Note: We’ve spent the last two months looking at some key Christian values and how they both relate to us and are viewed in the Bible. From community, humility, communication to gratefulness, these are key components to a healthy God walk and Christ-focused life. Many times it’s just too easy to write off some of these values when we look at our own life. Not me! I have my pride, my jealousy, my lust, and even my gluttony (aside from Thanksgiving) under control. But really, do you? Do I? Do any of us? We live in a fallen world and these things creep into our consciousness all the time whether from advertising, tv, commercials, or our own imaginings. This is why we keep circling back to these subjects. If we don’t keep biblical principles in the forefront, it becomes a slippery slope and just too easy to falter on our walk. So next up – greed! No, not me! Well, let’s see.
3 Signs We’ve Ignored What the Bible Says about Greed in Our Modern Church
Lori Stanley Roeleveld, Contributing Writer
What does the Bible say about greed and how do we live free from greed in our materialistic times? How can the church effectively teach about the dangers of greed in a society that often rewards it?
What are the disguises greed wears that makes it subtly appealing even to believers? Are there ways the church has slipped into a habit of greed that, if unrepented, counters the very teaching it’s called to live up to in God’s Word?
We live in a culture that considers itself smarter and savvier than any generation before us. Sadly, this often displays itself by a cultural disdain for what many consider antiquated values or qualities that previous generations commonly agreed were sins such as lust, envy, pride, and greed.
Ever since Michael Douglas’s character Gordon Gecko in the 1987 movie Wall Street declared that “Greed is good,” we’ve witnessed a growing acceptance of humanity’s unrelenting appetite for more, more, more. Unchallenged, this is a recipe for disaster.
When the church remains slow or silent to renounce greed so that it even sneaks over the transom of the sanctuary doors, the Bible warns us that every kind of evil will abound. It’s vital that we, as the Body of Christ, overcome our need to serve up a palatable message and return to living and communicating the truth that greed is a sure pathway to death of spirit, death of relationship, and death of effective witness for Christ.
What Does the Bible Say about Greed?
One of the most serious warnings in Scripture regarding greed for wealth and material gain is found in 1 Timothy 6:10 NKJV (emphasis mine), “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.”
This verse is in a passage where Paul exhorts the young pastor, Timothy, to cultivate contentment and where he warns that “those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition” 1 Timothy 6:9 NKJV (emphasis mine). In other words, the Bible considers greed a gateway sin to many, many others. Much easier to confront greed than to untangle the web of sin to which it inevitably leads.
People are often quick to emphasize that the Bible doesn’t say money is the root of all kinds of evil but that the LOVE of money is the root. In other words, we don’t have to have money to cherish a greed for it or have it control our lives. Still, it’s wise to be cautious when accumulating money that we don’t fall prey to the allure of riches.
Greed isn’t confined to money. King David appears to have been greedy for conquest when he indulged in an adulterous affair with Bathsheba. To cover his greed and betrayal, the king resorted to deceit, attempted trickery, and eventually orchestrating Bathsheba’s husband’s death on the battlefield. The affair wasn’t a simple case of lust as Nathan’s parable about the man with many, many sheep who took the poor man’s solitary sheep illustrated. It was, at its heart, an act of greed.
We find many biblical warnings against greed across both testaments. Jesus says in Luke 12:15 NKJV “And He said to them, ‘Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.’” He goes on to teach that the life of a Jesus follower is marked by his or her trust in God to provide all that is needed. Freedom from greed is a witness to faith in Christ.
When Jesus sent His disciples out in pairs, He cautioned them to “Carry neither money bag, knapsack, nor sandals; and greet no one along the road.” Luke 10:4 NKJV His clear desire was for His followers to be unencumbered by money or possessions and to demonstrate a complete reliance on God. This doesn’t necessarily mean we are to live as minimalists, but it should sharpen our focus on what’s vital and what’s extraneous in life. It should remind us that He is to be our first love.
This focus is further underlined in Hebrews 13:5 NKJV “Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’”
Our lack of greed testifies to the provision of God and the satisfaction of knowing Him alone.
The Proverbs warn against greed. Proverbs 15:27 NKJV seems slanted toward greed that leads to corruption, “He who is greedy for gain troubles his own house, But he who hates bribes will live.” Similar to it is Proverbs 11:24 NKJV “There is one who scatters, yet increases more; And there is one who withholds more than is right, But it leads to poverty.” Again, greed is teamed with a partner as it is the sin that multiplies.
Generosity is referenced again in Proverbs 21:26 NKJV “He covets greedily all day long, But the righteous gives and does not spare.” And Proverbs 11:28 NKJV again references greed as the opposite of trust in God with these words, “He who trusts in his riches will fall, But the righteous will flourish like foliage.”
