We are continuing our teaching series around the Seven Deadly Sins of Family. This is the fifth in the series. Our fifth deadly sin for families is greed.
The Sin of Greed
In the iconic 1987 film, Wall Street, Gordon Gekko, played by Michael Douglas gives an affirming speech in favor of greed. Gekko is advising a the shareholders of a company called Teldar. He says that Teldar’s executives and Board have been doing a bad job.
The new law of evolution in corporate America seems to be survival of the unfittest. Well, in my book you either do it right or you get eliminated. In the last seven deals that I’ve been involved with, there were 2.5 million stockholders who have made a pretax profit of 12 billion dollars. … I am not a destroyer of companies. I am a liberator of them! The point is, ladies and gentleman, that greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right, greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. … And greed, you mark my words, will not only save Teldar Paper, but that other malfunctioning corporation called the USA. Thank you very much.
Unlike, Mr. Gekko, the Bible is not as high on greed. The Bible teaches that greed is a powerful toxin in our world today. The global financial crisis of more than a decade ago was caused in part by greed.
I want to tell you an ancient story of tremendous greed from 800 years before Christ. If you have a Bible, find 1 Kings 21 with me.
See if you can spot greed in our story. I want introduce you to four colorful characters.
First, I want you to meet Naboth the famer: “Now Naboth the Jezreelite had a vineyard in Jezreel, beside the palace of Ahab king of Samaria” (1 Kings 21:1).
Character #1: Naboth
Yes, Naboth owned a vineyard in the little village of Jezreel around eight miles from Megiddo. Megiddo is the site of Armageddon of Revelation so this is an important piece of land. In fact, locals will tell you this is the “bread basket of Israel.” It is still a really important piece of land to this day. Naboth’s vineyard was right next to the King’s royal gardens. So, when the king looked to expand his garden, he wished to have Naboth’s vineyard.
Naboth could hear the loud music from every shindig the king and queen put on over the years. He was aware of the rumors of what when on behind closed doors and behind the tall walls. And what he had not heard, he certainly had seen enough to write a “tell-all” over the years. The king wants Naboth’s little vineyard (1 Kings 21:2).
Like a Texas rancher, Naboth’s land has been in his family for years and he has no desire to sell it but to pass it along to his children. He could remember his father and his grandfather working the land. He had fond memories of his mother and grandmother raising their family right there on the land. He could reach down into the soil and grab dirt that generations had walked on – the land meant a great deal to him.
Now, Naboth is a father and a husband (2 Kings 9:26). Most importantly, he is a man of principle – a man of the Word. Listen to the 1st words Scripture records from Naboth’s mouth: “But Naboth said to Ahab, ‘The Lord forbid that I should give you the inheritance of my fathers’” (1 Kings 21:3). Naboth’s reply to the king left no wiggle room for haggling – this land wasn’t for sale for any price. Naboth was a man of conviction. Naboth was a good man.
Let me circle back to his vineyard for a moment. You need to know the land of Israel was different in Naboth’s day and he knew it.
When I was young boy, in our school we sang this song in music class:
“This land is your land, this land is my land
From the California to the New York island
From the Redwood Forest, to the Gulf Stream waters
This land was made for you and me.”
That may be true of America but in Naboth’s day, the land belonged to God. And Naboth remembered his Sabbath school teachers teaching him the third book of the Bible, the book of Leviticus. He knew the land of Israel belonged to the Lord at this time (Leviticus 25:23). He knew the land of Israel could not be sold permanently (Leviticus 25:23). At best, Naboth could only have leased his land to someone else. And leasing was only if he were in dire financial need but Naboth did not need to sell. Plus, God had wisely commanded that the land wasn’t to be sold from one tribe to another (Numbers 36:7-9). God had commanded this so that no one of the 12 tribes would grab a monopoly.
Naboth believed in sacred places that were not for sale. Naboth was a man of conviction and how we need more men and women of conviction. Naboth loves God, loves his nation, and loves his family.
