- February 23rd, 2014
Be On Your Guard Against Greed!
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Be On Your Guard Against Greed!
“For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.” (1 Timothy 6:10) That passage from the Apostle Paul’s first letter to Timothy is well known. It seems that many people who know little else about the Bible can quote that particular passage.
Perhaps it is familiar and frequently quoted because so many people have experienced its truth either directly or indirectly. Who among us hasn’t seen arguing and fighting take place because of the love of money? We have all heard about lives, and marriages, and families destroyed because of the love of money. In the news every day we hear about people who commit heinous crimes because of greed.
“For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.” The inspired Apostle wasn’t the first one to point out the powerful pull that wealth can have on a person. From the record of Achan’s sin in Joshua to the warnings penned by Solomon in Proverbs and Ecclesiastes we hear the warnings that God gave to his people about the danger greed poses to a person’s soul. Other Old Testament prophets delivered similar warnings from God about coveting. A reading of the New Testament will reveal additional warnings about greed from the lips of Jesus and the writings of the Apostles.
But perhaps we think that coveting and greed is only a problem for rich folks. If we are of more modest means we won’t have any trouble with greed, right? Although being wealthy may present an extra challenge for a Christian every one of us is faced with the temptation to sinfully crave money and more material wealth.
In the parable of the Rich Fool we hear Jesus give one of his strongest warnings about greed. He tells us to watch out for what greed can do to us. It can warp what we perceive as valuable in life and twist our view of material things. Greed can turn us inward so that we begin to care only for our self. And worst of all, greed will lead us to a frightening situation at the end of our life. So all of us must take these words of Jesus to heart. Today we ask him to use his truth to expose our sinfulness and his gospel to empower us to change our attitude and actions. May the Holy Spirit enable us to listen to our Savior when he says:
“BE ON YOUR GUARD AGAINST GREED!”
This man really didn’t ask Jesus for a decision on what would be a fair division of the estate, he just demanded, “Tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me!” Jesus did not answer as he was expected to do. Instead Jesus does not make a legal judgment but a moral one. Jesus knew that this family feud over inheritance was only a symptom of a greater problem, greed. In fact the “you” in verse fourteen is plural indicating that both brothers have a problem with greed. As long as both brothers are suffering from greed no settlement would be satisfactory.
Jesus saw right through the man’s request. After making it clear to the man that a dispute over an inheritance was not any of Jesus’ business he said to everyone, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed.” Beginning with that warning Jesus went on to explain the dangers that lie behind greed. There are three points in this sermon: Greed leads a person to a false view of life. Greed leads to a fool’s death. But there is an antidote to greed.
Greed leads to a false view of life:
When he says, “take heed and beware” he is literally saying “be on guard against all kinds of greed.” The area of danger for this man was “greed or covetousness” (pleonexia) and it means “the lust to have more than one’s fair share, a grasping for more that is never satisfied” or to put it another way covetousness is “wanting more of what you already have enough of!”
Just before Jesus told the parable of the rich fool he stated one of the fundamental misconceptions that can cause a person to become greedy. He said, “a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” The point that Jesus started to make with that statement is that greed leads to a false view of life. The people in the crowd that day were part of a society that measured a person by what he owned. In the parable that Jesus was about to tell he would bring home the truth that a correct view of life has little to do with money.
Keeping up with the neighbors, having the latest one of these or those, and measuring a person by what he or she wears, drives, or owns is the common practice in our society. Why do Sandra Bullock, Tom Cruise, and Gwyneth Paltrow demand 15 or 20 million for their part in a movie? Money is how they keep score of who is the best. Does a baseball player, or football player, or basketball player really need 87 million for a ten year contract? Once again, money is just a means of keeping score and determining who is the best. It is considered the measure of success.
To this way of thinking Jesus says, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed for a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” Greed leads to a false view of life.
Have we been influenced by this kind of thinking? Has the love of money that surrounds us corrupted our hearts? You don’t have to be a movie star or a professional athlete to begin thinking that life is measured by money. Subtly Satan sifts us through the culture in which we live filling our hearts with greed. To set our thinking straight we need to hear reminders like this one from 1 John 2:1516, “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does comes not from the Father but from the world.” Psalm 119:37 offers this prayer, “Turn my eyes away from worthless things; preserve my life according to your word.” We have this warning from Ecclesiastes 5:10, “Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income.”
