I have a headache this morning, probably due to sleep deprivation, so I didn't go to service this morning. Instead, I'm studying at home. I was reading Polycarp's letter to the church at Phillipi and came across this passage:
For if a man cannot govern himself in such matters, how shall he enjoin them on others? If a man does not keep himself from covetousness,he shall be defiled by idolatry, and shall be judged as one of the heathen.
Polycarp is not alone in linking covetnous with idolatry; Paul does the same thing in scripture:
(Col 3;5, ESV) Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.
At first blush, comparing covetnous and idolatry sounds strange. What do these sins have in common?
And covetousness, which is idolatry; that is, an inordinate love of present good and outward enjoyments, which proceeds from too high a value in the mind, puts upon too eager a pursuit, hinders the proper use and enjoyment of them, and creates anxious fear and immoderate sorrow for the loss of them. Observe, Covetousness is spiritual idolatry: it is the giving of that love and regard to worldly wealth which are due to God only, and carries a greater degree of malignity in it, and is more highly provoking to God, than is commonly thought. And it is very observable that among all the instances of sin which good men are recorded in the scripture to have fallen into (and there is scarcely any but some or other, in one or other part of their life, have fallen into) there is no instance in all the scripture of any good man charged with covetousness.
Similarly, Albert Barnes said:
It is remarkable that the apostle always ranks covetousness with these base and detestable passions. The meaning here is:
(1) that it is a low and debasing passion, like those which he had specified; and,
(2) that it secures the affections which properly belong to God, and is, therefore, idolatry. Of all base passions, this is the one that most dethrones God from the soul.
Both of these scholars agree that covetnous and idolatry are linked because both take the passion that we are to have for the I AM alone and direct it toward something much lower. When you look at it this way, you can see that any type of passion, when taken to the degree of obsession, could transform itself into a similar type of sin. This could happen even with types of passion that are normally considered good, or even would normally be considered blessed by God.
The Bible is quite clear that God intends man and woman to be together. We're told that they, "shall become one flesh." For a couple to leave behind their old identities to become a single unit requires a great deal of effort and passion. This is clearly what the Lord intended. But what would happen if the husband or the wife's (or even just a boyfriend or girlfriend) became so passionate about their match that it began to distort their sense of reality and began to govern, rather than just drive, their relationship both with the other as well as with the world and, most importantly, God? At that point, the positive good of oneness could become a type of idol.
This should not, of course, surprise us. C.S. Lewis said, I can't remember where, that evil has nothing of it's own. Satan is not his own type of being. He is merely a perversion of the servants of YHWY. Similarly, the sins which he tries to trap us with are not their own type of behaviors and attitudes; they are merely perversions of good acts and passions.
Lust is nothing but a perversion of love and the act of sex. Both of these were created by God and are considered positive good in the context that God intended. Likewise, sloth is merely a perversion of rest, which were told that even God has done.
We must, of course, guard ourselves against all types of idolatry. We must not allow any passion to exceed the love and devotion due our Creator. If we do, we have taken the first step, however unintentional, toward open rebellion against the Father. And that, of course, is the essence of sin.