What Is the Sin of Greed?
The sin of greed can be defined as the excessive desire to acquire something. The most familiar form of greed pertains to material wealth. It is an attitude of the heart that places selfish gain at the pinnacle of human life.
Why Is Greed So Insidious?
“Everyone who practices sin practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness” (1 John 3:4). This profound definition gives much insight into the nature of sin and subsequently the nature of greed. When we consider the function of laws in our society, we think about order and safety. The purpose of a law—in its purest sense—is to maintain order which enables people to safely carry out their daily lives. The establishment of law is a good thing because it helps preserve the integrity of life.
Speed limits may be one of the first things which come to mind when we talk about laws. Sure, they can aggravate us when we run behind for work or find ourselves in a hurry to keep an appointment. Overall, however, speed limits are a wonderful thing! If everyone chose to go their own speed, there would be danger and chaos on the street. Having set order enables a person to acquire a reasonable level of anticipation which allows them to make low-risk decisions and actions. A person who pulls out of their driveway does so with the expectation that oncoming cars will be approaching within range of the speed limit. When everyone adopts the speed limit laws, they are on the same page. It creates a safe understanding among all drivers. We can understand one another and anticipate each other’s actions to avoid putting either ourselves or other people at risk.
God’s Law has a similar function regarding our soul. God’s commands establish moral boundaries and restraints which are designed to preserve our spiritual integrity and relationship with Him. It’s a common perception that Christian living excludes any possibility of having fun. There’s a natural inclination to view moral laws as some kind of fun-killer. This perception, however, is mistaken. All people who are made in the image of God were created to have fellowship with the Lord. True peace and joy are discovered when someone yields their life to God and obeys His commands because that is what we were made for (Psalm 1:1-2).
The problem everyone has is sin, which has corrupted our nature and put us at enmity with our holy God; He cannot fellowship with sin. Thanks to the salvific work of Christ, however, we can now be reconciled to God and brought back into fellowship with Him if we have faith in Jesus Christ. The fellowship and eternal life all believers have with God is the most precious thing anyone could be given. The Law instructs Christians how to walk in and preserve our loving fellowship with the Lord.
Sin does the opposite. Sin destroys the integrity of the soul because it has no regard for the protective moral restraints and boundaries God has placed on us. Likewise, the sin of greed has no limit. When someone embraces the sin of greed, they give in to untethered desire, which has no end. It is a corrupt desire that can never be fulfilled or satisfied (Ecclesiastes 5:10). It can only be stimulated. That is why people spend their entire lives obsessing over the accumulation of wealth. There will always be the next level. The desire for one million dollars becomes a desire for two million dollars. Life in a sufficient house becomes dull and now the homeowner feels the “need” to live bigger home. Contentment is ever absent from a heart consumed by greed.
What Are Examples of Greed in the Bible?
Ananias and Sapphira. One of the more shocking examples of greed recorded in Scripture is the account of Ananias and Sapphira found in Acts 5. Just before their account, Luke describes the beautiful condition of the church body. God moved mightily through the Apostles’ ministry, and the church congregation was united in the love of Christ. Everyone sold their property and gave the proceeds to the church. They also shared their possessions to create a loving commonwealth that met the needs of all members (Acts 4:32-37). Ananias and Sapphira also sold their property and pledged the full amount to the church; however, Ananias kept some of the proceeds for himself. This was done with the full knowledge of Sapphira, who offered no protest. Peter found out and confronted them both at separate times and told them they sinned against God. After each confrontation, God struck both Ananias and Sapphira with death (Acts 5:1-11).
Gehazi deceives Naaman. In this account recorded in 2 Kings 5, Elisha encountered Naaman, the army captain of Aram. Naaman was a valiant man, but he was also a leper. He came to Elisha for healing and was instructed to dip seven times in the Jordan River to be cleansed of his leprosy. After protesting the prophet’s instructions, Naaman eventually reconsidered and heeded the instruction of Elisha. The Lord then cleansed the captain of his leprosy. Naaman offered to pay Elisha for his cleansing, but Elisha refused to accept any payment lest the captain be under the impression Elisha was responsible for the healing. Naaman then departed without paying Elisha, but Gehazi, Elisha’s servant, saw an opportunity to gain wealth from God’s work. Gehazi chased down Naaman and told a lie in order to get the captain to pay him. Elisha confronted Gehazi for his wicked deed and, as punishment, Gehazi inherited Naaman’s leprosy and was sent out of the presence of the prophet.
