Keep Avoiding the Snare of Greed
“Be on your guard against greed of every kind, for even when a man has more than enough, his wealth does not give him life.”—LUKE 12:15, The New English Bible.
1. Why is Paul’s warning against greed timely?
WE ARE living in a world that worships material prosperity. Commercial interests constantly appeal to people’s greed to enrich themselves. Success is usually measured by the size of a paycheck. Hence, the Bible’s many warnings against greed and the related vice of covetousness are timely. (Colossians 3:5; 1 Timothy 6:10) According to the dictionary, greed and covetousness share the element of “having or showing a strong desire for possessions and especially material possessions.” Greed can be as serious as fornication or idolatry, for Paul warned: “Quit mixing in company with anyone called a brother that is a fornicator or a greedy person or an idolater or a reviler or a drunkard or an extortioner, not even eating with such a man.”—1 Corinthians 5:11; Ephesians 5:3, 5.
2. What warnings did Jesus and Jehovah give us against covetousness?
2 Jesus warned his followers: “Guard against every sort of covetousness.” (Luke 12:15) And Jehovah himself included a commandment against this vice among the Ten Commandments: “You must not desire your fellowman’s house. You must not desire your fellowman’s wife, nor his slave man nor his slave girl nor his bull nor his ass nor anything that belongs to your fellowman.”—Exodus 20:17; Romans 13:9.
No One Can Relax
3. How did greed overtake Eve and later the Israelites?
3 The fact is, no one can lower his guard against greed and covetousness. When Eve sinned in the garden of Eden, it was because of greed: “The woman saw that the tree was good for food and that it was something to be longed for to the eyes, yes, the tree was desirable to look upon.” (Genesis 3:6) On one occasion in the wilderness, the Israelites showed disgusting greediness. When, in response to their complaints about having only manna to eat, Jehovah provided an abundant supply of quail, they acted like gluttons and were severely punished.—Numbers 11:4-6, 31-33.
4. What other historical examples show the dangers of greed?
4 Later, at the battle of Jericho, it was greed that prompted Achan to steal some silver and gold and an expensive garment from the spoils of the city. (Joshua 7:20, 21) Greed caused Gehazi, Elisha’s attendant, to try to gain financial advantage out of the miraculous cure of Naaman’s leprosy. (2 Kings 5:20-27) King Ahab was another greedy man. He allowed Jezebel, his pagan wife, to plot the death of Naboth, his neighbor, so that he could get his hands on Naboth’s vineyard. (1 Kings 21:1-19) Finally, Judas Iscariot, a member of Jesus’ intimate circle, greedily used his position to steal from the common fund. And greed led him to betray Jesus for 30 pieces of silver.—Matthew 26:14-16; John 12:6.
5. What do we learn from the experiences of different types of people who fell into the trap of greed?
5 All these greedy ones were punished. But did you notice the different types of people that fell into the snare of greed? Eve was a perfect woman living in Paradise. Achan and the Israelites had personally witnessed Jehovah’s miracles. Ahab was a king, perhaps the richest man in the land. Gehazi and Judas were blessed with rich spiritual association and high privileges of service. Yet they all became greedy. Thus anyone—however rich, however high his privilege of service, or whatever his experience—can fall into this trap. No wonder Jesus warned: “Guard against every sort of covetousness”!—Luke 12:15.
6. What is needed if we are to avoid the trap of greed?
6 But how can we do that? Only by self-control and constant self-scrutiny. Greed starts in the heart. To avoid the snare of greed, we have to examine our hearts constantly to see if some manifestation of greed is taking root there. The Bible helps us to do that. How? For one thing, it records what Jesus and his disciples said about greed. When we examine those comments, they suggest some searching questions that we should ask ourselves to see where we stand in the matter of greed.
