Now is the Time: Jesus on Greed

This fall I was hunting deer with friends in South Dakota – and a very unusual thing happened to me.  There are about four or five of us who hunt together every year and the place where we hunt has many creeks and finger draws.  And so one of the things we do is – we will have a couple of guys go into the creek and start walking the length of the creek – while we have a couple of other guys blocking the other end – in hopes that we will push a big deer toward them.

Now we always have our phones with us – so that we can communicate if we need to – mostly in order to make sure we don’t shoot one another.  And so I’m in the creek on one side and my friends Dad, Jerry is down there with me – he’s on the other side of the creek – when suddenly my phone is ringing – and it’s one of the guys at the other end – and he’s frantic –

“Phil – you aren’t going to believe this but – dude – I just saw a huge mountain lion in that creek – he popped up in front of me and then dipped back into the creek and he’s walking toward you guys.”  And I can tell he isn’t putting me on – he’s serious.  And he tells me – be on guard man!  Keep your head on a swivel – those things attack you from behind!

So what am I going to do?  Right?  I wasn’t going to run out of that creek bed, I can tell you that.  I’d rather get attacked by a mountain lion than give my friends ammo to bust my chops about forever.    But let me tell you – every single squirrel, rustle of the wind – I was jumping!  I was on guard!  Danger lurked.

Now here’s the other part of the story.  Jerry was on the other side of the creek and he was a bit ahead of me – and Jerry didn’t have his phone.  He was oblivious.  His rifle was over his shoulder and he was looking around – completely oblivious to the danger that was lurking.

And I wasn’t sure which of us had it worse.  I at least knew of the danger – Jerry obliviously walked on – He had no idea of the very real danger that lurked nearby.

Now let me ask you – would you want to know or not?  Would you want to know if danger lurked nearby?  Or do you want to just be surprised when the lion attacked?

Now – I bring up this story as a way of introduction.  Jesus one time talked about a danger that lurks near the heart of every one of God’s people.  And it’s as crafty as that cat.  It’s a sneaky little  stealthy little sin that if we aren’t careful will jump us.

Let me read for you the story from Jesus’ own lips.

13 Then someone called from the crowd, “Teacher, please tell my brother to divide our father’s estate with me.”

14 Jesus replied, “Friend, who made me a judge over you to decide such things as that?” 15 Then he said, “Beware! Guard against every kind of greed. Life is not measured by how much you own.”

There is a sin that prowls, silently stalking it’s prey.   This silent spiritual life killer called greed.  Beware! Guard against all kinds of greed.

Why does Jesus tell us to beware – be on guard against greed?  He never says to us, Be on guard against every kind of theft.   That’s because people stealing cars know they are doing it.  They don’t drive into their driveway and say, wait a minute, this isn’t my Bentley!  I drive a Kia Soul!  How did I…  I guess I wasn’t on guard!

But Greed?  Greed is different.  And here’s why.  Part of the effects of greed on a soul is to blind the person to its presence.  Greed blinds its victims.  They rarely know they’ve been attacked.

Allow me to give some anecdotal evidence to the way greed blinds us to it’s presence.

I’ve been a pastor now for 27 years.  In those 27 years I have heard people say to me they struggle with every kind of sin imaginable.  Except one. I have never in 27 years had a single person tell me – “Pray for me, I’m struggling with greed.”

Why?  How can it be that Jesus and the bible warn us over and over again about not falling into the trap of becoming greedy- and yet not one person I know has ever vocalized their fight?  It’s because no one thinks they are struggling with it.

The closest I ever had to that was my friend Darren who would say to me – Phil the Bible says that I should be a cheerful giver?  When will that kick in because, I give – but I don’t often give cheerfully.  What’s wrong with me?

And it never even crossed my mind that I should have responded with, “Have you ever considered the idea that you are struggling with greed?”  And even if I did think it I don’t know that I would have said it.   It sounds so insulting!

No wonder Jesus tells us to be on our guard.  This silent soul killer blinds us to it’s presence, and makes us feel offended if anyone suggests that we might be greedy. That is a pretty well insulated sin.  Well protected.

