The whole advertising industry thrives by tapping into the pervasive discontentment—a discontentment they also helped create—of western culture. It’s almost impossible to go for a drive without having our senses assaulted by billboards reminding us of the material things we lack. Even those who are content with their lot in life struggle to emerge unscathed from the barrage.
For the Christian, personal contentment—being satisfied with what God has given us—is a vital aspect of personal holiness and integrity. In that vein, the author of Hebrews gives us this simple exhortation: “Make sure that your character is free from the love of money, being content with what you have” (Hebrews 13:5). Contentment is fundamental to integrity because a man who is content is far less vulnerable to the worldly enticements and distractions that Satan throws at him.
But our contentment can be undermined and assaulted by the sin of covetousness. It is one of the chief ways discontentment manifests itself. Covetousness is an attitude, a longing to acquire things. It means we set nearly all our attention and thought on gaining more money or having new possessions, whether we ever obtain them or not.
An encounter early in the career of wealthy oil executive John D. Rockefeller (1839–1937) illustrates this attitude. A friend reportedly asked the young Rockefeller how much money he wanted. “A million dollars,” he answered. After Rockefeller earned his first million dollars, his friend asked him how much more money he wanted. “Another million dollars,” Rockefeller replied.
Rockefeller’s desires further illustrate a law of diminishing returns with regard to covetousness: The more we get the more we want, and the more we want the less satisfied we are. The Preacher (probably Solomon, one who would understand this principle very well) wrote, “He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves abundance with its income. This too is vanity” (Ecclesiastes 5:10).
According to Scripture, loving money is one of the most common ways we display covetousness. Money can be used to purchase almost anything we desire, and thus it is synonymous with lusting after material riches. Obviously, we should seek to be free from any craving for material wealth. Such a desire indicates we are trusting in riches rather than in the living God.
Paul told Timothy how he was to deal with this matter, and his command is especially applicable to Christians living in affluent Western cultures: “Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy” (1 Timothy 6:17).