Pastor David B. Curtis

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The Danger of Greed

Luke 12:15

Delivered 02/27/2000

A man living in Southern California was on his way to work one morning in his brand new BMW. Suddenly, the Big one hit; the earth began to tremble under his wheels and the car was swallowed by the earth. The man was seriously injured, but as he climbed out of the wreckage he didn't even notice that his left arm had been cut off at the elbow. He just stood by the side of the road, viewing the wreckage and crying out, "Oh no, my Beemer, my Beemer!" A man who had witnessed the disaster said to him, "How can you be crying about your car? Don't you realize that your arm has been cut off?" The man looked down in horror at his missing limb and said, "Oh no! My Rolex! My Rolex!"

Now, that might be a slight exaggeration, but there is no question that we live in a very materialistic society, and that greed is the driving force behind much of what happens in our daily lives.

Forget dramas and sitcoms - the hottest thing in television is the lure of cold cash. "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?" rewrote the laws on entertainment when ABC launched it late last year. A similar show on another network is aptly called "Greed."A better question in our society might be, "Who doesn't want to be a millionaire?" And some people want it so badly that they'll do anything to get it.

How many of you have heard of Rick Rockwell and Darva Conger? If you watch any TV, read the newspaper, or listen to the radio at all, I'm sure you are familiar with who they are.

On February 15, more than 22 million people tuned in to Fox's ``Who Wants to Marry a Multimillionaire?'' where fifty women competed as if they were in a combination of ``The Dating Game'' and a beauty pageant, parading in bathing suits and wedding gowns and answering questions about their tastes.

In a city with a million ways to gamble, 50 women had lined up to marry for money, preparing to wed a man they had never met, never even seen before. They were willing to marry him on the sole ground that he was a multimillionaire.

Here are 50 women so motivated by greed that they'll parade themselves on national television for the dubious reward of marrying a rich stranger.

Asked to offer a message from the heart to the hidden bachelor, Conger vowed that she would be "your friend, your lover, and your partner, through whatever life has to offer ... and you will never be bored."

After the group was paired down to five finalists, Rockwell selected Conger to be his wife. A Las Vegas judge married them on the spot. The only thing she knew about him was that he was a multimillionaire.

"The rings you are about to exchange represent your love," said the Nevada judge performing the ceremony. "The giving and receiving of these rings show everyone your commitment and your trust in one another. . . ."

What commitment and what trust? They had never even met each other. The ring represented nothing but greed.

David Popenoe, a sociologist who co-directs the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University, said, "This treats marriage as something that requires zero preparation or even knowledge of your partner, which is absolutely the wrong way to look at it. Quickie marriages have notoriously high divorce rates."

It is my opinion that this show treated marriage as trite and disposable. We live in the age of the disposable. From the throw-away bottle, we've progressed to the throw-away camera and even to the throw-away marriage. But marriage is not disposable in any age or society.

Marriage is a divine institution, divinely delineated. It is a divine institution because God himself originated it.

Genesis 2:22-23 (NKJV) Then the rib which the LORD God had taken from man He made into a woman, and He brought her to the man. 23 And Adam said: "This is now bone of my bones And flesh of my flesh; She shall be called Woman, Because she was taken out of Man. 24 Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.

Marriage is an institution established by God. This is the first implication of the Genesis text. It is quite wrong to imagine that somewhere in a cave around a flickering fire one night a group of previously promiscuous people decided that marriage might be a good idea. It is not a social contract that people worked out and found useful to society for a while. Society did not invent marriage. We received it from God. It was God who made Adam. It was God who said,"It is not good for the man to be alone." It was God who made Eve. It was God who brought her to Adam. Adam did not take a wife, he received a wife. God gave away the first bride and officiated at the first wedding ceremony. Thus, marriage is a divine institution and not to be treated lightly.

According to both testaments, God has clearly declared that marriage is to be permanent (Gen 2:24-25; Matt. 19:1-15). He has instituted it. He delineated its purposes or design. He has declared its permanence.

Marriage is a Divine institution that we are to honor, but I feel that the producers of ``Who Wants to Marry a Multimillionaire'', and the fifty women involved, all dishonored it because of greed.

