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GREED: THE HEART REVEALED
The point is, ladies and gentleman, that greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed in all of its forms—greed for life, money, love and knowledge—has marked the upward surge of mankind." So said Michael Douglas in a movie video clip that I saw recently.
Contrast his words with that of another:
"No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money." The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus. He said to them, "You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts. What is highly valued among men is detestable in God's sight." –LUKE 16:13–15
Money, detestable in the sight of God!
Whom shall we believe, Christ or Michael Douglas? Christ or Ivan F. Boeske?
Who wants to be a millionaire? Turns out that one of TV's most popular shows has uncovered many people who want to get rich quick. Down deep in our hearts, all of us would like to be millionaires. The lure of big money has the power to make even decent people compromise their principles. On this rock many a life has been dashed to pieces.
Greed has many different forms. Greed is not just the sin of Wall Street; the sin of the obsessed day trader, spending every waking minute peering into his computer monitor. Greed is not just the sin of the wealthy but of those who would live beyond their means, those who make unwise choices, mortgaging their future for the present.
Take, for example, a couple whom we will call Paul and Julie, who were married in their early twenties. They lived in an apartment for two years but, in order to establish equity, bought a house with a down payment borrowed from Paul's father. They also bought some new furniture, enticed by the lure that they would not have to make payments until next year.
Their relocation meant that they needed a second car, and they decided to get a relatively new one, based on a promise that Paul would receive an increase in salary. But when Julie's job was terminated, they found it difficult to make all the payments. One day they flipped on a light switch and discovered that their electricity had been cut off.
To shield his wife from financial pressures, Paul didn't tell her about some other loans he had made to finance his growing burden of debt. In order to meet their financial shortfall, Paul took a second loan on the house and a temporary loan from his father-in-law. Although Julie found a part-time job, they simply could not keep up with the pressure of the regular bills. Paul was angry with Julie when she put $40.00 on the offering plate one Sunday, because they could not afford it. In fact, they were beginning to put their groceries on credit cards. Paul even began gambling on the side, hoping for "the big win."
When Julie discovered she was pregnant, the arguments escalated. Julie suspected that her husband was being dishonest with her; he kept trying to tell her that eventually they would pull out of their debt. He just needed her to be patient. But when he later suggested they file bankruptcy, Julie was stunned. Because she felt he had so badly handled their finances and was dishonest, Julie was contemplating a divorce.
Where did they go wrong? Yes, believe it or not, greed, like a weed, found a home in their hearts. Though "the love of things" seemed both harmless and acceptable by today's standards, this tiny plant began to exert greater control over this couple's lives. In the end, greed led them to take a series of missteps.
First, they borrowed money rather than be satisfied with God's provision. Before credit cards were popular, Christians would trust God for a car, for furniture, or for a home. God, it was believed, would lead his people by supplying money or withholding it; if He wanted them to have a refrigerator, He would supply money for it, and if not, a friend would choose to donate a secondhand model. At any rate, back then the words "Give us this day our daily bread" had real meaning.
Today, faith is out and credit is in. I see nothing wrong with borrowing for items that appreciate in value; but it is counterproductive to borrow for items that diminish in value. My wife and I have taken out some wise loans and some unwise ones. We've learned that we should only use a credit card for convenience, not to accumulate things for which we do not have the money. Only about 6 percent of card users pay them off every month. If you can't control yourself, then fulfill your childhood dream and play doctor: take your credit cards and perform plastic surgery!
The seed of greed is planted when we are discontent with what we have. "In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The Israelites said to them, 'If only we had died by the LORD's hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death" (Exodus 16:2–3). God chose to give them manna, promising that it would form on the ground every morning but be stale the next day.
God was not amused with their grumbling, but took it as a personal insult. Moses said, "You will know that it was the Lord when he gives you meat to eat in the evening and all the bread you want in the morning, because he has heard your grumbling against him. Who are we? You are not grumbling against us, but against the LORD" (v. 8). Obviously, if they had been thankful for what they did have, God would have continued to provide, perhaps even giving something better than manna.
