The covetous and critical spirit

Introduction Michael Ngubane

We greet everyone in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ on the day of the Lord. Every day is a day of the Lord, but this day is a reminder of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. We thank the Lord that we still experience a zeal for the Lord and desire to meet with the children of the Lord in the house of the Lord.

We welcome Professor Sieling who is a great help to us. We thank the Lord for him and we appreciate everything he does for us. Thank you, Dr Sieling. May the Lord bless you for all your assistance. May He bless your work and carry you.

We are grateful to the Lord for keeping Reverend Stegen, the founder of this work. He celebrated his birthday recently. Rev Stegen, we trust that the Lord will continue to carry and support you with His sustaining grace. We praise the Lord for His goodness. He has kept you, Reverend Stegen. The Lord has enabled you to be victorious through fiery trials and not to be swept away by waves of adversity.

Cebisa Mabaso
The young people could not do anything for Rev Stegen’s birthday, but the Lord laid Psalm 91 on my heart to read on behalf of us all.

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler. You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness, nor the destruction that wastes at noonday. A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you. You will only look with your eyes and see the recompense of the wicked. Because you have made the Lord your dwelling place— the Most High, who is my refuge— 10 no evil shall be allowed to befall you, no plague come near your tent. 11 For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. 12 On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone. 13 You will tread on the lion and the adder; the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot. 14 “Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him; I will protect him, because he knows my name. 15 When he calls to me, I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honour him. 16 With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation.” Psalm 91

Rev Stegen, we thank the Lord for He has carried you through. How wonderful to be able to imitate those who have gone ahead and whose lives are in accordance with this Psalm, instead of being led by people whose lives end in destruction.

Michael Ngubane
Reverend Stegen, we rejoice with you in God’s goodness. We also congratulate Uncle Bruno and Aunty Mollie Engelbrecht on their diamond wedding anniversary today. It is wonderful that people are true to each other and can be carried by the Lord. The great thing is to be united in service to the Lord which is perhaps the greatest blessing of marriage. May the Lord continue with you as you continue with Him. Uncle Hogard and Tante Inge Joosten have been married for 64 years. We praise the Lord together with them for all the years they have been a blessing to the congregation, loving the Lord and His work. What a blessing to follow in the footsteps of those who have gone ahead and learn from them as we heard last Sunday. May God be with them and sustain them. We love them.

May the Lord bless us as we listen to His word.

Albu van Eeden
It is with fear and trembling that I stand in this pulpit. It is from this pulpit that the fire of the Holy Spirit has gone out in revival power for so many years. It is my prayer that the Lord will have mercy on me.

We should never have the attitude that we have God and His Kingdom in our pockets. Yes, Jesus is mine. He saved me from my sins, and I have a personal relationship with Him. (It is a great relief when you have confessed your sins and received forgiveness. You realise that the judgement on your life has been removed.) But we should understand that we walk on holy ground and we should tread carefully and prayerfully. Things will come across our lives which God will use to expose things in our hearts of we which we ourselves may have been unaware. Therefore, never treat God’s kingdom casually. We should be wide awake and submissive, with an ear for the voice of the Holy Spirit. This will be clear from the text I will read and expound on.

Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman whom he had married, for he had married a Cushite woman. And they said, “Has the Lord indeed spoken only through Moses? Has he not spoken through us also?” And the Lord heard it. Numbers 12:1 – 2

Woe to us if we say something ungodly. There is a God in heaven who hears our words. They (Miriam and Aaron) were having a chat; they could have been speaking in a group. And the Lord heard it. Be careful of the words that leave your lips because the Lord hears them.

Now the man Moses was very meek, more than all people who were on the face of the earth. And suddenly the Lord said to Moses and to Aaron and Miriam, “Come out, you three, to the tent of meeting.” And the three of them came out. Numbers 12:3 – 4

Notice the clouds of trouble building up. At this stage they realised that they had ventured into waters too deep for them. Be careful when you speak that you do not venture into waters that are too deep for you, my friend.

And the Lord came down in a pillar of cloud and stood at the entrance of the tent and called Aaron and Miriam, and they both came forward. And he said, “Hear my words: If there is a prophet among you, I the Lord make myself known to him in a vision; I speak with him in a dream. Not so with my servant Moses. He is faithful in all my house. With him I speak mouth to mouth, clearly, and not in riddles, and he beholds the form of the Lord. Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?” Numbers 12:5 – 8

The Lord divides between prophets and prophets.