Character #2: Ahab
Second, I invite you to meet the wicked king of Israel, Ahab. Ahab is the king of Samaria, also known as Israel, the northern Kingdom. He was among the worst of the kings of Israel as verse 25 says: “(There was none who sold himself to do what was evil in the sight of the Lord like Ahab, whom Jezebel his wife incited. 26 He acted very abominably in going after idols, as the Amorites had done, whom the Lord cast out before the people of Israel)” (1 Kings 21:25–26).
I love what pastor R. G. Lee says of King Ahab, “[He] had command of a nation’s wealth and a nation’s army, but he had no command of his lusts and appetites.”
Ahab badly wanted Naboth’s vineyard. In fact, he makes Naboth an offer: “Give me your vineyard, that I may have it for a vegetable garden, because it is near my house, and I will give you a better vineyard for it; or, if it seems good to you, I will give you its value in money” (1 Kings 21:2b). When Naboth refused to sell, we witness the king pouting. Servants brought him his meal but he had no appetite for it: “And he lay down on his bed and turned away his face and would eat no food” (1 Kings 21:4b).
The king of the nation is a spoiled, sulking brat who pouts when he cannot get his way. Here is a child with a million toys to play with but it angry because just one toy is kept from him. Naboth believed in sacred places that were not for sale. Ahab believed everything was for sale. And watch greed’s signature ploy in our friend, Ahab – greed is to blind to itself. It’s easy to spot when the serpent called greed has bitten someone else but it is nearly impossible to feel its fangs in me. Greed likes to hide in the shadows away from your plain sight.
Look carefully at Ahab for here is a man who could whip the Syrians, but he could not whip himself into shape. Even though he had many homes, he couldn’t rest until he owned one more piece of property. Yes, Ahab didn’t have the necessary discipline to govern himself much less govern others. Naboth was a good man but Ahab was a wicked king.
Character #3: Jezebel
I want you to meet Jezebel, the wicked queen of Samaria and the wife of King Ahab. Jezebel goes into the king’s private chambers to meet her sullen husband: “But Jezebel his wife came to him and said to him, ‘Why is your spirit so vexed that you eat no food’” (1 Kings 21:5)? Not only was Jezebel was the queen of Israel, she was also the daughter of the king of Tyre. She knew instinctively how a king should act. Unlike her wimpy husband, her father seized what he wanted. She looked at this whipped pup of a husband and wondered who had neutered him of his courage: “And Jezebel his wife said to him, ‘Do you now govern Israel? Arise and eat bread and let your heart be cheerful; I will give you the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite’” (1 Kings 21:7).
She felt that no king was subject to a law. Instead, the king’s wishes were the law. Here was a woman with no scruples. Here was a scary woman and rotten to the core. Jezebel says, “I’ll give you the land.”
The queen gets busy in verse 8: “So she wrote letters in Ahab’s name and sealed them with his seal, and she sent the letters to the elders and the leaders who lived with Naboth in his city” (1 Kings 21:8).
In verse 9, we discover what she wrote: “And she wrote in the letters, ‘Proclaim a fast, and set Naboth at the head of the people. 10 And set two worthless men opposite him, and let them bring a charge against him, saying, ‘You have cursed God and the king.’ Then take him out and stone him to death’” (1 Kings 21:9–10).
The queen in essence functions like the king. Watch the irony now: Naboth used the law to protect his land, but Jezebel weaponizes the law. She had earlier attempted to destroy all of God’s prophets (1 Kings 18:4). She perverts the law and turns it inside out like a sock from your dryer.
Jezebel no more than puts her pen to paper than men leap to their feet: “And the men of his city, the elders and the leaders who lived in his city, did as Jezebel had sent word to them. As it was written in the letters that she had sent to them, 12 they proclaimed a fast and set Naboth at the head of the people” (1 Kings 21:11–12).
