So are the ways of every one that is greedy of gain; which takes away the life of the owners thereof.
- Proverbs 1:19

Pop Quiz

__ Rich people are greedier than poor and middle-income people.

__The more money a person makes, the more greedy they are likely to be.

__Greed is not an issue in my life

When we think of greed, we always think about it in relation to other people, rather than ourselves. We picture the character Scrooge in Dicken’s A Christmas Carol. The fact is, the seeds of greed are present in every human heart. In some people, these seeds subtly take root and gradually influence more and more of our decisions, preventing us from achieving what we value most. In others, they grow into giant weeds that choke the joy out of their lives. The good news is that Solomon shows us how we can prevent greed from taking root and influencing or controlling our lives.

First, let’s get a clear picture of how Solomon defines greed. Did you answer True to any of the questions in the pop quiz above? By Solomon’s definition, the right answer to all of the questions in the quiz is False.

What Do You Want, and How Badly Do You Want It?

Greed is not just about money. Although greed can certainly drive one’s pursuit of riches and material possessions, greed is an attitude that can drive any number of behaviors. Solomon used two Hebrew words to describe greed. One means “to deeply yearn or long for something”; the other implies wanting something so badly that you are willing to violate the rights of others to get it. Combining these two words gives us a fuller picture of what Solomon means. Greed is a deep longing for something that creates a willingness to do whatever it takes to acquire it. In other words, greed is not defined by what you want, but rather how badly you want it.

A person can be greedy in just about any imaginable area: the pursuit of power or recognition, the pursuit of love, the pursuit of sexual fulfillment, the pursuit of leisure or a hobby. But in our society, the most visible form of greed is the pursuit of wealth.

Greed Can Grow Like Cancer

Michael Landon was one of my dearest friends in Hollywood. He was kind and generous to me in ways that are rarely seen in the entertainment industry. I had the honor of filming Mike’s last project. A week before our shoot, he took me into his new home gym. When I asked how he was feeling, he replied, “Steve, I’ve never felt better. I’m in the best shape of my life.” Four weeks later, he was rushed to an emergency room with severe abdominal pain. A few days later, he was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer and liver cancer. Unlike more aggressive cancers, pancreatic cancer grows slowly for years before it produces any noticeable symptoms. In fact, it usually becomes symptomatic only in its final stage. Mike died within three months of his diagnosis. My father, on the other hand, was diagnosed with a very aggressive type of lung cancer. Dad’s cancer was symptomatic within a few months of its onset. He died seven months after it was diagnosed.

Greed can grow like either one of these cancers – aggressive and obvious from the start, or more subtly and unnoticed until it’s inflicted terrible loss. That is how greed crept into my life. I was persuaded to make three bad investment decisions due to my naiveté. However, the reason I was susceptible to the optimistic pitches of those who took my money was that I was greedy – I wanted to make a lot of money quickly. By the time I recognized my greed, it was too late; my life savings had vanished.

Do You Give Into Greed?

If I were to ask you if you had a problem with greed, you would probably answer no and pass a lie-detector test. Yet greed may be subtly taking root in your heart. The fact that it hasn’t yet produced an alarming symptom or a devastating consequence does not mean that it is absent or benign. If you don’t take preventative or corrective measures, sooner or later it may ultimately rob you of what you value most.