Lesson 11: Greed - A Fearful Master
Lynne Blake was a successful female executive who had been very fortunate in the real estate business. By the time she was thirty-five years old, she was ready to open her own office. And she was determined to make it the most high-tech, state-of-the-art real estate office in town.
Three weeks before the "Lynne Blake Real Estate" sign lit up and the office officially opened, Lynne ordered four expensive computers complete with printers, modems, CDROMs, and sound cards. "Why do we need four computers?" her assistant Brenda asked. "There are only two of us."
"We'll be expanding soon," Lynne smiled. "And until we do, I want people to know we're on the cutting edge of this business!"
The next day, four top-of-the-line office chairs were delivered. An account executive from a voice mail system signed Lynne up for his most complete setup. In the days to come, a stream of deliveries brought gourmet coffee service, customized paper stock, exotic plants, and every other imaginable office accessory.
Meanwhile, Lynne was dressing in the finest executive wardrobe she could assemble. She never showed up at work wearing less than five hundred dollars' worth of clothing. "It's part of the package," she winked at Brenda after she had complimented her on yet another new suit.
Lynne's parents were extremely wealthy and had agreed to underwrite her new business, so the sky was the limit as far as finances were concerned. Once Lynne and Brenda settled into a routine, rather than hire two new employees, Lynne simply doubled Brenda's workload. This, of course, saved her another salary.
Exactly one year after the new business opened its doors under Lynne's ownership, to Brenda's horror all the computers were removed—donated to a local charity. In their place, four newer, faster models were installed, promising more speed, memory, and complicated software.
Brenda rushed into Lynne's office, visibly upset. "Lynne, I'm just learning this system, and now I have to learn a whole new one! We don't need more memory or more speed on our computers. We just need another person to help input the information!"
Lynne was annoyed with Brenda's objection. "It's none of your business, Brenda. You have nothing to complain about."
"Well, if you aren't going to hire someone else, it wouldn't hurt you to invest a little money in me—why don't you give me a raise? Why are you spending every dime on stuff we don't even need when I'm breaking my neck for you?"
Lynne snapped, "I'll spend my money any way I want! This equipment makes your work a piece of cake. Why should I give you a raise? You're lucky to have a job at all. You can quit if you're unhappy."
Would You Call Yourself a Materialistic Person?
Most of us aren't hooked on equipping suburban real estate offices with high-tech equipment. But we all face the temptation to spend more than we should on things we don't really need. For example . . .
- How many catalogs have you received in the mail recently?
- How many things in those catalogs would you like to have?
- How many items do you usually buy when you're "window shopping" at the mall?
- Do you need what you buy, or do you simply want it?
- Do you have more "stuff' than you have space in which to store it?
- Does buying new clothes make you feel better? For how long?
- Do you use cash or a credit card? Are your credit cards maxed out?
Will we ever be satisfied with what we have? The answer is no if we are gripped in the vise of greed and its twin sister, materialism. lb be materialistic is to take interest exclusively, chiefly, or excessively in the material or bodily necessities and comforts of life. lb be greedy is to never have enough.
Is it possible to be a believer and a materialist at the same time? Yes, most definitely. But it's not possible to be a committed, growing believer with divided priorities: Money is God's great rival for our hearts. Jesus said, "No man 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" (Luke 16:13).
The love of money and the things it can buy makes us greedy for more, no matter how much we have. As Scripture teaches us, "Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income" (Eccles. 5:10).
Have you noticed that we're talking about a love affair with money? Love of money will impede our growth to maturity because it keeps us from loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. Greed results in displacing the One who has the right to be King on the throne of our lives. That's why greed is called "idolatry" in Colossians 3:5.
A King Who Wanted More
We have a perfect example of what greed can lead to in Ahab, king of Israel. Ahab had just about everything but character, and he was married to a woman who was even worse than he was, Jezebel. He was very wealthy. He had one entire palace inlaid with ivory. And he had another palace in Jezreel. One day as he looked out the window of his Jezreel palace he saw a vineyard that he thought would make a nice vegetable garden for himself. The only problem was it belonged to someone else, a man named Naboth. Here's what happened:
"Ahab said to Naboth, 'Let me have your vineyard to use for a vegetable garden, since it is close to my palace. In exchange I will give you a better vineyard or, if you prefer, I will pay you whatever it is worth" (1 Kings 21:2-3).
Naboth refused to sell because he was obedient to God's instructions about the land. When Israel first took possession of the land, every family received their plot of ground. The land could never be permanently sold and was to remain in that family's possession forever. But instead of respecting Naboth's reasons for not selling, look what Ahab did:
"Ahab went home, sullen and angry because Naboth the Jezreelite had said, 'I will not give you the inheritance of my fathers' He lay on his bed sulking and refused to eat" (1 Kings 21:4).