In another version of what happened, God is pictured as very angry over Israel's complaint that they were not getting the meat they wanted. Moses, speaking for God, said, "Now the LORD will give you meat, and you will eat it. You will not eat it for just one day, or two days, or five, ten or twenty days, but for a whole month—until it comes out of your nostrils and you loathe it—because you have rejected the LORD, who is among you, and have wailed before him, saying, 'Why did we ever leave Egypt?'" (Numbers 11:18–20). Discontentment lies at the heart of our struggle with greed.
God may withhold money for a reason. We need to give Him time to meet our need, being willing to wait for His provision. Yes, though purchasing items on credit is popular today, and most of us have done it, borrowing has the inherent danger of fostering distrust of God; it takes responsibilities He has promised to carry and puts them on our shoulders. We might be quite convinced that our motivation is not greed, just meeting the needs of daily life. But discontentment is the seed that eventually leads us to want more and more, if only we had the opportunity.
Second, the story of Paul and Julie illustrates how the one small sin of greed can lead to a second sin of dishonesty. Thus, a marriage that began with so much happiness ended in failure when Paul concealed information from his wife and manipulated accounts. Greed, as we shall see, never travels alone. It is always accompanied by other sins.
Finally, Tim and Julie put themselves in a predicament where they were unable to give money to the Lord's work. Every dime was needed to keep the creditors away from the door. Feeling the pressure to meet the minimum payment on their credit card, they had to stop their giving to the church and missions. Julie, bless her, wanted to give, but when Paul objected, they backed off.
Greed comes in many different forms. Some men refuse to give their wives money, not for lack but for stinginess. They will pinch every penny and moan over every expenditure. For them, money is so closely identified with who they are that the thought of parting with it is almost unbearable. Some find it difficult to write the checks for their utilities and groceries.
How shall we describe greed?
Greed lies at the heart of consumerism and is often a mask for painful feelings of emptiness and a tendency to respond to the advertising that bombards us from every angle. At its worst, it is a self-centered narcissism empowered by affluence, a lack of meaning, and a resistance to God. "Huge shopping malls have become the cathedrals of our society for millions of worshiping shopaholics." As the bumper sticker puts it, "When the going gets tough, the tough go shopping." Easy credit makes it possible for even the poor to "shop till you drop."
Greed has two cousins. The first is covetousness, the desire to have what others possess. We see the elegant home that a friend has purchased, and in our hearts we want to own the same or better. We hear that a relative has made a million dollars in the stock market, and we wish we had his bank account. These kinds of thoughts are so much a part of who we are that we do not see them as sinful but just a part of the normal course of life. How differently God sees it all!
The second sin that accompanies greed is envy. If covetousness means that I want what others have, envy means that I resent the blessings others have received. "Envy is discontent or ill will at another's good fortune, because one wishes it would have been his; dislike for a person who has what one wants." The poor often envy the rich. The weak envy the strong. Those of ordinary physical attributes are tempted to envy the attractive; the overlooked are tempted to envy those who receive all the attention. Envy will cause a mother to murder a girl who bested her daughter in a beauty contest.
There is a story in Jewish folklore about a store owner who was visited by an angel. The angel offered the man a wish that would give him anything he desired. However, there was one condition—his rival, whom he envied intensely, would receive double of the wish granted. Without hesitation, the envious man wished to be blind in one eye. Cain's envy of Abel led to murder. Saul tried to kill David because the lad made the king look bad. Envy caused the fall of Satan; it is the sin that put Jesus on the cross.
In one of the saddest stories in the Bible, a young man lost his eternal soul because of greed. When he met Jesus, he asked: "Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?" (Matthew 19:16). When Jesus told him that he should keep the commandments, he quite honestly replied that he had—at least he thought so. Jesus, knowing the man's heart better than he himself did, said, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me" (v. 21). The young man had received an answer he neither expected nor liked; forced to make a decision, he walked away. "When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth" (v. 22).
Obviously, Jesus was not teaching that we get to heaven by our own good deeds; generosity will not save us. But He wanted this young man to see how covetous his heart really was. As far as we know, he never returned to follow Jesus. Parting with his money was more painful than the prospect of losing the eternal life he knew he wanted. Like the man who drowned because he loaded his pockets with gold when the ship was sinking, this young man's money caused him to lose sight of the Lord who could save him.