Our view of marriage is very important. In the New Testament, nearly every writer discusses marriage, because a stable marriage is a building block in the structure of society. Therefore, the decay of marriage threatens the stability of our nation today far more severely than does any foreign hostility. Our nation is in trouble because marriage is in trouble.

The previous decade has been called the "decade of greed and selfishness," but I've got a feeling that this decade will top it. Oliver Stone's movie, Wall Street, illustrated the propensity for greed, which drove some to a high level of inhumanity. Indeed, greed can take away much of our humanity. It can strip us of compassion if we let it. As people become infatuated with the pursuit of riches, they lose all kinds of focus.

"I don't think I was thinking clearly," Darva Conger told "Good Morning America." "I committed an error in judgment." What was it that clouded her judgment? Was it possibly her greed?

The Bible gives us this warning:

1 Timothy 6:10 (NKJV) 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 pierced themselves through with many sorrows.

Greed is a deadly sin; precisely so because it leads to so many other things. When people are greedy, they will steal, or deprive others of what is rightly theirs - all just to help build up their own estate or worth. A greedy person becomes driven, possessed by his possessions, which is indeed deadly.

For two hours, on national television, 50 attractive, intelligent women told why they would marry a multi-millionaire, sight unseen. Say what they will, I have to believe that the bottom line was greed. The unsaved world is filled with greed. But we, believers, are to put off the sin of greed, we are called to live differently.

Titus 1:7 (NKJV) For a bishop must be blameless, as a steward of God, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money,

Elders or pastors are to be men who are not greedy. This applies to all of us, because elders are to be examples for all of us to follow (1 Peter 5:1-3).

What is GREED?

Greed is the excessive love of material wealth. It is an inordinate love. The greedy person ends up having, but not enjoying. The greedy person does not, in practice, believe that God provides, or that we trust him alone for provision.

The destructiveness of greed is seen in a frequently related story. A beggar was found on the streets of NYC. His death was not due to crime, nor to disease. This homeless person died on the streets due to starvation and hypothermia. He had lived in a cardboard box, with fingers worn off of the end of his gloves. His stench was his signature and his only food was the local bread-line. He caught pneumonia during the rough winter, and never went to the hospital to receive free treatment. He could have. Instead, he became run down, coughed horribly, and began to wear all the signs of the permanent homeless. Only one thing was missing; no trace of alcohol or drug usage, as was customary. And this victim curiously died blanketed in a newspaper, a particular and uncommon newspaper, The Wall Street Journal . This beggar had been checking his stocks and bonds. He died, covered by his stock tables. Tightly clenched in his fist was a key, later identified as a key to a safety deposit box in a local bank. When opened by his heirs, it was discovered to contain over 10 million dollars worth of stocks, bonds, and CDs.

Why didn't this poor person use some of it? The Reason: He thought he might run out. He never had enough, and so he scrimpted every penny he could - even if it meant being homeless. He died a poor rich man.

At root, greed is the attempt to do for self what God has not done. It is a lust for more; more material wealth, more of what someone else has, or just more in general. Greed is never satisfied; it always hungers for more. If we trusted God and his providence, we would be content with what he gives.

Do you ever want more than God has given you? Do you ever work and devote yourself to attain more than God wants you to have? Maybe by answering that question, you can begin to see why this is so sinful. To do so is to belittle God's actual provision in your life, and to manifest greed.

Jesus, in the Gospels:

Luke 12:15 (NKJV) And He said to them, "Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses."

Covetousness and greed are synonyms. Jesus said our greatest danger is to become greedy. If you think only of stockpiling things for yourself, and neglect your relationship with God and your obligation to others, you will ultimately self-destruct.

Jesus said, "A man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions." There is more to life than making money. To the extent that we remember this, we can safeguard ourselves against greed.

There are a variety of manifestations of greed. There is the greed for money; the greed for grown-up toys; the greed for prestige; the greed for future security; the greed for more, when one is already rich. Rich, according to the Bible, is: "having more than you need to live." Do you have more than you need to live?

