What Is Greed and How Do I Know if I'm Greedy?

Crosswalk.com Contributor
What Is Greed and How Do I Know if I'm Greedy?

Scripture doesn’t specifically define greed. In America, we often relegate greed as some abstract quality only the uber rich are guilty of. The rest of us just “want” stuff… we’d never be downright greedy! But perhaps, greed affects more of us than the uber rich. Maybe greed is simply not being content.

In Luke 12:15, Jesus warned us to be wary of every form of greed. So that must mean it can come in a variety of flavors.

“Then He [Jesus] said to them, ‘Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions.’”

The Greek for this word Jesus used is pleonexia (Strong’s 4124), meaning covetousness, aggression, or desire for advantage.

We can desire an advantage or covet just about anything! We can be greedy of someone’s talents, friends, or family. Maybe we covet the way someone just seems to have that golden touch of success when we work hard but seem to get little fruit.

We can also be greedy about something that doesn’t belong to a particular person but is something more nebulous. For example, when we get excessively focused on reaching a goal: weight loss, personal organization, or acknowledgment in a career path.

We might even be greedy about pleasure or have a consuming desire to feel good about ourselves and our life. There is no clear-cut Scriptural line designating “this is just wanting something” and “this is greed.” So we must be careful of the desires we give space in our souls.

Still, it’s difficult to identify greed in our lives. Others may even try to define it for us. I encounter this often as the wife of a pastor.

What do greed and contentment look like in our homes?

My husband is a pastor. At different seasons in our marriage, a great deal of ministry has occurred in our home. During one of these seasons, the Lord allowed two circumstances to tumble into my lap that gave me some practical insight into contentment and greed.

We had a variety of weekly gatherings in our home at the time, with a total of 60 people making their way through our door each week. I was working hard to make sure there was food for every allergy need and that our home was clean and comfortable, so that as best as we could, we might say like Paul, “For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more” (1 Corinthians 19:19).

1. My home furnishings were obviously too extravagant.

One day a mom of someone in the church youth group asked for a tour of our house. I wasn’t expecting any tours that day, but gladly gave it since her teen was coming to our home. When we arrived back in the living room after the tour, she gave me a stern “how dare you” lecture about the niceness of our home and furnishings. She wanted to know how in the world I felt comfortable being a pastor’s family and living the way we did.

Our home was a smaller tract home belonging to friends who had moved out of state and rented it to us while the housing market rebounded. The furnishings were all used, and mostly gifted hand-me-downs, except for the bed we purchased for my widowed grandmother to stay with us. I tried to explain, but nothing appeased her. Our home was too nice. Later, I visited her home and noticed she was situated quite comfortably and that her concern wasn’t with what we had in light of her own situation, rather it was simply that she had certain expectations for ministers’ families.

2. My home furnishings were obviously too shabby.

Less than two weeks later another woman came to our home for some help creating a missionary presentation. My computer kept crashing, prolonging the evening. Every few moments she kept commenting on how out of date our furniture was. Yes. The armchairs sat there in their dusty pink glory from a fashion some 15 years earlier. But they were clean and comfortable. Nothing appeased her. She could not get over how old they were and how desperately we needed to do something about our furniture. She’d just been to a third world country and was significantly distracted by the “oldness” of our furniture.

What is enough?

The lesson I learned from those two circumstances was that you can’t please everyone! But also, quite starkly, how perceptions of greed and wealth can be so subjective. One person saw opulence in my home while another saw lack.

I started thinking about what we had in light of history. Our modern, Western world has given us quite a skewed definition of “enough. I am a woman with education. That alone is an overflowing wealth afforded very few throughout history. I have a refrigerator with food in it, and a pantry to boot! We have a sound roof over our heads, and we have a home that we can keep cool or hot, depending on our preferences.

Those are just the material things we have. I have a family I’m crazy about, a church to serve and love, heath, and the list goes on. In truth, much of my stress is about managing the overflow of blessings in my life!

If having nice things doesn’t define greed, how do I know if I’m greedy?

A practical litmus test for greed might be: Can I hold on to contentment and thankfulness with this thing I want? Or does this desire push away/cloud out my spirit of gratitude? 

Greed and thankfulness in Scripture

“But immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints; and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks” (Ephesians 5:3-4 NASB, emphasis mine).

One might conclude from this verse that a thankful heart is the anecdote for impurity and greed. Contentment is highlighted again in 1 Timothy as the cure for greed.

“…Godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment. For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content. But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. (1 Timothy 6:6-10, emphasis mine).

If you think you might be struggling to hold onto a grateful heart because of greed, you are not alone! If we are honest with ourselves, all of us have given this ugly motive a place in our lives. Colossians 3:5 tells us that when we miss the mark of purity God has called us to; we have slipped God off the throne of our hearts and put a desire there instead (which is the basic nature of idolatry). The road back is as simple as changing our minds, asking for fresh grace/cleansing, and returning our Lord to His rightful place on the throne of our hearts – lifted up above all our other desires.

May your heart be filled with more worship than wishes, your lips with more gratitude than grumbling, and your hands lifted in praise to the One who has indeed filled us all with His goodness!

Photo credit: ©Alexander Mils/Unsplash

April Motl is a pastor’s wife, mom, and women’s ministry coordinator. Her love of words led her through a BA in linguistics and her love of God’s Word through a Master’s in Religious Studies. You can find more encouragement from her and her husband at MotlMinistries.org or checkout some of her available Bible Studies and devotionals on Amazon. Face to Face is a one month devotional highlighting the names of God if you’d like to dig into this topic further!