Look what happens next: “The two wicked men came in and sat opposite him. Then the wicked men testified against Naboth in the presence of the people, saying, ‘Naboth has cursed God and the king!’ So they took him outside the city and stoned him to death with stones. 14 Then they sent word to Jezebel: ‘Naboth has been stoned to death’” (1 Kings 21:13–14).
Jezebel wastes no time for as soon as she hears of the report, she leans over to tell her husband in the middle of verse 15: “‘Get up and take possession of the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite who refused to give it to you for silver, since Naboth isn’t alive, but dead.’ 16 When Ahab heard that Naboth was dead, he got up to go down to the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite to take possession of it” (1 Kings 21:15–16).
Naboth believed in sacred places that were not for sale. Ahab believed everything was for sale. Jezebel believed there was no price too high.
The Story of a Lottery Couple
Michigan police announced the arrest of Mitchell and Stephanie Harvell this week. The couple had won $500,000 prize in the lottery in January, 2016. They told Michigan state lottery officials at the time that the prize “couldn't have come at a better time.” The couple had been living paycheck to paycheck at that time, struggling to support their two young daughters. But just 3 years later, the couple is arrested in a suspected burglary spree. Uncontrolled spending and greed drives us to some very ugly alleys in life.
Character #4: Elijah
Now, the whole story rises to the tension narrative when Elijah enters.
The man of God gets a word from God. So close to God was Elijah that he didn’t die, but was transported right into the presence of God (2 Kings 2:1-12). Remember, he called down rain during a time of tremendous drought at Mount Carmel and raised the widow’s son from the dead. Elijah’s only home is the equivalent to the foyer of Ahab’s summer home.
Listen to God’s words to His prophet: “Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah the Tishbite: 18 “Get up and go to meet King Ahab of Israel, who is in Samaria. He’s in Naboth’s vineyard, where he has gone to take possession of it. 19 Tell him, ‘This is what the Lord says: Have you murdered and also taken possession?’ Then tell him, ‘This is what the Lord says: In the place where the dogs licked up Naboth’s blood, the dogs will also lick up your blood’” (1 Kings 21:17–19)!
These two had a history together. Ahab says to Elijah in verse 20: “Have you found me, O my enemy?” Elijah might have said, “Don’t shoot the messenger” but he said none of this. Elijah possessed an unusual courage.
Now, Ahab does tear his clothes in verse 27 in attempt to make things right. And God does delay His judgment until the king’s death (1 Kings 21:29), but some respects it was “too little, too late.” The die had been cast of lifetime of evil actions.
One chapter later, God delivers on His word when Ahab dies in battle: “So the king died, and was brought to Samaria. And they buried the king in Samaria. 38 And they washed the chariot by the pool of Samaria, and the dogs licked up his blood, and the prostitutes washed themselves in it, according to the word of the Lord that he had spoken” (1 Kings 22:37–38).
Elijah then turns his attention to Jezebel when she too will die for her sins. In fact, dogs will eat her and she doesn’t even have a decent burial.
Naboth believed in sacred places that were not for sale. Ahab believed everything was for sale. Jezebel believed there was no price too high. Elijah believed life was more precious than land.
What do we learn from this story?
1. The Blast Radius of Greed
No one’s sin is done in isolation. A man may consume pornography privately thinking it doesn’t hurt anyone. But not only does it influence the way he relates to women in society, it also creates a market for it, making it available to others.
A woman may insist she has the right to commit suicide because she belongs no one but herself. Yet, the moment her daughter finds her dead body, there’s no one who can console her?
When I fail to work when I am physically able, your taxes go up to pay for laziness.
We are interdependent, you and I.
No one’s sin is done in isolation.
Jesus said, “Watch out and be on guard against all greed, because one’s life is not in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:15 CSB).
Benedictine Monks had rules for just how much each monk was to eat in the monastery. But if one monk takes more than his share of the limited food, another monk goes without dinner lunch. The slightest miscalculation or greed on anyone’s part would leave someone without a meal. Imagine if you could the see the immediate impact of your greed in the same cafeteria room like these monks?
