Greed Can Be Deadly
“THE motive was greed,” charged the assistant district attorney. The crime was murder. A 29-year-old man stood before the judge accused of the execution-style shooting and killing of his wife’s father, mother and 16-year-old brother. For what reason? To inherit an estate worth $200,000!
While the vast majority will not allow greed to impel them to commit murder, greed often becomes the catalyst that turns a good relationship sour. When greed seeps into the Christian congregation, spiritual damage and even death can result by setting brother against brother and causing hatred to heat up to the point of boiling over into spiritual ‘manslaughter.’—1 John 3:15; Mark 7:21, 22.
Who Are Susceptible?
Greed’s potential lurks inside all of us. Because of inherited imperfection, greed is a wild outgrowth of the normal desire for material possessions and financial security. (Romans 5:12) It springs forth from an excessive or insatiable desire for possessions, fame or power. It can change a considerate person into a ruthless one. Lately, there is one group that has become more susceptible to the shrewd schemes of greedy operators than most others.
People who are religiously inclined are a main target for swindlers. Why? Usually religious people are more trusting and have more of a wanting-to-be-helpful attitude than others. The eyes of the greedy see this as a sign of weakness—gullibility. U.S. attorney Brent Ward, after investigating fraud in Utah that bilked members of one religious group out of $200 million over a period of two years or so, said: “It seems anytime religion enters into a sales pitch, the promoter is able to bridge the gap from unbelievability to believability.” Those victims were fooled into believing that they could make a quick, easy fortune by doing nothing more than investing their own money. Could the motive have been greed that lured some of them into parting with their hard-earned savings?
An Illusion of Safety
How does greed grow—with its cravings for possessions and wealth? How is it that greed can turn the cautious investor into a gullible one? Ecclesiastes 4:4 points to one answer: “I have also learned why people work so hard to succeed; it is because they envy the things their neighbors have. But it is useless. It is like chasing the wind.”—Today’s English Version.
Unscrupulous business promoters often link their business scheme to an aura of wealth—a luxury car, expensive jewels—and use this as a lure to wrap around greed’s hook to catch the unwary. They want you to become envious of their luxuries. So much so that you will believe that by investing in their business you, too, can own a similar plethora of goods and become wealthy without doing much work. In reality, if you do not lose your investment outright, you will end up working longer hours and harder than ever.
Greed creates the illusion that all that people need is money. True, money can be a protection, but it cannot buy happiness or eternal life. It has limits. “For wisdom is for a protection the same as money is for a protection; but the advantage of knowledge is that wisdom itself preserves alive its owners,” states Ecclesiastes 7:12. Action based on the accurate knowledge of Jehovah God and his Son Jesus Christ is what brings real happiness and leads to everlasting life. Therefore, is it not wise to invest in becoming spiritually rich with God, rather than striving for material wealth with man?—Matthew 5:3; Luke 12:20, 21; John 17:3.
However, money itself is not the issue. The real issue is, How do we get the money, and what do we do with it?—Matthew 6:24.
A number of sales organizations encourage their representatives to view everyone they know as a prospective customer—including those in their church. Fellow believers become a natural market for whatever is being sold. This is one trick the selling business uses to expand its base of customers. But would a true Christian want to take commercial advantage of his Christian contacts, his brothers and sisters in the faith?—1 Corinthians 10:23, 24, 31-33.
The apostle Paul, after spending three years with the congregation in Ephesus, could state with a clear conscience: “I have coveted no man’s silver or gold or apparel.” (Acts 20:33) Not only did Paul refuse to lust after another person’s material possessions but he was also unwilling to use the truth for personal financial gain.
Some businesses use the divine name in their advertisements and direct their sales campaign to Jehovah’s Witnesses by means of the Kingdom Hall. Can it be said that this practice is in harmony with the principle of Acts 20:33? Hardly! Kingdom Halls or Bible study groups or assemblies of Jehovah’s Witnesses are not the places to introduce personal commercial matters or to do job recruiting, but, rather, they act as centers for spiritual discussion and association before, during and after the meeting. (Hebrews 10:23-25) Therefore, to smudge the spiritual beauty of Christian association with commercialism would show an utter lack of appreciation for spiritual values.
There is also the matter of taking advantage of Christian contacts outside the Kingdom Hall. Does this mean that fellow Christians cannot do business with one another or start up a business together? No, that is a personal decision. However, some Christians initiate business ventures that encourage greed and try to entice fellow believers to become their partners or sales representatives. Many of these businesses fail, costing the duped investors large sums of money.
True, in some cases the investors themselves were motivated by a strong desire to make quick money. But should not each organizer feel a sense of responsibility for the financial outcome to others in business ventures? Should he not thoroughly consider in advance what may be the result, spiritually, to others if the business venture should fail? If so, does not an increase in responsibility usually bring with it an increase in accountability?