See – here’s another way I know that most people don’t think they have any problem with greed.  And it shows in attendance.  Any time we announce that next week we will be talking about money – people don’t come.  I can show you the numbers.  The last time we did a series on money was in 2014.  Week one we had 500 in attendance. Week two of the series? 350.

Why the 30 percent drop in attendance?   Simply put – most people don’t think the message applies to them.  It’s not because they know they are greedy and don’t want to hear it.  It’s because greed blinds us to it’s presence.

And so let’s make a deal to be courageous and listen and be open to what God wants for us.

Now let me just get this out of the way.

Now we are a church that specifically was started to help people who are starting and restarting their spiritual lives.  And sometimes people make the mistake of thinking, “We shouldn’t talk about money, it’ll turn people away from the Church.”  But it would be a huge mistake to ignore a subject that Jesus brings up over and over and over again.

So here’s what I am asking from you.  I want you to be open enough – honest enough, brave enough – to ask the Holy Spirit to speak to you today.  To be willing to be teachable.  Because it just might be that you will learn something that you never knew applies to you.

The reality is that greed is a dangerous, sneaky little spiritual life killer.  And since most who are infected by it don’t even know they have it, it might be best to assume that and we are in danger.

I want to read two of Jesus teachings on how we are to interact with money.  Three different people.  Three different forms of greed.

Let me backtrack – because we already read about the first person who exhibited a form of greed.

13 Then someone called from the crowd, “Teacher, please tell my brother to divide our father’s estate with me.”

Does anyone think it’s kind of weird that Jesus responds to this question the way he does?  Why does Jesus respond by saying to watch out for greed?  It seems like a reasonable request?  He wants what’s coming to him!

Ahhh… but here’s how this type of greed plays out in the hearts of humanity.

There have been multiple studies done where people where asked- How much do you think you should earn in order to be happy?  And regardless of the amount people are earning, the most common answer is 10% more.

Even more telling – I read a study that says 82% of Americans feel they deserve to be making more – 82 percent of Americans feel they are underpaid.

And so when this person yells from the crowd – tell my brother to give me what I deserve, what are they saying?   I deserve more!  Give me what I deserve!  And I deserve more.

One time John the Baptist was approached by soldiers who were turning their hearts toward God and wanted to know how they should be living.  And John the Baptist – says – Be content with your pay.

He doesn’t say – go to the temple.  Convert to Judaism.  Be content with your pay.  Why would John say such a thing?  The same reason Jesus tells the person in the crowd to be on guard for greed.

Because here’s the deal about money.  People say that money itself is not evil.  And it’s true.  Money is amoral.  It’s neither good or bad.

But the problem is money goes into our pocket.  And then it becomes powerful – one way or another.

Because, The things that keep us separated from God?  Money amplifies them.  The things that compete with God for first place in our heart?  Money accentuates those things.  Money empowers those things.  Whatever competes with God for first place in our heart, money makes worse.

That’s why the bible time and time again calls greed idolatry.  We aren’t worshipping money, although isn’t it strange that we call the dollar “The Almighty Dollar?”  We don’t worship money, usually, but whatever our heart is drawn to other than God?  Money makes it worse.

The first kind of greed is shown in the person who just wants what they deserve.  They are unhappy with their pay.  They think they deserve more.  And the result is that greed silently suffocates our soul.

Second type of greed?  Jesus is going to tell a parable.

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.’

Now can I stop for a moment and just give a nod to Jesus the master teacher.  What is the first thing that Jesus points out?  He points out where this mans crops came from.  They came from the ground.  Water by rain that fell from the sky.

One of the principles of giving is that everything we have has been given to us by God.  Yes, we work hard – but God’s the one who provides.  In this case – from the ground.

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.”

My wife Jody and I are big believers in Dave Ramsey’s financial peace university.  And to Dave Ramsey’s credit- he stresses the importance of being a giving, generous person all along these seven baby steps, as he calls them.

It’s very inspiring to be able to get to another baby step along the way.  It feels so good, and it’s so motivational and inspirational to feel you’ve achieved another milestone on your way to financial responsibility, that there is a temptation…

What’s the temptation?   To refrain from generosity until you reach a particular step.

