In the 1987 movie Wall Street, Gordon Gekko, played by Michael Douglas, offered a speech in which he expressed the greed of the eighties. He declared:
The point is, ladies and gentleman, that greed -- for lack of a better word -- is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms -- greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge -- has marked the upward surge of mankind. And greed -- you mark my words -- will not only save Teldar Paper, but that other malfunctioning corporation called the USA.
Is greed really good? Is it really our savior? Of course not; greed, or the love of money, is a root of all kinds of evil, destroys faith, and thus leads to eternal punishment (1 Tim. 6:10).
Greed is built into the fabric of American industry as one Wall Street scandal after the other marches before us. Greed is the attitude to which advertisers appeal; we've got to have the latest gismo, hair product, or car. When my daughter saw the iPad, she went berserk. Someone gave my wife Southern Living. It's not really a magazine; it's a book of advertisements! What's worse, I want my place to look like the ads! It's so easy to be grabbed by greed. Greed is in our hearts when we want to keep up with the Jones' and when we're dissatisfied with what God's given us. It doesn't go too far to say that greed is what drives the American Dream.
Am I saying that any thing we want is rooted in greed? Not at all; we need food, shelter, and clothing. We can have things that make our jobs easier like washing machines or computers. But, God doesn't sanction the accumulation of wealth without connecting it to His purpose. Neither does the Bible give us a maximum number for our net worth. God does sanction properly motivated work and wages. But, He does say things like we're to work that we might have extra to give to others (Eph. 4:28) and that we can't serve God and money (Matt. 6:24). So, greed is a problem. How then can we avoid being grabbed by it?
First, be on guard. Do you remember the account where Naaman finally did what Elisha told him and was delivered from his leprosy? After that, Elisha's servant Gehazi saw that Elisha turned down a gift from Naaman. Gehazi then went after Naaman and conned him into giving him the money. He'd been a faithful servant of the Lord and was grabbed by greed in an instant. God judged him and gave him and his descendents leprosy forever (2 Ki. 5:20-27). Had he been on guard, he would have avoided dishonoring God, his master, and his ministry. He would have avoided destruction.
If you know something can grab you at any time, you're more apt to watch out for it. When we played capture the flag as kids, we didn't just walk around in the open without being on guard. We were careful not to get caught. Temptation can come at any moment. That's what that television commercial is designed to do: grab you! Be on guard.
Second, examine your heart. Sin flows from the heart and leads to more sin if we don't deal with it at the heart level. We call it a downward spiral. In Gehazi's case, greed led to deception and then to theft (vv. 21-24). I've seen greed in church members cause them to do the same thing - lie to cover their sin and steal from others in one form or another. Don't think it can't happen to you. What are you willing to do to get what you want? What secret lusts lurk in your heart? Examine your heart.
Third, beware the consequences. God knows what's in our hearts and He knows what we do to keep certain things from others. He sees all. If you belong to the Lord and greed is a problem for you, God in His love will discipline you to root that sin out (Heb. 12:6). Wouldn't it be better not to go through the chastening? And, what if you're one of those who's tacked Christianity onto your Americanism? Much of Christianity today is about molding the Bible to fit our lifestyles rather than conforming our lifestyles to God (Rom. 12:1-2). Gehazi served God but found himself cursed. Jesus Himself warns about false professions (Matt. 7:21). Paul says God's wrath is reserved for those who're self-seeking (Rom. 2:8). Don't take this issue lightly. Beware the consequences.
Fourth, think big picture. When Elisha confronted Gehazi he said: "Is it time to receive money and to receive clothing, olive groves and vineyards, sheep and oxen, male and female servants" (v. 26)? This question seems odd. Why does Elisha ask it? Well, he's putting things into perspective; making a distinction between this world and the Kingdom of God. Our time here is temporary but the Kingdom of God is eternal. Things here are irrelevant compared to eternal life. More than that, when we die, we get it all; we inherit the earth (Matt. 5:5)!
What's your motive to fight greed; to go to Uganda with the gospel; to sacrifice for others? You might say things like the glory of God, love for others, and joy in those things. And, you'd be right. But, how do you fight when that iPad looks so good and you already have a laptop? Same as before you say. True. But, add to the mix another weapon from Elisha's words: now's not the time for us to focus on the things we want. God will give us complete satisfaction (in Him) one day.
That's why Paul said we're to be pitied more than anyone if Christ isn't alive. We might as well eat, drink, and be merry because tomorrow we die (1 Cor. 15:19; 32). His point is that we give up things here, sacrifice here, and forsake our own comfort here for the sake of the gospel. If the gospel's not real then we should be as comfortable as we can. But, the gospel is real; don't get grabbed by greed - think big picture.
Dr. Paul Dean invites you to discover more about yourself, God, and others . . . and develop a Christian worldview. Dr. Dean is a pastor, cultural commentator, and author. Receive a FREE commentary and learn more at http://www.trueworldview.com