Greed, Christians and Business Ownership

Also known as an intense Love of Money, Greed is characterized by an excessive or rapacious desire for money and is often linked with selfishness and, more generally, corruption of character. This is aptly illustrated in Ezekiel 33.30-32, where the Lord describes his people as those who “express devotion” to God but their “hearts are greedy for unjust gain”. Greed can be applied to a deep desire for what others have – such as a beautiful wife (cf. David and Bathsheba) or some physical possession. But normally, we use the word covet to describe the desire to have what others already have, even though, certainly, greed is involved. There is overlap, but for purposes of this post, I’ll focus on greed as it relates to money and wealth.

Greed is not inherent within a free market economy, though it does exist in robust forms. When two parties freely agree to an economic transaction that is beneficial to both of them, this is not greed but rather self-preservation. At the Bible and Business, we differentiate between righteous ambition and greed. IF greed were at the root of all economic transactions in a free market, then we could not fulfill our duties as illustrated in Luke 19 to return a profit on our work to the Lord without sinning. We believe a business can be incubated, grown and sustained without greed. Profit can be created without greed. This is where understanding God’s purposes for business are so important. (Here, here and here.)

Greed is condemned by God in the Scriptures and is contrary to the purposes of God. In Psalm 10.2-3, it is the arrogant, wicked man who “boasts of the cravings of his heart” and who “blesses the greedy and reviles the Lord”. To revile the Lord means to assail with contemptuous or opprobrious language or to address or speak abusively of the Lord. Here, we are taught that those who are greedy will bless others who are greedy and at the same time, be contemptuous and speak abusively of the Lord. In Romans 1.29, we find that those who have been given over to their sinful lusts by the Lord are filled with “every kind of wickedness”, including greed. (See also 1 Corinthians 5.10.)

Greed should not be considered something that is unusual for those who have not been regenerated by the Holy Spirit. It is one expression of the sinful human nature. In Mark 7.21-22 (see also Matthew 15.19-20), greed is listed as one of the elements that makes a man “unclean”. As Christ taught us, it is what comes out of his mouth that indicates what is in his heart (Luke 6.45). Show me someone who speaks well of greed or who speaks abusively about the Lord and I’ll show you someone who is greedy.

Examples of Greed

The Scriptures contain several examples of greed from which we can learn. In Joshua 7, we have the story of Achan, who wrongfully took some of the sacred things from the plunder in Israel’s victory over Jericho:

But the Israelites were unfaithful in regard to the devoted things; Achan son of Karmi, the son of Zimri, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took some of them. So the LORD’s anger burned against Israel.

2 Now Joshua sent men from Jericho to Ai, which is near Beth Aven to the east of Bethel, and told them, “Go up and spy out the region.” So the men went up and spied out Ai.

3 When they returned to Joshua, they said, “Not all the army will have to go up against Ai. Send two or three thousand men to take it and do not weary the whole army, for only a few people live there.” 4 So about three thousand went up; but they were routed by the men of Ai, 5 who killed about thirty-six of them. They chased the Israelites from the city gate as far as the stone quarries and struck them down on the slopes. At this the hearts of the people melted in fear and became like water.

6 Then Joshua tore his clothes and fell facedown to the ground before the ark of the LORD, remaining there till evening. The elders of Israel did the same, and sprinkled dust on their heads. 7 And Joshua said, “Alas, Sovereign LORD, why did you ever bring this people across the Jordan to deliver us into the hands of the Amorites to destroy us? If only we had been content to stay on the other side of the Jordan! 8 Pardon your servant, Lord. What can I say, now that Israel has been routed by its enemies? 9 The Canaanites and the other people of the country will hear about this and they will surround us and wipe out our name from the earth. What then will you do for your own great name?”

10 The LORD said to Joshua, “Stand up! What are you doing down on your face? 11 Israel has sinned; they have violated my covenant, which I commanded them to keep. They have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen, they have lied, they have put them with their own possessions. 12 That is why the Israelites cannot stand against their enemies; they turn their backs and run because they have been made liable to destruction. I will not be with you anymore unless you destroy whatever among you is devoted to destruction.

13 “Go, consecrate the people. Tell them, ‘Consecrate yourselves in preparation for tomorrow; for this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: There are devoted things among you, Israel. You cannot stand against your enemies until you remove them.

