The Sin of Greed

Greed has gone largely unaddressed in Western Christianity because it has such a powerful grip on our culture and it can sometimes be difficult to identify, but we have protected greed by veiling it in heavy cloaks of subjectivity so that no one can confront it without being condemned as “judgmental” and “divisive”.

Indeed, this subject is so neglected in the Church that none of my Bible dictionaries had a single article on greed.

So, “let the insults of those who insult Christ fall upon me” because Christ has spoken, therefore, I must proclaim his word.

WHAT IS GREED?

1 John 2:15 (CSB) — 15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.

Greed is the kind of love for this world that generates a sense of discontentment with God’s provision and motivates us to pursue “more and more”.

That is why “greed” and “the love of God” are mutually exclusive to one another:

Matthew 6:24 (CSB) — 24 “No one can serve two masters, since either he will hate one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.

Christ always calls upon his disciples to sacrifice this world in their pursuit of his Kingdom, but greed is the desire that will cause his disciples to despise him when this call comes because they have loved this world.  This enmity between greed and Christ is universally inherent to all greed whether or not it is immediately apparent.

Greed is a desire for something that is disproportionately greater than our need.

Greed causes us to neglect holy treasures for earthly treasures.

Greed gives a greater measure of importance to worldly things than they should be given.

 

THE GREAT LIE OF WORLDLY WISDOM

Luke 12:15 (CSB) — 15 He then told them, “Watch out and be on guard against all greed, because one’s life is not in the abundance of his possessions.”

The predominant wisdom of this age is materialism.  The world is seen through material values and life is measured in material means.  This lie is so powerful because it is so readily available to our senses, but it fails to grasp the spiritual realities that govern our physical existence.

There is more to life than the material world:

That many of us are called poor, this is not our disgrace, but our glory. For, as our mind is relaxed by luxury, so is it strengthened by frugality. Yet, who can be poor if he does not want—if he does not crave for—the possessions of others? Who can be poor if he is rich towards God? He, rather, is poor, who, although he has much, desires more.

Mark Minucius Felix (c. 200, W), 4.195.

Those whom you consider rich add forests to forests. They exclude the poor from their neighborhoods and stretch out their fields far and wide into space without any limits. They possess immense heaps of silver and gold, as well as mighty sums of money.… Such a person enjoys no security either in his food or in his sleep. In the middle of the banquet he sighs, although he drinks from a jeweled goblet.… He does not realize, poor wretch, that these things are merely gilded torments. He is held in bondage by his gold. He is the slave, not the master, of his luxury and wealth.… From him, there is no liberality to dependents, no giving to the poor.… His possession amounts to this only: that he can keep others from possessing it.

Cyprian (c. 250, W), 5.279.

The pursuit of luxury and wealth is an empty pursuit that leads to the abyss of darkness, where the soul will be ruined in misery and sorrow.  It is a terrible existence to wander this world looking only for what can be seen with the naked eye!

Indeed, Christ blesses us with all things for spiritual enjoyment:

1 Timothy 6:17–19 (CSB) — 17 Instruct those who are rich in the present age not to be arrogant or to set their hope on the uncertainty of wealth, but on God, who richly provides us with all things to enjoy. 18 Instruct them to do what is good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and willing to share, 19 storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of what is truly life.

God does not bless us with material possessions to enjoy them in carnal ways, but he blesses us so that we can rejoice in spiritual means.

Those whom God has blessed with material means in this life should enjoy their blessings in Christ, as Christ himself rejoiced to do good works with generosity of spirit and vision for the coming age.

 

THE LEAVEN OF GREED

Matthew 19:20–22 (CSB) — 20 “I have kept all these,” the young man told him. “What do I still lack?” 21 “If you want to be perfect,” Jesus said to him, “go, sell your belongings and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” 22 When the young man heard that, he went away grieving, because he had many possessions.

The rich young man who had kept the law from his youth came to Jesus and asked the way to eternal life.  The King of kings called upon him to sacrifice this world in pursuit of the holy, but the rich young man went away grieving because he had so many possessions.

Greed leavens the heart and causes us to neglect the holy to pursue “more”.  We might think of men who neglect their sacred role as husband and father to become more than just “providers” of their family; their greed for more money, more success, and more power is evidenced by their neglect of “the holy”.

Such was the case of Eli and his sons:

1 Samuel 2:29 (CSB) — 29 Why, then, do all of you despise my sacrifices and offerings that I require at the place of worship? You have honored your sons more than me, by making yourselves fat with the best part of all of the offerings of my people Israel.’

Eli allowed his sons to be honored more than God himself because of their greed for the best portion of Israel’s sacrifices!

What sacrifice of worship might we be withholding from the altar of God because of our greed?

Matthew 25:37–40 (CSB) 37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and take you in, or without clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick, or in prison, and visit you?’ 40 “And the King will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

1 John 3:17–18 (CSB) — 17 If anyone has this world’s goods and sees a fellow believer in need but withholds compassion from him—how does God’s love reside in him? 18 Little children, let us not love in word or speech, but in action and in truth.

