By Ed Allen, Pastor, Gateway Community Church, Ashburn, Virginia
Summary: Greed is foolish because it invests short-term resources in that which offers no long-term yield. In other words, greed seeks that which is temporary and transitory.
O Brother, Be Faithful (Seventh-day Adventist Hymnal #602)
Roxane Malecek tells this story in a recent issue of Today’s Christian Woman: Little Rachel discovered that her friend who lost a tooth got ten dollars from the tooth fairy. Rachel was astounded--she had gotten only two dollars when she lost her tooth! Deciding to correct this great injustice, Rachel said to her friend’s mother, Would you please call my mom and tell her which tooth fairy you use? Greed is a human problem. It comes quite naturally to us. Just like Rachel, we learn all about greed very early and very naturally. The dictionary defines greed as selfish; eager desire; avarice. So what’s wrong with it and what’s the alternative?
Greed causes strife
The parable Jesus tells in our scripture reading is inspired by family strife. Two brothers are at odds over money. The parable illustrates the proverb, Those who are greedy for unjust gain make trouble for their households (Prov 15:27).
In September 1996 the Chicago Tribune ran a story entitled Living Proof that Money Can’t Buy Happiness about Buddy Post who won $16.2 million in the 1988 Pennsylvania lottery. Many things happened in Post’s life since he got all that money--he was convicted of assault, his wife left him, his brother tried to kill him, and his landlady sued him for one-third of the jackpot. It didn’t change me, insisted Post, a 58-year-old former carnival worker and cook. It changed people around me that I knew, that I thought cared a little about me. At the time the article was released, Post was trying to auction off seventeen future payments, valued at nearly $5 million. He needed the money for taxes, legal fees, and a number of failed business ventures. He plans to spend his life as a former lottery winner pursuing lawsuits he has filed against police, judges, and lawyers who he says conspired to take his money.
Greed offends God
In Matthew 6:24, Jesus tells us very clearly and forcefully, No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. In fact, the Bible equates greed with idolatry (Eph 5:5; Col 3:5).
Greed is foolish
Jesus makes the point very clear in the parable. After the man has spent all his time organizing his stuff, God says to him, You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you (Lk 12:20). Greed is foolish because it invests short-term resources in that which offers no long-term yield. In other words, greed seeks that which is temporary and transitory.
John Piper offers an excellent illustration of the foolishness of greed: Suppose someone passes empty-handed through the turnstiles at a big city art museum and begins to take the pictures off the wall and carry them importantly under his arm. You come up to him and say, ?What are you doing?’
He answers, ?I’m becoming an art collector.’
?But they’re not really yours,’ you say, ?and besides, they won’t let you take any of those out of here. You’ll have to go out just like you came in.’
But he answers again, ?Sure, they’re mine. I’ve got them under my arm. People in the halls look at me as an important dealer. And I don’t bother myself with thoughts about leaving. Don’t be a killjoy.’
Proverbs 23:3-5 cautions us: Do not crave the ruler’s delicacies, for that food is deceptive. Do not wear yourself out to get rich; have wisdom to show restraint. Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone, for they will surely sprout wings and fly of f to the sky like an eagle. Greed is foolish because it seeks more than it needs.
Haddon Robinson defines greed as craving more of what you have enough of already. Jesus said, Why do you worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear? Is not life more important than food and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? (Matt 6:25, 26)
Greed destroys you
Proverbs 11:28 reads: Whoever trusts in his riches will fall, but the righteous will thrive like a green leaf. 1 Timothy 6:9 exemplifies this thought: People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction.
Like cancer perverts healthy cells and eventually will kill the whole body, so greed will pervert our desires and our energy output. It demands that more and more energy be invested in what is unimportant so that we eventually get cut off from what is truly important.
George Orwell offers a vivid illustration of the blinding, destructive power of greed in one of his essays. Orwell describes: a wasp was sucking jam on my plate and I cut him in half. He paid no attention, merely went on with his meal, while a tiny stream of jam trickled out of his severed esophagus. Only when he tried to fly away did he grasp the dreadful thing that had happened to him.
How do we dodge the foolishness toward which we are all prone? How can we escape from offending God? How do we avoid the seductive yet destructive power of greed? Fortunately, for every disease, there are telltale-warning signs. Greed is no exception. Some greed markers are: credit card debt; possession-envy; frequent arguments with spouse about money; stinginess; always wanting the best.
Purpose of money
The Bible makes it clear that wise use of money can secure the foundation of eternal life for us (1Tim 6:18-19). So what is the wise use of money?
Money meets your own needs. The Bible says the one who doesn’t work should not eat. God provides gainful employment to most of us so that we can take care of our own needs. Part of that need is our own joy. Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment (1 Tim 6:17).
Money meets the needs of others. In 2 Corinthians 9:10-11, we are told that he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be made rich in ever y way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God. Best-selling author John Grisham said, My wife and I measure financial success not by how much we make but by how much we can give away.
Money helps accomplish the work of the church. The system of tithes and offerings in the Old Testament was designed to maintain the work of the Temple. Similarly, in the New Testament believers are encouraged to support those who work for the church. The elders who direct the affairs of the church are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, ?Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain, and the worker deserves his wages.’ (1 Tim 5:17-18).
Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, ?Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’ So we say with confidence, ?The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?’ (Heb 13:3-5).