14 ” ‘In the morning, present yourselves tribe by tribe. The tribe the LORD chooses shall come forward clan by clan; the clan the LORD chooses shall come forward family by family; and the family the LORD chooses shall come forward man by man. 15 Whoever is caught with the devoted things shall be destroyed by fire, along with all that belongs to him. He has violated the covenant of the LORD and has done an outrageous thing in Israel!’ ”

16 Early the next morning Joshua had Israel come forward by tribes, and Judah was chosen. 17 The clans of Judah came forward, and the Zerahites were chosen. He had the clan of the Zerahites come forward by families, and Zimri was chosen. 18 Joshua had his family come forward man by man, and Achan son of Karmi, the son of Zimri, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, was chosen.

19 Then Joshua said to Achan, “My son, give glory to the LORD, the God of Israel, and honor him. Tell me what you have done; do not hide it from me.”

20 Achan replied, “It is true! I have sinned against the LORD, the God of Israel. This is what I have done: 21 When I saw in the plunder a beautiful robe from Babylonia, two hundred shekels of silver and a bar of gold weighing fifty shekels, I coveted them and took them. They are hidden in the ground inside my tent, with the silver underneath.”

22 So Joshua sent messengers, and they ran to the tent, and there it was, hidden in his tent, with the silver underneath. 23 They took the things from the tent, brought them to Joshua and all the Israelites and spread them out before the LORD.

24 Then Joshua, together with all Israel, took Achan son of Zerah, the silver, the robe, the gold bar, his sons and daughters, his cattle, donkeys and sheep, his tent and all that he had, to the Valley of Achor. 25 Joshua said, “Why have you brought this trouble on us? The LORD will bring trouble on you today.”

Then all Israel stoned him, and after they had stoned the rest, they burned them. 26 Over Achan they heaped up a large pile of rocks, which remains to this day. Then the LORD turned from his fierce anger. Therefore that place has been called the Valley of Achor ever since.

Achan was exposed. His greed cost him everything. And will cost us too:

  1. Greed negatively affects our families and communities. I’m sure that the community of Israel didn’t enjoy putting to death one of their own. Certainly Achan’s family didn’t profit from his greed.
  2. Greed creates short-term wealth, but it does not help the community flourish, which is one of the three core purposes of business.
  3. Greed is completely self-focused: “as long as I get what I want, I don’t care what happens to others”. This is well illustrated in the pornography industry, where the entire focus is on the physical satisfaction and “love” is defined at a transactional level. Those who run the porn industry make huge sums of money, all the while destroying the dignity and purity of men and women alike.

Another example of greed is illustrated in Ezekiel 22.12, where the indulgence in usury (the charging of excessive interest) results in “unjust gain from your neighbors by extortion”. In the fall of 2008, we observed a number of credit card companies raising interest rates well above 20%, which is an example of how corporations – run by individuals – engage in greed-based practices. The charging of excessive interest rates will always lead to unjust gain, regardless of the current economic climate.

One of the strongest teachings on greed is found in Luke 12.16-21:

16 And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. 17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’

18 “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. 19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” ‘

20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’

21 “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”

This is the parable of the rich man who was successful in business and who decided to build bigger barns to hold his increased wealth. He was so successful that he literally didn’t have enough room for all of his wealth. So he built larger barns to hold his increase of possessions. His actions alone would have revealed what was in his heart. But his words confirmed it: “I’ll say to myself, ‘You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.'” It was all about him: his money, his wealth, his comfort, his security and his enjoyment. But little did he know that he could die and not take one thing with him into eternity. He is described by God as a “fool” because the total investment of his life was in temporal things which could be taken from him in an instant.

What are the lessons we take from this passage in Luke?

  1. Greed can take the form of hoarding. The parable starts with this strong warning from Christ: “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions (vs. 15).” In this parable, the sin of greed is not taking from others (we have no reason to believe his wealth was dishonestly gained), but about amassing wealth and fortune for yourself. It is the sin of hoarding. He had no thought about God or the poor. He hoarded his wealth and the text implies that he saved more than was necessary for his future needs – which is the classic definition of hoarding.
  2. This is another example in Scriptures where wealth itself is not condemned, but rather it is greed and hoarding that is condemned.
  3. His “god” was money. Greed is a form of idolatry, it is obviously selfish, it takes trust that we should have in God for future security and places it in money.
  4. Moreover, he was a slave to his money and possessions because his future security was wrapped up in money. Take note – all of you who believe that buying gold will save you in the day of distress: Gold will have no more power to secure you from financial harm than any other form of money.
  5. Greed also distorts what a “need” is. The text implies that, from the rich man’s perspective, he *needed* those larger barns in order to store his wealth. But from God’s viewpoint (and perhaps us as we read this text), we get the distinct impression that he didn’t his additional wealth. He could have given it away and not missed it.
  6. Greed can happen at any economic level. It’s not just the rich who can be greedy. At its’ core, greed is the decision to value yourself and place yourself ahead of others and God.

