The United States of America is the most prosperous land in the history of the world. Opportunities are so abundant here that people immigrate here from all other 194 nations in the world to be a part of it. For those that are willing to put in the effort, America offers the rewards that no other nation can provide. For those willing to learn, work, serve, and have an entrepreneurial spirit, America can also offer riches that no other land can provide. In other words, we can choose to be as wealthy as we wish to work to be.
Therein lies the theological problem: how much is too much?
For those familiar with the movie Wall Street, you’re also familiar with Gordon Gekko, who famously quipped, “Greed is good”. We know as Christians that greed isn’t good. The Ten Commandments forbid it, and specifically forbid coveting the things others have (especially their spouses!). So, where is the line drawn? What is the right balance between poverty and wealth? When does materialism become ungodly? Does The Bible offer us any advice on this matter?
Why, yes, it does.
Job 20:20 has this to say about people that seek wealth through greed: “God-denying people are never content with what they have or who they are; their greed drives them relentlessly.” The Book of Psalms also offers us some insights about what greed looks like. In one of the Psalms of Asaph, Psalm 78:30-31, it is written: ““They ate and had their fill; he handed them everything they craved on a platter. But their greed knew no bounds; they stuffed their mouths with more and more. Finally, God was fed up.” More information about greed and its counterpart can be found in Proverbs 15:27. It reads: “A greedy and grasping person destroys community; those who refuse to exploit live and let live.” Finally, from the words of Agun Ben Yakeh in Proverbs 30:14-16, comes this advice that truly explains the problem with greed: “Don’t be greedy, merciless and cruel as wolves, Tearing into the poor and feasting on them, shredding the needy to pieces only to discard them. A freeloader has twin daughters named “Gimme” and “Gimme more.”
And there it is. That is what defines the line being crossed: “Gimmie” and “Gimmie more”. Whether greed is driven by honest earning, freeloading, or criminality, it’s always the desire, even the need, to have more. Constantly more. A drive so powerful that one can never actually have “enough”. This drive turns into a sickness so powerful that the drive for more impacts the things in life that truly do matter more than materialism ever will – or can.
Now, let me take a moment to clarify a few things. First, I’m not saying that owning things makes one greedy. Second, I’m not saying that getting new things is greedy. Third, I’m not saying that the drive to own things, in and of itself, is bad. We should aspire to own the things we need, and some of the things we want. Think about it: if I didn’t want to own a laptop, how would I be able to publish this and add value to you through Christianity? I wouldn’t. It’s perfectly ok to want to own stuff. It becomes a problem when one can never be satisfied, ever, with what they own and/or how they live. It also becomes a problem when one’s need to possess material things outweighs the Christian mandate to serve others.
So, we’ve established what greed looks like. In order to understand how greed negatively impacts a good life, we have to define what a good life looks like. I want to start with a list provided over the years by Zig Ziglar, himself a Christian and teacher that impacted over 250 million people in his lifetime with his Christian teachings. He defined a good life as having these eight things: “People want to be happy, healthy, reasonably prosperous and secure; they want to have friends, peace of mind, good family relationships and hope.” I’ve never seen a better list of things that lead to a good life. Let’s go through them one at a time, and see how The Bible teaches us to achieve them.
- Happiness doesn’t come from materialism. Ok, I know, you get something new and it’s fun – for a short while. I’ve owned plenty of cars in my life. Care to know how long “that new car feeling” takes to wear off? About a week. Then you’re just left with years of payments to make on it. True happiness doesn’t come from stuff; it comes from our relationships, especially with God. Nehemiah 12:43 talks about the joy of having God in one’s life, stating: “That day they offered great sacrifices, an exuberant celebration because God had filled them with great joy. The women and children raised their happy voices with all the rest. Jerusalem’s jubilation was heard far and wide.” I have told my son as he has grown up, “People over stuff”. This example from Nehemiah is one of the reasons why. Relationships, especially with God, always trump materialism for true joy.
- When it comes to living healthy, most people think of doctors, diet, and exercise. Now, I’m no doctor, but I’m guessing these things help. Human bodies are like computers G.I.G.O. This means “Garbage In, Garbage Out”, an acronym used by computer programmers to explain that if you put bad code into a computer, you’ll get a bad result as the output. Bodies seem to be the same to me. If you put nutritious foods and drinks in, you’ll get good performance. Put in unhealthy foods, you’ll get bad performance. However, most people forget the importance of feeding their souls with the right kinds of nutrition. In Psalm 37:37, we’re reminded of this important fact when it states: “Keep your eye on the healthy soul, scrutinize the straight life; There’s a future in strenuous wholeness.” There are literally dozens upon dozens of diseases that are psychosomatic in nature. The term “psychosomatic disorder” is mainly used to mean “a physical disease that is thought to be caused, or made worse, by mental factors.” The term is also used when mental factors cause physical symptoms but where there is no physical disease. For example, chest pain may be caused by stress and no physical disease can be found. This is caused by pain in the soul. Take care of your soul. Live a life that is more than just one with nutrition for the body; give much-needed nutrients to your soul everyday as well through your relationship with God.