Real mature, wasn't he? But he demonstrates something we all do. He focused on what he didn't have. Ahab expressed no gratitude for all his wealth, his power, or his palaces. Instead, he lay on his bed sulking and fasting in protest for not getting his way.
How do you react when you don't get what you want? Maybe you want to redecorate the bedroom, order new carpet or furniture, but your husband isn't ready for that. Maybe he's saying no because you're over the limit on all your credit cards. Or it may be that he just doesn't agree with you about the need for such things. Maybe he's tight with money. Whatever the reason, your reaction is your responsibility.
Do you shop around and find the best prices and show him how much you'll save by doing some things yourself? Do you pray and tell the Lord you are willing to wait for His timing? Or do you nag, sulk, and give your husband the silent treatment? Ahab sulked and fasted long enough to irritate Jezebel, who is a perfect example of what a wife shouldn't be. When she found out about Naboth's refusal to give up his vineyard, she came up with a plot to get Naboth murdered. And because she was queen, her plan worked perfectly.
"When Ahab heard that Naboth was dead, he got up and went down to take possession of Naboth's vineyard" (1 Kings 21:16).
Rampant greed led to the murder of an innocent man and the confiscation of his property. But God had seen it all. Elijah the prophet met Ahab when he went to take possession of Naboth's vineyard, and he pronounced God's punishment upon Ahab for what he and Jezebel had done. His grim prophecy predicted that dogs would lick up the couple's blood and that God would wipe out their descendants from the face of the earth—the worst imaginable curse for an Israelite. God already had a great deal against Ahab and Jezebel, but their greed-inspired brutality against Naboth was the last straw.
Greed—God's Rival for Our Hearts
Greed is diametrically opposed to all that Scripture has to say about the place money and things should have in our lives. One out of every seven verses in the book of Luke is on the subject of money. In Luke 12, Jesus was approached by a man who wanted more of his inheritance than he was entitled to. In that culture, the older brother received twice what the other brothers received because of the responsibilities involved in being the head of the family. Instead of arbitrating this man's grievance, Jesus addressed the heart of the issue.
"Someone in the crowd said to him, 'Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me'
"Jesus replied, 'Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?' Then he said to them, 'Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions" (Luke 12:13-15).
How do you measure the quality of your life? What makes it valuable? Perhaps you think in terms of what you have accomplished—your education, your job, your home, your summer house, your clothes, your portfolio, your cars, your art. Jesus said that our lives do not consist of the abundance of our possessions. Real life is the life of the mind and the spirit. Real life is freedom from the greed that enslaves us, a freedom that reveals a right relationship with our Maker.
Next Jesus told a parable about a greedy 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?" (Luke 12:16-21).
What could this man have done with all the wealth God had allowed him to accumulate? He could have used it unselfishly to help those in need. Instead, he decided that he would indulge himself in a hedonistic lifestyle. Unfortunately for him, that life was only one day long. God called him a fool because he was rich only in material things, and he used them for totally selfish pursuits—things that excluded God. He was rich, but not rich toward God.
How does one become rich toward God? Jesus explained to His disciples what that means: "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes" (Luke 12:22-23).
Principles for Greed-Free Living
To say we don't need to worry about how we will feed, clothe, and shelter ourselves doesn't mean we don't have to work to earn a living. It means we have a good reason not to be filled with anxiety about it. We have a Father in heaven who knows all about our needs. And, as we learned already, instead of worrying, our heavenly Father wants us to trust Him to supply these basic needs. God clothes and feeds birds and flowers, and we are much more valuable to Him than they are. God is the Creator of all things, but He is the heavenly Father of His children. And He is a good, wise, and loving Father. Here are some principles He offers to help us overcome our love of money and the things money buys.
Make It Your Goal to Please God
One day Jesus Christ will be the ruler over the whole earth. But for now He must be the ruler on the throne of our hearts. He does not want us to be ruled by ourselves or our idols, whatever they may be. He said, "Seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well" (Luke 12:31). A kingdom is a place where a king is sovereign. We seek God's kingdom when we live in obedience to Him and are involved in His interests.
If the Lord Jesus Christ is on our heart's throne, then we will accept the things He gives us as gifts from His hand. We will be grateful for whatever He chooses to give us. Jesus wants us to believe—and to live as if we believed—that the life of the spirit is more important than the life of the body. He told His disciples—and us: "Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Luke 12:32-34).
Use Money to Build a Treasure in Heaven
The accumulation of money to be spent on things and pleasure should not be our goal. Scripture tells us, "Do not wear yourself out to get rich; have the wisdom to show restraint. Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone, for they will surely sprout wings and fly off to the sky like an eagle" (Prov. 23:4-5). The contrast here is between the pursuit of earthly riches that can be lost and a heavenly treasure that is secure for eternity.
