This post on greed is part of a series about living as Salt and Light, based on the Sermon on the Mount. See other posts in the series in How to be a Light in the World.
Greed has been a problem for humans since the beginning. Remember the scene where Adam and Eve first sinned?
And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.
We often think of greed as a desire for more money, but we can also be greedy for things like power, possessions, and passion. Greed is when you want something more than God, you want it so bad that you are willing to sin to get it. In the case of Adam and Eve, they desired to be more like God, and they thought they would achieve their goal by disobeying Him.
Like Adam and Eve, our greed today can often be rooted in the desire to become more like God. We want the glory that is owed to Him, and so we take that which is not ours.
The sad truth, of course, is that if we want to be more like God then we should obey Him and follow His ways. Disobedience, as Adam and Eve found, only brings us further from God. Giving Him the glory, on the other hand, actually makes us more like Him.
So when it comes to greed, we should resist it by becoming servants and working for the good of others.
Tale as Old as Time
The Bible tells many stories, but one particular story seems to play out over and over again. God blesses someone with power and they are called to serve their people, but instead, they serve themselves and their self-glorification ultimately lead to their destruction.
Samson pursued his own lusts instead of serving the people, King Solomon’s heart turned away from God because of his many wives and great wealth, Nebuchadnezzar boasted of his greatness many times over before being humbled and turned into a beast.
There were even some leaders who did a pretty good job, but ultimately still fell short of God’s calling for leaders.
But then, Jesus came onto the scene and turned the old story upside down. He understood that his role as a leader was to care for and serve his people, and he did it perfectly. They were like lost sheep, and they needed him to be their shepherd.
Jesus’s Model of Leadership
During the Last Supper, Jesus gives his disciples a new model of leadership:
But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.
Jesus starts by identifying the world’s most popular remake: people gain power so they can build more power for themselves and take advantage of others. But then, he changes the script and defines servants as the greatest leaders.
Instead of taking advantage of people to get what we want, we are called to give what we already have to benefit others. If you want to be great, then you must become a servant. As you will see, this ties in closely with what Jesus taught on the sermon on the mount about greed and eternal treasure.
Building Treasures in Heaven
During the sermon on the mount, Jesus speaks directly to greed and provides a better alternative:
Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
“The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!
“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”
The greedy person who desires glory works to build treasures for themselves. The problem with these treasures is their temporary nature – they cannot last long. The wealthiest person alive still won’t live much more than 80 or 90 years, and their wealth can be taken away long before death.
Instead, if you want to become great, then “you must be a servant.” Instead of making money or power or fame your master, you must serve God and imitate his son.
The amazing thing is, when you put others first, God Himself will make you great. This is a treasure far more valuable and eternal than silver or gold, power or fame.
This is the pattern of leadership and service that the apostle Paul describes:
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Jesus humbled himself more than any other, and because of that, God has exalted him above any other. In the same way, when we humble ourselves and serve others, God will also exalt us.
The Kingdom of God operates very differently than the kingdom of this world. As believers we are called to demonstrate the Kingdom of God to the world – doing so makes us a light in dark places.
How to be a Light in the Darkness
Selfish leadership has shaped much of our history, and so selfless leadership shines brightly. You may have noticed how, right in between Jesus’s teaching on greed, he said “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!”
At first, I found this a bit confusing, but a bit of research revealed that in Jewish literature, the eye is equivalent to the heart. Eyes are the lens we view the world through, and they are often the first thing people notice about us. If our eyes are light, then people can’t help but notice the difference.
If you want to resist greed, serve others, and be a light in dark places, here are some practical steps you can take:
Start with the One Thing: If you want to imitate the servant leadership model of Jesus, then it really starts with one thing. If you spend your time at his feet, if you dwell in his presence, then he changes you and enables you to become more like him. In the same way that an amazing meal makes junk food less attractive, time with God makes greed unappealing and gives you the desire to put others first.
Give Generously: I’ve talked about this already as part of the Light in the World Series, but a great way to avoid greed is to give generously. When you willingly give your time, talent, and treasure to others, it becomes much harder to actually be greedy. It’s good for the community, it puts others first, and it is an investment in eternal treasure.
Focus on eternity: The glory of today can be tempting – people tend to crave that which is instantly available. But Jesus reminds us that treasures of today are, effectively, worthless. They are short lived and incomparable to to treasures in heaven. When your eyes focus on the true prize, it becomes easier to ignore the imitation prizes that aren’t actually that great.
Volunteer your time: There’s a decent chance I’m more greedy with my time than with my money. When people ask for help, it seems to always be at an inconvenient time. And yet, volunteering your time to help others is another practical way to remind yourself that the world isn’t about you. It puts others first, gives you a closer glimpse at the challenges they face, and can actually make a difference.
Celebrate the Success of Others: I often hear of leaders who take credit for successes in the business world when the credit really belongs to those who work for them. Even worse, some leaders will squash any idea that is not their own. Great servant leaders, however, do not crave praise. Instead, they celebrate the work of their people and lift them up when they do well. This type of leadership will encourage your team to do even greater work, and at the end of the day, you’ll be viewed as a greater leader.
Give God the Glory: I mentioned Nebuchadnezzar’s fall from grace earlier in this post. The story occurs in Daniel 4, and Nebuchadnezzar loses his mind and his kingdom because he refuses to give God the glory. Instead, the king keeps glorifying his own work. If you want to be a leader who serves others, then you must remember where your power comes from. Everything is from God, and when we glorify Him and thank Him for it, serving others becomes much more natural.
Jesus calls us to be a light that shines in the darkness. In a world that is shadowed in greed and pride, putting others first and living generously with your time, talent, and treasure will brighten the lives of everyone you encounter.
How have you seen greed have a negative impact in your work, community, or family? How and where have you seen the benefits of leaders putting others first?