The Sin of Greed
Dr. Jim Denison
In the Bible, “greed” is choosing to sin for material gain: “A greedy man brings trouble to his family, but he who hates bribes will live” (Proverbs 15:27). Note the Hebrew parallelism: greed = bribery. We are greedy when we will commit illegal or immoral acts to get more.
Jeremiah adds: “Like a partridge that hatches eggs it did not lay is the man who gains riches by unjust means” (Jeremiah 17:11a). Greed is at the heart of every sin for material gain. Remember the Enron scandal, government corruption, and marketplace imbezzlement in recent news stories. Each is motivated by material greed.
It comes from needing more than we need: “Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income. This too is meaningless” (Ecclesiastes 5:10)
What is wrong with greed?
In Scripture, there are at least six reasons why greed is a sin.
It harms the innocent: “A greedy man brings trouble to his family, but he who hates bribes will live” (Proverbs 15:27).
•”When the owners of the slave girl [in Philippi] realized that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to face the authorities” (Acts 16:19).
•”At the same time [Felix] was hoping that Paul would offer him a bribe, so he sent for him frequently and talked with him” (Acts 24:26). Thus Paul was kept in prison in Caesarea for two years.
It harms the greedy: “We will get all sorts of valuable things and fill our houses with plunder” (Proverbs 1:13). But with this result: “their feet rush into sin, they are swift to shed blood. How useless to spread a net in full view of all the birds! These men lie in wait for their own blood; they waylay only themselves! Such is the end of all who go after ill-gotten gain; it takes away the lives of those who get it” (vs. 16-19). James warns us: “Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days” (James 5:3).
We can never have enough: “Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income” (Ecclesiastes 5:10). One of the Rockefellers was asked how much money is enough. He smiled and replied, “Just a little more.”
Wealth alone will fail us: “When [a greedy man’s] life is half gone, [riches] will desert him, and in the end he will prove to be a fool” (Jeremiah 17.11b).
Greed will lead us from the faith: “The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs” (1 Timothy 6:10).
•Judas asked, “‘What are you willing to give me if I hand him over to you?’ So they counted out for him thirty silver coins. From then on Judas watched for an opportunity to hand him over” (Matthew 26:15-16).
•”They have left the straight way and wandered off to follow the way of Balaam son of Beor, who loved the wages of wickedness” (2 Peter 2:15).
Greed will bring the judgment of God: Remember the sin of Achan: “When I saw in the plunder a beautiful robe from Babylonia, two hundred shekels of silver and a wedge of gold weighing fifty shekels, I coveted them and took them. They are hidden in the ground inside my tent, with the silver underneath” (Joshua 7:21).
With this result: “Then all Israel stoned him, and after they had stoned [his family], they burned them. Over Achan they heaped up a large pile of rocks, which remains to this day. Then the Lord turned from his fierce anger. Therefore that place has been called the Valley of Achor ever since” (vs. 25-26). This was one of the sins of the Jews, for which they were brought to disaster by God: “They trample on the heads of the poor as upon the dust of the ground and deny justice to the oppressed” (Amos 2:7).
Who is susceptible to greed?
Religious leaders: “Israel’s watchmen are blind, they all lack knowledge; they are mute dogs, they cannot bark; they lie around and dream, they love to sleep. They are dogs with mighty appetites; they never have enough. They are shepherds who lack understanding; they all turn to their own way, each seeks his own gain. ‘Come,’ each one cries, ‘let me get wine! Let us drink our fill of beer! And tomorrow will be like today, or even far better'” (Isaiah 56:10-12); “[Israel’s] leaders judge for a bribe, her priests teach for a price, and her prophets tell fortunes for money” (Micah 3:11).
Religious children: “[Samuel’s] sons did not walk in his ways. They turned aside after dishonest gain and accepted bribes and perverted justice” (1 Samuel 8:3).
The wealthy: A study of 26 Wall Street account executives reports that NYC stockbrokers pulling down the biggest paychecks were also those suffering higher levels of depression, burnout and other afflictions. “In essence, these . . . brokers appear to be paying for financial success with their mental health and quality of life,” report the researchers (Casualties of Wall Street: An Assessment of the Walking Wounded by Alden M. Cass, John Lewis and Ed Simco).
The poor: Wanting what we don’t have can lead to sin as easily as wanting more of it. Thus we see looting in Iraq, corruption in Russia, crime in American ghettoes.
The cure for greed
Don’t confuse wealth with worth (1 Timothy 6:6)
Money must be combined with godliness, to be gain with God. Wealth doesn’t disqualify us from godliness. Many wealthy men in the Bible were also used greatly by the Lord:
•”Abram had become very wealthy in livestock and in silver and gold” (Genesis 13:2).
•”Isaac planted crops in that land and the same year reaped a hundredfold, because the Lord blessed him. The man became very rich, and his wealth continued to grow until he became very wealthy” (Genesis 26:12-13).