Posts Tagged With: greed

1 Thessalonians 4: Basic Ethical Teachings

You should continue more and more to behave in the manner that you received from us as the appropriate way of behaving and of pleasing God. (4:1)

Paul only had a short time with the Thessalonians before he was chased out-of-town.  Still, he had discussed how they should behave as Christians.  For Paul, ethics were fundamental to the way of Christ.

In this chapter’s discussion of basic ethics and beliefs, it is interesting what Paul discusses: sexuality, money, and death.

This is God’s will, you see: he wants you to be holy, to keep well away from fornication.  Each of you should know how to control your own body in holiness and honor, not in the madness of lust like Gentiles who don’t know God. (4:3-5)

Now, about charitable concern for the whole family: I don’t really need to write to you, because you yourselves have been taught by God to show loving care for one another. . . . Work with your hands, just as we commanded you, so that you may behave in a way which outsiders will respect, and so that none of you may be in financial difficulties. (4:9, 11b-12)

Now concerning those who have fallen asleep . . . We don’t want you to have the kind of grief that other people do, people who don’t have any hope. (4:13)

Think about it: aren’t inappropriate thinking and behaviors related to sexuality, money, and death especially dangerous?  Each can significantly alter the course of one’s life.  A life lived in immorality and licentiousness degrades and endangers others and oneself.  Greed makes the turning of a buck the most important goal and people who stand in the way a target for removal.  Laziness is contagious and makes many other vices necessary. Unchristian thinking about death may be the least obvious, but consider how life is lived when one believes the grave is the end.  There is also a common element in these three: each makes one live in the here and now with no gratification delayed and no thought to the future.

One more thought: is western society not obsessed with sex, money, and a terminal view of death?  How important it still is for us to believe that contrasting views about these three topics must be fundamental teachings for young Christians.

What caught your eye in this chapter?

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1 Timothy 1: Beware of False Teachers!

Lurking in the background of most Pauline letters is some person, group, or philosophy that threatens the orthodox beliefs and practices of the Christianity that Paul was spreading.  This is very much true in the letters to Timothy.

As we start our two weeks with these letters, let’s look at a profile of these “false teachers.”

  • They teach “false doctrines” (1:3; 6:3)
  • They want to be “teachers of the law” (1:7)
  • They base their teachings on myths not facts and genealogies not stories (1:4; 4:7)
  • They come off as conceited (1:7; 6:4)
  • They are argumentative, produce controversy, and disrupt the peace in the church (1:4; 6:4; 2 Tim 2:23)
  • They were full of meaningless and foolish talk, showing that they don’t really know what he are talking about (1:6-7; 6:4; 2 Tim 2:23)
  • They encouraged asceticism (4:3)
  • They used their authority for financial gain (6:5)

When you put this all together, this sketch does not produce a definitive identity.  Clearly, like many of Paul’s opponents, they were tying the Jewish law to the way of Christ.  The asceticism and emphasis on myth and genealogy could come from Judaism or from an early version of Gnosticism that was becoming popular in Asia Minor especially.

Maybe the most important point about these false teachers is what Paul says today:

That sort of thing breeds disputes rather than the instruction in faith that comes from God.  The goal of such instruction is love — the love that comes from a pure heart, a good conscience, and sincere faith. (1:4-5)

This was a false teaching that emphasized the obscure and ineffectual while neglecting the most important elements of the way of Christ: faith, love, and purity.

What does a Christian leader look like today who is similar to these false teachers?

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2 Corinthians 9: A Vision of Abundance

“There is only so much” or “There is enough to go around” — which do you tend to believe?

“The early bird gets the worm” or “There is enough to share” — which one tends to describe how you see material resources?

“Get your’s while you can” or “It is a blessing to share” — which is it?

The American worldview certainly holds that there is a limited number of resources and we are in competition with each other to get those.  Of course, that belief shapes our perceptions and then we accept it to be unquestionably true.  And if we count our needs in millions and billions of dollars, maybe this view is true.  But when we think realistically, isn’t there more than enough to go around?

Walter Brueggemann, a favorite author of mine, calls this belief the “myth of scarcity.”  Americans seem to believe it, but so did many in Israel in the Old Testament.  That is why the rich got richer and the poor poorer and the prophets railed against social injustice.  The prophetic imagination of seers like Micah dared Israel (and us still today) to believe that we lived in abundance.

