Saturday, July 12, 2008

Greed, Envy and Jealousy


“Greed is the selfish desire for or pursuit of money, wealth, power, food, or other possessions, especially when this denies the same goods to others.” (from Wikipedia)

Greed’s two sisters are envy and jealousy. Together, they form a diabolical trinity that sneaks their way into the heart of a person, unnoticed at first, weaving and twisting their toxic vines around the heart, poisoning the soul.

Where does greed come from? “But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” (James 3:14-18 ESV)

It was greed that germinated in Lucifer’s heart. He was one of the most beautiful creatures in heaven, but he wanted more. Instead of being thankful for all God had given him, he wanted what he didn’t have and tried to take it by force. He manipulated other angelic beings with his lies and corrupted, twisted thinking and gained allies to join him in his diabolical attempt to gain power and control over God himself! Crashing headlong up against a holy God sent him reeling, banished from heaven forever, but still power hungry in his temporary dominion of earth. Since then he has taken great delight in reproducing his vile nature in the hearts and minds of people who listen to his lies instead of trusting God’s promises.

Greedy people are often blinded to the truth about themselves. They rationalize their actions when they take what belongs to others by saying, “Well, I don’t have what you have, so I’m going to take yours.” They may even delude themselves into thinking they are serving God with the bounty they have taken from others. But God is not pleased. Jesus spoke harshly to religious people who appeared to be generous and merciful on the outside, but were inwardly “full of greed and self-indulgence.” (Matthew 23:23-26 ESV)

What does greed look like? It often hides in the heart of a person, unnoticed until the greedy person is squeezed by disappointments in life; but sometimes it is overtly evident in the selfish child who grows into an envious, greedy adult. Here are some components of the multifaceted face of greed:

· Narcissism—I love myself more than I care about your well-being, and even though I say I care about you, what I want is really more important.

· Arrogance--I am always right, even when others say I’m wrong for taking what belongs to you. I’m digging in my heels and refuse to consider anyone else’s opinion, and I’m shutting my ears to what God has to say.

· Entitlement--I deserve to have what you have, so I’ll just take yours without any regard for your welfare or other people’s needs.

· Envy and Jealousy—My good deeds and hard work have gone unnoticed while people applaud you. I want what you have so people will like me more. I will not rest until I have rendered you powerless, invisible, discredited and stripped of everything that I want for myself.

· Control—You are confident and assertive while I am needy and afraid. When I take from you, it makes me feel “large and in charge.” When I have it all and you are left with nothing, I may be able to control you by my selective, strings-attached generosity.

· Judgmental and punitive attitude--You hurt me so I will punish you by taking whatever will hurt you the most. Just when you think it’s over, I’ll come back to take more so you will suffer like you’ve caused me to suffer.

· Selfishness—I want what I want when I want it, even if it means you will go without. I will destroy you if you get in my way.

What is the spiritual condition of a greedy person? It is very hard for a greedy person to trust that God is good. Regardless of God’s blessings in their lives, they wonder if He is holding out on them. It’s the same lie Eve believed when she was living in paradise, surrounded by everything she needed and desired, but still wondering if there was more. When a person rationalizes that God might not come through for them, they decide to take charge of their own life and become a god unto themselves.

When someone values anything more than God, scripture calls it idolatry. The twisted logic of a greedy “religious” person says that what they are coveting and taking from others is for God’s work in the kingdom; therefore it is justified. Greedily taking from others to further the cause of their own “ministry” becomes the idol that separates them from worshiping the true God who requires mercy and justice instead of tainted offerings that have been stolen from others.

The apostle Peter spoke about people whose “hearts are trained in greed” (2 Peter 2:14-22), calling them “waterless springs and mists driven by a storm” who promise people freedom, not realizing they are themselves enslaved. “For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved.” (verse19)

Are you a “waterless spring?” Do you appear to have God’s life in you (living water) as you engage in religious rhetoric and humanitarian good deeds, but in reality you are as dry as dead men’s bones because of your greed and envy and jealousy?

If you have found your own reflection in the tri-fold mirror of greed, envy, and jealousy, what should you do? You’ve already taken the first step toward healing by opening your eyes and admitting your brokenness. God has great compassion and mercy for those who run into his open arms for forgiveness. He despises an arrogant, stubborn spirit, but embraces a repentant heart.

The next step in true repentance is to turn and go in another direction. In Colossians 3, Paul advises us to put the idolatries of our hearts behind us and pursue “compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience” (v. 12), and most importantly, to allow God’s self-sacrificing love (v. 14) to flow through us.

As you pursue the path of righteousness, you may still occasionally hear the voice of the enemy whispering familiar lies in your ear, trying to get you off course. “She’s got stuff that you don’t have . . . you deserve better . . . people love her more than you . . . maybe God is holding out on you . . . you should take matters into your own hands and take what should be yours.” When those lies assault your ears and invade your heart, don’t let them take root. Take the whole rotten mess to your Father and let Him replace your fears with His truth. To the extent that you keep running toward Him with a tender heart that seeks truth, the enemy’s lies will lose their potency.

If you harden your heart and continue to embrace evil, God will most definitely deal with you. Sometimes He relentlessly pursues his wayward children and sometimes He leaves them to their own devices until the consequences of their actions send them running back to Him. For you, dear one who is struggling with greed and envy, God desires to rescue your heart from the clutches of the evil one. If you’ll just risk standing naked in the presence of holy, He will redeem and transform your heart and mind through the power of His incredible love. What will your choice be?

Brenda Branson, Copyright © 2008, All Rights Reserved

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