So I’m not knocking Dave Ramsey’s plan.  I’m simply saying that there comes with it a temptation to think – someday I will be a generous person.  Someday I will be able to afford to be generous.

If the cry from the person in the crowd was – All I’m asking for is what I deserve, then this person’s cry is – all I’m trying to do is be responsible.  I’ll be generous one day – just let me get to baby step 7 first.  I’m trying to be responsible.

Now of course, Jesus isn’t preaching not to be responsible.  It’s important to be good stewards of what the ground produces for you.

But we have a limited time on earth to do good with what we have been given.  If we don’t start making money until we are twenty, and we die at 70, we have 50 years in order to display generosity.

Do we really want to be the kind of people who waste ten or twenty of those years?  I mean – it takes ten years to get into trouble, and twenty to get out of it – are we really going to allow half our life to pass by without investing in humanity?  Not working to make this world slightly less terrible by alleviating pain and suffering in some way?

This poor guy in the story.  He built storehouses and thought to himself I will be set for the rest of my life – imagine all the good I can do with this…  and he has a heart attack and dies the next day.  And guess what?  His kids sold his grain and took a vacation to Cabo with it.  That what happens.

We only have a limited time on this side of eternity.  The day will come when we are dead and with Jesus and we will sweep the gold from the streets – right? Now is the time to begin to be generous.  Now is the time to invest in humanity.

Last person I want to highlight is found in Luke 18.   The rich young ruler.

18 Once a religious leader asked Jesus this question: “Good Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?”

19 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus asked him. “Only God is truly good. 20 But to answer your question, you know the commandments: ‘You must not commit adultery. You must not murder. You must not steal. You must not testify falsely. Honor your father and mother.’”

21 The man replied, “I’ve obeyed all these commandments since I was young.”

22 When Jesus heard his answer, he said, “There is still one thing you haven’t done. Sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

23 But when the man heard this he became very sad, for he was very rich.

I find this passage fascinating – because of how Jesus responds to the question – how do I inherit eternal life.  I can think of three times when people walked up to Jesus to ask him this same question.  Nicodemus, the woman at the well in John 4. and here.

It’s fascinating to me that Jesus gives three completely different answers.

And I find it fascinating that Jesus gives him this answer.  I mean in this very chapter – Luke 18 – just a few verses before this – Jesus tells a parable about a sinful tax collector and a pastor- who are praying in the temple – and the pastor prays – Thanks you Lord I do all the right things.  I don’t commit adultery, I don’t steal – I honor my father and mother – and Jesus says at the end of the parable – the Pastor went home unjustified before God.

Why then does Jesus tell this guy – just be religious and do all the right things?

Why doesn’t he just say – Pray this prayer and accept me into your heart?

Well, It’s because Jesus knows how to get to the real issue of the heart.  He knows what keeps us from trusting him.  And so for the woman at the well it was romance – so Jesus says “Go get your husband.”  Here – this guy – it was money.  That’s why he tells him to sell all he has.  He doesn’t say it to anyone else.  But the man walks away sad – unwilling to part with what was most precious to him.

What is he actually saying to this guy?  You obey all the commands, do you?  How about the first commandment – thou shall have no other gods before me.  This is why over and over the Bible equates greed with idolatry.

So Jesus says to this guy – do you love me enough to give it up and follow me?  He went away sad because his money was too spiritually important to him.  And it demands we ask the same question.  Is money too important for us to give away?

How do we escape the danger of greed?  How do we escape the silent soul killer?  By fixing our eyes on the Truly rich young ruler.

His name is Jesus.  Who gave up everything to come to earth to rescue us.  He gave it all up for us.  He was stripped of every possession – stripped of his friendships, his dignity, his clothing, he gave up the perfect unbroken relationship with the Father, he gave it all up for us – so that we might have true riches – true treasure – he gave it up that we might gain – the perfect love of our heavenly Father.

The way to battle the subtle, insidious, suffocating power of greed is to look to Jesus, and give ourselves permission to trust him enough to be generous.

I’ve asked my friend Tom to come and share his story with you and then we will close in prayer…