The Idol of Greed
What we want for our people (Outcome): That our people will understand the idol of greed and the power of the value of generosity
Greed is not only concerned with the accumulation of material things for selfish gain. It is more helpfully defined as the desire for more than is good. Therefore, the idol of greed is when we ignore what is ultimately good and are unable to order our desires. The sinfulness of greed lies in the judgment of someone who considers the acquisition of temporal goods to be preferable to eternal goods.
Friedrich Nietzsche said that with the absence of God growing in Western culture, we would replace God with money. Essentially replacing the true idol – someone/something truly worth worshiping – with a false one.
“Greed is an excessive love of the goods of this world… it is an ill-regulated love, which makes us forget the good God. The greedy man is like a pig, which seeks its food in the mud, without caring where it comes from. Stooping towards the earth, he thinks of nothing but the earth; he no longer looks towards Heaven, his happiness is no longer there. See, how greedily he gathers up wealth, how anxiously he keeps it, how afflicted he is if he loses it. In the midst of riches, he does not enjoy them; he is, as it were, plunged in a river, and is dying of thirst; lying on a heap of food, he is dying of hunger; he has everything, and dares not touch anything; his gold is a sacred thing to him, he makes it his divinity, he adores it…” (paraphrased)— 18th century priest St. John Vianney
What St. John is getting at here is indicative of our modern society, yet if it is so obviously present, how is it so hard to see? As Jesus says “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed.” (Luke 12:15) – He doesn’t say this about adultery or lying.
Greed is insidious, it is quiet and we are largely blind to it. Like all idolatry, it’s an issue of the heart. And yet Jesus warns people far more about greed than sex, yet almost no one thinks they are guilty of it. Many of Jesus’ parables point in the same direction: possessions want our worship and turn us into slaves. But every bit of ourselves we give to our stuff we snatch away from our true King. Healing heart issues requires focused effort and unyielding diligence.
Paul warns against greed in Colossians 3:5 & Ephesians 5:3. By equating greed with idolatry, Paul provocatively told the church they didn’t have to go into a rival temple to worship another god. Their greedy hearts created other gods out of every coin they had. Idols always threaten to steal the love, trust, and service God deserves and demands – it’s a trap we need to avoid (1 Tim. 6:9). Our material possessions so often seduce us into worshiping them like gods, they pose possibly the preeminent threat to worshiping Jesus (James 4:2-3).
Again, as with all idols, we must acknowledge our deeply broken nature, one that is out of harmony with God’s created world. We must repent, realising that God’s grace is abundant and limitless. It is not an erasure of our desires but a reordering of them towards generosity and watchfulness.
We can repent of the love of money. We can repent of wanting things more than we want God. We can repent of wanting to hold onto things because of the security it brings us – when God alone should be the one to provide that security (Matt. 6:26).
Material goods like money or possessions are not inherently evil – they can bring about great change when directed properly. Ministry means simply ‘to meet a need’ and so often things like money, food & clothes – the very things we covet – can be an invitation to generosity.
There is a Latin word used to describe generosity, it is the word liberalitas which means ‘to give’. Looking closer at this word, it may remind us of the word liberty, from which we get the word freedom. Generosity is the attitude that we are UN-BOUND or SET FREE from stuff. Generosity means we’re able to discern between enough and too much. Remember, this is a tension that is easily missed or overlooked.
A twin error we can fall into in the pursuit of generosity is being wasteful. As much as we don’t want to be held back in generosity by greed, we also don’t want to slip into a lifestyle of waste – such as we see in the life of the prodigal son. The word prodigal does not mean the ‘returning son’, rather prodigal means the ‘wasteful or extravagant son’.
Wastefulness can be expressed in many forms, a takeaway coffee cup, fast fashion, withholding charity from the needy etc. It is ultimately about choosing the good. Directing our habits and choices towards freedom from the idol of greed, the idol of acquiring more for the sake of it.
But we have been set free by Jesus. From all lack. We are righteous heirs, lacking nothing. We fall into idolatry when we forget this and begin to seek fulfilment in things that are not God. We have been liberated from our sinful nature and made a new creation – therefore enabled to live by the Spirit! Free to give generously, with love – “For God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:6-7). To live with the confidence that God is our provider. To live a life close to God, having the help of the Holy Spirit in discerning when our habits and choices are resembling wastefulness and when they’re resembling greed. The Christian faith is uniquely positioned to be the most generous entity on the planet, knowing that its source of riches is in heaven and not on Earth (Philippians 4:19).
Connect Group Resources:
- When Greed Becomes God (Steven J. Cole)
Connect Group Discussion Questions:
GATHER: (ensure that these questions centre around community)
- The world tells us many times a day to consume, consume, consume. It can be hard to think with this constant bombardment! Share with each other some of the ways that you have blocked those messages from your life.
- What are some of the small steps you have or can take to be less wasteful/a better steward with what God has given you?
GROW: (ensure that these questions prompt discussion on personal growth and maturity)
- Consider Psalm 23, which many know by heart. What does it say about our Shepherd’s provisions?
- Are there ‘things’ which make you feel secure (house, phone, savings fund)? Have you given God thanks for them or asked for His guidance in how to use them?
GO: (ensure that these questions prompt discussion on going and spreading the good news)
- Generosity doesn’t always have to be big; sometimes it’s the timing that makes the difference. When do you find yourself most distracted from noticing a need? Next time you find yourself there, pray that God will use you (for example, making phone calls while you shop can prevent you from connecting with others).
- As our minds turn to Christmas planning, what are some ways we can invite people to come and celebrate God’s great gift? How can you as a connect group meet a need or be generous to someone new?