What God is saying about greed:

For greed is idolatry. (Ephesians 5:5).

Then he said to them: “Take care and be on your guard against every form of greed, for a man’s life does not depend on the abundance of his possessions. (Luke 12:15).

Where did the struggle come from? Where did the quarrels among you come from? Doesn’t it come from your selfish desires that are constantly raging within you? You want things but don’t get them and then want to commit murder; You’re jealous of another man’s stuff and can’t get your hands on it and then you quarrel and fight. You don’t get it because you don’t pray. (James 4:1-2).

No money… shall not partake of the kingdom of God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-10).

Where does greed come from?

Greed builds on the various “rational” arguments and foundations. It begins with fear and unbelief, followed by distrust. Along with greed, there are always forms of jealousy and envy, self-obsession and a false sense of superiority.

People are always trying to hide greed. No one wants to be accused of greed. Therefore, we call it something else;

  • “We must act responsibly and not irresponsibly ask God to care for everything.” It is true.
  • “One must act responsibly.” That’s right.
  • “We need to cater to tough times and be careful.” It is true.
  • “There could be an economic collapse, and then one has to have reserves.” It is true. It’s OK to save. There’s no wrong with that.

The problem with these arguments is not the principle(s) but the inner motivation for our actions. It is biblically correct and important to be stewards of what God has entrusted to us. Greed, however, has very little to do with stewardship. With a greedy person, you can never argue and think you will win the argument. This, however, does not take away his greed, fear, disbelief and distrust. There is never enough for the greedy because there is always another: “But what if…”

Greed has four ingredients: self-centredness, self-gratification, self-elevation, and lack of faith.

Greed builds, first and foremost, on the foundation of unbelief. We do not believe that God can and will take care of us. There is a basic fear that God will not care for us and our future. Our natural response is to make a plan to protect ourselves – to secure a position of security for us. This plan does not include God. There is a fundamental distrust of God, who has promised to care for us.

“God helps the people who help themselves. It’s in the Bible.” Right? No. It is not written in the Bible.

Greed occurs among poor and rich people, among scholars and unlearned, in Christians and non-Christians. It does not distinguish between language, culture or ethnic groups.

Greed is like a bottomless pit — it never gets enough. On occasion, someone asked a person who was the fourth richest man in the U.S. at the time: When will you have enough money? His answer: When I have a little more than I have now.

People do not understand the word greed in a materialistic society such as the one we live in. Our society is essentially a society built on greed and promoting it. Greed is the turbine that drives materialism. Without greed, materialism does not have enough energy to exist.

We live in a consumer mentality society. “Consumerism” is the natural result of materialism built on the foundation of materialism, an eternal unawareness and avoidance. In this type of society, the person gathering is often seen as someone who has wisdom and is judicious; a person who gathers (“a hoarder”) becomes a man who has discretion and greed and is often called hardworking.

One of the most significant challenges of the church in our time is prosperity theology preaching that is almost entirely anchored in humanity and humanism. The language used is biblical concepts, but the content is materialism and humanism. Materialism and humanism are focused on life here and now, and there is an almost total avoidance of eternity as reality. It is exactly the same with prosperity theology.

Greed is not just a financial problem. It has to do with our hearts. Money is one of those places where we can most easily see greed, but it has to do with much more than money. Greed can also come from scholarship, status, position, or power. It’s a mindset that can guarantee greater security and make us look better.

Greed is built into many ideologies and vast empires. Britain wanted, e.g. ruling the world for power and wealth, regardless of the consistencies it held for other people’s lives. The price was millions of lives. This was true of Hitler, the Roman Empire and Communism. Everyone is greedy for power and control regardless of the cost of human lives. So we get it on Wall Street and at many of the “Forbes 500” companies and the “500 Richest” people worldwide. But we get it exactly like that in the smaller “empires” – every place where a person tries to benefit himself at the expense of others.

We see greed where people gather for fear of lack in the future but also for the sake of their own self-esteem and to show that they are essential. The size of our cars does not determine how big our greed is. Our vehicle’s spiritual value determines how big a place it fills in our hearts.

What does God say about it?

Guard against every form of greed, for one’s life does not depend on the abundance of his possessions. (Luke 12:15). For the greedy man, his possessions are equal to life itself. For a greedy person, life is about what he owns. Possessions determine who he is. The more a greedy person has, the better life is for him. Greed does not have to do with how large the amount of money is or how much I would like to have. The problem is that I want more than I have now. However, “more” is never enough and does not saturate.

Scripture warns very strongly against greed and the deadly effect of greed. Here are two examples. For greed is idolatry. (Ephesians 5:5). No money… shall not partake of the kingdom of God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11). It calls it idolatry and says that greedy people cannot enter the kingdom of God unless they repent of it.

What are the consequences of greed?

Pay attention to the following comment: money is not the root of all kinds of evil. The greed for money is the root of much evil. Nothing God created is evil in itself. Thus, Paul writes that money is not evil but greed for money. St. Maximos the Confessor writes, among other things, that food is not evil, but overeating yourself is wrong. Material things are not evil, but the greed after it is. Money greed is the root of all kinds of evil. Some pursued money and then strayed from the faith. In doing so, they caused themselves much misery. (1 Timothy 6:10).

