In considering the subject of God’s economy, we have already looked at the fact that God has given . . . and has given first . . .; and we also discussed that he is looking for a people who will live out their lives in accordance with his economic principles. But additionally, we need to recognize that
Principle #3: God’s Economy is Not Based on Greed
The word greed is a slippery word and needs to be tacked down at the beginning of our discussion. Traditionally, greed is defined as an excessive or rapacious desire, especially for wealth or possessions. That kind of greed, however, is not to be confused with, or allowed to splash over negatively onto, the rational concept of the pursuing of one’s own personal interests.
The desire for humans to pursue their own personal interests could be, but is not necessarily, greedy or selfish. To possess the desire to make good decisions and have the experience of you and your family ending up better off in this life may actually display the admirable quality of accountability. Good stewardship of life regarding those things we possess reveals our willingness to accept and practice personal responsibility.
Greed or selfishness, however, is the attitude and spirit where an individual insists on his or her own arbitrary demands on other people and their surroundings, regardless of cost or consequence. It is the whole idea of me first . . . it’s all about me. That spirit of greed or selfishness is counterproductive to goodness because everyone does not end up better off in greedy situations.
The negative spirit of greedy selfishness is in direct opposition to the spirit of God’s economy. Sometimes it is difficult to discern greed in the beginning. But you can be assured that harbored selfishness will sooner or later surface into observable and destructive behavior.
The kingdom of Christ and God will never belong to anyone who is impure or greedy, for a greedy person is really an idol worshiper – he loves and worships the good things of this life more than God. (Eph. 5:5)
In my reading assignment I ran across some extremely interesting examples of how, in the end, greed actually delivers a far different result than the person had anticipated in the beginning. Some of the examples are very dramatic and well worth the reading. I will give you the references and know that you will enjoy the research:
Eve . . . in desiring the forbidden fruit (Genesis 3:6)
Lot . . . in choosing to live in the lush, green valley (Genesis 13:10
Jacob . . . in defrauding Esau (Genesis 27:6)
Saul . . . in sparing King Agag and the livestock (1Samuel 15:8)
David and Bathsheba . . . in cheating on Uriah (2 Samuel 11:2)
Achan . . . in stealing and hiding the loot taken from battle (Joshua 7:21)
Gehazi . . . in falsely taking the gifts from Naaman the General (2 Kings 5:20)
The last story I listed, regarding the fellow Gehazi, is just too on point to let go without telling. Not only is it on point, but I personally relate to the story, because I have spent time in Samaria, located in Israel, and also worked in Amman, Jordan, and traveled all by myself in spooky Syria, and stayed alone in dangerous Damascus. In my mind I know right where this incident took place so many years before.
Naaman was the commander-in-chief of the Syrian army, and a dear friend of the King of Syria. He had won many battles and was a great hero, but had tragically contracted leprosy and his skin and body parts were beginning to rot off. On one of his military raids against Israel, he had taken captive a young Israeli girl whom Naaman had given to his wife as a servant. One day the young girl told her mistress, “I wish the master would go back to Israel and find the prophet Elisha. He could heal him of his leprosy.”
The King sent Naaman back to Samaria with a letter of introduction and sacks of gold and silver and suits of clothing. When he arrived at Elisha’s house, Elisha didn’t even go out to greet the great commander. Instead, he sent his servant Gehazi out with a message for Naaman to go wash himself seven times in the Jordan River and the leprosy would go away. Naaman was insulted and became very angry. “Aren’t the Abana and Pharpar Rivers of Damascus better than all the rivers in Israel? If I need to wash, I’ll go to a nice river to wash.” So, he left in a huff.
But some of his faithful men talked him into doing what Elisha had told him to do . . . since they just happened to be in the neighborhood. When he came up out of the river water the seventh time his skin was like a baby’s skin, and his lost body parts were all restored . . . an astounding miracle! Naaman and his entourage returned to Elisha’s house and declared that there was no other God except Israel’s God and said, “Please accept all my gifts.” Elisha answered, “I swear by Jehovah that I will not accept them.” Naaman turned and headed back for home.
Gehazi the servant had been observing all that was going on. After Naaman had traveled a distance, Gehazi caught up with him. Naaman came down out of his chariot, “is everything ok?”
“Yes,” Gehazi said, “but my master made a mistake and remembered that he was in need of the sacks of silver and several suits of fine clothes.”
“Not a problem,” Naaman told him, and gave him twice as much silver as he had requested, plus the fine clothes. Gehazi went back and hid the silver and clothes in his house. The next time Gehazi met up with the prophet, Elisha asked him where he had been. “I haven’t been anywhere.” Thereupon, Elisha informed him that he had seen everything and that now Gehazi not only had the bags of silver and the fine suits of clothes, “but you and your children and your children’s children also will have Naaman’s leprosy. And Gehazi walked from the room a leper, his skin as white as snow.
When you go after something with the motive of greed that which you receive is different from that which you thought you would get! It is always twisted on you . . . thus, the life of disillusionment and regret.
Sometimes, however, judgment and penalty in dealing with greed is not immediate, and that is confusing to those of us who are observing. Sometimes greed is allowed to run its course and the sad results are only viewed at a later point. But, we can be assured that God’s economy of the interior is not based on greed, because selfishness is not consistent with the characteristics of goodness:
Purity is best demonstrated by generosity. (Luke 11: 41)
God, who has already generously given, is looking for a people who will be characterized by their giving and not their grabbing.
Next Week: You Can’t Manipulate God
(Research ideas from Dr. Jackson’s new writing project on Cultural Economics)
© Dr. James W. Jackson
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