Text Luke 12:13-15 “And one of the company said unto him, Master, speak to my brother, that he divide the inheritance with me. And he said unto him, Man, who made me a judge or a divider over you? 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 opens with Jesus instructing his disciples in the presence of the multitude. The subject of His instructions is pharisaical hypocrisy (vs.1-3), physical hatred (vs.4-12, and personal heralding (vs.11-12). Our Lord’s time of instruction is abruptly interrupted by “one of the company” (vs.13). The individual wants Jesus to intervene in a family dispute between him and his brother concerning their inheritance. From the text it is not made clear as to whether the man has a rightful claim to a portion of the inheritance. While Jesus will not entertain the problem, “Man, who made me a judge or a divider over you”; He will enhance the principle; “Take heed, and beware of covetousnes.”
Knowing the dangers of becoming preoccupied with the temporal treasures of this world, Jesus sets forth a warning; “Take heed, and beware.” The phrase “Take heed” means to stare at by implication to discern clearly physically or mentally, by extension, to attend to. The word “beware” means through the process of isolation, to watch or be on guard. The tendency of most is to immediately assume that Jesus is speaking to someone other than themselves! They point to the fact that the word “covetousness” means greed by implication extortion or the practice of fraud, and they are not involved in such hideous acts. While they have correctly defined the word, the definition also includes the idea of the desire for holding more and eager for gain. The first aspect of the definition may relate to the callous habit, the final aspect to the corrupt heart.
With respect to the spirit of covetousness, note two things that are set forth. The first thing to be noticed is the subjects! It is the mind set of most that only a select few have to worry about the spirit of covetousness and they fall into the class of what most consider rich. Even the parable that Jesus used to enhance the principle had a rich man as the main subject. But, please notice the wording in verses 14 and 15. Having been interrupted by one of the company, verse 14 says, “And he said unto him.” Jesus has a specific word for the individual. But verse 15 says, “And he said unto them.” While the problem of covetousness was manifested in the life of one individual, the principle of covetousness can infect all! If the spirit of covetousness is a threat to those that have walked away from successful businesses, left family and friends to do the bidding of the Master for three and a half year; are we so foolish to believe that we are immune from the infectious spirit? Speaking unto our Lord, Peter said, “Lo, we have left all, and have followed thee” (Mark 10:28).
Secondly, note the substance. There is one thing that is clearly set forth by our Lord; with respect to the spirit of covetousness, it is not a matter of possessions, but poverty! It is the opinion of Matthew Henry that the rich man in the parable was the prince or ruler of a district with people beneath him; thus making the possessions even greater than the average individual. If covetousness consisted of merely possessions, then men like Abraham and Job would have been individuals of corrupt character. Speaking of Job whose possessions consisted of “seven thousand sheep, and three thousand camels, and five hundred yoke of oxen, and five hundred she asses, and a very great household; so that this man was the greatest of all the men of the east” (Job 1:3); God said that he was “perfect and upright, and one that feared God, and eschewed evil” (Job 1:1). The covetous person has a poverty problem; “and is not rich toward God” (Luke 12:21). A covetous spirit is not the presence of substance, but the absence of the spiritual! The difference between Job and the rich man in the parable was Job esteemed the spiritual over the substance and the rich man esteemed the substance over the spiritual! While it is possible to possess both; only one can occupy the preeminent seat of authority; “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33).
When determining if you have the spirit of covetousness; remember it is not a matter of possessions, but poverty. Are you preoccupied with the spiritual or with substance; “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matthew 6:21).