A Sermon from Jason Dees
1776 was obviously a big year in our Nation’s History. Most of us know that on July 4, 1776 delegates to what was called the Continental Congress signed the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia. You can still go of course to Independence Hall where the declaration was signed and I encourage anyone here to take such a trip. But on that day the United States of America was born, we became a sovereign country, independent of England, left to establish our own destiny. Well just 4 months before, another landmark event happened, that would largely shape American culture to this day.
And that was the publication of this book on March 9, 1776. It is “The Wealth of Nations” and it was written by a Scotsman named Adam Smith and from it flowed the very basic essentials of what has become American Capitalism.
Commenting on this Jay Richards wrote in his 2009 book, Money, Greed, and God
“Over two hundred years ago, the founder of modern economics, Adam Smith, said, “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.” That’s not a repugnant comment, but it’s not morally uplifting, either. More recently, the atheist Ayn Rand, revered by millions as the greatest defender of capitalism, seemed to take Smith’s reasoning to the extreme. She claimed that greed—which she called a virtue—is the basis for a free economy. Christian altruism, in contrast, is capitalism’s bitter enemy.”
One of Ayn Rand’s disciples Ivan Boesky told graduates at the University of California at Berkeley in a commencement speech: “Greed is all right, by the way…I think greed is healthy. You can be greedy and still feel good about yourself.”
So I think all of this brings up a great question that we need to think through. America has been the greatest generator of wealth that the world has ever known, and in generating that wealth Americans are able to do amazing things, but has that wealth been generated on the basis of greed? Is western capitalism a flawed system? Because Biblically it is pretty obvious that not only is greed not a good thing like Boesky said, it is sinful, a sin that surely leads to death.
Of all the major categories of sin greed is one that is very difficult to define, and maybe one that is even harder to see. So for example, if you are guilty of the sin of adultery for example, it’s not hidden. You know you are committing that sin, now you may have justifiedthat sin, but you are also certainly aware of the sin. It is the same thing with theft, or dishonesty, and many other sin, but greed is one of those sins that is pretty good at hiding.
Jesus actually warns about this. In Matthew 6 in his Sermon on the Mounthe says beginning in verse 19 and this is a pretty famous text…
19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Now in I want to skip verses 22 and 23 for now, and in verse 24 we see another famous text
24 “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.
So obviously both of these verses are about money, about greed, about generosity… But in the middle of those two section sin verses 22 and 23 we read this.
22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, 23 but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!
Now what is Jesus saying there? He is saying that greed is hard to see. It is a sin that is difficult to perceive. Many eyes are bad, many eyes are dark when it comes to seeing Greed.
I have been a pastor for nearly 10 years now. And many times through the years I have had people come to me and confess various sins. But no one has come to me to confess that they were greedy. It’s hard to see, our eyes are blind to it.
So what we are going to do today is to look at a story from the scripture where we see a man, who is greedy, who tries to hide it, and this greed ends up costing him and his community very dearly.
But first of all, what is greed? And how do you know if it is greed or just good ole fashioned American capitalism? Well one definition of greed is this: excessive or reprehensible desire to acquire; covetousness. See, this is why capitalism by itself is not greed, or is not necessarily based on greed, because there is a right desire to acquire, let me say that again, there is a right desire to acquire… Evangelicals have rightly been critical of Health and Wealth preachers and we have distanced ourselves again rightly from that type of theology, a theology which basically says at its root, use God to gain what you really want in life which is comfort, wealth, and good health.
But we should also be careful to not slip so far into the other extreme that we ignore the fact that we do see blessing in the Bible… The Bible urges us to be shrewd and hard working. The parable of the talents comes to mind when the master calls the servant who buried his talent wicked and lazy. There is a right desire, there is an appropriate desire to acquire that I hope we all have…
People become greedy when they can only think of themselves and when they lose regard for the community at large. It is ultimately selfishness, and it is the root of covetousness – which is desiring to take that which is not yours. Which again is a hidden sin. Paul even says in Romans 7, “I would not have known covetousness without the law”.
In the ancient world, the community was everything to people, even tied to the understanding of good and evil, righteousness and unrighteousness. And in those days the good man was the one who was willing to sacrifice himself for the sake of the community, while the evil man, the unrighteous man, was willing to sacrifice the community for the sake of himself. And I believe that such is the case with greed. Are you willing to sacrifice the community, the larger good for the sake of self? Is the community suffering, or is the community prospering because of you and your contribution?
