Main Idea: Greed reveals unbelief.
- Greed Is Foolish (11:24-28).
- Greed is foolish because it hurts you (11:24-26; 28:22).
- Greed is foolish because it hurts the people around you (15:7).
- Greed is foolish because money doesn’t last (23:4-5).
- Greed Is Deadly Because It Is Unbelief (11:28; 28:25).
- The Antidote to Greed Is Believing the Gospel (11:28).
He got greedy” is a modern proverb of sorts that we use when people go for a little bit more than they should and things go bad. This kind of greed is often easy to recognize in others, but it is hard to recognize in ourselves. We think greed is a rich man’s problem. The Bible, however, says it is everyone’s problem, including those who follow Jesus. The great Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon understood this, and he offered up this prayer for himself and his people:
O, my Lord, let me not merely talk thus, and pretend to despise earthly treasure, when all the while I am hunting after it; but grant me grace to live above these things, never setting my heart upon them, nor caring whether I have them, or have them not; but exercising all my energy in pleasing thee, and in gaining those things which thou dost hold in esteem. Give me, I pray thee, the riches of thy grace that I may at last attain to the riches of thy glory, through Christ Jesus. (Illustrations and Meditations, 263)
However, that kind of attitude Spurgeon prays for is not in all of us. So often we are not content with what we have. We want just a little bit more. It starts when we are young with whatever we see on television. I ( Jon) remember my girls seeing a commercial for “seat pets”—stuffed animals that connect to the seat belt in your car. They said, “We have to have those!” They had ridden in the car from place to place just fine up until then, but all of a sudden they just had to have what they saw on TV! The problem is that we never grow out of that. Expenses always increase to meet the income because we want more, more, and more. We think we have to have a bigger TV, a nicer home, and a newer car. We always crave just a little more.
That is why total debt has increased from about $1,200 per person in 1948 to $10,168 per person in 2010, and that does not include real estate debt. Americans now average $3,480 in credit card debt per person. That is an increase of 285 percent since 1980 (Indiviglio, “Americans’ Love Affair with Debt”). Half of Americans spend more than they make annually (Kavoussi, “Half of Americans”). Think about that. Half of America spends more money than they make year after year. That shows a lack of contentment with what we have and a craving for more.
The problem is complicated by the fact that greed is hard to define. After all, it is not wrong in and of itself to want money, a house, provision for your family, and other things. But at any moment these desires could become greed or covetousness. John Piper defines greed as “desiring something so much you lose your contentment in God” (“Future Grace, Part 5”). Therefore, greed is thinking that you need this or that to be happy. It’s thinking, “For me to be happy I need God plus _________.” Once you fill in that blank, you travel the road of greed into the world of unbelief. God is no longer enough. Jesus no longer satisfies your soul. This distinction made by Piper is really important because Proverbs is not against money. In fact, Proverbs often links God’s financial blessings with wise behavior. But desire for more becomes a very bad thing if you love, trust, or find your satisfaction in money or things rather than in God.
Greed is a temptation for all of us, and the Bible says it is deadly. Greed will destroy you. We can see this destruction all around us. The problem is that we think we do not really struggle with greed because we do not have a lot of money. But the apostle Paul reminds us in 1 Timothy 6 that just to want to be rich and have stuff is deadly (v. 9). You do not have to be rich to crave riches, and a greedy heart shows a life that is walking away from satisfaction in Jesus. And what Paul tells us in the New Testament is echoed throughout the book of Proverbs—greed is deadly. We see this truth clearly in Proverbs 11:24-28.
Greed Is Foolish
Proverbs argues that greed is foolish and deadly, and you should be able to observe that in everyday life. There are too many modern examples of this to count. Dr. Seuss’s story “The Lorax” reveals the deadly effects of greed on the environment. The main character abuses natural resources for his own gain. Or one can look at the economic crisis in America a few years ago and see how greed not only destroyed the economy but also people’s lives.
Greed Is Foolish Because It Hurts You (11:24-26; 28:22)
Greed hurts us in all kinds of ways. Greed might make you a workaholic who misses out on time with family, or it might make you a miserly kind of person who refuses to be kind to others. The Bible says that kind of lifestyle will injure you personally. We see this truth in Proverbs 11:24-26.
One person gives freely,
yet gains more;
another withholds what is right,
only to become poor.
A generous person will be enriched,
and the one who gives a drink of water
will receive water.
People will curse anyone who hoards grain,
but a blessing will come to the one who sells it.
These verses sound counterintuitive to us. We think that holding on to our money and stuff will mean that we have more of it, but the Bible says hoarding what you have does not mean more; it means less. While it may seem counterintuitive, we can observe this truth in nature. Generously sowing seed and generously watering the ground will lead to much fruit (Murphy and Huwiler, Proverbs, 56). Therefore, one major sign of greed is hoarding and stinginess, and that hurts you and others around you.
