We are currently studying the problem of idolatry and we noted three working definitions to help us expose idolatry in our lives. Idolatry is what we spend most of our passion, energy, emotion, and financial resources toward. Idolatry is taking the good things given to us by God and making them the ultimate thing, thinking it can give us significance, security, safety, and fulfillment. Idolatry is anything that captures our hearts and our passions so that we cannot live with it. In today’s lesson we are going to talk about the idol of greed. The scriptures explicitly identify greed as one of the idols of our world.
Therefore, put to death whatever in you is worldly: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desire, and greed, which is idolatry. (Colossians 3:5 HCSB)
The problem of greed is not a new problem, but a growing problem in our prosperous nation. When I was a kid, I remember watching morning television when I was sick and staying home from school. At that time there was nothing else but game shows on the television. There weren’t a bunch of women sitting around a table talking or a bunch of doctors talking about people’s problems. We had game shows for three straight hours. The most popular game show at that time was The Price Is Right. Every show went exactly the same way. “Let’s show Joann what she is playing for. It’s a brand new refrigerator.” Do you know what every person does? They jump up and down, start screaming, run around the set, jump on Bob Barker, or any number of outrageous actions. Now think about this for a moment. A free refrigerator causes this emotional reaction, every time. People are not this happy when they see their families. People are not this joyful when they worship God. But give us something for free and we will go crazy. When I go to the Florida Panthers hockey games they will shoot out some free t-shirts. People simply lose their mind for a white t-shirt with a BankAtlantic advertisement on it that has been shot out of a cannon. Turn to 2 Kings 5 and we will look at a servant of God who had a problem with the idol of greed.
Gehazi, The Greedy Servant (2 Kings 5:15-27)
In our last lesson we saw the idol of success in the heart of Naaman. After he humbles himself and accepts God’s word by washing in the Jordan River seven times he is healed of his serious skin disease. In 2 Kings 5:15 he returns to Elisha and attempts to give him the gifts that he had brought so that he would be healed. Elisha refuses his payment. Naaman urges Elisha to take these gifts but Elisha takes an oath before the Lord that he will not take any gift. Now look at the heart of Gehazi in verse 20.
Gehazi, the servant of Elisha the man of God, said, “See, my master has spared this Naaman the Syrian, in not accepting from his hand what he brought. As the LORD lives, I will run after him and get something from him.” (2 Kings 5:20 ESV)
Do you see the thinking of Gehazi? Elisha does not want the money, but I do! How could Elisha not take this money from this Syrian? The heart of Gehazi’s greed leads him to lie to Naaman, telling a story about some sons of the prophets who had traveled a distance and have some needs. After lying to get the wealth, notice his deception in verse 24. Gehazi takes the wealth from the servants so that the servants are not seen in the town. He sends the servants away and hides the wealth in his house. But verse 25 is staggering. Elisha calls Gehazi out. “Where have you been?” Gehazi lies again to cover up his greed and says that he has not been anywhere. Gehazi, you are speaking to the man of God. Have you noticed throughout this chapter that the description repeatedly given to Elisha is “the man of God.” We are not even told who this man of God is until verse 20! But Gehazi foolishly thinks that he can cover up with idol with lies. Elisha then reveals that he knows exactly what Gehazi has done (vs. 26). Elisha’s heart was with him and knows that took place. Therefore, the leprosy that Naaman had been healed of will now afflict Gehazi.
I want us to see something about Gehazi and Naaman. Who has the generous heart? Who is the one lacking greed and covetousness? Naaman, the pagan Syrian who has just come to learn about and understand the true and living God expresses this great heart of generosity. Gehazi, the servant of God and the servant of Elisha the man of God, is full of greed in his heart. He seems outwardly to be holy and righteous. But his heart is corrupted by materialism. We need to examine ourselves to see if we have also fallen into this trap. We claim to love Jesus but Jesus does not capture our hearts. Jesus is not the only thing that matters to us. We expend our efforts to have, to acquire, and accumulate. We see our wealth as our wealth. We see our possessions as our possessions from our hard work. Our hearts are so easily distracted by wealth. We justify our lack of service, worship, and devotion to God because we need to make money. God warned his people to not let their hearts turn from God because of their prosperity.
