No one thinks of himself as greedy. Almost anyone who fantasizes about winning the lottery includes some element of philanthropy. With a huge windfall in view, it’s easy to think of yourself as generous, as you ponder what you might do with it. But the true test of our generosity is found, not in the windfall, but in the regular blessings we receive each day. How generous are you with your salary? That is a better test of your heart than a windfall.
Greed is Idolatry
Most of us recognize how incompatible sexual immorality is with a Christian profession of faith. If a man who calls himself a believer is cheating on his wife, frequenting prostitutes and immersing himself in pornography, we will be very concerned for his spiritual well-being. He must be confronted. We must get the elders involved. Sexual immorality is completely out of place in the life of a Christian … right?
Yes, and the apostle Paul agrees. There is no place for sexual immorality in the life of a Christian. But neither is there room for greed.
But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. (Ephesians 5:3–5 ESV)
Bear in mind that the man in Jesus’ parable came by the money honestly. This was not ill-gotten gain. And there is nothing inherently wrong with expanding his business. Building bigger barns was not where the man went wrong. We see his greed, not in verse 18, but in verse 19, where he tells his soul to kick back and enjoy life, since he’s acquired all he needs.
Greed and Self-Centeredness
He was not building bigger barns to be a bigger blessing to others through the bigger blessing that he received. He built bigger barns to secure his wealth, so that he could live the high life, free of any cares or anxiety.
We can see how far this is from God’s desire for him by looking at the law. It was Cain who asked, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” God’s answer is an unreserved “yes”, as can be seen through His Law. Not only are we told not to kill our brother (Exo. 20:13), we are told to protect our brothers (Deut 22:8).
And consider how self-less our Lord showed Himself to be. The Second Person of the Godhead laid everything aside, impoverishing himself for our sake, humiliating himself so far as to take on human flesh, to live a life of perfect obedience, enduring persecution, and ultimately laying down his life for the sake of us rebellious enemies.
But this man thought only of himself. Money was his idol, and through it he worshipped the god of self.
Greed and Self-Sufficiency
The windfall, the extraordinary blessing of God, simply illustrated his greed. But greed is also illustrated in how we treat the ordinary blessings of God. But that’s just where greed shows itself to be idolatry.
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 Timothy 6.9-10)
Some who desire to be rich are always anxious because they don’t have enough. Jesus warns against this, when he says,
Do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin,yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. (Matthew 6:25–33 ESV)
Others, like the man in the parable, think they no longer need the God who clothes the lilies or feeds the sparrows. They think they have acquired enough to feed themselves and clothe themselves. Both those who live in anxious pursuit of money and those who live in the delusion of self-sufficiency think their security is found in money. It is easy to see, then, why the scriptures call greed idolatry. God alone provides security.
Greed and Short-Sightedness
Even if one has all one needs in this life, and even if somehow he manages to keep his treasure safe and invulnerable to disaster, this life is but a blink of the eye in terms of our existence. God alone provides security, because we have an eternity to spend, either enjoying the blessings of the the God who saved us, or enduring his wrath. The man told his soul that he had ample goods laid up for many years. But many years to him meant decades. Centuries and millennia will come and go and the man will be no nearer to relief than when he began. Suddenly long-term measured in terms of decades seems rather like day-trading, and less like buy and hold, doesn’t it?
Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal,but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.” (Matthew 6:19–20 ESV)
So, rather than hoarding wealth, living to ourselves alone and thinking that our money gives us security, what are we to do?
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 Timothy 6:17–19 ESV)
Know that God is the source of every blessing. Do good to all. Be generous. And know that you are your brother’s keeper. Why else would God bless you? Your life does not consist in the abundance of your possessions. Glorify God with the wealth he gives you. And be content with his blessings. Take hold of the God who gives you what you need and stop worshipping the gift as if it were the giver.