Sunday night our young adult group ventured into our second deadly sin: Greed.
Greed is defined as the “inordinate desire to possess wealth, goods, or objects of value with the intention to keep it for one’s self, far beyond the dictates of basic survival and comfort.”
We began our study by noting two elements of greed.
1. Greed involves inordinate desire. Most of the seven deadly sins are hyper-desires; desires that are out of control and out of proportion to what is healthy and life-giving. In the case of greed, the desire to possess wealth, goods, or objects of value is not sinful in and of itself. Rather, it is the intense preoccupation and devotion to the acquisition of wealth, goods, and objects that is one of the defining characteristic of the sin of greed.
2. Greed is self-focused. The other defining characteristic of greed is that the aim of accumulating wealth and possessions is the benefit of “me, myself, and I.” Greed is a sin, not simply because I am in possession of too much, but because I’m completely oblivious to how my excess wealth could benefit and bless others.
Taking these two considerations together, we see that a (moderated) desire for wealth, coupled with the intention to bless others through it is not greed. In fact, this outlook may be a particularly godly expression of a heart that has been transformed by God’s grace.
Scriptures that warn us about greed
Warnings against greed are pervasive throughout Scripture. We looked at four on Sunday night:
Ecclesiastes 5:10 “Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income. This too is meaningless.”
Isaiah 5:8 “Woe to you who add house to house and join field to field till no space is left and you live alone in the land.”
Ephesians 5:5 “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.”
1 Timothy 6:9-10 “9 People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.”
In discussing these Scriptures and thinking out loud together as to why greed is so “deadly,” it was the passages from Isaiah and Ephesians that seemed to offer the greatest insight into the power of greed to interfere with our ability to experience the good life.
God warns in Isaiah 5:8 that a life build on “continuous expansion” (upward mobility?) is one that is unjust because it fails to account for the needs of one’s neighbours. A few people noted that living a life of greed ultimately leads to isolation, simply because as we expand our territory we simultaneously push others away.
The Ephesians 5:5 warning resonated with many of us, because it underscored that a posture of greed is literally anti-gospel and anti-Christ. When you take a moment to think about it, the gospel story is one of anti-greed. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9, emphasis mine). Jesus holds an inordinate desire to love and rescue us, and impoverishes himself so that we might be enriched. That’s why you can’t inherit God’s kingdom if you live inside of greed; greed is a “brick wall” (to steal a metaphor from Glen Watkinson) that stops the kingdom life from flowing into you and through you.
The Subtle Danger of Greed
There’s a really terrifying story in Scripture about a rich young ruler whose greed blinds him to one of the most incredible opportunities ever offered. It’s found in Matthew 19:16-22.
16 Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?” 17 “Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.” 18 “Which ones?” he inquired. Jesus replied, “ ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, 19 honor your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’” 20 “All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?” 21 Jesus answered, “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.” 22 When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.
Here is this rich young ruler, who is wealthy both in money and morality, but who cannot let go of his wealth, because his wealth was his treasure. Even a personal invitation by Jesus couldn’t dislodge the hold his wealth had on him.
Did the rich young ruler recognize his greed issue? Did he ever regret his decision to turn Jesus’ offer down? We’ll never know. What we do know is that this man’s greed subtly blinded him to a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to follow Jesus as a disciple. That’s why greed is so dangerous. We can be caught up in its web and not even know it. How many of us would name greed as a sin we struggle with? Culturally, we told in a thousand ways each day that “greed is good” and that it is normal and “no big deal.”
Scripture, and life (if we’re paying attention), tells us differently.
Dealing with Greed
Whether we want to proactively deal with greed before it becomes a problem, or interrupt greed’s current hold on our hearts, I’m reminded of RR Reno’s insight that “Vices are cured by their contrary.” Sin is put to death through the cultivation of righteousness. Experience tells us that simply trying to not sin won’t work. Therefore, the way to combat greed is to commit to focused generosity rooted in the recognition that “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). Our group brainstormed some ideas, and came up with the following “next steps”:
1. Sponsor a child.
2. Commit to tithing (i.e. giving 10% of one’s income to their church)
3. Once a week spend some of your money on someone else, to a degree that the action qualifies as generous and self-sacrificial.
While we’re often ambivalent to its seductive pull in our lives, greed continually calls to us, tempting us into a life that runs against the grain of Jesus’ love, grace, and hope. Unless we’re participating in spiritual disciplines of financial generosity and sacrifice, greed will likely (inevitably?) take root in our hearts and lives. Once it does, we’ll find that despite our best intentions, our lives will have more and more of what doesn’t matter, and less and less of what does.