11 “Take care lest you forget the LORD your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes, which I command you today, 12 lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, 13 and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, 14 then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, 15 who led you through the great and terrifying wilderness, with its fiery serpents and scorpions and thirsty ground where there was no water, who brought you water out of the flinty rock, 16 who fed you in the wilderness with manna that your fathers did not know, that he might humble you and test you, to do you good in the end. 17 Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ 18 You shall remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day. 19 And if you forget the LORD your God and go after other gods and serve them and worship them, I solemnly warn you today that you shall surely perish. 20 Like the nations that the LORD makes to perish before you, so shall you perish, because you would not obey the voice of the LORD your God. (Deuteronomy 8:11–20 ESV)
The Problem of Wealth
God gave the direct warning. You are going to have food, build good houses, and multiply your wealth. Do you know what is going to happen? You are going to forget the Lord your God. You are going to forget all the Lord has done for you. You are going to say in your heart that you are god because it is by your own hand that you have your wealth. We need to hear this warning: Money and possessions steal our affections away from the Lord. Now we do not want to believe this so we continue to run into this wall, thinking that we can have our money and still love Jesus. Listen to what the scriptures say about the problem of our wealth.
It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” (Mark 10:25 ESV)
No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” (Luke 16:13 ESV)
“But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. (Luke 6:24 ESV)
And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. (Luke 8:14 ESV)
But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. (1 Timothy 6:9 ESV)
For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. (1 Timothy 6:10 ESV)
As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. 18 They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, 19 thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life. (1 Timothy 6:17–19 ESV)
Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5 ESV)
Are we willing to hear what God is warning us? Will we accept God’s loving and careful warning? If you heart is seeking money, you are not going to inherit the kingdom of God. If you love your things, you are not a child of God. We are commanded to keep our lives free of this idol (cf. Hebrews 13:5). How can we keep our lives free from the idol of greed?
Shattering The Idol of Greed
First, we must recognize that contentment is learned, not inherited. Paul says that he learned contentment. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. (Philippians 4:11 ESV) You are never going to become content accidentally. You are never going to wake up one day and suddenly be content. To break the stranglehold that materialism has over our lives, we need to make a conscious, concerted effort to fight our hearts from straying away from loving Jesus alone. Contentment is never going to happen as long as we continue to look to acquire. Do not think that you can continue to pursue this world’s goods and not have your heart ripped away from God. We need to be retrained. We need to learn to be content.
Second, we need to see the fruitlessness and futility of greed. Listen to the wise teacher who wrote Ecclesiastes:
The one who loves money will never be satisfied with money, he who loves wealth will never be satisfied with his income. This also is futile. (Ecclesiastes 5:10)
Seeking wealth is not going to make you happy. We all think that we will be happier with more, but the scriptures are true that we are never satisfied when we receive more. It is futile to make decisions in life dependent upon solely on trying to have more money.
Finally, the scriptures teach that we must break the stranglehold of this idol in our hearts. We need to see the generosity of Jesus toward us. The only way we can overcome our hearts from going astray to the world and its riches and possessions is by seeing Jesus’ generosity toward us. First, God said in Deuteronomy that he gave them the prosperity they have. Nothing in this world is ours but is generously given to us by God. As James declares, God is the giver of every good and perfect gift. We have to stop and say, “Wait a minute. The things I have are not mine. Everything belongs to God and is to be used for God.” We must change our perspective so that we see what we have as God’s blessings to us. Further we need to understand God’s great generosity toward us in the gospel. Listen to the words of the apostle Paul:
I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich. (2 Corinthians 8:8–9 ESV)
Jesus was rich but became poor for us so that we would be spiritually and eternally rich. That display of love should break our love for the things of this world. The unsearchable riches of Christ has made it that we do not need anything else. Jesus’ love and salvation has given us a status that physical wealth cannot purchase. Money cannot save us from tragedy and problems. Money cannot give us control in this world. God is the only one in whom to put our trust. When we deepen our understanding of the grace found in Jesus, then living from that knowledge is what will change our hearts.
Until Jesus is enough for you, you will never have enough.