Examining Our Motives
7. How does Jesus’ answer to the man involved in an inheritance dispute help us to examine ourselves?
7 Jesus’ warning against covetousness was prompted by a request from one of his listeners: “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” Jesus answered: “Man, who appointed me judge or apportioner over you persons?” (Luke 12:13, 14) Then he went on to warn against covetousness. Jesus did not want to get involved in a quarrel over material things, in view of the important spiritual task he was here to fulfill. (John 18:37) But this conversation suggests searching questions that we could ask ourselves. Suppose we were not in any particular need, but we felt we had a claim to some disputed property or wealth, or to a disputed inheritance. To what extent would we fight to succeed in our case? How much would we sacrifice of our service to Jehovah or of our relationship with our brothers to win what we viewed as our rights?—Proverbs 20:21; 1 Corinthians 6:7.
8. How can we avoid being like the scribes mentioned by Jesus in Luke 20:46, 47?
8 Consider another comment by Jesus. He warned his followers: “Look out for the scribes who . . . devour the houses of the widows.” (Luke 20:46, 47) What a cruel manifestation of greed! Christians, of course, are obligated to care for widows, not prey on them. (James 1:27) However, suppose you knew a widow who had received a sizable insurance settlement, and you needed money in a hurry for an emergency. Would your first thought be to approach the widow, feeling that she would be the easiest to persuade, or that she ought to help because ‘she’s got plenty of money’? Or suppose you have already borrowed money, and now you are having problems paying it back. Would you feel justified in holding off repaying the widow, because she ‘won’t cause too much trouble,’ or perhaps because you think ‘she doesn’t really need the money’? We have to be careful not to let our thinking on principles become warped when we face financial problems.
9. How may we fall into the trap of ‘admiring personalities for our own benefit’?
9 Jude also described a way that greed may ensnare us. He spoke about persons who had infiltrated the Christian congregation and were corrupting it with their greed and loose conduct, “proving false to our only Owner and Lord, Jesus Christ.” (Jude 4) Also, they were “admiring personalities for the sake of their own benefit.” (Jude 16) We would not want to be like that. But consider: Do we find ourselves preferring to spend time with wealthier Christians and not giving so much attention to the poorer ones in the congregation? If so, could it be that we hope to benefit in some way? (Compare Acts 20:33; 1 Thessalonians 2:5.) When we show hospitality to responsible ones in the organization, do we do so out of love or because we hope for some privileges in return? If the latter, perhaps we, too, are ‘admiring personalities for the sake of our own benefit.’
10. In what ways is it possible to make financial profit out of our worship of Jehovah? If we do this, whose example are we following?
10 One manifestation of greed that irritated Jesus very much was when he “found in the temple those selling cattle and sheep and doves and the money brokers in their seats.” Zeal for Jehovah’s house made him drive these out of the temple and exclaim: “Stop making the house of my Father a house of merchandise!” (John 2:13-17) Do we have a similar zeal? Then it would be good to ask ourselves: Would I discuss business matters at the Kingdom Hall? Do I promote business ventures among fellow Christians because their being spiritual brothers makes it harder for them to say no? Do I use the many friends I have in the organization to widen my business contacts? Certainly, we should not greedily make financial gain out of exploiting our relationship with our brothers.
11. What Christian principles help us to maintain a right attitude when we conduct business with one another?
11 Does that mean that Christians can never do business together? No. It is just that there is a time and place for business, and another time and place for worship. (Ecclesiastes 3:1) However, when Christians do have business relationships, they should not forget Bible principles. When a Christian makes a business agreement, he should not seek legal loopholes to get out of his moral obligations. (Matthew 5:37) Neither will he become relentless or vindictive if a business goes sour and he loses money. The apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “Really, then, it means altogether a defeat for you that you are having lawsuits with one another. Why do you not rather let yourselves be wronged? Why do you not rather let yourselves be defrauded?” (1 Corinthians 6:7) Could you, for the sake of the congregation, choose to be defrauded rather than go to court?
12. What Bible principles will help those engaged in business to avoid the trap of greed?
12 Any Christian engaged in business needs to be very careful. Today many business practices are cutthroat, yet a Christian cannot act like that. He must never forget that he is a disciple of Christ. He does not want the reputation of being dishonest or of resorting to sharp practices. (Compare Proverbs 20:14; Isaiah 33:15.) And he should never forget Jesus’ warning against making wealth a god, or John’s warning against “the desire of the flesh and the desire of the eyes and the showy display of one’s means of life.” (1 John 2:16; Matthew 6:24) As a Christian businessman or businesswoman, can you resist the temptation to appeal to other people’s greed in order to increase sales? Or would you play on their vanity or pride to further your business? Do you conduct your secular work in such a way that you are not ashamed to talk to Jehovah about it in your prayers?—Matthew 6:11; Philippians 4:6, 7.