God gives us money to share with those who don't have it. He allows us to give so others will hear the gospel message and support the work of God's kingdom.
Where is your treasure? In a bank vault or in heaven? Do you give God His portion of your income? When we give to the Lord, we acknowledge that He is the Giver and Owner of all that we have and that we are only stewards of our possessions. God holds us responsible for the way we spend the money He supplies. Giving back to the Lord is also a way of saying thank you to Him for His love and care.
It demonstrates where our hearts are. These are ways of being rich toward God.
Contentment Is a Care for Greed
Are you content? Or is there always a gnawing dissatisfaction with something about your life? We come naked into the world, and we leave it naked. That puts money and possessions in proper perspective, doesn't it?
Consider Paul's advice to Timothy: "Godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. 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" (1 Tim. 6:6-9).
The desire for money and possessions leads to all kinds of sin. Men and women sacrifice their morality on the altar of greed. Husbands and wives neglect their families for the sake of a double income, a fact that has contributed to today's tragic disintegration of the family.
For the love of power and money, people compromise their ethical standards. There have been countless scandals in which men and women in public office have prostituted their positions for money. And church leaders haven't been far behind, making money their goal and fleecing the gullible to get it. This has caused the name of Christ to be blasphemed. The apostle Paul would not be surprised at such modern tragedies. As he wrote nearly two thousand years ago, "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" (1 Tim. 6:10).
Love of Money Leads to Faithlessness and Sorrow
Notice God's Word doesn't say that money itself causes problems but rather it's the "love of money" that gets us into trouble. That's been the emphasis in all the passages we've studied. Money is neutral. However, when we make it our goal in life, it becomes the root of all kinds of evil.
Why does the love of money shipwreck our faith? Because the more secure we are financially, the less we depend on God to provide for us. We become independent; we think we don't need God. Instead of seeing God as the source of His bountiful provision and thanking Him, we take the credit for ourselves and fall into the trap of wanting more and more.
And many times when greed sets in, we are willing to bend all the rules to get more. We begin to look down on people who are not as successful as we are, so love and compassion for others is only a memory. A person can meet all kinds of grief on the road to riches.
The love of money has caused many mothers to hand their precious children over to paid workers to rear, not because they have to work, but because they choose to. They work either because they find their identity in a career rather than mothering, or because they want more things that money can buy and they won't discipline themselves to live within the means of one salary.
Of course I'm not referring to single mothers or to women who have to work because of financial adversity. But the grief that often comes through the neglect of children can't be consoled by a bank balance. For the believer, broken relationships, disappointments, and sorrows are self-inflicted wounds. They are the consequences of dethroning the Lord and enthroning money. That's why the apostle Paul again advised, "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).
God Gives Us Material Blessings to Enjoy
God isn't concerned about our possessions. It's our attitude He cares about. Are we arrogant because we think we are better than someone who is poorer? Do we put our hope in wealth that can be lost, or on God who is eternal? Do we enjoy our possessions as gifts from a loving heavenly Father?
Do you enjoy your home, your china and silver, your window treatments, your furniture, your interior decorating, your patio, your yard, your clothes, and your car? Or do you look on them with a jaundiced eye, especially if you've just come from visiting someone with a much nicer home, wardrobe, or vehicle? When we keep the right perspective, God can trust us with more if He wants to. If we don't have the right perspective, we need to make a few attitude adjustments.
Change Your Perspective and Pursuits
God's Word exhorts us to run as fast as we can from the goal of acquiring material possessions. Recognize it, confess it as sin, and pursue instead righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness: "But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses" (1 Tim. 6:11-12).
Instead of grasping this temporal life, take a firm grasp on the eternal life we received when we trusted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. If we look at our short lives on earth through the grid of eternity, everything will be in focus and we will have the right priorities and accumulate treasures in heaven. We will follow Scripture's directive "to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life" (1 Tim. 6:18-19).
Give It Away Here to Store It in Heaven
Instead of defining our worth by our bank accounts, God wants us to be rich in good deeds, to be generous with our money, and to share with those who need it. "He who is kind to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will reward him for what he has done" (Prov. 19:17). God gives us money to use in His name, to do His work on earth. And God keeps very good records. He will reward us in His way—if not in our time here on earth, then definitely in eternity.
"Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. . . . You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God" (2 Cor. 9:6-8, 11).
Giving Helps Us Mature Spiritually
Giving to the Lord for the expansion of His kingdom breaks the iron grip money can have on our hearts. When we give, it increases our faith because we experience the effect our generosity has on others. They thank God for what He has used us to do. This stimulates us to more generosity and helps make us good role models for other believers. It's always faith-building to see the many ways God has of replenishing our supply.
Remember to keep this issue balanced: Money isn't bad. Possessions are not bad. They only become evil for us when they become our idols—the gods we give our lives to. Money is God's great rival.
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