Jesus was always turning circumstances into opportunities to reveal Himself further and teach the ways of His Father. Just such an occasion arose one day as recorded in Luke 12 when someone in the crowd said this to Him: “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me” (12:13). This was a request for Jesus to intervene in a family dispute about money. Jesus responded by raising the question as to what his role was in relationship to this situation: “Man, who appointed Me a judge or arbitrator over you?” (12:14). This is a window into the mission that Jesus came to carry out. Jesus did not come to govern in these affairs, but to be the solution for the hearts behind why governing in this world is so impossible. True to His mission Jesus gets to the heart of the issue underlying the dispute: “Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions” (12:15). Jesus could see the heart of the man that asked for His intervention and knew that it was full of greed.
The picture that Scripture paints of greed is not pretty. Greed is an insatiable desire to have more, it comes with a spirit of discontent about what God has already given. A greedy man is like a man who is thirsty and so he drinks salt water and his thirst is more, so he continually drinks salt water until he dies. Greed is included in the vice list of Romans 1 that is the result of suppressing God’s truth (Romans 1:29). According to Colossians 3:5 greed amounts to idolatry. That is because it always involves putting money or things before God Himself. According to 2 Corinthians 9:5 greed is at the root of why believers may be less generous than they could be for the cause of the gospel. Where there is sexual immorality there is greed: “…and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness” (Ephesians 4:19); “But immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints” (Ephesians 5:3). One of the hallmarks of false teachers is this sin of greed: :”But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. 2 Many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned; 3 and in their greed they will exploit you with false words; their judgment from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep” (2 Peter 2:1-3). Greed was present when Satan first rebelled against God and greed was present when Adam and Eve sinned in the garden of Eden.
According to Jesus in Luke 12:15 there are many kinds of greed: “Every form of greed.” The human sinful heart is not stingy when it comes to this sin of greed. Our hearts can be greedy over money, physical possessions, popularity, recognition, position and perhaps an often over looked one is greed over our time. The only solution for this ever present danger of being greedy is to be dead to the greed by being alive in Jesus Christ through faith in Him: “Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry” (Colossians 3:5). If you have never acknowledged you have sinned against God and there is no way you can earn your way to heaven then you are not in Christ, which means you do not have a true solution for the greed in your heart. If you will turn from your sin and trust in Jesus who died in your place to (among the many other sins) atone for your sin of greed, you will also be able to consider yourself to be dead to the sin of greed because you are in fact dead to it and alive unto Christ.
If you are already dead to greed and alive to God in Christ through faith in Jesus then you can by the power of God in your life have the posture toward greed that Jesus counsels us to have in Luke 12:15. You are to “beware and by on your guard against every form of greed.” Jesus is saying you have to be on your guard for greed. We are to be on the guard against greed not like an unbreached city with high walls around it, but like a city that has enemies within already. Our hearts are like cities that already have the potential for a takeover of greed, but we must guard ourselves against it. Jesus makes this exact point in Mark 7:21-22 when He says this: “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, 22 deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness.”
Why ought we constantly be on the guard for greed? Because it is in our hearts, but also because according to Jesus “not even when one has an abundance does life consist of his possessions” (12:15). Greed shows up in the rich and the poor and all who are in between. The implication here is that someone doesn’t have many possessions, but is greedy for them. Jesus counsels such a person, that even if they had many possessions their life would still not consist of possessions, because life is not about that. That life does not consist of possessions should be an obvious point. What does one’s life mean here? According to J. C. Ryle Jesus means this: “A man’s true interest,—the real end and object of man’s being—the purpose for which God made him, and gave him breath.” What makes life matter? Not possessions. What makes life worth living? Not possessions. What should give us inspiration? Not possessions. What should we be thinking about primarily? Not possessions. What will we take into eternity? Not possessions. So if life does not consist with possessions what does life consist of? God!
Next week will will consider a parable that Jesus gave about greed. Maybe you would have to say that your life has really been about possessions more than anything else. It is possible to recognize that and try to start living for relationships and good causes. On one level that would certainly be an improvement. But until we can recognize that life does not consist of an abundance of possessions but of knowing and loving and enjoying God in Christ we will simply turn from one idolatry (possessions) to another (relationships and good causes etc.). When by God’s grace we recognize that life consists of knowing, loving and enjoying God, we can worship God in healthy relationships and by carrying out good causes. Beware and be on your guard against every form of greed, life is about God not things.