“Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in the abundance of possessions” (Luke 12:15).
Jesus spoke a lot about money. In fact, he spoke more about money than he did about love, sex, heaven, or hell. In just a sample swath of the book of Luke (chapters 12-16), he told the parable of the rich fool; admonished the disciples not to worry about what they were going eat or wear; challenged his followers to be wise and faithful managers of what they had been given; spoke about counting the cost of following him; told the parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the son who squandered his money; and he also told stories about a shrewd manager, and the rich man and Lazarus.
Money can be a dangerous thing because it pushes our greed button more than any other factor. The Greek philosopher Plato said that “Poverty [the feeling of] does not consist in the decrease of one’s possessions, but in the increase of one’s greed.” The last commandment of the moral law, “Thou shall not covet,” addresses the underlying motive for keeping/breaking all the other commandments which precede it. Money is also dangerous because it reveals that greed, like ice cream, comes in all kinds of different flavors. Jesus told us to “guard against all kinds of greed.”
The kind of greed that I struggle with is what I call “religious greed.” It is most clearly exemplified in those hypocritical Pharisees of Jesus’ day. They loved to announce their charitable donations with trumpets (Matt 6:2) instead of the anonymous giving of most people. They would tithe even the smallest things, like the spices they used on their food, while completely ignoring the weightier matters of the law (like justice and mercy- Matt 23:23). They would pronounce the word “Corban” (devoted to God) over all their possessions, so they could keep them for their own selfish ends rather than using them to provide for their parents in old age (Mark 7:11). Hypocrites!
We can also see this religious greed evidenced in the story of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5). They were Barnabas “wanabes” who sold a piece of property for a certain amount as a gift to the church. Such an act was indeed generous, but they did so under the pretense of donating the entire amount from the sale while keeping back part of the money for themselves. They lied to the church and before God, and lost their lives because of it. Liars!
It is so easy for me to see religious greed in others and pronounce judgment upon them while being blind to the greed in my own heart. I am saying all of this as a confession. We recently sold our house and purchased a new one and made a profit. We have designated a portion of that profit as a tithe. We haven’t even given it yet and already I feel the urge to announce how generous we are (like the Pharisees). I also feel the Ananias and Sapphira chronovirus coming on. The strings of greed are starting to creep over my heart like weeds trying to choke out the thanksgiving and praise that I want to give to my God for being so generous to me. And then there are the whisperings of the Tempter. Can you really afford this? What about your grandkid’s future education? What if you have to go back on chemo? This could pay for it. Isn’t that good stewardship? Arrgh!
I need to go back to where we started with the parable of the rich fool in Luke 12. Jesus concludes the story with these words (v 21), “So is the one (the one who is a fool) who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.” This isn’t an encouragement to give God more of my money—he doesn’t need it. Being rich toward God means that I consider God as my greatest Treasure. And the way I handle my money should be done in such a way that shows that I am free from the tentacles of greed precisely because God is my greatest Treasure—he is my true Wealth, my Reward, my Inheritance. In him, I am rich no matter how little money I have at the moment, and without him I am poverty-stricken regardless of how much worldly wealth I possess. C.S. Lewis nailed it in his Weight of Glory when he said, “He who has God and everything else has no more than he who has God alone.” And before Lewis, St Augustine framed it like this: “He who has God has everything; he who has everything but God has nothing.”
We Christians, of all people, should be the least greedy and most lavish givers in this world because the Lord is our Wealth, our Treasure, our Shepherd, and in him we shall not lack for any good thing. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to share this with you.
OK—now, just write the check Mac and stop talking!