What Is Greed?
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about a Christian’s proper relationship to material wealth – especially in terms of what’s appropriate for us to desire and what’s not. The difficulty comes in trying to draw lines. When do our desires become excessive? How do we know when we’re pursuing the things of this world above the kingdom of God? Where does ambition stop and greed begin?
Dictionary.com states that greed is “excessive or rapacious desire, especially for wealth or possessions”. In other words, greed is when you’d extort, rip off, and even steal to get more money. Obviously, that would violate Scripture and Jesus’ command to love our neighbors.
On the other hand, WordNet, a project at Princeton University, defines greed as an “excessive desire to acquire or possess more (especially more material wealth) than one needs or deserves”. That’s a much more difficult definition to wrestle with, isn’t it? Where do we set our level of “need” or of what we “deserve”? And when does a desire to acquire more than that level become “excessive”?
I’ve talked before about needs versus wants. We act like many things are needs when they’re actually just wants. Our needs are very few: food and water, clothing, and shelter and warmth depending on your local climate. In the strictest sense, that’s all we truly need.
And within each of those categories there’s a level beyond which the need becomes a want. We only need food that’s edible and enough to keep us going. We only need clean water. We only need enough shelter and warmth to protect us from the elements and provide a place to rest. And even that one is debatable to some extent.
Checking the dictionary is all fine and well, but I think it’s more helpful to see what the Bible says about greed if we’re trying to look at this from a Christian perspective. Most of what I read online tends to point at the Christian definition of greed as the stop-at-nothing-to-get-more style. I certainly think that’s...