People are even able to justify hoarding in their minds. They say things like, “I can’t tithe right now because we just bought a new house.” But this attitude is foolish because the Bible says it leads to poverty. Proverbs 28:22 says, “A greedy one is in a hurry for wealth; he doesn’t know that poverty will come to him.” We might be tempted to say, “Is this true?” ( Johnson, Him We Proclaim, 303–13). After all, we know stories of greedy misers who prosper and generous people who are poor. The point of Proverbs is that God’s wisdom will work out ultimately even if it does not work out immediately in this life. There will be a reversal. God will see to it. We see examples of this all over Scripture. Ahab and Jezebel looked like they prospered from their murderous greed for another vineyard, but the tables turned on them in the end (1 Kgs 21; 2 Kgs 9). The rich man in Luke 16 prospered while the poor man languished with the stray dogs, but in the end the poor man was comforted in paradise while the rich man was tortured in hades (Luke 16:19-31). The consequence of greed will be that the poverty you dread is what you will end up with—sometimes now and sometimes later. In contrast, the generous will be given even more. Reject greediness because it hurts you.
Greed Is Foolish Because It Hurts the People Around You (15:7)
Your desire for more hurts those around you—the people you love. Greed might cause you to fail to meet people’s needs or drive your family into the ground. Proverbs 15:27 says, “Whoever is greedy for unjust gain troubles his own household” (ESV). Craving money and going after it by any means necessary always has repercussions on those closest to you. If you are a workaholic, cheat on your taxes, or misuse petty cash at work, inevitably it will have consequences on those you love. You hear story after story of people who had everything by worldly standards and were still miserable. Not only were they miserable, but so were their families. We see biblical examples of this with Achan in Joshua 7 or Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5. Greed brought down the wrath of God. We can see modern examples of this all around us. As I ( Jon) have mentioned earlier, I had a friend in high school who was rich by the world’s standards. He drove a BMW at age sixteen, but when I stayed over at his house I noticed his mom would pass out drunk at night because her husband never came home. Having riches and possessions does not lead to happiness!
Greed Is Foolish Because Money Doesn’t Last (23:4-5)
Proverbs 23:4-5 says,
Don’t wear yourself out to get rich;
because you know better, stop!
As soon as your eyes fly to it, it disappears,
for it makes wings for itself
and flies like an eagle to the sky.
Proverbs tells us to be wise enough to exercise restraint in our pursuit for money. It does not say, “Don’t work hard,” but rather it teaches that there should be a rhythm of work and rest in your life. There comes a time when enough is enough (Longman, Proverbs, 424). Do not neglect your family, lose your relationships, or let your happiness fluctuate in pursuit of something that is fleeting. Have the wisdom to recognize that there are things that are more valuable than money. Do not waste your life on things that do not last! Money has wings, and it flies away!
Once my wife and I ( Jon) bought our daughters butterflies to raise. We got them as caterpillars and tended to them and nurtured them until they grew to be butterflies in a net, but at some point we had to let them go. The girls were so sad because they wanted to hold on to them as long as they could, but they could not hold on to them forever. Money is the same way. The saying goes that you never see a hearse pulling a U-Haul trailer.
The fact that you cannot take money and stuff with you should change your perspective on it. Why do we spend so much energy acquiring the stuff of future garage sales? Sure, it shimmers and shines when we get it, but it fades quickly and then we think we need a new one. One big example of this is the story my youth pastor told me about taking his children to Graceland. Elvis had things in his day that were considered unbelievable and decadent. He had a television and a mobile phone in his car. My youth pastor told me when he showed those things to his young sons they were not impressed at all. They were saying, we have a mobile phone and can play Pacman on it, and we have a TV in our car and it plays DVDs. Elvis’s possessions were so exceptional and valuable at the time, but now they have lost their shine. That is why Jesus says that moths and rust will destroy the things that we work so hard for, and we cannot take them with us when we die (Matt 6:19-21).
Greed Is Deadly Because It Is Unbelief
Proverbs 11:28; 28:25
Proverbs 11:28 says, “Anyone trusting in his riches will fall, but the righteous will flourish like foliage.” Greed is trusting in and finding happiness in money rather than in God. The problem is not wealth but rather our attitude toward it. The parallelism of this verse implies that the person who relies on wealth is unrighteous. How then do you assess whether or not you are trusting in wealth? Ask questions like, “Does my joy or anxiety rise and fall with my bank statement? Am I constantly anxious about money and provision?” The answers to those questions might reveal you have made money or stuff an idol. If your joy is determined by your money and possessions, you are falsely worshiping something other than God. If you are constantly anxious about provision, it reveals that you believe you need something other than God to be happy. When money and stuff are seen as the path to a happy life, you are in idolatry. Jesus says that you cannot serve both God and money (Matt 6:24), and Solomon says the exact same thing.
