“He who dies with the most toys wins.” You may have read that on a bumper sticker at some point. That could be the slogan for avarice. Avarice (a word we don’t really use much anymore) means “excessive, unbridled desire.”
There are three closely related words we want to talk about …
- Greed – an inordinate desire for more and more
- Covetousness – desire for things you do not have
- Avarice – a hoarding of things we have but do not need
Notice that there’s a common denominator among these three words: selfishness.
Perhaps you’ve seen the prime time game show on NBC, Deal or No Deal. I have only watched portions of it a couple times. Interestingly, it seems to me, that greed is what keeps contestants from leaving with a lot of money. Contestants appear to enter the game with the goal of winning a million dollars (or as close to that as possible). The goal should be to take and run with the best deal you can get. But it’s greed that keeps contestants playing, wanting to win more and more money. Fact is, an offer of $130,000 doesn’t sound like enough when there are so many huge numbers still on the board. But that amount does seem big when the contestant who once rejected that amount leaves with $5 because she was greedy!
- How much is enough?
- Have you recently wanted more than you needed?
- Was there something you wanted mainly because someone else had it?
- Are you hoarding (not sharing) things that you don’t need?
Read Luke 12.13-21. Jesus says, “Don’t be greedy for what you don’t have. Real life is not measured by how much we own,” and “a person is a fool to store up earthly wealth but not have a rich relationship with God” (Luke 12.15, 21).
“The truth is this: What we can grasp (possessions) will never make us rich toward God, and what can make us rich toward God cannot be grasped.” (Dunnam & Reisman)
3 kinds of the goods of the world …
- Those that are necessary (food, clothing, shelter)
- Those that are useful (tools, books, things that make us comfortable, etc)
- Those that are extra (luxuries)
There is nothing wrong with things/possessions in and of themselves. Money itself is not evil, but our love of money is (see 1 Timothy 6.10). It’s about our relationship with those possessions. It’s a question of ownership: Do we possess what we own or does what we own possess us?
“Having too much can lead us to pride and more covetousness. More dangerous than anything, it can divert us from reliance on God.” (Dunnam & Reisman)
Jesus once remarked, “it is very hard for a rich person to get into the Kingdom of Heaven … it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God!” (Matthew 19.23-24).
That sounds pretty tough, doesn’t it? Jesus made that statement after an encounter with a young guy who apparently had a lot of possessions. The guy approached Jesus, asking him, “what good things must I do to have eternal life?” Jesus assured him that he can receive eternal life by keeping the commandments. However, the young man wasn’t satisfied so he pressed the issue a bit further, asking, “I’ve obeyed all these commandments. What else must I do?”
Jesus’ response may surprise us: “If you want to be perfect, go and sell all you have and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
Wow. That’s tough stuff! The young man, perhaps understandably, wasn’t happy. The Scriptures say, “he went sadly away because he had many possessions.”
Now, I don’t think Jesus is necessarily giving a universal teaching here: Sell everything you own! No, but I do think Jesus told him to sell his possessions because his possessions owned him!
And it sounds like something Jesus would say to you and me, if our possessions possess us: Get rid of it. Use it for good. Don’t hoard it all on yourself! Share it with others!
That seems to be how the earliest community of Christ-followers lived: “And all the believers met together constantly and shared everything they had. They sold their possessions and shared the proceeds with those in need.” (Acts 2.44-45)
“There is only one way to overcome our coldheartedness: to give ourselves to Jesus so completely that we will begin to give our resources to others.” (Dunnam & Reisman)
Dear Jesus, you spent so much time talking about money and possessions. There must have been a good reason! Help us to maintain a right attitude toward our stuff (which is really stuff that comes from you). Help us to see our money and possessions as resources to make a difference in our world rather than as things to possess, own, keep, and hoard. Give us hearts of gratitude, hearts that love to share with others, and protect our hearts from becoming cold! Amen.
For Reflection …
Read Matthew 19.16-24. What is Jesus saying to you about your money and possessions? Is there anything that possesses you? Is there anything you can give away that would benefit your community?
Read 1 John 3.11-17. Dunnam and Reisman write, “Refusing to use our world’s goods to meet the needs of another is the same as Cain murdering his brother, and allowing hatred to grow for any sister or brother.” Do you agree with this connection? Why or why not?
Read James 4.1-2. What kinds of things are fighting/quarrelling for? What’s driving you to fight for them?
Feel free to respond to any of these questions by clicking on “comments” just below this post.
And here’s the link to Joleen’s sermon on Avarice.