Slaying the Idol of Greed

First Corinthians 6:9-10 warns against a number of sins that should not characterize the lives of Christians, “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God.” Let’s think for a moment about the two words the apostle uses that can be summarized by the word greed.

Greed is the heart’s craving that results in the sinful accumulation of things. “Thieves” refers to those who appropriate what is not theirs by use of fraud and in secret, in contrast to “robbers,” who do so by violence. The word “swindlers” is actually an adjective that is translated “extortioners” in the King James Version. The noun form denotes “pillage, plundering, robbery … (akin to arpazo, ‘to seize, carry off by force’).” Whether dishonest gain is accomplished quietly or through the use of physical force, God hates all forms of greed. God’s commandment, “You shall not steal” (Exod. 20:15), covers them all.

The Greek word translated “covetous” refers to one desirous of having more. Synonyms of the New Testament contrasts the root word pleonexia with philarguria, “love of money” or “avarice,” by saying the latter refers to miserly behavior, whereas pleonexia means “the ever-increasing desire of the person who has forsaken God to fill himself with the lower objects of sense.” In other words, misers may act out their greed by refusing to spend what they already have, while covetous people incessantly crave the possessions of others, though both are motivated by the same lust for more.

Paul instructs the young pastor Timothy to continue to warn wealthy Christians to beware of the snare of riches and to fight off their seductive power through gracious giving:

Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy. Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed.
1 Tim. 6:17–19

As we counsel one another, we must help followers of Christ to forsake dishonest gain by teaching them to think backwards from their false actions to the strong desires that drive them. Then we can call them to repent and forsake the “lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes” so that they “do not love the world nor the things in the world” more than they love God (1 John 2:15–16).

[adapted from Counsel One Another]

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