From times ancient to modern, greedy characters have populated our legends, stories, and films, from King Midas to Gordon Gecko (Wall Street), from Ebenezer Scrooge to Henry Potter (It’s a Wonderful Life), from the Pardoner (Canterbury Tales) to Mr. Krabs (SpongeBob SquarePants). Some of the most infamous characters in Scripture were known for their greed as well: King Ahab and Queen Jezebel in the incident with Naboth’s vineyard, the Prodigal Son, the Rich Fool, Judas, and Ananias and Saphira.
I find it fascinating that greed rarely makes the list of sins which most concern Christians. We live in a culture that idolizes the conspicuously rich, worships wealth, and lionizes shopping. Yet the greedy are criticized in the Proverbs, condemned by the Hebrew Prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Habakkuk), denounced in the teachings of Jesus, censured in Paul’s letters, and rebuked in 1 and 2 Peter. Greed is repeatedly called idolatry (Ephesians 5:5, Colossians 3:5) in Scripture, which violates the first of the Ten Commandments and Jesus’ explicit teaching on the first and greatest command.
In our day, greed is typically described as an excessive desire to acquire or possess more than what you need, especially with respect to material wealth; greed can also be an unhealthy desire for more or an insatiable desire for wealth. The older word for greed is avarice. Avarice is a blanket term that can describe many other forms of sinful behavior, including disloyalty, betrayal, or treason, especially for personal gain, as when someone accepts a bribe. Avarice may entail getting material possessions at the expense of another person’s welfare (for example, a father buying himself a new car rather than fixing the roof of his family’s home). The many aspects of avarice show how far greed, if unchecked, can reach its tentacles, corroding our character and compromising our integrity in numerous ways.
Contentment and generosity are two of the great virtues that help us combat greed. Here are a few diagnostic questions to help diagnose the hold which greed has upon our hearts: When was the last time you declined to buy something you could afford because you realized you already had enough? Are you spending more or less time in a typical week thinking about buying and acquiring things? When was the last time you passed up a lifestyle upgrade in order to give away more money? Is it getting harder or easier for you to share your material resources with others? Are you growing in your ability to enjoy sharing with others? Are you worrying more or less about whether you’ll have “enough” in the future?