We see the contrast between greed and belief again in Proverbs 28:25: “A greedy person stirs up conflict, but whoever trusts in the Lord will prosper.” Here’s the bottom line: those who are greedy do not trust God. They trust in money instead of Jesus. That reality is why Jesus said that it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God (Matt 19:23). The rich do not see their need for God. In contrast, those who trust the Lord are content, they do not grasp for other things to make them happy, and they wait for the true blessings that come from God alone.
Trusting in money and possessions will send you to hell because it is unbelief, and we are only saved by grace through faith. Proverbs 11:4 states, “Wealth is not profitable on a day of wrath, but righteousness rescues from death.” God’s wrath will be poured out on the greedy. We will stand before a judge who has access to the hidden cravings of our hearts. On that day, what will it profit you to gain the whole world and lose your soul (Mark 8:36)? It’s not just that greed will cause things to go badly for you in this life, although it will; but even more than that, greed will send you to hell.
The Antidote to Greed Is Believing the Gospel
Here’s the bottom line: greed is a belief and worship issue. You believe and worship your way into greed, and you must believe and worship your way out of it. It’s not just that greed makes you a Mr. Scrooge; it’s that greed shows that you are walking away from Jesus, the Wisdom of God. Proverbs reveals that foolishness is idolatry, and thus the foolishness of greed reveals a heart that does not believe or follow Jesus.
Jesus perfectly avoided greed; he was never greedy, even one time. Satan tried to bribe Jesus with the kingdoms of the world if he would bypass the cross and its suffering, but Jesus perfectly controlled his appetite and refused idolatry. Everything he refused from Satan—and more—was given to him by God later. After all, after his resurrection from the dead he looked at his disciples and said, “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth” (Matt 28:18). Jesus refused the fleeting pleasures of this life so that he could enjoy eternal ones. He knew what we do not seem to understand—our cravings will never be satisfied in this life. Man does not live by bread or flat screen TV alone; he lives by God alone (Matt 4:4).
Even though Jesus was never greedy, he died because of the greedy and for the greedy. Judas’s greed for silver led him to betray Jesus and enrich himself (Matt 26:15). And yet, if you only look at the death of Jesus from a short perspective, you might be led to ask, Is Proverbs right? The greedy person was enriched while the generous person was killed. But from the post-resurrection perspective, we see that by Sunday morning the tables had turned—righteousness delivered Jesus from death!
Jesus, through his death, provides forgiveness and salvation to those who repent of greed and believe in him. He also grants his perfect record of contentment to those who believe in him. If you are in Christ, this is who you are: the perfectly content son or daughter of God. Now live like it!
Jesus, through his gospel, now empowers us to be content and generous people. The promises of money are powerful, and they are only broken by the power of the gospel’s superior promises—like the fact that God is now for you and no good thing will he withhold from you (Ps 84:11). Do you believe that? Believing that is the means to be content and generous.
According to Hebrews 13:5-6, the only way you will be content is if you believe that God is for you:
Keep your life free from the love of money. Be satisfied with what you have, for he himself has said, I will never leave you or abandon you. Therefore, we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?
If you are not content, it is because you do not trust God to help you. This is a belief issue. You do not trust that your God will supply all your needs according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus (Phil 4:19). But when you place your trust in God and find your satisfaction in him alone, you can be content with what you have and praise God for what he has given you.
Not only does the gospel lead you to be content with what you have, it also leads you to be generous toward others. Second Corinthians 8:9 says, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ: Though he was rich, for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.” The gospel turns us from takers and hoarders into generous and joyful givers because what we have in Christ is vastly superior to material riches. When God got hold of my dad, he (Danny) sold his car to give more money to the church. You do not have to be rich to be generous; you just have to be changed by Jesus. I remember leading a young couple to the Lord who had nothing and barely scraped by, but they gave away their crib and some baby clothes to help other people. Once you grasp the gospel of Jesus leaving his throne in heaven, then you can let go of the things you hold so dear and give them to others generously.
Reflect and Discuss
- Why do we think that only rich people struggle with greed? Is that true?
- Why do you think we crave what we see?
- It is obvious that you should not spend more than you make, so why do so many of us do it?
- How would you define greed?
- Give some examples of how greed hurts people or those around them.
- How can the perspective that money and possessions are temporary help you fight against greed?
- Did you ever get a new possession that you just “had to have” but quickly got tired of? What does that teach you?
- In what ways does greed reveal our unbelief?
- How does the gospel help you be content?
- How does the gospel help you be generous?