Few people think they are prone to greed.
That was the result of an anecdotal I conducted recently as I was preparing a sermon on this topic.
Folks admitted to anger, envy and gluttony, but no one confessed a problem with greed. A few attributed greed to others, but not to themselves.
These isolated responses backed up my assumption: The face of greed has changed and few of us see it as a spiritual problem affecting us.
The old image of greed is a character like Ebenezer Scrooge, sitting in a cold room, counting gold coins while wearing fingerless gloves.
Or, we visualize Michael Douglas in the nearly 30-year-old movie, “Wall Street,” saying, “Greed is good.”
Most of us think that greed is something that afflicts hermits who count their money or Wall Street “fat cats,” none of whom we identify with. Therefore, greed is someone else’s problem, not ours.
Anyone teaching or preaching on greed today must overcome the listeners’ rationalizations of why they are not greedy. We need images of greed that fit our generation.
One modern portrayal of greed is shopping.
People joke about it all the time – with bumper stickers such as “shop until you drop,” shopaholic” or simply “gone shopping.”
Our greed is not counted in gold coins, but in pairs of shoes or technology items. We don’t keep the objects of our greed in bank accounts but in rental storage units because there is no longer any room in our homes.
We find sweaters or shirts in the bottom of a drawer that we forgot we had purchased. Older relatives die and we find item after item in the house – unused and with the price tags still affixed.
We can’t stop shopping or spending on ourselves. We must possess – and that impulse is greed.
The second way the greed of our generation expresses itself: The more we have, the less we give.
We convince ourselves we will be more generous when we have more, but statistics show that as we have more, we give away a decreasing percentage of what is ours.
Does spending more on ourselves imply generosity or greed?
Greed is a product of fear, often the fear of not having enough. The financial industry preys on this fear all the time: You won’t have enough to retire, to send children to college and so on.
Or fear may express itself as the anxiety of missing out on what everyone else has. Consider how many times we hear the word “deserve” in advertising. We deserve what others have, so we must spend on ourselves.
Emil Brunner, in his book, “Sowing and Reaping,” suggested that fear and greed are synonymous.
“Fear tells us that things might take a turn for the worse,” he explained. “A sparrow in one’s hand is better than a pigeon on the rooftop. I am sure of what I possess, but I am not so sure of what I shall receive upon letting go what I have.”
What a terrible way to live. The anxious life of greed reveals its toxic nature. It is a “deadly” sin because it murders joy.
In Matthew 6:25-34, Jesus invites us to consider a better way, calling us to “not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on.”
“Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” he asks. “Look at the birds of the air: They neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?”
After setting forth several additional comparisons noting God’s provision, Jesus instructs, “Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”
Trusting God is the antidote for greed.
Joel Snider is the pastor of First Baptist Church in Rome, Georgia. A longer version of this article with resources for additional reflection first appeared on his website, The Substance of Faith, and is used with permission.
Joel Snider is a coach for the Center for Healthy Churches.