Achan covets the wealth of Jericho. When God granted Israel victory over Jericho, they were instructed not to take any of the wealth for themselves, and instead give it all to the Lord by storing it in His treasury (Joshua 6:17-19). An Israelite named Achan ignored the instruction from Joshua and took some gold and silver for himself along with a beautiful mantel (Joshua 7:21). This selfish act spurred Israel’s defeat when they fought against the men of Ai because the Lord was angry with Israel because of Achan. During the battle, about 36 Israelites were struck down and the rest fled. God makes it known to Joshua His hand would not be with Israel until they dealt with the transgression of the people. Joshua then investigated and found out about Achan’s selfish act. In accordance with the Lord’s command, Achan’s rebellion cost him his life (Joshua 7:25).
Why Has Modern Society Okay-ed the Sin of Greed
The American Dream has long inspired many generations of this country to build a life for themselves from the fruit of their labor. You can have almost anything if you’re willing to work for it. The overwhelming opportunities and possibilities enable people to pursue their heart’s desires with great hope and optimism. Over time, there has been a noticeable decline of our human state of relationships. People seem to be more and more selfish, and greed appears to dwell in the very heartbeat of society. If we’re honest, this isn’t surprising. The fear of the Lord is all but absent as society continues to plunge further in its rejection of God and His Word. Many young people outrightly reject the Christian faith, and numerous Christian entities try to “update” God’s Word to conform to culture because they cave to societal pressures. Ultimately, the rejection of God is the root cause for the greed which plagues our nation because we’ve not allowed God to govern our hearts. However, there are numerous practices that seem to foster greed. We’ll only be able to examine a few.
Independence and individualism. Beginning at an early age, many children are encouraged to focus on a career. The two factors most emphasized are money and pleasure, two things that appeal to a selfish heart. Our children are taught to gauge the value of a job or career primarily on what they will get out of it, not on the basis of how much good it will do for others. The famous quote is often thrown around, “choose a job you love, and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.” The focus of our work has become self. This is not biblical. God instructs Christians to orient their lives and ambitions around Him and others (Deuteronomy 6:5; Philippians 2:3-7). He also teaches us to live with dependence in Him, forsaking the pride of exalting ourselves in our wealth (Deuteronomy 8:10-14; John 15:4-5).
Child-centered homes. This may not sit well with some people, but child-centered homes are not biblical. Children are not supposed to drive a wedge between a husband and wife. The covenant of marriage is between a man, his wife, and God. Each spouse is called to be loyal and loving to each other before any other relationship, including their own children. If anything, a child should be taught that a spouse takes priority over them. This teaches humility and provides a vital example that will instruct the child how to preserve the integrity of their own marriage in the future. So often, parents put their children before their spouses and break their backs trying to satisfy unrealistic expectations. For example, it’s not uncommon for parents to go into debt so their children can have the “perfect Christmas.” Such behavior may be done out of love, but it is misguided and benefits no one. A child who grows up in such an atmosphere will have a tremendous challenge overcoming their selfish nature. Equally tragic is the impact this has on marriages. When all children move out of a child-centered home, each spouse often finds themselves in the home with a stranger, bound to the difficult task of breathing new life into a relationship that died long ago due to neglect.
Convenient charity. We live in an age of convenience. So many things are easy and require little effort or sacrifice. This isn’t inherently bad. On the one hand, it can increase our productivity as mundane tasks now require less of our time. On the other hand, convenience can foster complacency. It’s so easy to give money without becoming involved. A person can throw money at any charitable organization or church body without any personal effort to the cause. The act of giving is so often a cold-hearted calculation, void of human relationship. Charitable works themselves are compartmentalized and deferred to organizations, while the average person does not have to bother investing in the needs of their neighbors because someone else will cover them. This atmosphere has eliminated our personal involvement with the needs of others and consequently eroded any sense of community we once had. Nothing can ever replace the human need for social interaction.
The sin of greed devastates a person’s ability to develop relationships because their focus has turned inward toward their heart’s selfish desires. They deteriorate into a state of isolation because they can’t see anything but themselves. People are often viewed as a means to an end of selfish gain and the value of life itself becomes quantified by sordid gain. Selfless acts of love and kindness will always be the means through which we learn humility and are key to fighting our selfish tendencies. The church should be a counter-cultural beacon of light. Our generous, loving example should reflect the glory of Christ, causing the world to look upon the One Who made the most selfless, loving act of all when He gave His life for the sin of the world. To Him be the honor and glory forever, Amen.
Photo credit: ©Getty Images/Tinnakorn Jorruang
Stephen Baker is a graduate of Mount Union University. He is the writer of a special Scripture study/reflection addendum to Someplace to Be Somebody, authored by his wife, Lisa Loraine Baker (End Game Press Spring 2022).
He attends Faith Fellowship Church in East Rochester, OH where he has given multiple sermons and is discipled by pastor Chet Howes.