To counter the culture of greed in which we live we need to regularly hear God’s law that condemns coveting as sin. We need to hear warnings from God’s Word to be on our guard against greed. Greed leads to a false view of life.
To illustrate how greed leads to a false view of life Jesus told this parable of the rich fool. “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.’” Do you understand the point Jesus made with the parable? Greed leads a person to have a warped view of himself. It leads to sinful self-centeredness, sinful self-reliance, and a life directed toward pleasure instead of service.
How is this warped?
Because when our hearts are focused on ourselves we do not give God the credit for things He has done. This parable does not condemn this man for being rich. And to his credit it would appear that this man had come by his wealth honestly. But his view of life was distorted. The rich man of this parable was a farmer but he represents all human beings who are seduced by “all kinds of greed.” As this farmer looked at his amazing harvest he did not see the hand of God – he saw only his own effort. Yet he is a perfect example of greed because he has much and he expects to get more. And when our hearts are focused on ourselves we consider spending our resources only on ourselves (v 19). This man thought that when he put his plan into being that he would he would have it made for years to come. But all of this is based on the fact that this man expected to control the fate of future crops. He envisioned the future as continually expanding and under his control. But nothing could be further from the truth.
The book of James speaks to just such an attitude (4:13-16) when he says, “Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit”; (14) whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. (15) Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.”(16) But now you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.” The Bible does not discourage us from looking to the future with great expectation. However as we make our plans, whether in business, in relationship or in our personal lives, we are to do so from the perspective that ultimately God is in charge. In other words, we need to plan with humility. And this humility helps us look after the needs of others.
Perhaps the title that has been given to this parable makes us think it doesn’t apply to us. Since it is the “parable of the rich fool” we may think it applies only to those who are rich. No. Any person, rich or poor, or middle class, can fall into greed’s grip and the false view of life it causes. Jesus used the rich man in the parable to illustrate an attitude. The rich man’s frequent us of “I,” “my,” and “myself,” jump out at us.
Perhaps we have more in common with this rich fool than we might think. Have we not been led to trust in our money more than our Maker when it comes to meeting our physical needs? Do your retirement plans hang on the number of zeros behind your savings or on the One in whose hands your future rests? Hasn’t greed distorted our view of what is important in life? Doesn’t our life consist of more than bigger and bigger tv sets, more and more electronic gadgets, or more and more recreational toys? Isn’t life in God’s kingdom more than seeking our own desires and trying to satisfy our own wants?
Be on your guard against greed! Jesus’ words of warning certainly apply to us. Thankfully in him we have a Savior who said “no” to Satan when he offered him all the wealth in the world. Instead he went to the cross to pay for the times we have given into greed. In the perfect life he lived in our place he never let greed guide him. Now we are able to say “no” to greed. With our living Savior living in us we can conquer the sin of coveting. We can be on our guard against greed so that it doesn’t lead us into a false view of life.
After the rich man hatched his plans for the future he thought he was going to have it made for years to come. But God had other plans for him. Jesus went on to say, “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?’ This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.” The second part of Jesus’ warning against greed is just as important. Not only does greed lead to a false view of life, it also leads to a fool’s death.
This man is pronounced a “fool” (aphron) by God. A fool in biblical language was not a description of mental ability but of spiritual discernment. According to Scripture a fool is a man who leaves God out of any consideration. Psalm 14:1 says, “The fool has said in his heart there is no God.” This man is a fool not because he has said this but because he has lived his life as if God did not exist. He is a fool in that he did not recognize that his material blessings came from God, nor did he recognize any obligation to God in the use of his possessions. Fools leave God out of their lives.
To be a fool is to have missed the point of life. The remarkable thing is that this person that God calls a fool, we would very often call a success. Jesus says, “this very night your soul will be demanded of you.” The Greek verb translated required or demanded (apiteo) literally means “to demand back or require back” conveying the idea of life as a loan that must be repaid to God upon demand.
The conclusion of the parable leads us to see the most tragic consequence of greed. The rich man’s life was “on loan” from God. When God balanced the books of the man’s life he was “out of balance.” He had lived his life for himself and not for God or in service to God. So God called the man a fool. In the original language this word means someone who doesn’t add up the facts correctly or someone who doesn’t have a grasp of reality. A person blinded by greed is such a fool. He or she chooses to overlook the fact that wealth is temporary and God’s judgment is eternal.