And the anger of the Lord was kindled against them, and he departed. 10 When the cloud removed from over the tent, behold, Miriam was leprous, like snow. And Aaron turned toward Miriam, and behold, she was leprous. 11 And Aaron said to Moses, “Oh, my lord, do not punish us because we have done foolishly and have sinned. 12 Let her not be as one dead, whose flesh is half eaten away when he comes out of his mother's womb.” Numbers 12:9 – 12

What was Moses’ reaction to these insults?

13 And Moses cried to the Lord, “O God, please heal her—please.” 14 But the Lord said to Moses, “If her father had but spit in her face, should she not be shamed seven days? Let her be shut outside the camp seven days, and after that she may be brought in again.” Numbers 12:13 – 14

This is the respect that God expected children to have for their parents. (Verse 14) as if that were something much less evil than what Miriam had done.

15 So Miriam was shut outside the camp seven days, and the people did not set out on the march till Miriam was brought in again. Numbers 12:15

Friends, take note that Miriam and Aaron were not just anybody. Miriam was the one who guarded her little brother when he was a baby in a basket. There was more to Miriam and Aaron than that.

For I brought you up from the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of slavery, and I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam. Micah 6:4

In this text God says that all three of them were leaders. Miriam was a prophetess too. In Exodus 15:20 when the Israelites had passed through the Red Sea Miriam lead the nation. 20 Then Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a tambourine in her hand, and all the women went out after her with tambourines and dancing.

What problem did Miriam and Aaron have with Moses? He had married a Cushite woman. There are numerous opinions from commentators this. Some say that it would not have been his first wife, Zipporah because why would Miriam have waited so many years before complaining about Zipporah? Who were the Cushites? Some lived in Ethiopia, Saudi Arabia and Midian. I regard Habbakuk 3:7 as the best explanation for this. I saw the tents of Cushan in affliction; the curtains of the land of Midian did tremble. In this verse, the tents of Cushan appear to identify with the Midianites, which Zipporah was. It is possible that people from the tents of Cushan could be referred to as Cushites. If true, then the wife of Moses whom they complained about was Zipporah, his first wife, because she was the daughter of a Midianite priest, Jethro.

We do not know the reason for their complaint against her after so many years. Some commentators say that the reason could be racial, but friends, I see something else which makes me tremble. This criticism against Moses was in the hearts of Miriam and Aaron all along and when Moses made a practical decision upon a marriage partner, this deeply buried criticism in the hearts of Aaron, and especially Miriam, surfaced. God often uses practical situations to expose spiritual problems. A situation could arise at your workplace. You may disagree with the way things are run. You may disagree with the way decisions are made and this becomes the opportunity for things which are deeply buried deep in your heart, to bubble up and before you know it, the words are over your lips.

It seems as if they did not criticise the way he did things, but rather his authority and monopoly over things. They did not like this. Be very careful of what is in your heart and mind. Be careful of the type of thoughts you allow because God will place you in a situation which is not spiritual so that what is in your heart will bubble up, you will speak it out and then realise how arrogant you are.

It seems that God was more tolerant of Aaron. Miriam was the leader and Aaron seemed to be the follower. Miriam was a strong woman. There are some very strong women in this world who are very confident of their opinions and that they are right. They are confident that things should be as they see them. Why did God take Miriam’s mistake so seriously? She was instantly struck with leprosy - not a little patch here and there – she was white from head to toe. When they pleaded for mercy on her, God answered as He did in verse 14. 14 But the Lord said to Moses, “If her father had but spit in her face, should she not be shamed seven days? Let her be shut outside the camp seven days, and after that she may be brought in again. Do you see why I stand here in fear and trembling? I walk God’s way in fear. Why did God take this so seriously? Because her attitude would have prevented her from experiencing the blessings of Canaan when they entered later.

God said to Adam, “Do not eat of the tree of good and evil.” Genesis 2:17 He did not forbid them from eating from the Tree of Life. But the moment they sinned by eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, God said, “Let us remove them from the Garden before they eat of the Tree of Life.” If they ate from the Tree of Life in that state, it would have been eternal death for them. Genesis 3:22

God realised that Miriam needed to be delt with otherwise she would not be qualified to enjoy the blessings of Canaan. It would be a curse to her. Friends, if God is strict with you on what you may regard as a small thing, do not take it lightly. He knows how serious it is in His eyes. A little bit of worldliness in the church today can disqualify a Christian from entering heaven and experiencing the blessings thereof because God says that whoever loves the world is an enemy of God. Sometimes I see a Christian dressed in a particular way, as young men nowadays dress - half shaven with a brush cut, and I realise that they must have spent time looking at the latest styles. We do not make laws stating that men must wear white shirts and black pants; women must wear particular colours and skirts, no, people are free to wear clothes they like, however sometimes one becomes aware of a different spirit in the clothing style, and one realises that the person must have paged through celebrity and fashion magazines.

