What Do You Want, and How Badly?
- 2007 2 May
So are the ways of every one that is greedy of gain; which takes away the life of the owners thereof.
- Proverbs 1:19
TRUE or FALSE
__ 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.
The Consequences of Greed
1. It can steal your life away. When I first saw Solomon’s warning in Proverbs 1:19, that greed could take away the life of the person who possesses it, I thought it was talking about life only figuratively. After all, I have known countless men and women whose lives were best characterized by greed, and in nearly every case, their lives were also characterized by things like emptiness, lack of purpose, unhappiness, turmoil, and conflict. I now realize that greed can take one’s life literally as well. One of my former partners left our company and made millions of dollars in a number of business pursuits. He had a beautiful wife and wonderful children, but his greed robbed him of all his joy and fulfillment. When his business collapsed and bankruptcy threatened, he went into his garage and took his life.
2. It can destroy your financial security. In Proverbs 28:22, Solomon tells us that the person who tries to hurriedly get rich will instead end up in poverty. “He that hastens to be rich has an evil eye, and considers not that poverty shall come upon him.” For those focused on getting rich, Solomon says, riches will “sprout wings and fly off like an eagle.”
3. It can affect your loved ones. If you’re like me, I’m sure there are plenty of times when you have thought to yourself, “What I’m doing is my business. It has nothing to do with my parents, my wife, or my kids.” But in Proverbs 15:27, Solomon warns, “”He that is greedy of gain brings trouble into his own house.” There is no such thing as your “own” business. What you do affects everyone you care about. And it doesn’t matter if that greed for gain is financial, material, or for an appetite or an addiction. In business, we may start out with good intentions. We simply want to make more money so we can provide a better life for our families. But, as the seeds of greed take root, we begin to pursue our careers with such intensity that we neglect the very family we wanted to provide with that better life.
4. It can bankrupt you spiritually. In Proverbs 13:7, Solomon writes, “There is he that makes himself rich, yet has nothing.” Anyone who has read Howard Hughes’s biography has a clear picture of this truth. He was driven by his greed for wealth, power, fame, and love. He was proclaimed the richest man in the world, yet he had nothing: no lasting happiness, no fulfillment, not even security. You, too, may acquire whatever you are greedy for; but Solomon promises that even when you acquire it, you will have nothing of value.
5. It can steal your happiness and reasons for living. At first, you just want a little bit more. Then you want a little bit more. At first you’re thinking about it once in a while. Then you’re thinking about it every day, but just a little bit each day. Soon it dominates your focus all day long. You can’t be happy or fulfilled because your focus is on what you don’t have. You lose what used to be your purpose for living because your life is now centered on chasing what you still lack. That’s the nature of greed.
6. It can steal your integrity. In Proverbs 28:20, Solomon states, “But he that makes haste to be rich shall not be innocent.” Greed is never patient. It’s always in a hurry to get that which it covets. It creates the attitude “I want as much as I can get and I want it now!” It fuels your natural drive for instant gratification. In their quest to accelerate their wealth, people become willing to do that which is unethical, immoral, or illegal to acquire more. There’s nothing inherently wrong in desiring more. But when that desire becomes our focus, or causes us to set aside our priorities, values, or ethics, it has become greed.
7. It creates a false sense of security. In Proverbs 11:28, Solomon writes, “He that trusts in his riches shall fall.” Unfortunately, the more money one makes, the more likely he is to become arrogant. He begins to think he can get away with more and more. He takes more risks. And when he falls, he falls hard.
Next week: How Greed Gains a Foothold in Our Hearts
Reprinted from The Richest Man Who Ever Lived. Copyright © 2006 by Steven K. Scott. Used by permission of Waterbrook Press, Colorado Springs, CO. All rights reserved.
Steven K. Scott co-founded The American Telecast Corporation based in Philadelphia and its group of consumer goods companies. He is the best-selling author of Mentored by a Millionaire, A Millionaire's Notebook, and Simple Steps to Impossible Dreams.