Summer School: Greed and Wealth

Summer School: Greed and Wealth

Sermon Podcast Audio 

Introduction

We are in the middle of a series of
messages we are doing over the summer called “Summer School: Life Lessons from
Proverbs.”

Proverbs is this very interesting book in the Old
Testament that many people treat like a fortune cookie. When we want advice we crack
it open and read one of the “fortunes” to tell us what we should do.

The problem is that this isn’t how Proverbs
are meant to be read. They aren’t concerned as much about what you do as they
are about who you are. As one commentary put it, “Proverbs isn’t a ‘how to’ book
but a ‘how to be’ book. 

And we have to remember as we approach the Proverbs
that these aren’t promises or guarantees, but general principles of life. The
tell us the way life ordinarily works but not necessarily how it always works. They are
observations not absolutes. They can be very simplistic and don’t always take
into account the uncertainties of life. We must always remember that we live in a
broken world. We were reminded of this once again this week in France when
a man in a truck drove through a crowd, killing over 80 people.

The world is broken and made up of broken people and
Proverbs gives us guidance on the kind of people we should be in this world, giving general insight into how life should work if we live with wisdom and
righteousness.

The interesting thing about Proverbs is that many of
the topics it covers, we don’t really have a problem with. In fact, we like them
and use them when needed. Like Proverbs 13:24, “Whoever spares
the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful
to discipline them.” Let me tell you, my parents LOVED me! Or Proverbs
31:6, “Let beer be for those who are perishing, wine for those who
are in anguish!” Some of you are a little too liberal with the definition
of perishing!

But sometimes we come across themes in the book that
we would prefer not to talk about. It begins to hit a little too close to home.
And it begins as we say in the south, “It begins
meddlin’.” Unfortunately today we have to do a little meddlin’ as we look at
what Proverbs says about money.

Now before you tune me out and say, “Here we go, that
preacher asking for money.” No. Not today. Because as I said earlier, Proverbs
is less about what you do and more about who you are. And your attitude about
money tells more about the kind person you are than you may want to admit.

If you watch television, you’ve probably heard the
commercial promoting a credit card and it ends with a very clever and memorable
tag line, “What’s in your wallet?” And that is really the question we need to
consider today. Not because I care what credit cards you have. But because what’s
in your wallet, your attitude toward money, greed, and generosity, reveals
what’s your heart.

So what does Proverbs say about all this?

Money Isn’t A Bad Thing

First we need to understand that money and
wealth are not bad things. In fact, the attitude about money in
Proverbs is overwhelmingly positive. Proverbs 10:22 says, “The blessing of the
Lord makes a person rich, and he adds no sorrow with it.” or in
10:15, “The wealth of the rich is their fortified city, but poverty is
the ruin of the poor.”  Often we
find wealth or riches as the reward for hard work, diligence and discipline.

This seems to run against the popular thought in our society today that money is the
problem and the romanticized idea that poverty is to be exalted. Rest assured
there can be great problems with money and wealth and we will get to those in a
moment, but the false dichotomy that to have money is bad and to be without is
good just isn’t true.

It’s not our desire to live on nothing or make nothing
that makes us wise or righteous, but the desire to use what we have, not just
for ourselves but for the betterment of those around us. As one pastor I read
this week said, “The more money you make, the more of the world is yours to
take care of, to take responsibility for.”

When we are blessed with resources, we have a
responsibility to do something with them. Jesus told us,

From everyone who
has been given much, much will be demanded
—Luke 12:48

Who can
deny the amazing things that can be done when someone that has been blessed
with resources, turns around and uses those resources to find solutions to
eradicate poverty, fund clean drinking water initiatives in remote parts of the
world, or fund research to find cures for diseases still killing millions
around the world, or send the life giving message of Jesus in our community
and around the world.

Before you begin thinking, “he’s only talking to the rich folks, those
with millions in the bank,” not so fast. Sometimes we forget just how blessed we
are in the US compared to the rest of the world. And just because we may choose
to live pay check to pay check with no margin doesn’t mean we aren’t still
accountable for what we are doing with what God has given us.

We can’t view money in and of itself as bad or evil.
We can do a lot of good with it when we have it. And Proverbs attests to
this…But we also can’t ignore the other half of the Proverbs that remind us of
the spiritual danger attached to money.