He will judge between many peoples
    and will settle disputes for strong nations far and wide.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
    and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
    nor will they train for war anymore.
Every man will sit under his own vine
    and under his own fig tree,
and no one will make them afraid,
    for the Lord Almighty has spoken. (Micah 4:3-4)

Hoarding is not necessary, because each can have his own.  Brother does not need to compete with brother because we both can have more than enough.  Jesus feed five thousand and there was still twelve baskets of bread to spare.

It is this same vision that guides Paul in today’s passage.

Someone who sows sparingly will reap sparingly as well.  Someone who sows generously will reap generously.  Everyone should do [give] as they have determined in their heart, not in a gloomy spirit or simply because they have to, since “God loves a cheerful giver.” And God is well able to lavish all his grace [gifts, including material resources] upon you, so that in every matter and in every way you will have enough of everything, and may be lavish in all your own good works, Just as the Bible says: “They spread their favors wide, they gave to the poor; their righteousness endures forever.” The one who supplies “seed to be sown and bread to eat” will supply and increase your seed and multiply the yield of your righteousness.  You will be enriched in every way in all single-hearted goodness, which is working through us to produce thanksgiving to God.  The service of this ministry will not only supply what God’s people so badly need, but it will also overflow with many thanksgivings to God. (9:6-12)

As the Corinthians get ready to receive Paul who will be looking for the contribution they had previously promised to give to the famine relief efforts in Jerusalem (9:1-5), Paul exhorts them to view this with a vision of abundance, not the myth of scarcity.  So too for us.  Anytime we are called upon to give to provide for those who are under-resourced at the time (notice that this passage is not talking about giving to meet the budget of the church) we will need the same perspective.  We can be “cheerful givers” because the anxiety of competing for the same dollar does not need to rule our hearts.  God is able to pour down blessings on us in such a lavish way that we will have everything we need (of course, “need” and “want” are two different words).  We can also be cheerful givers when we acknowledge the result of unselfish living: “thanksgiving to God.” The myth of scarcity makes us turn others into competition and weigh the perceived right others have to our money.  A vision of abundance makes it easier to melt our selfish hearts and uncurl our greedy fingers, and that is when praise and thanksgiving are born.  

Today is Labor Day in America, a day we celebrate the worker, the most important cog in the machine of capitalism.  Ironically, we celebrate the day by not working (and I am super cool with that!)  We work to provide for ourselves and for others.  Instead of turning this procurement of resources into a competition, can we dare to trust that God will provide all that is needed and that he might be using us to provide for others for a time?

When have you been surprised by how abundant God’s material blessings truly are?

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1 Corinthians 9: Ministry & Money

Jim Bakker.  Robert Tilton.  Creflo Dollar.  Kenneth & Gloria Copeland.  Joyce Meyer.

These are all ministers, well-known from their television presence, who have either been convicted of financial malfeasance in their ministry or have been investigated for such because of their lavish lifestyles.  I am afraid that there are whole sections of America that think of people like these first when they think of Christian ministers.  For these people, closely associated with church and church leaders is greed and exploitation of followers in order to line the pockets of those leaders.

Today, we learn that Paul was being accused of the same things.  We have been progressively piecing together a picture of Paul’s opponents in Corinth.  It would appear there is a group of leaders in the Corinthian church who have arrived only recently who are picking away at Paul’s authority in the church by making people question his credentials (chapters 1-4) and now his motives.  We can divine from this chapter that they are suggesting Paul is taking advantage of the Corinthians financially in order to benefit his own bottom-line.

Paul’s response is two-pronged.  First, he defends his right to support.  This is only fair and lawful.  Basic life practices show we owe people for what they do for us.  It is only right to pay those who minister.  For goodness sake, a farmer doesn’t even deprive an ox his due.  It is entirely inappropriate and unbiblical to pay a minister a subsistence wage for his or her work.  On the other end of the spectrum, we should also ask ourselves whether we can pay a minister so much that it actually begins to hurt him or her spiritually?

