More than twenty years ago, in the midst of a business negotiation, the fellow I was haggling with said, “I don’t want to leave any money on the table.” I’d never heard that phrase before, but I immediately knew what he meant. Loosely translated: he was telling me that he wanted to squeeze every possible penny out of the deal.

Frankly, I liked that phrase and gradually began to apply it in my own business dealings. I always tried to be fair and honest, but I did drive tough deals and I did try to maximize our profits. Now, don’t get ready for me to apologize for that—because I still see nothing wrong with conducting business this way. At least, up to a point. Obviously if you are negotiating with a younger, less attuned businessperson you don’t want to take advantage of their lack of knowledge. But driving fair, tough business negotiations is proper and good in many cases. This is a principle that we discuss in the No Debt No Sweat! Christian Money Management Seminar.

As the years have passed, however, I realized I may have honed this skill too well. While not being dishonest, sometimes I asked for more than was reasonable. I’m writing this to suggest that life is too short to approach every negotiation, whether it is in the business or professional realm or in the context of our personal relations with others, as a competitive battle to grab every possible inch of turf.

Isn’t this exactly what we find so repugnant about the Wall Street types and commercial bankers who suck every dime they can from their corporations — and then bail out in gold-gilded parachutes adding another hundred million to their portfolios? I wonder if this is exactly how Bernie Madoff got into trouble. Maybe he began with good intentions, but greed and lust slowly morphed into a constant hunger for more and more. This, in turn, led him to never leave any money on the table.

In Luke we find Jesus making a curious comment: “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed” (12:15, emphasis mine, NIV). I used to wonder why Jesus used the little phrase “all kinds of greed.” This passage used to confuse me. I wondered, isn’t greed… greed? Doesn’t it play out in the ugliest, rankest, most outrageous forms of human behavior? Yes, in some cases it does. Again, I would point you to the Wall Street shenanigans.

But in many cases, it is far more subtle. I am beginning to believe that sometimes greed can simply be asking for more. It can be the attitude that says, “What’s yours is mine; and what’s mine is all mine.” It has to do with the attitude that more is always better.

Since that day over twenty years ago, I have probably become a bit less interested in squeezing the other person until he squeals. Simply put, I don’t want to be a pig at the trough. I recently wrote a book for a publisher named Leafwood. I really respect these people. Granted, to remain in business, Leafwood must turn a profit. So it is most appropriate for them to construct author contracts with an eye toward making income for themselves. But I was pleasantly surprised when they sent me their contract. Two things struck me. First, it was less than ten pages long — a fraction of the length that many of their competitors use. Secondly, it was fair.

Authors everywhere tell horror stories of unfair and ambiguous publishing contracts that later made them feel foolish and cheated. Leafwood’s was fair (sure, we negotiated a few points — I’m not stupid), and it was direct. They could have grabbed for more profit -- and so could I. But we didn’t. We were both committed to getting this important message out to as many people as possible, and also committed to treating the other guy fairly.

Sometimes greed is most effectively combated with an “anti-greed” policy. God has no problem with wealthy landowners making a profit and living well — but he wants them to “leave money on the table.” In the earliest training, God taught his people, “When you harvest your land, don’t harvest right up to the edges of your field or gather the gleanings from the harvest. Don’t strip your vineyard bare or go back and pick up the fallen grapes. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am God, your God” (Leviticus 19:9-10, The Message).