- Reasonably prosperous. I’ve mentioned earlier that it’s ok to have things. The Lord’s Prayer tells us that we’re entitled to ask for certain things here on Earth. Among them, from Matthew 6:9-10: “Set the world right; Do what’s best—as above, so below. Keep us alive with three square meals. Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others. Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil.” If we had only these things, we would be prosperous indeed. Most of us have much more, however, and we owe all of our gratitude for what we have to God. However, the real prosperity for which we should be working is in Heaven. In Matthew 6:19-21, we’ve advised: “Don’t hoard treasure down here where it gets eaten by moths and corroded by rust or—worse!—stolen by burglars. Stockpile treasure in heaven, where it’s safe from moth and rust and burglars. It’s obvious, isn’t it? The place where your treasure is, is the place you will most want to be, and end up being.” Enjoy what you have here on Earth, and be grateful for it. But do your true wealth building where it really matters: in the Kingdom of Heaven.
- For 21 years, I was a police officer. My job was to keep people safe. I believe that my efforts, through diligence each day, made a difference in making the people in the communities I served feel more secure. That physical security is only one aspect of what real security is, though. The security in knowing that you will go to Heaven into life immortal is the real security that life on Earth has to offer. I also believe that we add value to that security when we share the word of God with others. It has taken me 46 years of my life to truly start doing so. I pray at night to be the best I can at sharing God’s word, and The Bible warns against sharing God’s word improperly. True security comes from faith in God. In Matthew 6:30-34, it is written:
“If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never even seen—don’t you think he’ll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. “Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.”
- What does true friendship look like? David and Jonathan demonstrate true friendship when they pledged friendship to each other. In 1 Samuel 20:16-18, they say to one another:
“If I make it through this alive, continue to be my covenant friend. And if I die, keep the covenant friendship with my family—forever. And when GOD finally rids the earth of David’s enemies, stay loyal to Jonathan!” Jonathan repeated his pledge of love and friendship for David. He loved David more than his own soul!”
I believe that is the mark of true friendship: loving others more than oneself. From our youth onward, we tend to seek friends rather than seeking first to be a friend. Little children go to one another and ask, “Will you be my friend?” instead of saying, “I am your friend.” Then, we go on social media and start sending out friend invitations to see how many people we can get to follow US rather than follow THEM. We talk about ourselves to people rather than asking them about themselves. True friends always put the other person first. That is the true mark of selflessness, which inevitably leads to friendship.
- Peace of mind. This means something different to everyone. However, I think that each of these things has some bearing on peace of mind. When the others are right, it is possible to have peace of mind. The greatest peace of mind this world can offer comes from knowing that God is there for us. He created us in His own image, and loves us. We have true peace of mind when we receive God’s blessings. How do we know when we are blessed? Jesus told us in Matthew 5: 3-10:
“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule. You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you. You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought. You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat. You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for. You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world. You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family. You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom.”
- Good family relationships. This one can be tough, can’t it? We all seem to have that one special someone in our family that just drives us a little batty. They’re the one that when you go to the family gettogether, you see them show up and let out a groan. I know how it feels because it happens to me. I see some special someone at a family gettogether and just groan. It’s easy to deal with the family members we love and find enriching. I want to help you with the ones that are, well, not so much. When I find myself in this situation, I refer back to Genesis 1:26-28, which states: “God created human beings; he created them godlike, Reflecting God’s nature. He created them male and female. God blessed them.” I am in no place to dispute this, so I remind myself that even the family members that test my patience are still God’s creations and I must respect that. A former police chief named Dean Crisp taught me that “every single person on Earth is the most important person to someone else.” Once I adopted that perspective, I valued all people in a new light. I believe that if you’ll adopt these lines of thinking, you will too.
- There is a line from the TV series Star Trek: Deep Space Nine that I have quoted over the years. It says, “Greater than the death of flesh is the death of hope, the death of dreams. Against this peril we can never surrender.” All people need hope. A life hope that tomorrow can be better than today is optimistic and inspiring. A life no hope that tomorrow with be any better than today is one of futility. In 1 Samuel 2:7-8, we learn: “He puts poor people on their feet again; he rekindles burned-out lives with fresh hope, Restoring dignity and respect to their lives—a place in the sun. For the very structures of earth are GOD’s; he has laid out his operations on a firm foundation. He protectively cares for his faithful friends, step by step.”
If the life you live is happy, healthy, reasonably prosperous and secure; they want to have friends, peace of mind, good family relationships and hope, you’ve got all that a truly wealthy life has to offer. No amount of materialism or greed can ever replace them. Take time away from your aspirations of owning more to nurture these important aspects of your life. You’ll find that you will be fulfilled in a way that you’ve never been before. I want this kind of life for you, and I believe with all my heart that you can have it if you’ll go out there and get it.
May God bless you, now and always.