13, 14. (a) What balance do wealthy Christians have to maintain? And those who are not wealthy? (b) How does the prayer at Proverbs 30:8 help us to learn reasonableness in the matter of wealth?
13 Finally, Paul wrote to Timothy: “Those who are determined to be rich fall into temptation and a snare and many senseless and hurtful desires, which plunge men into destruction and ruin.” (1 Timothy 6:9) Being rich is not a sin, although wealth brings its own problems and temptations. (Matthew 19:24-26) The danger is ‘being determined to be rich.’ For example, one elder said: “The problem often arises when a man looks at his wealthy Christian brother and says: ‘Why can’t I be like that?’”
14 The Bible urges: “Let your manner of life be free of the love of money, while you are content with the present things. For he has said: ‘I will by no means leave you nor by any means forsake you.’” (Hebrews 13:5) If you are wealthy, do you view that as a gift, something you can use in Jehovah’s service? On one occasion, Jesus told a rich young man that if he wanted to follow him, he would have to give away all his wealth. If Jesus had said that to you, would you have chosen to keep your wealth or to follow Jesus? (Matthew 19:20-23) If you are not wealthy, can you be content with that? Can you avoid the trap of covetousness? Are you willing to trust Jehovah’s promise: “I will by no means leave you nor by any means forsake you”?—See also Proverbs 30:8.
Be Rich Toward God
15, 16. (a) What illustration did Jesus use to strengthen his counsel about covetousness? (b) What was the basic problem of the man in Jesus’ parable?
15 When Jesus warned his listeners to “guard against every sort of covetousness,” he went on to tell of a farmer whose fields produced exceptionally well. The man “began reasoning within himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, now that I have nowhere to gather my crops?’ So he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my storehouses and build bigger ones, and there I will gather all my grain and all my good things; and I will say to my soul: ‘Soul, you have many good things laid up for many years; take your ease, eat, drink, enjoy yourself.’” However, that very night, the man died. All that accumulated wealth helped him not one little bit. Jesus concluded: “So it goes with the man that lays up treasure for himself but is not rich toward God.”—Luke 12:16-21.
16 Did the man commit any overt sin, such as extortion or theft? The parable does not say so. Still, he had a problem. He relied on his wealth for a secure future and forgot something more important: being “rich toward God.” It is precisely because true Christians make their relationship toward God the most important thing in their lives that they can avoid the trap of greed and thus are no part of the world.—John 17:16.
17. How does a balanced Christian view the problem of earning a living?
17 Jesus once counseled: “Never be anxious and say, ‘What are we to eat?’ or, ‘What are we to drink?’ or, ‘What are we to put on?’ For all these are the things the nations are eagerly pursuing.” (Matthew 6:31, 32) True, all of us face the same problems that “the nations” face. Most of us have to work hard for a living to buy the necessary things to eat, drink, and wear. (2 Thessalonians 3:10-12) But we refuse to let such concerns overshadow our being “rich toward God.”
18. How will trust in Jehovah enable us to avoid the snare of greed?
18 Jehovah is the source of all wealth. (Acts 14:15, 17) He has promised to take special care of his servants. Jesus said: “Your heavenly Father knows you need all these things. Keep on, then, seeking first the kingdom and his righteousness, and all these other things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:32, 33; Psalm 37:25) Do you believe that promise? Are you confident that Jehovah will keep it? Will you be satisfied with the provisions Jehovah makes? If so, you will be able to avoid the snare of greed. (Colossians 3:5) Your service to Jehovah and your relationship with him will always have first place, and your whole way of life will be a demonstration of your faith in him.
Do You Remember?
□ What kinds of people are affected by greed?
□ How can we guard against greed?
□ How does greed sometimes manifest itself?
□ What questions help us to see whether we are avoiding the snare of greed or not?
□ What is a great protection against greed?
[Blurb on page 19]
When doing business together, Christians should never forget Bible principles