Greed is Consuming and Insatiable

If money isn’t the problem, then what is? Where does
the danger lie that we should be aware of? Simply put, it is greed. Greed is
the underlying attitude that affects how generous we are or how selfish we are.  It affects our motivation and our contentment. It affects how we respond when
we see someone on the street and whether we say, “How can I help?” or “I
wonder what they did to deserve this.”

Greed can be defined as a desire that knows no bounds, desire that is so strong that is doesn’t care about what is done to satisfy it or the
harm it does to others. Greed is a trap. We can think we are okay and not
affected by it, but it can sneak up on us and crowd out the more important
things in our life.

Greed has some dangers I want you to be aware of today. And the first is
this: Greed is consuming. It is insatiable. I love that word.
Insatiable. Impossible to satisfy. It answers the question “How much is enough?”
with the response, “Just a little bit more.” In fact, that is what
multi-billionaire John D Rockefeller said when asked that very question.

I’ve
seen this in my own life. I’ve shared before how when I was younger, I went to
work at a bank making a whopping $7.75 an hour. Yes, I was married. Yes, we had
Hannah and Kerri was seven months pregnant with Luke. I cannot be accused of
making the best financial decisions throughout my life!

As
I made my $16,120, I thought, “Oh, if I could only make $20,000, then life
would be easier and we would be good.” And you know what happened. I got raises
and made $20,000. And you know what we did?  We started living off every dime of
that, primarily because we had to, but almost immediately I began to think, “Oh, if I only made $30,000, then we would have enough.” And guess what happened? I
got raises and started making $30,000. And then I was satisfied.

NOT!
Every time I got a raise, the number I thought would satisfy me continued to
increase. I made more and I wanted more and we spent more.  We didn’t think we
were greedy, but there was greed there. And this desire for more began to
consume me. Work harder. Prove myself to the boss more. Work longer hours.
Sacrifice the family or whatever to get it.

The writer of Proverbs tells us this as well. Proverbs
1:19 says, “Such are the ways of everyone who is greedy for unjust gain; it
takes away the life of its possessors.” Greed, this desire
for more, begins to eat away at your life and consume you. It consumes your time.
It consumes your family. It consumes your health.

Greed always tells us we don’t have enough. It says, “I need all this stuff and more. So go and get it.”

Greed Is Corrupting

It would be bad enough if greed just consumed your
time and attention, but it also consumes your integrity. Greed is
corrupting.

The more it grows the more we find ourselves put in a
position of asking ourselves what are we willing to do to get more. Greed will
test our character by what we are willing to do to get more.

In Proverbs 20:23 we see, “The Lord detests differing
weights, and dishonest scales do not please him.” In Ancient times, dealers
would sometimes keep two sets of weighing stones, one for buying and one for
selling, so that they could cheat people and make more money.

Where it says that the scales do not please God
would better be translated as “they are an abomination to the Lord.” That is very
strong language. Usually we bring out that word when we start talking about
sexual sin. It is used several times in Leviticus. And we need to make sure we
grasp what is being said here about the consuming nature of greed.

God deals with our greed very seriously. He doesn’t just shrug it off. He puts our greed in the
same category as sins that he absolutely hates, sins that are grossly offensive
to him. In his eyes, we can be good and moral people, we can live sexually pure
lives, but if we have greed in our hearts, God equates that to someone who
cheats on his or her spouse.

When this unsatisfiable desire takes over, we find
ourselves cutting corners to get more. We find that we are willing to step on
others to get more. We find that we are willing to be dishonest if it means
that we come out ahead. Greed is an all out assault on our character and will
reveal the deepest recesses of our hearts. And what it reveals might shock us
and should probably concern us.

We need to see and understand the seriousness of this.
It’s not just a small problem. It is a consuming problem and a corrupting
problem. But the danger doesn’t end there.

Greed is Idolatry

Greed causes us to reorient our lives around the wrong
things. We become distracted by
the unimportant. Greed is ultimately idolatry. What is idolatry? It is craving,
wanting, or trusting in anything more than God. It is making our desires as the
motivator of our lives.

