SE7EN: Greed

In the movie Wall Street Gordon Gekko stands before the stockholders of a large US company he is taking over. At one point Gekko justifies his actions by explaining both the virtue and the saving power of greed. He said,

The point is, ladies and gentlemen, greed is good. Greed works, greed is right. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed in all its forms, greed for life, money, love, knowledge, has marked the upward surge of mankind - and greed, mark my words - will save not only Teldar Paper but that other malfunctioning corporation called the USA.

Greed really has become a part of America's value system. Get as much as you can, while you can, and don’t worry about the other guy. Corporate greed often exploits the poor for greater profits. Political greed makes promises never meant to be kept in order to achieve position. Personal greed sets us free from a sense of responsibility to the community, and establishes love of self as the greatest commandment.

What is greed? Greed is a desire to obtain more money, wealth or material possessions than one needs. It prizes this present world, not because it is a gift from God, but because it is believed to be a commodity; something to own and exploit. It produces neither thankfulness nor generosity. It goes beyond a hunger for more than is enough - it is the demand for more (even if such demands are silent). It is opposite of self-denial. It is the impulse of the self directed life (Mt. 23:25). Greed is said to stir up trouble (Pr. 28:25), and is a hindrance to entering the Kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:10).

Make no mistake; greed is a dangerous sin from which many others will emerge.

But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. 1 Tim. 6:9-10

Greed is a root sin that produces different fruit in our lives. When greed is connected to covetousness the fruit is envy. When it is applied to the excessive consumption of food or drink, the fruit is gluttony. When joined with sexual desire the result is lust. As Paul said, it is the very thing that leads some away from the faith and into painful ruin.

Why does greed have this effect? Because once we buy the premise that you can never have enough, we never do. Ghandi cleverly said, "There is sufficiency in the world for man’s need but not for man’s greed."

In Luke 12:13-21 Jesus said we have to be careful not to buy the lie that life consists in the ammount of stuff we own.

Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” But he said to him, “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?” And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”

"So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God." I think the key is right there. When we are rich toward God greed vanishes, because we have found more than enough. Such riches are expressed in Ps. 73:25, "Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you." Being rich in/toward God means that we have found our heart's desires in him. God, and what he provides, is enough for us to have and share. So in all things we seek to give instead of gain.

As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life. 1 Tim. 6:17-19 17

In the world, and particularly in a Capitalistic society, the church must be the counter-culture that lives and gives generously. We cannot be characterized by an infatuation with that which is temporal and a desire to hold on to that which is meant to be given away. For further reflection, check out Ps. 112:5; Prov. 14:21, 31; 19:17.

Aside: Someone asked on an earlier post if I thought fasting is a help with gluttony. I believe it is, and it hits at the root of the sin more than at the fruit. Fasting helps us to see what controls us and how to find satisfaction in God, while not taking his gifts for granted.

Richard Foster has some good thing to say about fasting in Celebration of Discipline, and Don Whitney's chapter in Spiritual Disciplines of the Christian Life is also good. Really neither one alone is enough, but both books together are helpful. On fasting, I think Foster's is the better of the two.