By Patrick Johnson
I’ve been following with interest the Supreme Court hearings addressing homosexual marriage. I’ve also been following faith leaders’ reactions to these hearings...looking for insights to help me sort through my own feelings about the issues at hand. In searching the web for Christian leaders’ insights, I ran across an older interview with Tim Keller at Columbia University. The interviewer was pro-gay and was questioning Keller about the church’s stance on homosexuality. In that dialogue Keller made a statement that really caught my attention:
“Jesus talks about greed ten times more than he talks about adultery. You know when you are committing adultery but almost no one knows that they are greedy. We are always comparing ourselves to other people...it’s a frog in the kettle kind of thing. However, the fact of the matter is that the Bible is much harder on greed and materialism. It’s a horrible sin, a terrible sin.”
Is this true? A quick glance through the teaching of Jesus seems to confirm that statistic. Jesus tells parables about a shrewd manager, a hoarding farmer, and the implications of giving to the poor (Matthew 25:31-46). Conversely, he rarely tells stories about sexual sin and is even lauded for stepping in to exonerate a woman caught in the act of adultery.
That’s not to say that Jesus is dismissive of sexual sin. He just doesn’t focus on it nearly as often as he does on the dangers of greed.
Taking a broader view, I did a quick word search on greed and found 35 passages dealing specifically with it. As I reviewed them, I was struck by the seriousness of greed. Some Scriptures I already knew and you probably know them too. Here’s a familiar one.
"WATCH OUT! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed. Life does not consist in an abundance of possessions." Luke 12:15 (Note - Keller uses this verse to expound his “frog in the kettle” stance on greed.) Jesus tells us to watch out and be on guard because we don’t really think we are greedy.
But listen to these less familiar greed passages:
"What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don't they come from your desires that battle within you. You desire but do not have so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may SPEND what you get on YOUR PLEASURES. You ADULTEROUS people, don't you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God." (James 4:1-4)
Or what about this whopper from 2 Peter describing false teachers:
"Many will follow their depraved conduct and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. In their greed, these teachers will exploit you with fabricated stories. With eyes full of adultery they never stop sinning; they seduce the unstable; they are experts in greed - an accursed brood! They have left the straight way and wandered off to follow the way of Balaam son of Bezer, who loved the wages of wickedness."
Or the brutal implications of greed found in Psalm 10:3
"For the wicked boasts of the desires of his soul, and the one greedy for gain curses and renounces the Lord."
Cursing and renouncing the Lord. Enmity against God. These are stern warnings on a sin that almost no one knows they are committing.
God open our eyes.
One other thing that struck me in my quick study on greed was that it does not fall far from this conversation about the Supreme Court and homosexual marriage. Throughout the Bible, when sexual immorality is mentioned, it is often mentioned in the same breath as greed. These two forms of sin seem to go hand-in-hand throughout Scripture:
"Put to death therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry." (Colossians 3:5)
"But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God's holy people." (Ephesians 5:3-5)
And we know that one of the sins that brought the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah was sexual immorality. But, did you know that Ezekiel 16:49 connects this destruction to the sin of greed as well:
"Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me."
So, as the Supreme Court wrestles with the debate over gay marriage, I see the need to wrestle with another culturally destructive sin. I need to wrestle with my own greed - a sin that is as equally destructive as sexual immorality. And perhaps in our Western culture, it is even more dangerous since we rarely identify it in our own lives.
I think this is a societal cancer that the broader faith community needs to tackle as well. Think about this reality for a moment. As we stand up for truth regarding sexual issues, as we make our voices heard to protect marriage, are we arrogant, overfed and unconcerned because of our greed?
Are we tickled tithers - giving God 10% of our income, happy about it and still greedy Christian materialists?
Will we stand before Christ one day and boast of the “rightness” of our views on sexual issues only to hear we had a HUGE blind spot - that we spent too much on our own pleasures while neglecting the poor and needy right beside us?
Back to Keller for a moment for a closing word of hope.
I once heard him tell a group of Christian givers how to battle greed once we become aware of it. He said it’s not through the will (I will purpose to give more). It’s not through emotion (look at all the poor people who need me to give). It’s not through logic (what’s the most effective way to give).
Here’s the way to break the hold of greed and idolatry in your life: the Gospel of grace. As we come to the place where we begin to see how much Christ loved us and gave for us (2 Corinthians 8:9) that will melt our hearts, cause us to love him and allow us to open our hands to heal the world with our giving.
God help us fight the right battles; help us to address them proportionately. God help us to fight the battle of greed with the Gospel of grace. And God help us to walk humbly in this world while we do those things.
Patrick Johnson oversees strategy and implementation for the Generous Church, a team of Christians working to increase generosity throughout the body of Christ.