How much love do we withhold from the altar of God because of our greed for this world?

How can we say that we have been renewed in Christ, who gave his life for the enemies of God, when we do not love in action and in truth our brothers and sisters who were redeemed by his blood?

To pursue material gain when we ought to render a service of love to our community of brothers and sisters who are in need is greed because it places the desire for material possessions above God’s desire for love and compassion to the weak.

In this way we must understand Christ’s teaching to us:

“Sell your possessions.” And what is this? Jesus does not ask [us] to throw away the substance [we] possess and to abandon [our] property (as some carelessly think). Rather, He asks [us] to banish from [our] soul [our] notions about wealth, [our] excitement and morbid feeling about it, and [our] anxieties.

Clement of Alexandria (c. 195, E), 2.594.

The Church is called to extend the compassion and charity of Christ as far as God’s blessings would enable her, not to carelessly discard God’s blessings as if they were a curse, but to employ the full force of God’s blessings to extend the love of Christ to the poor, sick, and suffering.

But much like Eli, who allowed his sons to take the choicest offerings off God’s altar for themselves, the Church has taken the choicest love-offerings and lived luxuriously.  Instead of using God’s blessings to reach beyond herself and store up tremendous treasures in heaven, she built bigger monuments of worship to herself, installed fog machines, light shows, expensive sound systems, and extravagantly decorated her buildings!

The opposite of greed is seen in those who pursue heavenly treasures:

Matthew 6:19–21, 33 (CSB) — 19 “Don’t store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves don’t break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you.

Tertullian addressed this contrast in the following personification of a “wealthy woman”:

The wealthier a woman is… the more spacious a house she requires for her burdens. It is as if it were a field where ambition may run its course. To such a person, the churches look paltry. A rich husband is a difficult thing [to find] in the house of God.… To such a Christian woman, it is irksome to marry a believer inferior to herself in estate.… However, she will be dowered with an ampler dowry from the goods of him who is rich in God.

Tertullian (c. 205, W), 3.48.

This contrast brings Christ’s words home to both men and women in a penetrating way: the wealthy require “more and more” to maintain their burdens and their great wealth robs them of their capacity to love generously.  Notice that the accumulation of their wealth is seen as burdensome because it binds them to more and more.

And such is the case that all who are bound to this world experience; they begin to look upon the joys of heaven as paltry when compared to the temporary pleasures of this world instead of seeing the glory of Christ as greater than anything this world has to offer; and they pursue greater houses, more lands, bigger cars, more gadgets, more storage, and bigger barns to hold on to their poverty (since they hold on to what they have instead of being filled with the joys of heaven through generosity and kindness, their wealth has become their poverty).

Their minds have not yet been renewed in the mind of Christ, and so they do not properly understand this world:

1st Timothy 6:6 (CSB) — 6 But godliness with contentment is great gain.

That many of us are called poor, this is not our disgrace, but our glory. For, as our mind is relaxed by luxury, so is it strengthened by frugality. Yet, who can be poor if he does not want—if he does not crave for—the possessions of others? Who can be poor if he is rich towards God? He, rather, is poor, who, although he has much, desires more.

Mark Minucius Felix (c. 200, W), 4.195.

The greedy are truly poor because they do not possess contentment.  They have not learned to be content with what they have and to become rich towards God.

 

THE CONSEQUENCES OF GREED

Matthew 13:22 (CSB) — 22 Now the one sown among the thorns—this is one who hears the word, but the worries of this age and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.

What a terrible and fierce enemy of the soul is greed that it can take our hearts captive and cause us to exchange the love of God for enmity against our precious savior!

Greed chokes the Word from our soul and causes it to become unfruitful; the seed that would have caused the supernatural love of Christ to abound in our hearts is choked our and, in its place, grows the thorns of greed – envy, covetousness, discontentment, hatred, murder, strife, and slander – and slowly the shade of this terrible vine strangles the life out of our heart and envelopes our soul in darkness.

One of the earliest apocalyptic writings from the early Church – the Shepherd of Hermas – records the following about greed:

Foremost of all evil desires is the desire after another’s wife or husband. There is also the desire after extravagance, many useless dainties and drinks, and many other foolish luxuries. For all luxury is foolish and empty to the servants of God. These, then, are the evil desires that slay the servants of God.

Hermas (c. 150, W), 2.28.

The modern Church is very familiar with the apostolic doctrine that says “everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial”, and we automatically chalk up “extravagance” and “luxuries” to permissible activities that are merely not beneficial, but we must learn to complete the doctrine:

1 Corinthians 6:12 (CSB) — 12 “Everything is permissible for me,” but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible for me,” but I will not be mastered by anything.

 I suspect this is what was in mind in the above excerpt from the Shepherd of Hermas’ writings: masterful “extravagances” and “luxuries” are the evil desires that slay the servants of God because they cause them to turn away from seeking the kingdom of God and his righteousness first, and turn them aside to pursue perishable things; even more than that, their affections are mastered.

