformed Christian believes everything that is found in the Word of God from Genesis 1:1 to the end of Revelation 22 because it is all the inspired Word of God. It is completely without error. The Word of God is full of God’s promises to His people. In that Word God declares to His people what He has done for them. The word of man cannot bring contentment. There are bookstores and libraries filled with books about how you can find happiness. But they are all vanity and they are all wrong, unless they point us to the Word of God. We must listen to what the Word of God says. The Word of God is the basis for contentment. We believe what He says about sufficiency and that in Him is found everything that we need.
God’s Word teaches us that there are two truths that are the basis of contentment. First, God has met our greatest need in Jesus Christ. What is our greatest need? Our greatest need is deliverance from punishment and power of sin. We need to know that in God’s eyes we are whiter than snow. We need to know that in Jesus Christ we have the forgiveness of our sins. God met our greatest need, by sending the Son of His love to die on the cross for our sins. He met our greatest need by pouring out His Spirit upon the church and working in His people the blessings of salvation that Jesus Christ earned for them. God has given to us everlasting life through the finished work of Jesus Christ. We cannot find the joy and happiness of that knowledge in any of the things of this earth.
Second, God’s Word tells us that the sovereign God of our salvation will not leave us or forsake us. God sovereignly and constantly cares for us. He will not abandon us, but continues to be present with us. He controls all things and He works them all for our good. He does not abandon us in our time of need, but instead gives grace and strength to bear the burdens that we face. His grace is sufficient for us. His promise to us is, “I am with you.”
Because God is with us, we have nothing to fear or worry about. What are the things that you worry about? Do you worry about making ends meet? Do you worry about rearing your covenant children, or your covenant grandchildren? What are the fears that you have hidden in the recesses of your heart? A child of God who is content and clings to the promises of God, knows that there is nothing to fear. The child of God then confesses with David in Psalm 27:1, “The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” There is no one to fear. There is nothing to be afraid of because God is our God. He is the One Who has done everything necessary for our salvation. It is not God and man working together. Man does not do anything to make that salvation apply to himself. God has done it all. And in the consciousness of that, we know He continues to be with us and care for us.
That is so important in life. That is so important when we face death. That is so important for young fathers and mothers who feel the heavy weight of the responsibility of training their children in the fear of the Lord. We feel the weight of the other responsibilities God has placed upon us in this world. Sometimes it seems like it is too much so that we are ready to collapse. The fears that we have in life are real fears, even for those who know and understand the sovereignty of God. But the Word of God says there is no reason to worry about any of those things because God will give to us everything that we need.
When we live antithetically in an age of covetousness there will be the experience of joy and peace. This is the fruit of contentment. Covetousness can never bear such fruit. It only bears the fruit of more covetousness, sin, and unhappiness. Riches can never satisfy. The reality is that no matter how much of the things of this earth we have our appetite for those things is insatiable. The richest of men in the world, who have more of the things of this world than most others still do not have enough. That is the way covetousness is. It is never enough. But knowing God’s grace we say, “It is enough. I have everything that I need.” The way of contentment is the way of peace and joy.
This peace and joy is evident in the confession of contentment found in Psalm 23:1, “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.” Because the LORD is our Shepherd we lie down in green pastures. Sheep do not easily lie down and rest. A sheep will lie down only when he has everything that he needs and has no fears. The same is true for us. We have everything we need and we have no fears because Jehovah is our faithful Shepherd.
As we live antithetically in this world, let us not walk in the way of covetousness. Instead, may we be reminded that part of the Reformed worldview of the antithesis is that we be content in all of life.
This lecture was hosted by the Evangelism Committee of the First Protestant Reformed Church of Holland. For an audio copy, please contact us.
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