GREED And COVETOUSNESS Are Idolatry
The words “greed” and “covetousness” are used to translate one Greek word, pleonexia, which means “a desire to have more.” According to W. E. Vine in his Expository Dictionary Of New Testament Words, it is used “always in a bad sense.” In other words, it is a common sin.
The tenth commandment says: “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor” (Ex. 20:17 NIV). It seems to define coveting in terms of wanting some specific thing that belongs to someone else. Because of this commandment’s specific wording, many people are unaware that they are coveting. But greed, coveting and wanting more also include a desire for more power, position, respect, money, and other impressive things. This general seeking of “more” is a product of our sinful nature and is the sin of “idolatry” (Col. 3:5; Eph. 5:5). It is like serving a false god because it puts our desire for more on the same level, or even ahead of, our desire to serve the true God. Because of how strongly Scripture condemns covetousness or greed, we need to recognize it and deal with it in our lives.
The Excessive Indulgence Of Wants
We often deceive ourselves by referring to something we want as something we “need.” The real drive behind the feeling we call “need” is often the desire for the psychological lift, the fleshly joy of getting something we especially want or desire. Getting what we “want” is more than getting the thing itself. Advertisers capitalize on our weakness by designing ads so that we want more than we really need.
We may need a car, but what kind of car? The salesman and the ads will try to persuade us to buy, not what we really need, but what will give us more status, while giving them more profit. The commercial system works on our sinful desire to be “somebody.” The world’s wisdom says, “Drive a better car than your neighbor!”
Similarly, we need shelter and it’s true that owning a house may save us the profit the landlord makes in the rent, but nothing is saved by paying out more in interest than the rent would be! People often go into debt because they want more than they need – a bigger house in a nicer neighborhood. The Psalms warn us, “Do not be overawed when a man grows rich, when the splendor of his house increases” (Ps. 49:16). Beware of letting a realtor use your “desire for more” to enslave you through buying more house than you need with payments you cannot afford.
Covetousness In Church Settings
Let’s not be like Diotrophes (3 Jn. 9-10). He was not satisfied with an important role in the church; he had to have more; he had to “be first.” He desired the feeling of power in having things done his way, so he usurped the power to decide who was received and who was “put out of the church.”
Those who are shepherds (pastors) are to be “eager to serve” (1 Pet. 5:1-3), like the Chief Shepherd who shows us by His own example that the “one who rules (should be) like the one who serves” (Lk. 22:26). Church leaders are warned to be content with leading by “being examples to the flock” and not by “lording it over those entrusted” to their care (1 Pet. 5:1-3). Sadly, there are too many examples of people in churches who want more power.
Those who have the gift of teaching can “with their mouths express devotion” to the Lord, while at the same time “their hearts are greedy for unjust gain” (Ezek. 33:31), so they engage in “teaching what they ought not to teach … for the sake of dishonest gain” (Ti. 1:11).
Greed As A Source Of Evil
Scripture tells us that the “lust for more” can lead us “to indulge in every kind of impurity” (Eph. 4:19). For example, desire for more excitement from a sexual partner can lead to fornication and adultery, and desire for heightened pleasure can lead to the use of drugs and alcohol, and possibly addiction. Wanting more money and what it can buy can lead to crimes of stealing, swindling and embezzlement. “The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” (1 Tim. 6:10). Wanting more power or respect often leads to unethical or even criminal behavior. We are challenged to analyze every kind of evil and see for ourselves that it is driven by a desire to have more.
Why The Desire For More Evil?
Some may say, “I’m not hurting anyone,” but they are. Greed hurts the person, those around him and society as a whole. For example, Rudy Baum, editor of Chemical & Engineering News wrote that the question, “How much stuff do you need?” is the “fundamental question at the heart of the current global economic meltdown that is crushing economies around the world.” He said that eventually the “orgy of consumption in the developed world” spread to the “developing world” and roared on. Finally, the “economic storm of unimagined scale” that it caused “broke over consumers the world over.” Thus, the greed of some caused hurt to everybody.
People can hurt themselves in other ways by their desire for more, and the credit card is a handy tool to inflict much pain. When people want more than they can pay for, the credit card magically takes care of it! However, because of the way the interest rates can be adjusted, people can easily find themselves in a situation where most if not all of their payment goes toward interest, and they are trapped. They have become slaves, working for the credit card company.
Man’s Thoughts Differ From God’s
While it is true that unrestrained ambition to gain more power and wealth is the product of the sinful nature, it would be an “evil suspicion” (1 Tim. 6:4) to assume that a rich and powerful person attained his wealth and position sinfully. Scripture says: “Diligent hands bring wealth” (Prov. 10:4), and “God gives a man wealth, possessions, and honor” (Eccl. 6:2). If God has given a Christian the ability to see how a certain service would bless others, or the ability to operate a business, the wealth, possessions, and honor resulting from these endeavors would be God given.
God gives us the responsibility to provide for our families and for our retirement. One who does not provide for his “immediate family … is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Tim. 5:8). We are also told to “go to the ant … consider its ways and be wise” (Prov. 6:6). The ant provides for the time when it can no longer gather, and so should we provide for retirement or ill-health. Jesus’ parable of the rich man storing up in his barns is not about providing for retirement, and it would be erroneous to teach that it is! The Lord teaches that it concerns “anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God” (Lk. 12:21). Hence, as we are engaged in saving and investing, we are to ask ourselves, “Am I also rich toward God?”
Other Things To Consider
Solomon pursued “more” and he testified for our benefit that the person who does this will find “no end to his toil … (because it) is meaningless – a miserable business” (Eccl. 4:8). God asks us, “Why spend … your labor on that which does not satisfy?” (Isa. 55:2), and He tells us to “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness,” trusting in Him to provide for our needs (Mt. 6:33).
Do we realize that “greed … is idolatry”? (Col. 3:5). Ephesians 5:5 says this: “For this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person – such a man is an idolator – has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.”
By Alan H. Crosby
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org