Written by Joanne Beckley
Recently I read the following quote and it reminded me of an email I received, voicing his concern about materialism in the churches of America. It prompted me to think about how my own life reflects my desires, and yes, sometimes, greed. But is greed a concern that is subject to any and everyone’s definition? Where do we draw the line? For that matter, should we? And, if so, are there “flags” we can raise to warn us of the danger of covetousness? (Eph.5:5; James 4:1-3).
There is a story that was told of tycoon John D. Rockefeller.
“Sir,” someone asked him, “how much money do you have?”
“A lot,” the billionaire answered.
“Sir, how much money do you want?”
“A little bit more.”
Not only Americans, but the entire world seeks a little bit more and has a goal of being in the fast lane with a jet-set lifestyle. I thought I encountered this only in America, and only in American churches, but even my brethren in South Africa have a strong, almost overwhelming desire to get a good education so they can “make money.” In years past the talk was to make enough so they wouldn’t go hungry. Today, the economy is better and the government has opened up more avenues to get rich. I am now hearing the 10th verse of the American refrain – in Africa. People are people the world over and greed is the name of the game. Enough is never enough. Webster defines enough as “occurring in such quantity, quality or scope as to fully satisfy demands or needs.” Sometimes I wonder if we should allow this word in our dictionaries!
One day a man demanded of Jesus, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me". Besides chiding the man for asking him this question, Jesus warned him, “Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses" (Luke 12:15). He then told a story of a rich man who literally hoarded his wealth for himself. Jesus called him a fool. And then Jesus reminded all of us that ANYONE who “lays up treasure for himself” is not rich toward God. That “anyone” includes you and me.
Webster defines greed as “excessive or reprehensible acquisitiveness.” Upon reading this, we immediately ask, how much is too much? And don’t we tell the poor to “Go get a job! Or, “Just read a book on the power of positive thinking!” As if to say, “Don’t call us; we’ll call you.” If this is our only way of “helping,” we will have trouble with John’s words, “We also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has this world's goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?” (1 John 3:16-17).
How much is too much?The police have a way to gauge whether someone is illegally drunk while driving. Is there a yardstick for identifying greed? To the starving African, one who has meat to eat is rich. To an American who has two cars in a closed garage and a prestigious address, this represents arrival. Frankly, we all have difficulty appreciating our comparative good fortune. Why? Because we compare ourselves to other Americans rather than to the people in the world. ANY American is viewed as rich by the majority of the world.
There was a man who took the time to seriously think about whether he was under the influence of greed. He gave himself three criteria to measure himself against. (1) the manner in which he sought his “treasures,” (2) the manner in which he enjoyed his treasures, and (3) the manner in which he mourned the loss of his treasures. Who was the man? Charles Simeon (1759-1836).
Amazing! Here is a man who wasn’t blessed with nearly the amount of “treasures” we enjoy today, yet we are told he lived frugally so as to have the wherewith to give to the poor. Mr Simeon understood the two laws upon which hang all the commands of God: “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” If we do this, and control our greed, we will live. (Luke 10:27-28).
There are consequences when we love money Each one of us grew up bombarded by the public school (get a good education so you can have the best paid career possible!) and the media (look what you can have!). We quickly learn that if we have lots of money we can buy power and prestige. We begin thinking that our ultimate success is measured in dollar signs (1 Tim.6:10).Yet Jesus’ question continues to face us: "For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?” (Mark 8:36).
Sadly, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer – and neither find happiness. Jesus knows where true happiness lies, "Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you" (Luke 6:38). So we must ask ourselves, can we accept that we may lose our souls because of our present lifestyle?
There are other questions we should ask ourselves:1. Do I walk through my home singing “I Surrender All,” yet blind to the possibility of sacrificing the extra DVD player, the 2nd personal computer and all the credit cards in my wallet in order to help a brother or sister in need?
2. How am I recognizing the difference between what I “want”and what I really “need”?
3. Am I justifying my “need” by telling myself that I deserve it because I worked so hard for it?
4. How long does my “happiness” last after I purchase something I “need”?
5. Has my “need” created a problem in being unable to pay my debts (including credit cards)?
6. How much of my salary goes toward helping others who are in need?
7. Is what I “need” affecting my spiritual growth?
8. Does my “need” to make money distract me from my marriage or involvement with other Christians?
9. Can I reorder my priorities?
Yes, we can determine what kind of steward we want to be. We can set aside more for giving our time and money AND our hearts toward the needs of others. We can be like Mary and recognize the value of Jesus’ call to give all of ourselves, even the expensive ointment as she did. We can respond to Paul’s exhortation to Titus: “Send Zenas the lawyer and Apollos on their journey with haste, that they may lack nothing.” We too can “learn to maintain good works, to meet urgent needs, that they (we) may not be unfruitful” (Titus 3:13-14).
“For all that is in the world--the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life--is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:1-17).
Do we believe this?