Life has few certainties, but this is one of them:
For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person-such a man is an idolater-has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God's wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be partners with them. –EPHESIANS 5:5–7
Notice that the first commandment, "You shall have no other gods before me," and the last commandment, "You shall not covet," are actually the same commandment (Exodus 20:3, 17). Greed, said Paul, is idolatry. Covetousness is active rivalry against God. Eve coveted being like God and took the forbidden fruit. Lot's wife coveted Sodom and was turned into a pillar of salt. David coveted his neighbor's wife and received heartache for himself and a broken family.
How powerful is the lure of easy money? Years ago the New Era scheme promised investors that their money would double every ten or eleven months. Some organizations profited, and this was seen as evidence that the plan was working. Many red flags were ignored by investors who insisted that the "proof was in the pudding." Some people refused to ask the hard questions, wanting so desperately to get in on the financial windfall.
The Wall Street Journal says that these questions caused some auditors and board members of organizations to suggest caution, "but these voices were drowned out by those that pointed to the indisputable: New Era had never failed to double participants' money." The article goes on to say that nobody stopped to sniff the air. One man who discouraged his college from participating in New Era's program, but without success, said, "They could just taste the money.... The weakness around the mouth, the desire in the eyes. I've always heard the expression, 'You can see greed written,' but I've seen the reality."
Greed crouches like a beast within our hearts and is so much a part of us that we cannot see it objectively. Dangle big money in someone's face and he or she just might throw aside the most dearly held principles to get it. Even Christian relatives will fight over a will, stepping on anyone or anything that stands in their way. "A greedy man brings trouble to his family, but he who hates bribes will live" (Proverbs 15:27).
Isaiah leveled God's judgment toward the spiritual leadership of his day. "Israel's watchmen are blind, they all lack knowledge; they are all mute dogs, they cannot bark; they lie around and dream, they love to sleep. They are dogs with mighty appetites; they never have enough. They are shepherds who lack understanding; they all turn to their own way, each seeks his own gain" (Isaiah 56:10–11). Mighty appetites, but never enough.
A STORY OF GREED
One day Jesus was interrupted to settle a family quarrel. As all rabbis, He was often asked questions about the application of the law to daily life. Apparently in this instance an elder brother refused to give his younger brother the one-third of the inheritance that was his by law. "Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me" (Luke 12:13). Perhaps it was this man's only opportunity to ask Jesus a question, and he used the opportunity to put pressure on his family to be fair about the inheritance.
Squabbling among relatives after the death of a family member is, of course, nothing new. A funeral director in Chicago told me that on one occasion family members drew guns in the cemetery after the death of a wealthy man. Of course, nice families don't do it that way; they politely wait to have their arguments later and then refuse to talk to one another for the rest of their lives.
Jesus could have solved this problem by urging a settlement of the dispute. But rather than treat this as a legal problem, He broke the outer shell and revealed the covetousness of the human heart. The law can force people to make outward changes, but only God can change the motivation. "Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions," Jesus warned (Luke 12:15).
To make his point, Jesus told a story about a rich man:
"The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. He thought to himself, 'What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.' "Then he said, 'This is what I'll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I'll say to myself, "You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry."' "But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?' "This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God." –LUKE 12:16–21
What mistakes did this greedy man make?
He Mistook His Body for His Soul
When he was speaking to himself, he used the Greek word psyche, which means soul. "And I will say to my soul, 'Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry" (Luke 12:19 NASB). He should have said, "I will say to my body, you have many goods laid up for years to come." Wealth had become his center of gravity. His body was full, but his soul was starved.
He might have stood as a wonderful physical specimen, but spiritually he was disconnected; he had not learned that "a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions" (Luke 12:15). He was placing ultimate value on something that was of passing worth. He was selling his soul for bargain-basement prices.
Come with me to Wall Street, or LaSalle Street. Come with me to the banks and stock exchanges of the world. Come where investors are shouting, where the markets are rising, and where money is being made. Come and ask those who are driven by greed—ask them about their souls. You'll discover that there is no room for serious God-talk at the end of a good trading day. The delights of the body, yes; the filling of the soul, no.
Excerpted from Seven Snares of the Enemy by Erwin W. Lutzer. Copyright © 2001 Erwin W. Lutzer. Excerpted by permission of Moody Publishers.
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Posted February 1, 2011
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