Now we must consider the severity of God’s wrath against greed:

Ephesians 5:5 (CSB) — 5 For know and recognize this: Every sexually immoral or impure or greedy person, who is an idolater, does not have an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.

1 Corinthians 6:9–10 (CSB) — 9 Don’t you know that the unrighteous will not inherit God’s kingdom? Do not be deceived: No sexually immoral people, idolaters, adulterers, or males who have sex with males, 10 no thieves, greedy people, drunkards, verbally abusive people, or swindlers will inherit God’s kingdom.

Colossians 3:5–6 (CSB) — 5 Therefore, put to death what belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desire, and greed, which is idolatry. 6 Because of these, God’s wrath is coming upon the disobedient…

Romans 1:28–29, 32 (CSB) — 28 And because they did not think it worthwhile to acknowledge God, God delivered them over to a corrupt mind so that they do what is not right. 29 They are filled with all unrighteousness, evil, greed, and wickedness… 32 Although they know God’s just sentence—that those who practice such things deserve to die—they not only do them, but even applaud others who practice them.

Space prevents me from expounding on the full scope of God’s wrath against greed, but he has pledged in no uncertain terms that “greedy people will not inherit his kingdom”; indeed, greed is idolatry!

For this reason, Clement of Alexandria wrote:

Wealth, when not properly governed, is a stronghold of evil. Many, because of casting their eyes on it, will never reach the kingdom of heaven. For they are sick for the things of the world, and are living proudly through luxury.… Love of money is found to be the stronghold of evil, which the apostle says “is the root of all evils.” … But the best riches is poverty of desires. And the true magnanimity is not to be proud of wealth, but to despise it.

Clement of Alexandria (c. 195, E), 2.248.

Therefore, consider this apostolic exhortation and meditate upon it:

James 5:1–5 (CSB) — 1 Come now, you rich people, weep and wail over the miseries that are coming on you. 2 Your wealth has rotted and your clothes are moth-eaten. 3 Your gold and silver are corroded, and their corrosion will be a witness against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have stored up treasure in the last days. 4 Look! The pay that you withheld from the workers who mowed your fields cries out, and the outcry of the harvesters has reached the ears of the Lord of Hosts. 5 You have lived luxuriously on the earth and have indulged yourselves. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter.

Because those who lived in luxury on this earth have not trembled before God and considered their ways; because the sons and daughters of God were not ashamed to adorn themselves in the extravagances of this world, behold God – your God – has brought misery upon you and filled your heart with sorrow!

The corrosion of your wealth is a witness against you, that you foolishly stored up treasure on earth in the last days!

Indeed, God has become a witness, not only against those who greedily withhold wages from their workers, but also against those who greedily withhold love from their brothers and sisters in Christ! 

Let the American Church tremble with fear, for God has already called your wealth as witness against you!

Now, hear the word of God that is able to save your souls:

Colossians 3:2 (CSB) — 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.

Hebrews 13:5 (CSB) — 5 Keep your life free from the love of money. Be satisfied with what you have, for he himself has said, I will never leave you or abandon you.

THE CHURCH’S RESPONSE TO GREED

1 Corinthians 5:6–8, 11 (CSB) — 6 Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little leaven leavens the whole batch of dough? 7 Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new unleavened batch, as indeed you are. For Christ our Passover lamb has been sacrificed. 8 Therefore, let us observe the feast, not with old leaven or with the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. 11 But actually, I wrote you not to associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister and is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or verbally abusive, a drunkard or a swindler. Do not even eat with such a person.

Scripture never treats “greed” as some kind of secret sin that is too difficult to detect.

God considers greed to be a form of spiritual leaven that will defile the whole body if it takes root in the members of the Church, and for this reason, the Church is commanded to disfellowship anyone who claims to be a brother or sister while being greedy.

This command to disfellowship the greedy person sounds unreasonable and insane to modern Western ears because we are so steeped in greed that the command not to even eat with a greedy brother or sister sounds to absolutely preposterous to us.  Indeed, I have struggled with these doctrines as a pastor of God’s flock and a member of God’s household; I have even come short in upholding this command many times, much to my own hurt.  I have excused and overlooked those I loved because I knew their hearts were stubborn and firmly planted in their greed; I looked on as they fought against the hand of God in their lives – and as false prophets consoled them and assured them of peace from God – and witnessed their resolve to hold on to the burdens of their soul!

Yet the wisdom of God always prevails against even the most well-intentioned contradictions of human insight.

The Church’s response to someone who refuses to repent of their greed and commit to the process of sanctification is to disfellowship them from the assembly.

 

 

 

6 Replies to “The Sin of Greed”

    1. Thank you, Dee!

      I’m sorry your comment got caught in my filters for some reason. I’ve been especially busy these last couple weeks and so I didn’t get on to see this until just now.

      Thank you for the nomination and your continued encouragements!

      Liked by 1 person

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