We are going to pick up today in the book of Joshua chapter 7. And Joshua 7 comes right after of course Joshua 6 which is one of the great chapters in the all of the Bible, and this tells the story of one of the great moments in the history of Israel when the walls of Jericho fell. Probably most of you know this story but for those of you who are new to church and new to the Bible let me recap. Israel was going home, they were going back to the land that was promised to them by God, but they hadn’t been there in more than 400 years, and other people had moved in and settled in the land and the people of Israel were coming back and God had promised them the land. So basically the first city that they came to was a great fortified city called Jericho, and God told a man named Joshua who was the leader of the people that he had delivered the city into his hands.
But here is what Joshua had to do: God told him to tell the people to march around the city for six days, and then on the seventh day all of the people of Israel were called to walk around the city seven times and then the priests of God were told to blow their horns and the people of Israel were told to raise up a shout. And God told Joshua that if they did this the walls of the city would fall down and Jericho would be defeated.
Now think about explaining that to the people if you are Joshua… “How are we going to defeat Jericho, Joshua?” , “Well we are going to walk around the city and then blow horns and shout.” People must have thought that he was out of his mind, I am sure people were scared out of their minds, but the people took that step, they walked out their faith and for six days they walked around the city, and then on the 7thday they walked around the city 7 times and they blew their horns and they raised up a shout for God, and sure enough the walls of Jericho came falling down and God delivered the city into their hands… One of the most amazing moments in the history of the world… Can you imagine, and can you imagine the incredible confidence that that gave the people of God…
So you can imagine for these people who had been wandering in the wilderness for 40 years how good this felt, they had just seen the Jordan River stop flowing so they could cross on dry ground and now they had defeated Jericho. I mean think about it… Who can stop me now? You know? I just shouted and that city fell…
So we read in Joshua 6:27 - 27 “So the Lord was with Joshua, and his fame was in all the land.”
Now when God was telling Joshua that Jericho would be delivered into his hands, he told him that everything in the city was supposed to be destroyed… Everything in the city except for the silver and the gold, and every vessel of bronze and iron. Those were considered holy to the Lord and they were devoted to the Lord’s treasury…
So keep that in mind…
So God’s favor was with Joshua, his fame was throughout all of the land, but verse 1 of chapter
7:1 “But the people of Israel broke faith in regard to the devoted things, for Achan the son of Carmi, son of Zabdi, son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took some of the devoted things. And the anger of the Lord burned against the people of Israel.”
Now something I want you to see here is the community ideal of the people of Israel.
The text says the people of Israel broke faith in regard to the devoted things. For this one guy, in one family, in one clan, in one tribe took some of the devoted things, the people, all of the people broke faith with God…And the anger of God burned against Achan… No, the anger of God burned against this WHOLE PEOPLE.
And this is something that is very difficult for individualist Americans to understand but something that is very real… Whether or not we want to admit that we are connected, we are connected, your actions, your decisions they not only effect you, they effect everyone. Not too long ago, we celebrated Martin Luther King and the work that he did to bring about Civil Rights in this country. And I have always admired King and I think just his awareness of a very difficult situation. Well there is one great moment in King’s I have a dreamspeech where he turns to address the fact that there were white people, white people that weren’t personally facing the injustices of segregation, and they had come to the March on Washington, And King said of them,“They have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. And they have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom.” And he was right. Where some feel injustice we all feel injustice… Where some feel pain, we all feel pain.Where some sin, where some are lazy, where some are gluttonous, where some are greedy we all feel that.
You know why your houses aren’t as valuable as they once were? Greed. It wasn’t your greed, but it was somebody’s greed, many people’s greed who you have never met, who have never been to Alabama, and you are feeling it.You know why the stock market is so volatile? Because bondmen know how to play tricks with the market to make millions and millions for themselves, with little to no regard for the shareholder. Greed.
You don’t even know who these people are… Yet they effect your life…
Don’t you see where there is injustice somewhere there is injustice everywhere…
Sin affects the whole tribe, the sin of one can affect the whole tribe and that was true then, and it is true now…
So the people of Israel had had this amazing victory over the great and fortified city of Jericho.