There is a story in 2 Kings 5 where Elisha heals Naaman of leprosy. Elisha would take no reward for this healing but his servant, Gehazi, thinks otherwise. He pursues Naaman and accepts gifts as payment for the healing. This act of greed breaks Elisha’s heart and because of it, leprosy falls on Gehazi and remains with his descendants forever. Elisha didn’t wink at Gehazi’s greed or shrug it off, even though the items given were likely of little consequence to Naaman. Elisha knew this greed was a dangerous road that many of God’s leaders, teachers, and priests had followed that would lead only to corruption, exploitation, and every kind of evil.
Why Is Greed Such a Dangerous Sin?
Greed is dangerous because it is a doorway to every other kind of evil. To get what people are greedy to possess, we may lie, cheat, steal, accept bribes, neglect the good we ought to do, withhold from the needy, and some even murder or engage in terrible practices such as trafficking drugs or humans.
The Bible teaches that God’s people are to be holy, set apart, different from those who don’t follow Him. We are to be markedly content with what we have and generous toward God and others. This peace of mind and generosity are to be signs of our faith that God will provide all we need.
Contentment and generosity are in direct conflict with greed. Many public ministries have been undermined by sin that had at its source a greed for money, fame, attention, power, or the favor of people over God’s favor.
Greed is dangerous because, like a snake, it can be subtle and silent but deadly. Colossians 3:5 equates covetousness with idolatry and Jesus warned in Matthew 6:24 that we cannot serve both God and money. Greed is the path away from life toward death.
Have We Become OK with Greed?
Sometimes wise counsel can be twisted to justify greed. Of course, those who work in ministry are worthy of their wages, as it says in 1 Timothy 5:18 NKJV, but in a materialistic society, people can sometimes justify exorbitant material rewards by quoting this verse.
Some justify greed for wealth and material goods because they want to witness to powerful and wealthy people. They convince themselves that we need the respect or even admiration of wealthy people in order to open their ears to the Gospel. It’s risky to rely on this respect over prayer and the power of the Holy Spirit. Truly, nothing is needed but the power of the Gospel.
Christians can even become greedy for ministry goals—if we write songs that bless our congregation, why would we not want to pursue writing and singing for thousands? If we preach well to responding to local crowds, why would we not want to walk through doors where we can preach to millions? Some are called to greater numbers, but the numbers can also become a trap whereby we neglect prayer, family, service, and health to pursue them rather than partnering with God and receiving them from Him in His time if that is His plan for our work.
3 Signs We’ve Ignored What the Bible Says about Greed
1. Giving toward missions or toward the work of the local church is down. Generosity is a sign of a lack of greed, while stinginess and withholding is a sign of its presence.
2. Many more serious sins are apparent in the church and community. Since greed or the love of money is a gateway to every kind of evil, when evil has multiplied, we can be certain we’ve ignored some initial teaching on greed.
3. Exhausted leadership who feel driven or who are haunted by the notion that they will never be enough is a third sign that either within themselves or in trying to please an insatiable congregation, they have become victims of greed and its cousin, ambition.
How Can We Avoid the Sin of Greed?
It’s far too easy in our consumeristic, ambitious society to slide into greed unawares. It’s vital that we do frequent reality checks on our wants and needs.
One exercise I do with my high school students is helpful. I lay out on the table many photos of people in high fashion, standing beside expensive cars and homes, and traveling to luxurious places. Then, I ask my students to write a paragraph about how they feel about their lives after viewing those photos.
When they’re done, I remove those photos and replace them with others. These photos show families living in substandard housing, sharing meager meals, and wearing clothing that is little more than rags. Other photos are of families from other cultures happily enjoying one another with very little in the way of material wealth. I ask the students to consider these photos and then write another paragraph about how they feel about their lives.
This exercise demonstrates in a practical way the truth of 1 John 2:16 NKJV “For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world.” Where we place our focus will often either help or hinder us with the sin of greed. If we fill our eyes with all the world says is fine and good, then we look at our lives, we will only see what we lack. If we fill our eyes with what God says is fine and good, we will make space for the Holy Spirit to convict us of the tiny seeds of greed that might take root and choke out the life of Christ we desire to grow in us. We have more opportunities for God to increase in us spirits of contentment and generosity.
Many Christians before us have fallen prey to the sin of greed. In humility, we must never consider ourselves immune and are wise if we keep God’s Word before us at all times. It also helps to be accountable to a small community of believers who know us well and make a practice of generous giving. We are also wise to teach on the danger of greed regularly, particularly when pursuing a greater ministry, so we can be mindful of keeping our eyes more on God than on growing numbers.
Greed is not good. It is never good. When we embrace this truth and commit to rid greed from our lives, celebrating the discipline of simplicity, our lights will shine even brighter.