Inside Tithe.ly: Dean Sweetman, CEO and Co-Founder
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October 17, 2019
Use this biblical deep-dive on greed to enrich your understanding of wealth, generosity, and discipleship.
July 15, 2019
Greed can become an ugly reality.
The line between greed and aspiration—between the bottomless desire for more and the human drive to succeed—are easily blurred.
The Bible understands this very clearly.
That’s why, in Scripture, we don’t find strict absolutisms that demonize or obscure the complex realities of aspiration, wealth, growth, inheritance, success, profit, and the opportunity for greed to plant itself in the human heart and grow like a weed.
In Scripture, we find an engagement with the reality of money—and the desire for money—as that which it has always represented: power.
Money is a way of tracking debt.
Money represents ability. The more money you have, the more opportunities are available to you. The more powerful you can become. The higher status you can purchase. The more envy you can eradicate. The more pain you can resolve.
Greed is such an alluring disposition of the human heart, because power is so … powerful.
And money is one way of representing that power.
God understands this, and engages greed as the tangled and tangling reality in the human heart that it really is.
“For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world” (1 John 2:16)
Because physical blessings—even earthly power and money—come from God, the inordinate desire to amass and accumulate wealth in a way that distorts human nature should be guarded against diligently.
Greed is not the same as aspiration.
Greed is the inordinate, insatiable desire to accumulate wealth, power, and security to such as a degree that it supersedes moral integrity, and even spiritual integrity.
“Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7).
God loves a cheerful giver.
How many greedy people are cheerful givers?
This isn’t the same thing as asking: “How many rich people are cheerful givers?”
Rich and poor alike can be generous or greedy.
But if there is such as a thing as an antonym to greed, it is generosity.
And if there is a virtue at the heart of godliness, certainly it is generosity: “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).
“Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income. This too is meaningless” (Ecclesiastes 5:10).
Insatiability is one of the defining characteristics of greed.
It is unrelenting—the only thing it wants is: “More.”
The goals of greed are unquantifiable and endlessly evasive.
The more one dips into greed to fuel aspiration, the less satisfying are the goals to which one aspires.
Eventually, all other goals are forced to subserve greed’s accumulative goals.
“Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you’” (Hebrews 13:5).
God supported Israel in the wilderness.
God gave them daily manna.
God could have given Israel an endless supply of gold, weapons, and a pillar of fire to fight their battles.
But he deigned not to do this so that Israel would trust God.
God provides what is needed for today. Jesus’s claim in the Sermon on the Mount is the ultimate antithesis to greed: “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Matthew 6:34).
“Then he said to them, ‘Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions’” (Luke 12:15).
Life is about more than money.
Granted—money can make life a lot easier.
Like health, finances are one of the things that are easy to take for granted until they are gone.
Nevertheless, when the desire to accumulate wealth becomes all-consuming, it can eclipse the realities that make having money worth anything:
Greed, at its purest, is willing to sacrifice all these things for its own ends.
““No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money” (Matthew 6:24).
Greed feels like freedom, because the cash value of “cash” is extremely high.
With money comes power.
With power comes almost everything else.
The experience of accumulating wealth and experiencing the access that wealth affords the wealthy can be a high.
Like all addictions, greed can become a slavemaster that promises freedom but only delivers further servitude.
“Those who trust in their riches will fall, but the righteous will thrive like a green leaf (Proverbs 11:28).
There are more important kinds of health than financial health.
Those who assume that their financial security will translate into other forms of security—physical, relational, communal, and spiritual—are woefully misguided.
“Dishonest money dwindles away, but whoever gathers money little by little makes it grow” (Proverbs 13:11)
When we have our eyes set on accumulating wealth for so long, it’s hard not to wonder: “What if I cut a few moral corners to acquire more wealth?”
The Bible calls this “lust.”
Lust is when our hearts become so consumed with the accumulation of material assets that we start to see dollar signs in front of our moral integrity.
Even worse—we begin to see our moral integrity as a barrier to wealth that needs to be circumvented, and potentially even destroyed.
The problem with this is that wealth gained by selling one’s integrity often doesn’t last, as people want to do business with reputable businessmen who keep their word. Rarely does a compromise of integrity pay off in the long run. Most often, these decisions yield regret, ruin, and lost opportunities.
“The greedy bring ruin to their households, but the one who hates bribes will live” (Proverbs 15:27)
The example you set for your kids regarding greed and wealth can last for generations. Financial habits can generate long-lasting financial and spiritual health for years, or it can create a family that is always interested in the latest scheme, the quickest buck, and a financial short-sightedness that history has taught us is never worth the consequences.
The consequences of this sort of approach could diminish your family’s quality of life not only by the example you set, but by the real life legal and civil consequences of letting greed drive a family’s financial plan.
“An inheritance claimed too soon will not be blessed at the end” (Proverbs 20:21)
Loyalty is one of the most important assets in your relational portfolio.