There are a few Christian overseers that have promoted questionable ventures harmful to their fellow believers. Such should be aware that this may affect their privileges in the congregation. No one can be told how to handle his secular affairs. Yet, no one should exploit his Christian contacts for business purposes either.—2 Corinthians 6:3, 4; 7:2; Titus 1:7.
Beware of Get-Rich-Quick Schemes
A Christian who quickly sees the danger of getting involved in a worldly get-rich-quick scheme could drop his guard when the scheme involves fellow believers and be hoodwinked by this reasoning: ‘Of course, this business deal is different; it comes from fellow Christians, and I could use the extra money. I’m sure they would not get involved in some risky business and endanger the investment of their fellow believers. Besides, this will give me more time for spiritual matters. I might even be able to pioneer.’ Be careful! “The heart is more treacherous than anything else and is desperate,” warns the Bible. That includes your heart too. Greed may blind us, so that we follow a risky course or take advantage of our brothers to accomplish selfish ends. We should sincerely examine our motives in the light of God’s Word.—Jeremiah 17:9, 10.
It is not wise to enter a business venture blindly with anyone, even with fellow believers. It is wise first to ‘count the cost.’ (Luke 14:28, 29) Know the facts—your limits, the limits of the business.
Consider this illustration: A safe driver knows the limits of his car and the road. He knows that other cars may be handled more easily on curves and in swerving to avoid obstacles at a greater speed than his. He also knows that the faster a car travels the less tolerance there is for error and the greater the risk of a crash. Therefore, he refuses to try to match what other drivers and their cars can do—he knows the limits. Likewise, now is not the time to see how far and how fast we can go in this system. The fact that one Christian may be successful in business does not necessarily mean that another one will be. Greed, like alcohol in a driver, may cause a Christian to overestimate his limits, leading to a spiritual crack-up and injury or, worse, spiritual death.—Galatians 5:26.
Before getting involved in a business venture ask yourself: Is it really necessary? Does the sales pitch appeal to greed, or will it satisfy a real need? Can I afford to lose all the money I am investing? If the business fails, will I deprive myself or my family of needed financial security? How risky is my investment? If I will be the owner of or partner in the business, how much business experience and acumen do I have? Am I familiar with tax laws? Have I researched the credentials and principles of the owners and the business? Is there a growing market for the business? Will I be so indebted to the business that I will find it difficult to quit? If I become seriously ill, how will the business deal with it?
And, more importantly, ask: Will I really have more time to devote to spiritual matters, or will it be less? How many of those already in the business have actually increased their time spent on spiritual matters?
The answers to those questions are directly tied to your spirituality. Bad business practices, ideas or plans do not turn into good ones just because fellow Christians are involved, any more than a house built with good materials is safe during a tempest if its foundation is built on sand. The danger for the Christian lies not only in financial loss but in spiritual collapse as well.—Matthew 7:24-27.
Daniel, a father with six children, found that his $200,000-a-year business demanded too many hours away from his family and was eroding his spirituality. So what did he do? “I decided to get out of the business,” he said. That was 12 years ago and, he adds, “I have never regretted it; I have received many blessings from Jehovah, and our entire family is unitedly serving our Grand Creator, Jehovah.”
An Insidious Trend
The insidious trend toward materialism disturbs many, prompting concerned Christians to comment:
“The world is full of schemes to make big, fast money—full or part time, especially in the field of direct multilevel selling. Many of my fellow Christians have been enticed—only to lose precious time and money. I, myself, have been a three-time loser. I’ve grieved that I got some of my fellow believers involved. They have lost money that they couldn’t afford to lose.”
“Some prominent Christians here are promoting various investment and business schemes among the brothers. In just the past week I have been approached three times, either to buy a product from a brother, to invest funds in an investment club formed by and for brothers, or to go into business with a brother.”
“It seems Christians have become so excited by this opportunity [pyramid-type insurance scheme] that anyone, the newly interested, believers having spiritual difficulty, just anyone, is viewed as a prospective recruit for their business organization.”
“At times those promoting ‘quick-and-easy riches’ have made a mockery of spiritual values, such as when those promoting their scheme imply, or state flatly, that their newfound affluence or success was a direct result of God’s blessing on their venture.”
A godly view of riches will alert the Christian to the snares of greed and will help him to resist succumbing to the worldly trend of materialism. Therefore, how should riches be viewed so as not to arouse greed?
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When greed seeps into the congregation, spiritual damage may result
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Greed creates the illusion that all that people need is money
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The Kingdom Hall is not the place for job recruiting or for promoting commercial matters
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‘I’ve grieved that I got fellow believers involved. They lost money they couldn’t afford to lose’
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Unscrupulous business promoters want you to become envious of their luxuries
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A godly view of riches alerts Christians to the snares of greed