Greed is the actions of company executives during the financial collapse of 2008 when they took home bonuses of the taxpayer bailout to the tune of $1.6 billion that included personal use of company jets, chauffeurs, and country club memberships. Remember greed is so evil that it led Judas to betray Jesus for 30 pieces of silver.
“For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs” (1 Timothy 6:10)
2. Behold the Power of Godliness
2.1 Wicked Women
A godly woman can be a powerful source of inspiration for her family, but a wicked woman possesses a profound motivation for evil in her family’s life. It was Job’s wife who encouraged him to curse God and die when trouble came their way. We need to remember it was Delilah who seduced Samson and assisted his enemies in eventually putting
out his eyes. It was Herodias who danced for King Herod of Jesus’ day and asked for John the Baptist’s head on a platter. It was Haman’s wife, Zeresh, who gave her husband the idea to build the gallows for his enemy. It was the very same gallows that Haman was hung on by the end of his life. And it was Potiphar’s wife who propositioned Joseph to have an affair when her husband was away.
Jezebel is ruthless and she is slick. In fact, we learn from 2 Kings 9:26 that she kills Naboth’s sons as well. Jezebel worked with a godless efficiency throughout the narrative. She weaponized the law and she is rotten to her core. Mothers, wives, and ladies – don’t miss the incredible opportunity you have to influence your family for Christ.
2.2 Weak-Willed Man
Let’s turn our attention away from the wife for a moment to ponder the husband, Ahab. Now, here’s a guy—he doesn’t care for God. His creed is greed and his God is gold. King Ahab had led the people away from the worship of Yahweh to follow a god named, Baal. This fertility god was thought to regulate all fertility from the people, to the animals to the crops and by all accounts things were going pretty well. Focused on business success - King Ahab had lost any sense of the sacred, of the holy, of the one true God. When he lost that, he really lost his compass for right and wrong, for the value of human life. This is a weak-willed man who knew better, but he did not raise a hand to stop this evil plan.
Men, have the courage to be godly in our day. No one has a sign out in front of their business saying, “Weak-willed men wanted.” We need godly men to turn our tide. Men who are centered on Christ like our friends Naboth and Elijah.
3. The Antidote to Greed is Generosity
Both Elijah and Naboth felt that the land was God’s. These two men felt that the land was sacred and they adjusted their lives accordingly. Dr. Billy Graham once said, “If a person gets his attitude toward money straight, it will help straighten out almost every other area in his life.”
3.1 10% Is Generosity
The Bible defines generosity differently than the world does. The Bible says until you find yourself giving away 10 percent of your income to the church, to people in need, to ministries that help people and spread the kingdom of
God. Until you’re at least giving away 10 percent of your income, you’re greedy according to the Bible. 10% is a minimum amount for this – it’s the training wheels for God’s people.
3.2 W. A. Criswell and Baptism
Dr. W. A. Criswell, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dallas, Texas, tells a humorous story one time of a man who was coming down to be baptized. When he got almost into the water he stopped and said, “Wait a minute, Dr. Criswell, I forgot to take out my billfold.”
Dr. Criswell said before he could say another word he jerked him into the water, baptized him and said, “Thank you, my brother, all of my life I've wanted to baptize a man's billfold.”
Don’t you dare underestimate the good you can do if you’re generous with God’s possessions.
Sometimes greed and greedy people will run right over you life. Not everyone can succeed at the American dream. There are some righteous Naboths of the world whose lives and families get run over by the greed of Gordon Gekko’s of the world.
We must remember that the great action of justice this world has seen was produced by two false witnesses: “Now the chief priests and the whole council were seeking false testimony against Jesus that they might put him to death, 60 but they found none, though many false witnesses came forward. At last two came forward 61 and said, ‘This man said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to rebuild it in three days’” (Matthew 26:59–61).
Jesus walked over the same roads of injustice Naboth experienced.