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I imagine that most people would have little trouble believing that greed for unjust gain is wrong. Who wouldn’t acknowledge, after all, that the employee who wants more money and, in order to get it, steals from his or her company—or worse, murders someone—deserves to be arrested and to serve time in prison? I don’t know of anyone who wouldn’t acknowledge this. The Bible’s teaching about the sinfulness of greed for unjust gain is in keeping with the way that most reasonable people would look at the world in which we live today.
The Bible’s point, however, is not simply that greed for unjust gain deserves earthly punishment. The Bible’s point is that it is rebellion against God (see Jer. 6:13; 8:10; 1 Tim. 3:8) and therefore merits His eternal punishment, such as can be forgiven only in and through the blood of Christ. When we are greedy for dishonest gain, we put ourselves in the place of God first by determining the things that we should have and second by establishing the standards we will use to get them. But what is more, when we are greedy for dishonest gain, we destroy ourselves (Prov. 1:19) as well as those who are closest to us (Prov. 15:27), and thus we wreak havoc in every possible way.
But the bigger problem in the church may well be with greed for just gain. In other words, the reason that most of us believe that the employee who steals from his or her employer is wrong may have more to do with the dishonest means that the employee uses and less to do with the greed that leads to the dishonesty. Surely in our list of commonly tolerated sins, greed belongs near the top.
We need to remember that the Bible speaks just as harshly about greed for honest gain as it does about greed for dishonest gain. In 1 Corinthians 6:10, for instance, Paul includes greed in his catalog of sins that will keep us from inheriting the kingdom of God. In 2 Peter 2:2–3, Peter links greed with sensuality and blasphemy. And in Psalm 10:3, the psalmist even goes so far as to say that “the one greedy for gain curses and renounces the Lord.”
But perhaps the clearest teaching on the dangers of greed comes from the mouth of our Lord Jesus Himself in Luke 12. Here Jesus defines greed as “laying up treasure” for oneself and not being rich toward God (v. 21) and then goes on to warn us that “where [our] treasure is, there will [our] heart be also” (v. 34). His point is that greed, all by itself, whether justly or unjustly expressed, is an indication that our hearts are set on this world rather than on God. If that remains true for us over the entire course of our lives, we will find ourselves among those who at the last day call for the mountains to fall on us to shield us from the presence of the Lord.