Is greed hindering or slowing you down in the least? Maybe, today you should be more honest than you have been recently. Is greed for possessions a problem, a sin, in your life? We are driven by greed, because we have no inner satisfaction with God.

We can see the danger of this sin from all the warnings against it in Scripture. To His disciples Jesus said:

Matthew 6:19-21 (NKJV) "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; 20 "but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Matthew 6:24 (NKJV) "No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.

Jesus has told them - and us - that a person cannot serve both God and money simultaneously. We are constitutionally capable of serving only one god at a time. Many people fool themselves, and try to convince themselves that they can serve both allegiances at the same time, but you cannot serve both God and Mammon. In this case, Mammon stood for the whole worldly system of accumulation of wealth. Arthur Pink writes:

Their orders are diametrically opposed. The one commands you to walk by faith, the other to walk by sight; the one to be humble, the other to be proud; the one to set your affections on things above, the other to set them on the things that are on the earth; the one to look at the things unseen and eternal, the other to look at the things seen and temporal; the one to have your [walk] in heaven, the other to cleave to the dust; the one to be careful for nothing, the other to be all anxiety; the one to be content with such things as you have, the other to enlarge your desires as hell; the one to be ready to distribute, the other to withhold; the one to look at the things of others, the other to look only at one's own things; the one to seek happiness in the Creator, the other to seek happiness in the creature" (AW Pink, An Exposition of the Sermon on the Mount (Baker, 1983, pp. 215-216.)

Jesus takes the addictive power of money so seriously, he assigns it a quality of deity, claiming it can easily become an object of worship. If you doubt that truth, look at Colossians 3:5, which connects covetousness to idolatry:

Colossians 3:5 (NKJV) Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.

Did you catch that? Greed is called "idolatry". Indeed it is! Greed is the lifting up of things, the worship of non-gods. A greedy person builds a little chapel - usually an invisible shrine -to worship his wealth. Others may not see, but God does. When we worship the amassing of wealth, and cannot let go of it, it holds us; we no longer hold it. Greed is idolatry. It is the worship of what you can produce, rather than what God provides. We all need to pray as David did in:

Psalms 119:36 (NKJV) "Incline my heart to Your testimonies, And not to covetousness."

Aquinas, the Medieval thinker, said, "Greed is great unwisdom, a philosophical foolishness, for it assumes that happiness comes from possessing, from having things. That is a lie."

Aquinas was right, a big misconception that most people, including most Christians, have is that - Having enough money will make me happy. The problem is that the target for "enough" keeps moving. Financial guru, Ken Roberts, said that when he first began building his fortune he thought that one million dollars was the magic number that would make him happy and eliminate all of his worries. When he became a millionaire, he realized that he needed $5 million to be happy and at peace. When he accumulated a net-worth of $5 million, the target changed to $10 million. He finally realized that no amount would ever be enough--his peace of mind would have to come from something other than his bank account.

Most people believe that happiness is just a few dollars away. And as they go through life accumulating these things, they never are quite able to get a lasting grip on happiness.

You must understand that happiness comes from experiencing the fullness of God in your life. Nothing else can bring the joy that a personal relationship with God can bring, and once you learn to base your happiness on your relationship with God, nothing in the world can take it away from you. The seventeenth century French mathematician, philosopher, and religious thinker, Blaise Pascal, wrote:

There once was in man a true happiness of which now remain to him only the mark and empty trace, which he in vain tries to fill from all his surroundings, seeking from things absent the help he does not obtain in things present. But these are all inadequate, because the infinite abyss can only be filled by an infinite and immutable object, that is to say, only by God Himself.

The deepest and most enduring happiness is found only in God. Not from God, but in God.

We have in Scripture a memorable Old Testament example of greed. Look with me at 2 Kings 5:15-27. This story may not be that familiar to you. After Naaman was cleansed of leprosy, following Elisha's instructions to wash seven times in the Jordan river, he came back to thank Elisha.