What was the difference between Miriam and Aaron on the one hand, and Moses on the other? Moses did not have time to look for mistakes and criticise because he had a calling - a calling that virtually squashed him. He had a calling to get the children of God to the promised land because God had commanded him. Miriam did not keep her eyes on the goal they were heading to. Miriam and Aaron had time to sit down, look at Moses and find mistakes.

I remember when I was very conscious about the mistakes of Christians around me. God said to me, “Forget about that, you need to produce fruit in your life. You need to carry souls with you into eternity. Focus on getting souls that you can bring along into eternity with you - precious souls that cannot be destroyed by moths and rust and which can be with you in heaven and eternity.” Therefore, Moses did not have long toes and he did not defend himself. Are you easily offended? Maybe you have not focused enough on your goal. You are not fully aware of the goal for which you are on earth. What are the things that take our eyes off the goal for which we are here on earth?

What were Miriam and Aaron’s sins? Obviously, there was an element of pride. They thought themselves equal with Moses and they literally said it. By insolence comes nothing but strife, but with those who take advice is wisdom. Proverbs 13:10 Is this not one of the huge cancers in the church? Paul warns about this. He addresses factions – us and them – in one church. We see things like this. They see things like that. Factions are a cancer that erodes and breaks up a church. Yes, there was an element of pride in what they did, and we know that pride is very often considered to be the first sin because pride got hold of Satan and he considered himself equal to God.

The Bible says that it is easier for a rich man to go through the eye of a needle than for him to enter heaven. This does not only apply when you are rich in money, there are other riches too. A girl can be rich in beauty. It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a beautiful girl to reach heaven. This was Satan’s problem. The Bible says that he was perfect in his beauty. If a girl has young men running after her and she is aware of her obvious beauty, it is difficult to get rid of that and pour your life into the work of God.

Their one sin was pride, but there is another sin which is the sin of covetousness. They coveted Moses’s position. I would like to demonstrate the attitude of Moses with an illustration which I have used before.

Two steamships one day left Memphis on their way to New Orleans. Both were freight ships. While they were anchored in the harbour, the sailors of one ship said to the other sailors, “Your ship is pathetically slow, we will reach New Orleans before you.” The other sailors said, “Do not say that. You have not seen how fast we can sail.” They both left the harbour. At first, they sailed at the same speed, however, one ship began taking the lead. The sailors of the other ship began stoking their fire to keep up with the faster ship. In the end, it was not about cargo but about who would reach New Orleans first.

Friends be careful that such a spirit does not enter your life. You forget that you should be carrying cargo because you are competing with all kinds of people, trying to win arguments, trying to have better clothes and so on. In the end the ship had not even reached half-way, when their coal was finished so one of the sailors used the cargo to keep the fire burning.

As you live your Christian life and as you counsel people who come to you for advice, be careful that you do not sacrifice the soul of the young Christian or unconverted person, for your glory and popularity. You want that person to be dependent on you.

Moses did not allow that to happen. He did not start competing with Aaron and Miriam. He had the burden of the ship that he had to get to the promised land – the souls of the people whom he had to get to the promised land. Do you know why you have a heart of criticism that cannot help yourself? You criticise everybody’s mistakes either with your lips or in your heart. You have removed your eyes off the goal, but you have a crowd of people you need to influence and get to heaven one day.

In the end the sailors loaded their cargo into the fire to be the first ship to reach New Orleans. That was Miriam and Aaron. This happens so easily. When open your eyes, you are busy with it. You compete with someone else in the Lord’s work. It is all about competition, not about getting the Lord’s work done. A person who does the same work as you do, is a threat not a brother. In the end, the ship arrived at New Orleans without any cargo. They had missed the whole purpose for which they were sailing.

Notice Moses’s reaction. He remained quiet despite accusation after accusation.

Covetousness is a terrible thing. It is more common in society than we think. It becomes idolatry. You can covet a particular position which is what Miriam and Aaron did, they desired the position of Moses. You can covert an object or a certain talent. You are willing to destroy your relationship with the Lord to get hold of this position. You lose your blessing. This is the cancer of covetousness that is in the church today. Nobody speaks about covetousness in the church. We speak about stealing, but before stealing there is covetousness. We speak about anger and harming people, but before the anger or the injury (whether with lips or body) there is covetousness for something that person had.

