“Is life passing you by because you don’t have a high definition television? Well, now you can….”
The advertisements in the various media make no secret of it. If you do not have the latest computers, televisions, phones, and techno-gadgets, if you are not driving a car less than three years old and equipped with rear cameras, heated seats, and Sirius radio, you are surely among the deprived in this world. You must be the poor and deprived we keep hearing about.
Life is passing you by.
That’s how it feels to some of us. Teens in particular fall prey to this deadly syndrome.
The old-timers called it avarice. We know it as greed.
Twenty years ago, Wall Street was telling the world that greed is good, that the hunger to get more and more, to gain and possess and control and dominate, was all good. If anyone is listening to Wall Street any more, they’re not saying.
And yet, greed is alive and well in this country. And every other country, too, I expect, since it seems to be related to the depravity of the human heart and not geographically situated.
Those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. (I Timothy 6:9)
Someone responds, “I don’t want to be rich. I don’t actually care for money. I just want the things money buys.” That’s a little word-game we play to camouflage our grasping, groping greediness.
We are material people. God made us as physical beings and situated us in a physical world. We do not believe that “things” are bad in themselves. They are neutral. They are servants of ours. We are the ones who use them for good or ill.
We have needs. At the most basic level, we need food, clothing, and shelter. At the next level, we will be requiring certain assistance for headaches, broken limbs, and failing eyesight. Health care. We need friends. And we will be needing a medium of exchange so that the turnips from my garden can be swapped for the corn from your field and the berries from hers.
But I need these things!
Someone has said we are rich in relation to the number of things we can do without. Put another way, we are poor according to the number of things we require in order to function.
What do we actually need? New drapes in the bedroom? A larger television, one with clearer definition so we can read the fine print at the bottom of the screen? A car with fewer miles and more room? A faster computer? A computer at all? A phone? A smartphone?
The Apostle Paul wants into this conversation….
Now, godliness with contentment is great gain.
For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.
And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content.
But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition.
For the love of money is a root of all (kinds of) evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and have pierced themselves through with many arrows. (I Timothy 6:6-10)
Scripture has a simple answer to greed: be content.
Greed is a cruel master. It can drive people to do awful things, to use and misuse and abuse people, and when it is frustrated to do even worse things, such as kill others or oneself.
Everyone knows who the richest man in town is:
The man who devotes himself to serving others and who keeps his own needs simple. The person who gets his biggest joys and greatest pleasures from making a difference in this world. A family man. A people person. He’s a fellow who hardly notices what he’s driving, who sees the latest models in the showroom and ignores them as irrelevant in his world. He’s immune to the enticements of marketers who want to draw him in and compromise his income for the next decade.
The richest woman in town looks like anything but money. For her, Paris’ latest fashions might as well be intended for Martians. She devotes herself to serving and blessing others. Her 1950ish kitchen suits her just fine. She’s lived in that house many years now and it’s paid for; why in the world would she want to go into major debt just to move across town to the new development and take on additional responsibilities in a massive house she does not need?
I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content. I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:11-13)
Many of us–to our shame, not enough of us–admire the country fellow who, at the end of a long day when he had seen the sights of the big city for the first time, knelt by his bedside and prayed, “Father, I thank you I didn’t see a thing today that I want.”
Greed is the engine that drives this economy. Make no mistake.
A half century or more, Vance Packard wrote a classic expose’ of our country’s dependence on greed called “The Waste Makers.” He spoke of the “planned obsolescence” which manufacturers build into their products and of Detroit’s revolutionary idea of changing the features of each year’s model so people would always want the latest cars.
One of the saddest things I know is that the Christmas season has become their most effective instrument. Many merchants take in a third of their annual receipts during the few weeks supposedly devoted to honoring Jesus Christ and the spirit of giving.
Let’s admit that we are not going to change everyone and do what we can for those nearest us.
Here are a few suggestions for pastors and church leaders….
a) Set the example yourself.
The greediest person in the congregation feels affirmed when he sees his pastor going into hock for a house or car far beyond his means. In so doing, the pastor loses his voice. Never again will he be able to speak out forcefully against greed and debt. His own love for money–or the things money can buy–has done him in.
b) Lead your family from the very first.
When courting, it’s a great idea to make sure you and your intended share the same values in the areas that count most. Many a pastor has seen his ministry sabotaged by a wife who wants to climb socially and thus hounds him for bigger houses, finer cars, and more expensive clothes and clubs.
c) Teach and preach this again and again.
This is one of those lessons that will not stay taught. The world rushes in every time we pause for rest. So we must not rest, but keep the pressure on. Teach the tragic story of Achan, and do not fail to point out the consequence of his greed upon his entire nation. He confessed, “When I saw among the spoils a beautiful Babylonian garment, two hundred shekels of silver, and a wedge of gold weighing fifty shekels, I coveted them and took them.” (Joshua 7:21)
d) Protect your family from temptation as much as possible.
Your family has dinner with a church family that epitomizes affluence in every way. The multiple garage holds a half-dozen luxury cars. The home, a near-castle, is furnished so lavishly as to be the envy of Queen Elizabeth. Several servants keep the yards beautiful and the household humming.
Now, on the way home or over lunch the next day, your family has a discussion. Dad and mom will listen carefully to sense the lessons their children took from that visit. Children must be taught–repeatedly, by word and deed–that life does not consist in an abundance of things. (Recognize that? It’s Luke 12:15.)
Do not let your children see you sacrificing the most important things in life in order to have more luxuries. Bad, bad lesson.
Do not ever, ever cut back on your giving to your Lord through your church in order to drive a better car or have more things. One of the most serious sins of all.
e) Protect your church from the same temptation.
You’re doing a redecoration project at the church. Tough decisions will need to be made. You want the Lord’s house to be attractive and inviting but without being ornate. (We are all familiar with poverty-stricken towns which have in their center an ornate church with gold-encrusted and bejeweled adornments. There is something seriously wrong with such standards.)
Shame on the church which cuts back on its mission giving in order to have a more expensive building.
f) Keep your eyes on the Lord. Take them off and they will move automatically to the mall, the automobile showroom, and the computer store.
g) Devote yourself to being a giver. Delight in giving more this year than last. Do not tell others of this, because this too can be a snare.
It’s a constant war, Christian. You will not conduct one battle and erect a “Mission Accomplished” banner. This struggle will be ongoing so long as you breathe earthly air. Only when life ends and you find yourself intaking celestial air will you find the truth of the Lord’s command:
Lay up for yourselves treasures in Heaven…. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:20-21)