Greed is one of those sins that you feel you can identify in other people. After all, everyone knows of someone with a flashier house than us, or an expensive car, or whose lifestyle is so far above our lifestyle.
But greed is horribly deceptive, and a disaster for our faith. In a recent sermons at All Nations we looked at Luke 12, in which Jesus tells the story of a rich man who had a far more abundant crop than usual. This was not due to anything sinful, just a case of God blessing him more richly than before. And the rich man’s solution was simple – build bigger barns and relax and enjoy the spoils. It seems so responsible, and is pretty much exactly what we are encouraged to do by our superannuation funds and financial planners. Early retirement is supposed to be the great aim if you can do it. But then comes the twist in Jesus’ story: God calls the rich man a fool, for he was not rich towards God. And his wealth had no value eternally.
That word ‘fool’ is a strong one. Imagine if you were responsible with your money, saving away, then God was to call you an idiot. Or stupid. Saying that what you had done with your money made no sense at all in the perspective of the kingdom. I think our immediate reaction would be to plead innocence: “I am being responsible!” or “I am planning for the future” or “Other people do this all the time as well!”
The nature of greed is such that we don’t think we have a problem; other people do. But where is the line between being responsible and being greedy with our money? How much is enough? Well, look honestly at your finances. Are they all for you and your family? Could you be described in any real sense as generous and kingdom-focussed based on your spending?
Greed is such a terrible thing because so often we do not know we suffer from it. But our dreams are of our own home or a bigger one than we have; our conversations drift to the newest mobile phone or planned holidays; and our reading material is often stock tips or real estate prices. Greed is about what we dream about, not what we have. And our dreams, according to God, are often just foolish. They are not big enough. They will be given to others when we die or when Jesus returns.
Greed is included in lists of terrible sins in the Bible – it is alongside adultery, drunkenness and stealing in 1 Cor 6:10 and bans you from being an elder in Titus 1:7. And look at this reference:
11 But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler– not even to eat with such a one. (1Co 5:11 ESV)
Greed is incompatible with Christianity, to the extent that if you claim both things you are to be excluded from the Christian gathering.
So what can we do about our sinful, greedy hearts? Well, just trying not to be greedy won’t work; our hearts are more dark than to be fixed with self-control. We need a better vision, something to replace greed for possessions in our thinking. We need to remember that we are saved because of Jesus, not our possessions. We need to remember that serving God has eternal value, while possessions only have temporary value. And we need to fill our minds with more positive inputs, thanking God for what we have instead of clamouring for what we do not have.
It will be a work in progress this side of heaven. But if you realize you have a problem, confess it and pray for help from the Spirit to seek God’s kingdom first. Greed corrupts your heart and is worse than you think it is.