There are times when God sanctifies you by putting you through the mill. He may want you to eventually get that position, but by coveting it, you take the quick short-cut to that position. It is sometimes just a matter of time. You will reach there if you submit to God and take the way God is taking you to get to that point. But you cannot wait for God, you cannot allow the mill of God to grind you and slowly make progress while He keeps you humble and subdued as He brings you closer to His will. No, you take a short-cut because you covet that final position. You take yourself out of God’s mill. Do you realise what this means? Sometimes God puts us through a mill and there seems little progress. It is slow. It is grinding and it is hard. You progress for ten or twenty years but the progress is slow. You begin losing patience and within a split second you remove yourself out of God’s will, into your own will, living as you would like because you want to get there quicker.

We so often see this trend among young people. They covet the position of marriage. Instead of keeping their purity and leaving the decision of marriage to God - if He wants and when He wants - they covet marriage. It becomes an idol. The Lord’ process is too slow and then they remove it from God’s hands. Although they may have kept their virginity for ten to twenty years, suddenly they one day step in and take it for themselves. They remove it off the altar and in a split second lose everything.

Covetousness destroys the peace in a church. Christians can fight over material possessions making enemies of one another because they covet possessions. This happens in families where children covet the parents’ money. When the parents age and there is an inheritance waiting, children who lived in peace with one another for years turn into violent lions that scratch out each other’s eyes to get hold of the inheritance. About 15 years ago I spoke to a widow who was aging. Her children said, “Mom, we would like to make use of your house now. You do not really need the house anymore. You can stay in a much smaller place. Why don’t we sell your house, divide the money between us and we give you a small room to stay in.” Can you believe this? The children approached the widow’s lawyer and tried to force the mother to sell, just after their father died, to give the father’s inheritance to them before the mother could get hold of it. This was the spirit that entered Miriam and Aaron.

Once you covet you become an unhappy person. You are never satisfied with what you have. Everything is difficult. The little bit of money you must give to God’s work is difficult and you do not enjoy giving to the Lord’s work anymore. You cannot do it anymore.

I have often said, “Lord, be merciful to me. Please do not allow me to take myself out of Your will. No matter how high the price I want to remain in Your will.” Growth in the Lord is a slow process, and it is easy to lose it.

It is amazing how things eventually turned out. What happened to Moses? He was the anointed one. He had the goal that God had commissioned him for which was to get Israel to the promised land. Did God say to Moses, “Go and curse them?” No, God sent them to Moses, the man whom they had criticised and said, “Let Moses pray for you so that the leprosy will go away.” You can never remove the anointing of God from a man whom God is anointed, no matter how you criticise him or and what you do to him. Finally, it might be that anointed man who may have to pray and intercede for you. He will have to pray to the Father and say, “Father, please forgive them.”

This happened more than 2000 years ago, when a man called Jesus of Nazareth walked this earth. They called him a law breaker. They accused him of keeping company with prostitutes and tax collectors. They called him haughty and arrogant, a man who make himself equal to God. This man paid the price in love for all the evil they had done to Him. It was not just a group of legalists who did this to Him, they were the highest living spiritual authority of the Jewish nation. They were the people who guided the nation in service to God. They did all this to Jesus. But Jesus realised there is a cargo that He must get to heaven. He could not give place to self and the flesh. I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. John 17:9 Do you hear what our hero did despite everything that happened to Him? He did not lose one of those given to Him.

Today God still calls Him to intercede for you and me when the accuser of our souls stands before the throne of God, night and day accusing us. Satan says, “Look God, look at what he is doing, he deserves to go to hell.” It is the man whom we treated so badly who intercedes for us. You alcoholic, who spends no time in church, who does not have a minute to spend with God, who spends time with worldly pleasures. You do not realise that while you live this drunken life, He is in heaven interceding for you saying, “Father, have mercy on him. Do not take him now. Please, give him another opportunity. Give this vine just another year. Let me dig in manure for just another year.” But what are you doing? You steal, cheat, you sell a car that is a scrap and tell the buyer it is fantastic, you chase after the girls. You do not spend even one minute thinking of Christ and God. “That is for the old ladies, not for me, you say.” Jesus stands in heaven pleading with God to give you another chance. Have you not got blood on your hands? Do you not have the blood of somebody on your hands? Have you not spoiled somebody’s future by telling lies about the person?

Jesus is our Moses. He is the ultimate Moses. He intercedes for you in order that the leprosy of sin will leave you. Finally allow me to conclude with four verses.

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Philippians 2:5 – 8

Why don’t you join Christ and His kingdom? He stands with open arms waiting for you.