In the 1987 movie, Wall Street, Gordon Gekko declares, “Greed is good!” Most Christians disagree, but their actions belie their belief. They honor those who are financially successful and attempt to emulate them, read their books, and follow their wealth-building principles. Do some Christians worship money rather than God?
Greed can be understood as placing money in front of God. This is a direct affront to the God who has told us, “You shall have no other gods before Me.” – Exodus 20:3 NKJV. Examine yourselves and determine if you are simply using money to provide for yourselves and your loved ones or have put money in the place of God.
There is nothing wrong with wanting your needs met. However, many Christians want enough money to buy anything they desire and give themselves security against catastrophes. Its God’s job to bless you and protect you. If you seek these from your money, you have placed money before God in your life.
God knows you need adequate food, shelter, and clothing and promises to provide them. However, you tend to compare yourselves with others to define adequate. Is a two-bedroom home with only one bathroom adequate for a family of four? It probably would be in Haiti, but not in America.
Paul Equates Greed and Idolatry
Greed is idolatry. This is the view that the apostle Paul expresses in a least two passages. The first is Ephesians 5: 5:
“For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person–such a person is an idolater–has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.” – Ephesians 5:5 NIV, emphasis added. (Note: My preferred version, and the one I normally use, is New King James Version. Instead of using the word “greedy,” it renders the word as “covetous.” I have used the New International Version here because I think “greedy” is a more precise interpretation. For the same reason, I used the NIV for Colossians 3:5, also.)
The second is Colossians 3: 5. “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.” – Colossians 3:5 NIV, emphasis added.
Idolatry is putting something else above God. You depend, rely on, love, or trust something other than God. You may worship money. The Israelites, at times, trusted gods made of stone, wood, and precious metals. The gods of the Canaanites were thought to bring a good harvest, make them fertile, or prosper them. Only God does these things.
Greed always wants more. It is never satisfied. A greedy person never says, “Stop. That’s enough.” The reason is that the object of your greed is never satisfactory. What you really want is God, but when you substitute money, or sex, or a foreign god for the True God, it doesn’t satisfy you. Millions of dollars can’t buy satisfaction.
How exactly is greed idolatry? I believe there are at least four applicable ways.
1. Greed is money worship.
The greedy “make believers” can become more fervent in their worship than true believers. If you doubt it, just attend a distributor meeting for a company that sells essential oils, food storage, insurance or vitamins. These multi-level marketing firms will flash pictures of yachts, private jets, and luxury cars on the jumbo-trons while John Lee Hooker’s “I need some money” blasts on the speakers in the background. The congregants are worked into a frenzy by the thoughts of the obscene riches they can make by building their downline.
Jesus knew that all the riches in the world did not compare to God. “Again, the devil took Him up on an exceedingly high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to Him, ‘All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me.’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Away with you, Satan! For it is written, “You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only you shall serve.” ‘ “ – Matthew 4:8-10 NKJV.
2. Greed is serving and obeying wealth.
People will work themselves to death when they worship money and wealth. They will forego vacations, ignore their family obligations, and attempt to sleep only four hours a night. While the burden of Jesus is easy and light, they trade it for the difficult burden of trying to accumulate more of the world’s materials. They trade eternal life for the trappings of riches. However, unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Jesus tells there is only one master you can serve at a time. “No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” – Luke 16:13 NKJV.
3. Greed is inordinate love of and devotion to money.
The greedy trade the unconditional love for God for the pleasure of wealth. John tells you that the reason Jesus came was because God so loved the people of this world. You love God because he first loved you. The love of money, however, is not reciprocal. Money never loves you back.
We are not to love the world’s system. “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world–the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life–is not of the Father but is of the world.” – 1 John 2:15-16 NKJV.
4. Greed is trust and confidence in wealth.
And finally, you are warned against your reliance on money to protect you from trials and difficult circumstances. If you rely on your money, it will disappoint you. There is nothing wrong with receiving material blessing with gratitude, as long as you continue to trust God and not your wealth. “Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy.” – 1 Timothy 6:17 NKJV. Trusting in your wealth, your material possessions, and your money is a sure path to disappointment. Do not worship money.
For an in-depth theological treatment of the relationship between greed and idolatry, read the excellent book by Brian S. Rosner, Greed as Idolatry.
For more information about managing your money and the other things that God has given into your care, subscribe to our email list. You can read the first post in this series at: https://chucklivermore.com/gratitude-is-the-attitude-for-christians-with-money-issues/ .