It is said that the psychologist Sigmund Freud’s favorite story was about a sailor shipwrecked on one of the South Sea Islands. He was seized by the natives, hoisted to their shoulders, carried to the village, and set on a crude throne. Little by little, he learned that it was their custom once each year to make some man a king, king for a year. He liked it until he began to wonder what happened to all the former kings. Soon he discovered that every year when his kingship was ended, the king was banished to an island, where he starved to death. The sailor did not like that, but he was smart and he was king, king for a year. So he put his carpenters to work making boats, his farmers to work transplanting fruit trees to the island, farmers growing crops, masons building houses. So when his kingship was over, he was banished, not to a barren island, but to an island of abundance.
That story can be a good illustration of life: We’re all kings here, kings for a little while, able to choose what we will do with the stuff of life. Our Savior would have us use the blessings he gives to prepare for the life still to come. Jesus said in Matthew 6:1920, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.”
We store up treasure in heaven when we manage our material possessions with spiritual goals in mind. Yes, God calls on us to provide for our families and meet our financial responsibilities. But beyond that we are to manage our wealth with his kingdom in mind. Jesus also said in Luke 16:9, “I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.” Money is a temporary tool that we use to sustain our bodies. It only has eternal effects when we use it to share gospel.
When greed leads a person to a false view of life it will lead him or her to a fool’s death. That person will stand before God as one who wasted his or her life. Making money was more important than growing in God’s word. Taking care of personal needs was more important than serving others. Faith in God was replaced with faith in money. And so in the end the person will not enter God’s kingdom. And so we can see why Jesus says, “Be on your guard against greed.” It leads to a fool’s death.
In conclusion, what, after all, is greed? There are many forms of greed; and not all of them center around material wealth; a person can be greedy for the approval of others, for prestige or status, for power, or other types of selfishness. Greed is not merely the desire to possess, but the desire to control. The dispute between these two brothers had not only to do with the division of wealth, but control over that wealth; who was to decide how to manage the inheritance. But whatever the form of greed, the antidote is clear.
And, what is the antidote for greed? Simple. It is giving.
Have you ever seen Charles Dicken’s “A Christmas Carol”?
It took one seriously unpleasant Christmas Eve for Scrooge to see just how much his greed had come to control his life, and how much of an impact it was having on the people around him. Once he finally realized the folly of his ways, he understood that the best way to escape from greed was to give. And so the final scenes of “A Christmas Carol” are all about generosity.
Greed is basically a matter of the heart. So to escape greed, we have to address things at the heart level. It isn’t just a matter of doing something different — it’s about creating new habits that change the attitudes of the heart.
While we often think of greed in terms of money, its scope is much broader than that. You were greedy as a toddler, before you ever knew what money was. You can be greedy with money, certainly, but you can also be greedy with your time, your possessions and even your relationships. Have you ever met someone who was only able to talk about themselves? That, in its own way, is greed.
At its heart, greed is simply the compulsion to take: take money, take things, take attention, etc. Greed wants to own, to hoard, to control. Greed is never satisfied. In order to escape greed, we have to reverse this heart attitude. The best way to do it is to begin to practice habits that run contrary to this reflex. And nothing is more contrary to taking than giving. If you want to escape greed, start by becoming a great giver.
How does giving free us from greed? It changes the direction of our hearts’ focus. A greedy heart is focused on self, and acquiring as much money and influence for self as it can. But giving forces us to look outside ourselves. When you give to a person, you are focusing on that person and their needs instead of your own self. When you give to an organization, you’re paying attention to the good work that the organization does. And when you intentionally seek out opportunities and places to give, your heart is constantly looking beyond itself for the next giving target.
Now here’s the catch: When you first start, it’s not going to be easy. After all, giving runs contrary to the orientation of your heart, and it contradicts attitudes that you’ve likely held since childhood. At first, giving is going to feel totally wrong. But soon, you’ll discover the truth that the Bible has taught for centuries: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”
As we end the lesson, have you considered what account you could give God if your soul was required today? As the loan of your life was called in, what sort of balance would it show? Have you included God in your plans? Have you used the blessings He has given you not only for you and and your family, but have you stored up treasures in heaven by giving to others? If you are worried about giving an account, do something about it! Act on your thoughts—don’t just have them for a moment only to forget them; ask God today for forgiveness if you have been sinning and for help to get out of sin; ask Him for guidance in your day-to-day life; pray for a more generous heart; one that sees the needs of others. Don’t be like the rich fool! I do not want any of us to have regrets.