As the entrepreneur Tim Ferris has wisely said: “Your network is your net worth.”
If you are trying to scam even your closest relatives out of their money too soon, you will trade your relational capital with your family for an short-lived opportunity.
“A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold” (Proverbs 22:1)
Your reputation among colleagues, peers, and even family, can have a lasting impact on your earning potential—even a lifelong impact.
It’s important not to trade your reputation for quick cash. This is a common error among youthful entrepreneurs and businesspeople that ought to be avoided. The monetary value alone of having a reputation as a fast learner, hard worker, and honest employee will yield a higher lifetime return than any fast-return ploy.
“The generous will themselves be blessed, for they share their food with the poor” (Proverbs 22:9)
Generosity is critical to personal, spiritual, and emotional wellbeing.
This is as true from the moment you are born to the moment you die.
As Jesus himself said: “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).
“A faithful person will be richly blessed, but one eager to get rich will not go unpunished. To show partiality is not good— yet a person will do wrong for a piece of bread.The stingy are eager to get rich and are unaware that poverty awaits them” (Proverbs 28:20-22)
When you have a laser sight on your financial net worth, it can obscure the kind of levelheadedness that presents itself as calm, cool, collected businessperson with which people want to deal—whether you are a business owner or an employee.
I don’t want to hire someone who is motivated purely by money.
I want to hire someone who is trying to build their career and their business, because I know that I can trust their values. If all someone values is money, this will manifest itself as a kind of desperation that can turn even the best business deals into volatile and unstable opportunities that aren’t good for anybody.
“The greedy stir up conflict, but those who trust in the LORD will prosper” (Proverbs 28:25).
This is called “clickbait.”
People are more likely to “click” something that tantalizes their anxiety or their lust.
In an internet marketplace where traffic is king, the greedy bulldoze their morals and try to draw people onto their websites by exaggerating scandal, catastrophe, danger, and sex and sensuality.
These are not morally neutral acts, and they do not come at no cost to these entrepreneurs' souls.
“Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:2-3).
Greed is at odds with the qualifications of a minister of the gospel.
This takes greed to an entirely different level.
We should note: It’s not wrong for pastors to desire to be fairly compensated.
It’s likewise not wrong for pastors to negotiate higher salaries, or to be wealthy.
The Apostle Paul writes: “The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, ‘Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain,’ and ‘The worker deserves his wages’” (1 Timothy 5:17-18).
However, Peter’s warning has less to do with the amount a pastor is paid, and more to do with the morality of a pastor’s wealth acquisition: “not pursuing dishonest gain” (1 Peter 5:2).
Using pastoral ministry as a means of making money, when you don’t really believe the message or care for the people, violates God’s qualifications for an ordained church leader.
“To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly. We have become the scum of the earth, the garbage of the world—right up to this moment” (1 Corinthians 4:11-13).
The Christian life is not simply about prosperity.
God wants Christians to prosper.
But sometimes, Christians go through seasons of suffering for the sake of the gospel.
Greed can cultivate a sense of entitlement that conflicts with the mindset required to flourish even when persecuted.
When an entitled person suffers, they try to buy their way out of the suffering.
But you can’t buy your way out of suffering for the gospel.
Rather, you preach your way into it.
The only way this will happen is if you value something more than money and the comfort it affords.
“Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. 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. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the innocent one, who was not opposing you.” (James 5:1-6)
One natural argument against the pragmatic value of greed is the fact that we live in God’s world and the earth is passing away. No earthly possession will last forever, and even if it did, you couldn’t take it with you.
“Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life” (1 Tim. 6:17-19).
When all of life is reduced to the quantified form of its potential monetary value, life can seem hopeless when finances fluctuate in a negative direction.
We cannot store up our treasures in this life and take them with us.
This reality should be sobering and mitigate against our greed.
“But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For 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 Tim. 6:6-10).
This line should be very sobering to us: “Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.”
The Bible warns us to be wary of listening to our desires.
There is nothing wrong with wanting to be rich.
When Paul says “Those who want to get rich fall into temptation,” he is not making a predicate claim—that all who want to get rich are culpable of sin—but what Greek scholars call a “gnomic claim,” meaning: This is often how the world works.
People who desire to get rich fall into temptation.
It’s very common—so common that those who do desire to get rich should take special care not to take their emotions as law.
Meditate on these passages from Scripture as you build wealth throughout your life.
The Bible does not romanticize poverty.
Quite the opposite—it warns against it: “All hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty” (Proverbs 14:23).
Greed, like lust, must be diagnosed by each person’s conscience.
We know it when we see it.
We know the all-consuming sensation of wanting more—the kind of wanting that is never satisfied. The kind of wanting Solomon calls “vanity.”
May God guard us against this sort of greed by cultivating in us generosity, devotion to God, involvement in the local church, and a commitment to honesty about the proportion of our own desires.