The next city in their conquest was a small city called Ai. A nothing city, it didn’t even have walls, but like any good general Joshua had spies go out and scout the attack and when they came back they told Ai, the men are few. Don’t worry about sending very many men down there, they are few, only send 3,000. And after this amazing victory at Jericho where it doesn’t seem that Israel lost any lives, we read this account. Verse 4 of chapter 7:
4 So about three thousand men went up there from the people. And they fled before the men of Ai, 5 and the men of Ai killed about thirty-six of their men and chased them before the gate as far as Shebarim and struck them at the descent. And the hearts of the people melted and became as water.
So Joshua and all of the people with him were distraught and wondering what must have happened.I mean Rivers were just stopping for us, we just shouted and a whole city fell down, and now we can’t even beat little Ai, now Ai is defeating us…And so Joshua went before the Lord and God told him in verse 11…
11 Israel has sinned; they have transgressed my covenant that I commanded them; they have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen and lied and put them among their own belongings. 12 Therefore the people of Israel cannot stand before their enemies. They turn their backs before their enemies, because they have become devoted for destruction. I will be with you no more, unless you destroy the devoted things from among you.
And so I love verse 16…
16 So Joshua rose early in the morning Just a little side note, a good leader doesn’t wait around to do hard things, he goes and he takes care of it. And this is exactly what Joshua did, he didn’t wait around, he went after this situation… And so what he is going to do here is go through every tribe in all of Israel…
And so heand brought Israel near tribe by tribe, and the tribe of Judah was taken. 17 And he brought near the clans of Judah, and the clan of the Zerahites was taken. And he brought near the clan of the Zerahites man by man, and Zabdi was taken.
So you see what is happening here, Joshua is surveying the whole nation and God is leading him to Achan… And just think about this from Achan’s perspective, because he knows what is going down, he knows what he has done, and he is just hoping, in fact he is praying that he doesn’t get caught. You ever been there? Where you have done something and you know it is wrong, but you have been able to kind of justify it, you have been able to say it isn’t that big of a deal… And now someone is looking. Now you think somebody might know and you are terrified.
Let me tell you something: Sin has a good way of hiding, of crouching, of acting like it isn’t a big deal… But sin always comes out, sin is always known, and the longer it crouches and the longer it goes unknown. The more ferocious it is when it comes out. Achan’s sin had been hiding but in verse 18 we learn
18 And he brought near his household man by man, and Achan the son of Carmi, son of Zabdi, son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, was taken.
In all of Israel, God led Joshua to this one man, who through his sin had brought embarrassment, defeat, discord, and even death upon the people.. So 19 Then Joshua said to Achan, “My son, give glory to the Lord God of Israel and give praise to him. And tell me now what you have done; do not hide it from me.” 20 And Achan answered Joshua, “Truly I have sinned against the Lord God of Israel, and this is what I did: 21 when I saw among the spoil a beautiful cloak from Shinar, and 200 shekels of silver, and a bar of gold weighing 50 shekels, then I coveted them and took them. And see, they are hidden in the earth inside my tent, with the silver underneath.”
And sure enough when they went to check the treasure was there and so Achan was brought to The Valley of Achor, or more literally the Valley of Disturbance
And in verse 25 we read
25 And Joshua said, “Why did you bring trouble on us? The Lord brings trouble on you today.” And all Israel stoned him Achanwith stones. They burned them with fire and stoned them with stones. 26 And they raised over him a great heap of stones that remains to this day. Then the Lord turned from his burning anger.
So for the rest of our time…
I want to deal with this sin of greed and follow the outline that we have been following every week in the Seven Deadly Sins series…
Because these are our goals this is what we want you to walk away from this series doing…
And the first is to Hate Sin
We want you to hate the sin of greed. Greed is the opposite of Godliness. Greed is self worship. When you are greedy, you ignore the God who gave you everything and you are worshipping yourself, saying my needs, my status, my concerns are the most important.
As I said before and as we certainly saw in the story of Achan it is the greedy man who sacrifices the community for the sake of himself. But the cost both to the community and ultimately to yourself is so, so high.
There was an interesting OpEd actually in last Saturday’s edition of the New York Times, by Sam Polk. He began the article saying…
In my last year on Wall Street my bonus was $3.6 million — and I was angry because it wasn’t big enough. I was 30 years old, had no children to raise, no debts to pay, no philanthropic goal in mind. I wanted more money for exactly the same reason an alcoholic needs another drink: I was addicted.