However, Paul’s second point was that if they remember correctly, he never even exercised his right to support in order not to give people like these accusers a foothold for scandal.  He supported himself through tent-making.  He willfully gave up his freedom so as to be as free from accusation as possible:

But we haven’t made use of this right.  Instead, we put up with everything , so as to place no obstacle in the way of the Messiah’s gospel. . . . I am indeed free from everyone; but I have enslaved myself to everyone, so that I can win all the more. (9:12, 19)

It is unconscionable to think we can pay a minister well below the average income in a church or community just because they are a minister.  Ministers don’t take oaths of poverty.  We are saying how much we value these noble people and their work with we pay them a pittance.  But in a culture where accusations and realities of ministerial greed do exist, we probably ought to consider whether it is wise to compensate a minister well above the median income of the church of a community or for a minister to live a lavish life.  We certainly owe a minister his or her due, but we also owe it to Christ to do whatever we can to “win all the more” and in America that means money is always part of the equation.

 What do you think?

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Luke 12: Beware of All Greed!

I think there maybe no more timely verses for this world than these from today’s reading:

Watch out and beware of all greed!  Your life doesn’t consist of the sum total of your possessions. . . . So don’t go hunting about for what to eat or what to drink, and don’t be anxious.  The nations of the world go searching for all that stuff, and your father knows you need it.  This is what you should search for: God’s kingdom!  Then all the rest will be given you as well. (12:15, 29-32)

I don’t know a modern American Christian for whom greed and anxiety over money is not a temptation at least potentially.  That is what comes when you live in a culture focused on money and materialism.

I don’t think there are any great secrets to conquering greed, at least not in our context (maybe you know one?).  I only conclude that with prayer and accountability we have to raise this struggle to the conscious level and fight it aggressively.  Maybe we ask ourselves why we are purchasing what we do.  Maybe we regularly deny ourselves certain intended purchases and extravagances.  I know spending time in environments far less affluent helps considerably.  So too does the practice of sacrificial giving to others.  Another big help is what Jesus says here.  Get busy trying to advance God’s kingdom and little by little, over a lifetime maybe, the trinkets of this world become less attractive.  At least that is what I am telling myself.

How do you fight greed, anxiety about money, and the temptation to be materialistic?

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Matthew 19: Innocent Like Children

This chapter has an interesting pairing of stories.  One deals with sex and the other with money.  The Pharisees ask Jesus about marriage, divorce and sexuality.  Then a rich young man wants to know how to inherit eternal life and the conversation quickly turns to his wealth.

If there are any two topics that so obsess the modern American mind they would have to be sex and money.  Both are everywhere and behind many a motivation, temptation and scandal.  We have even found ways to combine the two in this culture.  What I am seeing today is that it may not have been a great deal different in ancient Palestine either.

It is interesting how many times this pairing shows up elsewhere in Scripture too.  Jacob was as intent on stealing a birthright from his brother as he was to marry Rachel.  The two biggest topics in the introduction to Proverbs (chapters 1-9) — a book likely written to young men — were how to handle sex and money.  In the Pastoral Epistles, books written to give instructions on godly leaders, Paul has to discuss sexuality and money in each.  In Revelation, the whore of Babylon (that is, Rome) is sexually immoral and financially unjust and exploitive.  The examples could go on.

Don’t get me wrong, the issue is neither sex nor money, as if either is inherently evil.  The problems are immorality and greed, respectively.  Cover to cover in the Bible we find condemnations of these vices.

How do kingdom-people relate to both of these topics?  I believe the answer comes sandwiched between these two stories:

Then children were brought to Jesus for him to lay his hands on them and pray.  The disciples spoke sternly to them.  But Jesus said, “Let the children come to me!  Don’t stop them!  They are the sort the kingdom of heaven belongs to!”  And he laid his hands on them. (18:13-15)

Kingdom-people are child-like.  We saw that point in the last chapter too (18:3-5) and Jesus’ point there was to become humble like children.  Here the point seems to be innocence and focus.  Children still live in that wonderfully naive world of purity, at least ideally.  An awareness of sexuality and money — and with that awareness the accompanying temptation to misuse each — is still in the future.  Much like Jesus’ instructions to not be focused on sex, like a eunuch could not be (19:11-12), and like the disciples who were willing to leave all material possessions behind to follow Jesus (19:27), children are able to focus with abandon on the task before them.

Likewise, kingdom-people have a task that takes focus.  There is a world that needs them. They cannot be taken off-task by the pursuit of sexual fulfillment or the love of money.  They operate by faith knowing that God will take care of their needs, yes, even these needs.

What struck a nerve with you in this chapter?

Categories: Matthew | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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