2 Kings 5:15-27 (NKJV) And he returned to the man of God, he and all his aides, and came and stood before him; and he said, "Indeed, now I know that there is no God in all the earth, except in Israel; now therefore, please take a gift from your servant." 16 But he said, "As the LORD lives, before whom I stand, I will receive nothing." And he urged him to take it, but he refused. 17 So Naaman said, "Then, if not, please let your servant be given two mule-loads of earth; for your servant will no longer offer either burnt offering or sacrifice to other gods, but to the LORD. 18 "Yet in this thing may the LORD pardon your servant: when my master goes into the temple of Rimmon to worship there, and he leans on my hand, and I bow down in the temple of Rimmon; when I bow down in the temple of Rimmon, may the LORD please pardon your servant in this thing." 19 Then he said to him, "Go in peace." So he departed from him a short distance. 20 But Gehazi, the servant of Elisha the man of God, said, "Look, my master has spared Naaman this Syrian, while not receiving from his hands what he brought; but as the LORD lives, I will run after him and take something from him." 21 So Gehazi pursued Naaman. When Naaman saw him running after him, he got down from the chariot to meet him, and said, "Is all well?" 22 And he said, "All is well. My master has sent me, saying, 'Indeed, just now two young men of the sons of the prophets have come to me from the mountains of Ephraim. Please give them a talent of silver and two changes of garments.'" 23 So Naaman said, "Please, take two talents." And he urged him, and bound two talents of silver in two bags, with two changes of garments, and handed them to two of his servants; and they carried them on ahead of him. 24 When he came to the citadel, he took them from their hand, and stored them away in the house; then he let the men go, and they departed. 25 Now he went in and stood before his master. Elisha said to him, "Where did you go, Gehazi?" And he said, "Your servant did not go anywhere." 26 Then he said to him, "Did not my heart go with you when the man turned back from his chariot to meet you? Is it time to receive money and to receive clothing, olive groves and vineyards, sheep and oxen, male and female servants? 27 "Therefore the leprosy of Naaman shall cling to you and your descendants forever." And he went out from his presence leprous, as white as snow.

Gehazi's greed led to lying, deceit, and leprosy. Gehazi's sin of greed cost him and his descendants. This is a vivid picture of the danger of greed. Nicer clothes, a bigger house, another car, a better vacation tempt all of us. How can you tell if you're greedy? You know you're greedy when: 1. You never have enough money; 2. When you want to flaunt money, or what it provides; 3. When it hurts you to give money away; 4. When you sin to get money or keep it, such as lying to the I.R.S.

Contentment is one of the most distinguishing traits of the godly person, because a godly person has his heart focused on God, rather than on himself and his circumstances.

What would you do if you suddenly received eleven million dollars? This question was asked of many people, and the responses were fairly typical: people said they would invest it, give to charity, set up a trust for their family, quit their job, travel, go on a shopping spree, and on and on. One man said, "I would pay my bills, and if there was anything left over, I would take my wife out to dinner."

Eleanor Boyer had considered this kind of question before. She is 73 years old, retired, independent, and a deeply devoted follower of Christ. She always said that if she ever won the lottery, she would give half of it to the church.

Well, Eleanor Boyer won the New Jersey state lottery. Eleven million dollars. But she didn't give half of it away. She gave it all away. She did not keep a penny for herself.

Though she lives on a pension, and her 68 Malibu was currently in the shop, Miss Boyer insisted that she didn't need the money. "God takes care of me," she says. This is why she decided to make her wealth a gift to everyone but herself.

About one fourth of her windfall goes to Uncle Sam. The remaining $8 million has been distributed to her church and a number of community service organizations, including a shelter for homeless, expectant women.

This gift serves to magnify a life of devotion to Christ, which otherwise might have gone unheralded in this world. For years Miss Boyer has risen at 5:30 each morning for prayer; she attends church regularly; she serves her church faithfully; she has always given generously.

Eleanor Boyer has shown us a living example of true wealth: contentment, compassion, and generosity. What an example for us to follow!

We have been ingrained with the world's idea that money will make us happy, that's why we want it so bad. That belief is a lie, happiness comes from an intimate relationship with the Lord.

Psalms 146:5 (NKJV) "Happy is he who has the God of Jacob for his help, Whose hope is in the LORD his God,"
Pro.16:20 And whoever trusts in the LORD, happy is he.

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