And like any addiction, the addiction of Greed will destroy you, and that is true with Wall Street greed, and its true of Atlanta Greed.
The cost is so high, don’t fall into this trap.
Secondly we want you to Love Virtue
Now the corresponding virtue to greed has traditionally been Charity, to be generous. To care about the community, to be generous toward the Kingdom of God. So what does this look like, or what does developing a generous heart really mean.
And I think this is the question that I think you all have to consider when it comes to charity is this: “What do you want your life to be worth?”
And I am not talking about your net worth, I am talking about your contribution. What is your contribution? What are you contributing to this world and maybe more importantly, what are you contributing to the Kingdom of Christ.
Does your community only exist to serve you, or do you exist to serve the community.
Does Jesus only exist to serve you or do you exist to serve him?
What is your contribution? What do you want your life to be worth?
You know there is an old adage that says:You can only keep what you give.
Meaning that it is the contributions that you make that really last, not what you keep not what you take.
Now I know a lot of you are listening and you have heard sermons on generosity or charity, and maybe you listened to the sermon and you felt a little guilty, or maybe you got scared that God wasn’t going to bless you if you didn’t start giving. And that guilt or that fear motivated you for a little while, you started giving, you started to become more generous but then you kind of fell back into the old ways… You see fear and guilt are good motivators for a little while but they don’t ultimately change a person but there is one thing that does really change you, and it really changes you to your core to the essence of your being, and that is Beauty, when you see start to the beauty of God and his Kingdom you’ll get generous toward his Kingdom, when you truly see the beauty of others in your community that drives you to generosity, that drives you to say no to your appetites, no to your own greed and yes to God, and yes to others…
The greedy man is more beautiful in his own eyes than God is. The greedy man or the greedy woman is more beautiful in his or her own eyes than the community at large is… You want to be generous, you want to be charitable, your vision has to change…
But how do you know if you are Greedy?
Which brings us to the third point here which is to, know your sin. How do you know if you are greedy?
Because Greed always lies, it hides… It is hard to see. It doesn’t want anyone to know. You know it is harder to hide other appetites. Like if you struggle with gluttony. Usually it is pretty obvious, eventually that begins to show. But not so with greed, it isn’t as obvious, we weren’t made like Pinnochio where every time we lie our nose grows, or every time we are greedy our ears grow… Greed is really good at hidingand many eyes have grown dark.
SO How do you know – Well three questions which I think are pretty telling. And the first is very basic…
1. How much are you giving?
There is a baseline in charity called the tithe. It means 10% of everything you make, 10% what God is given to you, you give back to him. And I know that in our church we talked about stepping up the giving ladder so many of you who were already giving more than 10% to the Lord’s work took the next step up the ladder. Some of you who were giving 10% took that next step, some of you who were giving less than 10% stepped up to that… But I think 10% is a good starting point, it is a good test of generosity. Some people will say well what about other charities I want to give to does it all have to go to the church. Well I believe that if you are a Christian your first contribution should be to your church, the local church is the manifestation of the Kingdom of God on earth, and so when you give through your church it shows a commitment to God but it also shows a commitment to your church to the people that you are members with, the people you serve God along with… we are all in this thing together.
So my encouragement is to be generous to your church first, and then as the Lord leads with wisdom be generous in other areas that you are passionate about.But the first question very basically is how much are you giving, and if that isn’t 10% I think you have to take a long look at the sin of greed in your life. Secondly,
2. What are you staring at?
In the story of Achan we read in Joshua 6:21
when I saw among the spoil a beautiful cloak from Shinar, and 200 shekels of silver, and a bar of gold weighing 50 shekels, then I coveted them and took them.
Now notice he didn’t say, when I saw a cloak, and some silver, and some gold I coveted them and took them… He didn’t just notice this… You don’t notice 200 shekels, you don’t notice specific weights, He was staring at this, he was gazing at this, this was treasure, a prize for him you see.He knew that these things were off limits, he knew that these things were for the Lord, but they were pleasing to the eye.What could he do with 50 shekels of Gold, how cool would it be for him to be wearing a cloak from Shinar…
And in the face of that reward, in the face of that beauty God became less beautiful to him,
What are you staring at? What has your eye?And then thirdly,
3. Are you willing to let others in?
People are funny about their money, aren’t they. It always strikes me as interesting when I hear of women that don’t know how much money their husbands make. I was reading an article this week about a woman who had no clue, the wife.