We’ve already talked about how it creates this drive
and desire in us for more money or more stuff, but with idolatry, we find that
we begin to trust in our wealth or money more than we trust in God. It is a
vicious cycle. We work hard and therefore we are rewarded in our jobs. We like
the reward so we work harder. We see more reward. And very soon, instead of
seeing God as our provision, we find our provision in ourselves.

And then our significance becomes wrapped up in how
much we make, or our net worth. And we trust more in our assets than we do God.
Then our value isn’t in being a child of God redeemed by Jesus Christ through
his death on the cross. It is in the car we drive, the clothes we wear, the
vacations we take.  We become our own
sufficiency and our own significance.

Proverbs 11:28 reminds us though that, “Those
who trust in their riches will fall, but the righteous will thrive like a green
leaf.”  While life is good, we may think there is nothing wrong
with this philosophy of finding security in our bank balance. But when we trust
in our riches, we will quickly learn how little they can really do for us when we
need it.

Wealth will give us a false sense of security. But what happens when a recession comes? Or your
company downsizes? Our the mortgage company forecloses? Greed tells us to trust
in ourselves and our money and pulls us from the proper place where our focus
should be…on God.

Greed Comes in Many Forms

I’ve been speaking primarily about greed as it relates to money, but I think it is important to realize that greed can come
in other forms. You can be greedy and have no money. Our
society makes this very easy. After all, we see the ads on TV. We are tempted
with the new, shiny object that everyone is getting and we just have to have, but there is a big problem. . . we don’t have the money to
pay for it. But, according to our culture, why should that keep us from what we
desire? So in our greed, we go out and we charge it. And we accumulate more and
more stuff, all the while amassing more and more debt.

When I was a consumer loan officer, one of the main loans I made were debt
consolidation loans. People would come in with $10, $20 and even $60,000 worth
of credit card debt. And we would try to help. We would talk to them about not
getting in this position again. We would cut up credit cards, and call the
companies to have the accounts closed, but unfortunately, when the root issue
of greed went unnoticed, they would end up back in my office a few years later
with another huge, crushing debt, all because they were greedy for stuff.

Proverbs warns us about the danger of over-extending
ourselves financially and letting our desire for stuff run wild. Proverbs
22:26-27 says, “Do not be one who shakes hands in pledge or puts up security
for debts; if you lack the means to pay, your very bed will be snatched from
under you.”  In Proverbs 22:7, we read, “The rich rule over the
poor, and the borrower is slave to the lender.”

Greed can affect you if you have a lot or a little. It can show itself in your money or possessions or
with your time and service or even in the debt you have amassed. It can come in
many forms.

Conclusion – Living Generously

What we have to be willing to address is the root
cause. We need to begin to see that greed shows a lack of trust in God. And it
isn’t he who dies with the most toys that wins. We need to redefine what
it means to be prosperous.

In Proverbs 11:24-25, we read, “One person gives
freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty. A
generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.”
We think the way to prosperity is amassing great amounts for ourselves when really
the way to true prosperity is through generosity, using what you’ve
been given for the benefit of God’s kingdom and the benefit of others.

Probably the most dangerous thing about greed is
that it is a trap, a snare. And we will walk right into it if we aren’t looking
for it. Jesus said in Luke 12:15 that we are to, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of
greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” Jesus spoke more about money than he did just about
anything else. Why?

Because the allure of money is great. And greed is a difficult trap to escape
from. But we can avoid it all together if we are aware and know what we are
looking for. That is what Proverbs is trying to do.  It seeks to make us alert to the
danger of greed. And we need to choice a different path. How do we do that?

We look to one who modeled incredible, sacrificial
generosity for us. We look to Jesus. “For you know the grace of our Lord
Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so
that you through his poverty might become rich.” —2 Corinthians 8:9

How do we overcome greed and become more generous? Not through emotional
appeals and Sarah McLaughin singing sad songs about abused animals. We only
need to see Jesus. The cross shows us sacrificial giving. Think about the
affect that gift had on the world. It changed the world forever.

What do you think can happen when we are no longer consumed by greed, but begin to live generously instead? I’ll
tell you. We can change the world.

For some, I can hear the push-back already. “We can’t.
We don’t have.” But can I tell you, everyone has to start somewhere. Pray and
ask God how you can be more generous. Start with something and see what God
can do through individuals who resist greed and live generously.

I close with the question,  “What’s in your wallet” and what does
that say about your faith?

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