Your mother first noticed it when you were about 18 months old — on the playground one day, you saw another child, and his toy caught your eye. That toy looked awesome. Sure, you had a toy too. But all the sudden, your toy wasn’t enough to satisfy you. You wanted that toy. So you walked over to your little friend and snatched it. If he put up a fight, you pushed, pulled and yelled until you had it in your tiny, grubby little hands. And so you embarrassed and horrified your mother, because your greedy, needy heart had just left another toddler crying in the sand.
The overt signs didn’t last too long. Through some spankings, time-outs and harsh words from your parents, you learned to share, to say please and thank you, to generally be a good kid. Socialization taught you that nobody likes the little girl who takes things away from others. So your behavior changed. But did your heart?
As you grew up, you learned that if you worked, you could get stuff; the harder you worked, the more stuff you could get. And getting stuff was a good thing. You got a job, earned some money, and used that to buy more stuff. First, it was stuff you needed. Then it was stuff you wanted. Soon, it became a pursuit of stuff, just for stuff’s sake. You want the best stuff, and you want to be sure that everyone else knows that you are the king of the local stuff hill.
Greed is perhaps the most obvious way that money can make slaves of us. The roots of greed go deep — all the way back to that toddler throwing his weight around on the playground. And though you may not be tempted to rip something shiny out of a friend’s hand anymore, that evil, greedy corner of your heart will continue to cause you problems in life if you don’t deal with it.
We should be careful with our terms here. Greed is not the same as ambition, nor is someone who works hard, gathers wealth and makes it grow necessarily greedy. God makes it plain in the Bible that he wants us to accumulate wealth, and he wants us to do a lot of things with it (more on that later). But if we work and strive to build wealth for our own purposes instead of His, that becomes greedy.
Greed works hand in hand with pride (we want everyone to see how much stuff we’ve got), and with selfishness (we’re willing to hurt others to get what we want). The big problem arises when our greedy hearts cause us to hurt or shortchange people that we care about, or when we treat people in an ungodly way in our quest to gather and consume. You may have a kind and sensitive heart, and genuinely care about other people. But if you wrong them in your greed, your good side has lost control, and the dark side has won. Greed has controlled you. Money has made you a slave.
The Bible has a lot to say about greed, and the results are never good: it leads to conflict, destruction and ruin. In the end, if we don’t deal with our greed, God will deal with it Himself. And trust me, you don’t want that.
(Scripture study for this post: Proverbs 28:25, 29:4, 15:27, Isaiah 57:17, Ephesians 5:5. For more verses on greed, click here.)