Greedy people usually talk a lot about money and rarely give away some of it; when they give it, they give with adversity. They are slow to give and are weak losers. They can argue over small and trivial amounts of money, and one often hears: “We have just enough to survive.” They will always help you remember how much they have given you and struggle to be grateful (because they feel they should get more). They are unsatisfied and tend to try to control people with their money.

Greed opens many spiritual and fleshly doors in our lives. Three of the main ones are money, power and sex. Greed always culminates in a life of enjoyment, comfort and carelessness. In time, it demands recognition, respect, convenience, and service. Greedy people do not serve others, do not seek the benefit of others, and avoid every form of sacrifice. A society built on greed, says Richard Foster, is where the boy who grew up poor and worked himself up into a rich man is the hero. Previously, the hero was a wealthy young man who gave away all his money for the needs of others. It was also Jesus’ view of what a “hero” would look like (Matt.19:21).

Andy Stanley describes it this way: “They don’t like to give away and don’t share what they have with others (they’re stingy). They are constantly worried about their money and can bicker over even the smallest amount of money. They make sure everyone knows how much they give when they do give. They almost always try to manipulate other people with their money and are never satisfied with what they have.”

Greed does not have boundaries. This does not apply to just one group of people. This applies to people of all races, countries, ages, economic groups, or scholarships.

Greed has the power to destroy marriages. A father’s or mother’s greed can become so overwhelming that the rest of the family will later have to compete against material and spiritual “commodities” (such as mercy, love, and forgiveness) for attention, love, and acceptance. It destroys relationships because relationships themselves become either a threat or it becomes a resource that we can use to get more than we have now.

There also comes an interplay between anger and greed. Greedy people desire more, and when they don’t get it, they get angry because they don’t get what they want. This, in turn, leads to an even greater urge for greed to calm the anger. And the cycle starts all over again if I don’t get as much as I’d like.

What breaks the power of greed?

The first thing we need to do to break the power of greed is make a radical decision to be generous. We simply have to start giving away. Start in your home. Go find out some of the best stuff and give it away. Especially don’t just give away what you can’t use anymore. Also, give some of the things that are special to you. I sometimes take someone into my study and tell the person they can take any book they want. And almost always, they take one of my memorable books that I wouldn’t want to give away. And that’s good for me because it helps break down my stinginess and greed.

The second thing to do is to start focusing very deliberately on the needs of others. Simply make a list of people around you. For example, write down ten names of people at your work. Ask the Holy Spirit to show you what these people’s needs are. You’ll notice things you’ve never seen before. Then, ask yourself the question: What can I do for them? For the one person, you will want to pray. Another needs encouragement. Some just need someone to listen to them. It’s not about giving money. This is especially something that one should do very carefully. However, victory over greed comes especially when we consider other people’s needs and try to do something about it. Go and find the poor people. Look at practical ways to help them. This may mean that you will have to give some of your money. But first, give your heart and your time; after that, you will have no problem giving some of your money/possessions. Ask God to give you a gracious heart through the Holy Spirit – a heart that cares for others and will deliberately put yourself second. Greed often says: it’s mine, I worked for it, I deserve it. The liberation comes when  I say it’s mine. I’ve worked for it, but I’d like to share it with others.

Thirdly, you need to ask the Holy Spirit to help you be content with what you already have. As I have already explained, much of greed is built on disbelief. To overcome greed, we need to get to a point where we will trust God for our lives and entrust it to him. This means we no longer have to bear the burden of caring for ourselves. To overcome this mistrust, we need to study the character of God. When we know who God is and how he acts, unbelief and fear of the future disappear.

Fourthly, we need to ask the Lord to help us once again reflect carefully on eternity and the value of our bank balance and possessions. Greed makes one lose perspective on eternity. Eternity judges mercilessly on all the temporal things we have. Just look at your car that is rusted and broken in a few years. When we see Jesus and eternal life — millions of years of peace and abundance, greed will lose its power. Only when we are content we find in Jesus enough to live and die from. This alone satisfies—Jesus as the Bread that saturates the Fountain of Living water. When we see that Jesus can save us from our sins, we can see that “gold” has no value. As someone wrote: In heaven, gold has value only in building roads (“streets of gold”). In great folly, Cardinal Charles Bourgon (France; 1523-1590) said on occasion that he would give up his portion of eternity if only he could remain in his position as cardinal. He wanted to trade being honoured by broken human beings for a decade or two by years for millions of years.

One of the last things people are willing to give up is the power they have because of the possessions they have. People’s money, position, seniority, scholarship, etc., give them the power to manipulate, make demands, and expect people to treat them with particular respect or honour them in front of people. Ask God to set you free from a desire for power. Ask Him to show you the limitedness, uselessness, and how fleeting human power is.

The power of greed is broken when we go to God and study him until we understand his character and promises. Deliverance comes when we read how people in history experienced God’s goodness and care. We need to make time to talk to God and seek his face until we know in our hearts, “God is enough.”

About the author

Bennie Mostert
By Bennie Mostert