Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Colossians 3:5
It's an old story retold many times. In the fourteenth century, there was a duke named Ranald who lived in the country we now know as Belgium. The duke was not only overweight; he was grossly indulgent. He craved food and his appetite for more was never fully satisfied, so much so that the peasants called him Crassis which in Latin means "the fat one."
In due process the overweight duke became king, but his brother Edward deeply resented the fact that the crown had bypassed him and gone to his plump brother, so he plotted a revolt and deposed his brother. But instead of dispatching his brother so he would never again be a bother to him, in a sadistic moment of perverse compassion, he had a room built around his brother, having a door that a normal sized man could pass through but far too narrow for his overindulgent brother.
Every day, Edward the new king would send pastries, choice foods, and drink to his brother who, of course, appreciated his perverse kindness. "My brother is not a prisoner," he would say, adding, "He can leave any time he chooses."
In fact, Ranald was imprisoned by his greed, not by his brother. He was a prisoner of his appetite. Frankly, greed was not only Ranald's problem but also the problem challenging everyone who aspires to better himself. It's the old issue of "How much is enough?" It is the corporation who controls the market who delights in wiping out the upstart competitor, the executive with a six- or even seven-figure salary who fights for millions more in bonuses; the wealthy nations who sap the strength of poorer nations.
Food was the commodity that made King Ranald a prisoner of greed, but it is diamonds, gold, money and markets that control many, creating corporate takeovers, political maneuvering, and on occasions, bloodshed and war.
But – and this is where the issue gets personal – is greed only a problem of the big guys--the bad ones over there (wherever that is)? Or can it be the problem of the little guy, perhaps even the person who lives in your house?
The fact is that greed is not only the enemy of the rich but the poor as well, and everybody else on the spectrum. It isn't an issue of how much you have but how much you want.
Surprisingly the New Testament has twice as much to say about the issue of greed as does the Old. Jesus denounced the religious leaders of His day, the Pharisees, saying that they were "full of greed and wickedness" (Luke 11:39). Jesus warned, "Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed." Then He added, "A man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions" (Luke 12:15).
Greed, said Paul, is one of the sins of the flesh which God's people ought to excise from their lives. "Put [it] to death" was the way Paul said it should be dealt with, in Colossians 3:5. The New Testament also warns that greed is one of the motives that false teachers use to build their own empires and kingdoms. Peter wrote, "In their greed these teachers will exploit you with stories they have made up. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping" (2 Peter 2:3). In his second letter, Peter said they are "experts in greed" (2 Peter 2:4).
"But among you," wrote Paul, "there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because they are improper for God's holy people" (Ephesians 5:3). It's still true today.
Resource reading: Luke 12:1-15.