    When the poor *demand* more money from the government, who takes it from the rich by force, is this not greed? When corporations demand special tax breaks and incentives from the government, is this not greed? When a politician vows to redistribute wealth as a means of gaining votes, is this not greed? When the rich learn of someone in need and have the means to help but choose not to act, is this not greed? I’m not purposefully trying to offend anyone here, but greed can happen in any economic level and can take many forms.

Note: False teachers are also put forth as illustrations of greed. These examples can be found in Matthew 23.25, Jeremiah 6.13 and 8.10, Luke 11.39 and 2 Peter 1.3-14. Also, Greed will always invite the wrath and judgment of God. The Scriptures are clear on this. See Ephesians 5.5, Proverbs 15.27; 28.8; 28.25 and 29.4. See also Ezekiel 18.10-13 and 28.5-7; Amos 8.4-7, Micah 2.1-3, Habakkuk 2.5-6 and 1 Corinthians 6.9-10.

Christian Response to Greed

How should a Christian respond to greed? Should greed ever be a part of a Christian’s life?

In short, a disciple of Jesus Christ is not to be greedy. This is taught in passages such as Proverbs 28.6, where we are told “better a poor man whose walk is blameless than a rich man whose ways are perverse”. We can also look to Proverbs 11.28, “Whoever trusts in his riches will fall, but the righteous will thrive like a green leaf” or to Proverbs 22.1, “A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold”. Other passages include Exodus 20.17, Deuteronomy 5.12, Ezekiel 18.8-17, and Romans 13.9.

Christian leaders are not to be greedy either. In fact, this is a requirement for those desiring to be elders in the church. 1 Timothy 3.2-3 states that Christian leaders are not to be “lovers of money”. You can find similar commands in Titus 1.7, 1 Peter 5.2 and illustrated in the life of Paul in Acts 20.33 and 1 Thessalonians 2.5.

But it’s not enough just to say “don’t be greedy”. That’s a bit empty….hence…..we need to be transformed by the Holy Spirit and overcome our greed.

How does one overcome greed? The process is rather simple, but not easy. First, repent of your greed (Luke 3.14) and then, secondly, be on guard against greed creeping back into your life (Psalm 62.10, Luke 12.15-21). Thirdly, you’ll also need to not associate with those who are greedy. And fourthly, you need to learn to give – and give all the time. Giving away your wealth keeps you dependent on God, which is antithetical to greed. You simply cannot be a giver and be greedy at the same time. The two are mutually exclusive. (There are other passages for us to consider, such as 1 Corinthians 5.11, Colossians 3.5, Ephesians 5.3 and Job 36.18 on this topic. Please refer to them.)

As you give your wealth away, you’ll also learn contentment. Contentment is wanting what you already have rather than wanting what you don’t have. Nearly every Godly person I’ve ever met is also a content person because they have learned that God Himself is sufficient to satisfy their wants and desires. Hebrews 13.5 says “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you”.” 1 Timothy 6.9-11 gives us a sharp contrast between greed and contentment. In verse 6 Paul writes that “godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world and we can take nothing out of it…People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” He goes on to command Timothy to “flee all this” and to “pursue righteousness” – commands that Christian business owners would be wise to heed.

Finally, the Scriptures tell us to pursue and seek God Himself. The real remedy for greed is to turn from the pursuit of wealth and to the pursuit of God. This is best commanded in 1 Timothy 6.17-18, where Paul writes to Timothy: “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds and to be generous and willing to share”. Jeremiah has a good way of putting this (9.23-24): “Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on either, for in these I delight, declares the Lord.” See also Psalm 119.14.

Final Thoughts

Greed should never characterize a Christian’s life – especially when that Christian owns a business. As Christians in business, we have a higher entrustment from the Lord to use the wealth we create for His purposes. Our attitudes should be like Christ – who gave up the riches and glories of heaven to come to this earth to serve us. Let’s not be known for our money. Let’s be known for our giving, our love for God, and the purity of our walk and the utter transformation of our lives by the Holy Spirit.

Bill English, CEO