In your accountability group, people talk about sexual attraction they have, people talk about not having a quiet time, people never talk about not being generous.
And people will say, “well the Bible says don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing”but if you take that to mean keep all financial matters private, that is a misinterpretation of that text. Jesus isn’t saying, never let people in, he is saying don’t give so that you can be seen. In other words, don’t give so that people will admire you, give to the Lord because you love the Lord.
So my question is, who is challenging this area of your life and keeping you accountable? And this isn’t just in terms of what you make or even what you give, it is maybe more importantly on what you spend your money on.Some of the greatest correction that I have gotten and that I have needed is when a Christian brother or sister has said to me, Jason you don’t need that.And I am certainly not saying that you can never have anything nice, but be careful… Because we can very quickly be like Achan saying I need that nice robe, I want that gold, I want that silver. And God, and his Kingdom, and these other people aren’t near as important to me as that..
You see our hearts are naturally greedy, we are enamored with our own beauty, with our own security which is why we need to talk about the 4thgoal:
Know more deeply the grace of God in Christ.
You know what Jesus did to save you? You know what Jesus had to do in order to save you?
He became poor. He left glory, he left his seat of authority in a universe that he made, he left the riches of his Fathers love, he left all comfort and all peace, and all privilege… To become a poor man. He gave all of that up to redeem you from the curse of sin.
He left comfort to be cold,
He left love to be hated
He left peace for murder…
He left ease for a back breaking job.
He left security for total dependence on the care of other people he created
Jesus became poor for you. Then he was unjustly accused, he was lynched, he was beaten, he was crucified.
Jesus became poor.
And he knew how desperately you needed to be redeemed from your laziness, from your anger, from your appetites, from your greed.
Won’t you trust him, won’t you love him, won’t you follow him, won’t you leave the treasure that is his behind… Won’t you run to your tent and say, the treasure it’s all there, I took it and I see now that it’s all yours…
You see there was no one to pay the price for Achan, and so when he was found out he was taken to the Valley of Disturbance and he was stoned and burned. And this pleased God because sin, God hates sin, this pleased the Lord because the sin was removed from the people. You see there was no one to pay for Achan and so he had to pay the price for his own guilt.But the good news for you and for me is that Jesus has taken your guilt, Jesus has taken your sin, and the Bible tells us that he actually became sin, He became guilt and was willing to be taken outside of the city to the Valley of Disturbance, and he was willing to be stoned, he was willing to be crushed by the hands of men and by his Father’s wrath against sin.
He became poor, he became nothing in order to set you free…
So that you can come to him now with all his stolen glory and be forgiven of a price that you could never pay. Don’t you see his beauty.
Wont you trust him… Let me close with the words of the old hymn-writer John Newton Who was slave trader, who was a greedy, greedy man, willing to sacrifice the well-being of an entire race of people for his own greed until he met Jesus, until he saw his beauty and his heart was forever changed..
He wrote these words…
Since I have known the Savior’s name And what for me he bore;
No more I toil for empty fame, I thirst for gold no more.
Placed by his hand in this retreat, I make his love my theme;
And see that all the world calls great, Is but a waking dream.
Think Through It.
If you are a man in the Atlanta Area come and continue the discussion with me at The Spotted Cow.
The Spotted Cow is a gathering of men where we sit around, eat good meat, drink good drink, and discuss the collision of culture and theology.
We are meeting on Thursday Night May 17th at 7pm at my house
415 Golfview Road NW
Atlanta, GA 30309
We will have plenty of smoked meat, drinks, and snacks for everyone but feel free to bring something if you want.
This week we are talking about Money. What is money? How should we use money? How do we keep from being controlled by money? How do you know if you are greedy? And more... It's an interesting conversation and we really want to hear your perspective. Remember the Spotted Cow is not a lecture series it is an open forum discussion.
In order to prepare here are a few other resources that I recommend you take a look at:
- A Great Resource on the Idea of Money from This American Life: The Invention of Money
- An Article from Richard Foster: Money and the Spiritual Life
- A Book on How to Use Your Money by Randy Alcorn: The Treasure Principle
I would love to see you Thursday night if you are in Atlanta, and for you big-time readers here are some other recommended resources: