Summary: Are we seeking first the Kingdom of God, or are we focused on getting all we can in this life? We find all we need in Christ. Let's freely give, expecting nothing in return.
Are we selfish or selfless? The next pair of vice and virtue deal with our attitude towards possessions and people.
In the Movie Wall Street, Gordon Gecko, a ruthless broker, bluntly proposes in a stockholders meeting, “Greed is good.” His code leads him to conclude that whatever works--not what is right--is the way to manage; and this pragmatic rationalization leads to his downfall. We call greed “ambition, lifestyle, and the American Dream”, and lose sight of the fact that greed is idolatry--putting faith in things, instead of God. Our consumer culture promotes greed to sell products, a basic principle of marketing. Commercials are designed to make us think, “If I can only have this product, I’ll feel better about myself; I’ll be happy.” Greed is the vice behind every advertisement. We buy more than products; we buy gratification.
People in the grip of greed aren’t consuming to live; they’re living to consume. Greed consumes people to the point that they’re never satisfied with what they have. Greed tempts us to seek the so-called “good life” apart from God. Having means to provide seems easier than trusting God for security, and can lead us to think we don’t need God.
The Bible asks 3 basic questions about money: 1) How did you get it? (legally/justly or exploitatively); 2) What are you doing with it? (indulging in luxuries or helping the needy); 3) What is it doing to you? (Bill Leslie).
There’s no sin in being wealthy, but there is a danger: we’re more likely to drift from God when we’re prosperous than when we’re needy. Greed distracts us from what is most important. We should give importance to Who we have rather than what we have. The author of Hebrews directs us, “Keep your life free from the love of money, and be content with what you have, for Christ has said, ‘I will never leave nor forsake you” (13:5).
Increased wealth can decrease compassion; it can awaken sleeping vices and stimulate selfishness. This is the poverty of affluence, and it is “chasing after wind” (Ecclesiastes). Gandhi noted, “There is enough for everyone’s need, but not enough for everyone’s greed.” Trust in money for happiness and security can displace our trust in God and our appreciation for what we have.
When we give money to a charitable cause, do we think about all the good that’ll be accomplished by our contribution, or do we think about what we could’ve done with the amount if we hadn’t given it away? And are we giving primarily to claim a tax deduction? Tithing, like fasting, is a practice of regularly limiting our use of a good thing to loosen our attachment to it.
When we get a pay raise, does our standard of living increase significantly? Things that once seemed luxuries may now seem necessities. How does increased wealth affect how we regard ourselves? Upward mobility rarely produces satisfaction; it more often results in disappointment and emptiness.
Covetousness is condemned by the tenth commandment, which deals with our inner motivation, our attitude towards things. We can possess things or be possessed by things. We have so much, and so much has us. Money can buy comfort but not contentment. Greed can make what we possess or hope to attain more important than our relationship to God. Greed becomes “disordered desire” (Augustine). The love of money becomes the root of evil when money is the goal.
Generosity is the virtue of giving freely without expecting anything in return. It can involve offering time, talents, or assets to help someone in need. Generous people are pleased that others are being benefited. Generosity is a godlike quality. God owes us nothing, yet sent His Son to pay the ultimate cost for our forgiveness. The Gospel message of salvation is all about the sacrificial generosity of God.
This virtue is about more than money. It’s about an attitude: we’re satisfied with what we have. Generosity frees us from being enslaved to money and what it can buy. Prosperity brings out in the open who we truly are. Maybe we should keep a “gratitude journal” to count our blessings and stop fretting over what we don’t have. And when we give, let’s do so with pleasure. “It’s more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).
A widow much like the one in our Scripture reading was attending a church in the DC area. Her income was barely adequate to provide for her family, yet she cheerfully put a few dollars into the collection plate each week. One Sunday a well-intentioned deacon suggested that she should keep her offering. She responded with sadness. “You are trying to take away the last thing that gives me dignity and meaning.” She understood the blessing of generosity, and was clinging to it at all costs. It is easy to conclude that the little we’re able to give won’t make a difference, but it will--in our character and moral development.