Although she owned a string of hotels, the Empire State Building, and was a billionaire, Leona Mindy Rosenthal Helmsley was convicted of 33 counts of tax evasion in 1989.
According to Time magazine, she emerged as a penny-pinching tyrant who tried to stiff just about everybody.
No amount of money was too small to fight over. In 1982, after the sudden death of her only son, she sued and won most of his estate of $149,000. She left his four children with $432 each and his widow with $2,171. What a picture of greed.
“Glad I’m not like that. Glad I’m not greedy” some might remark after reading this. But greed is not merely craving more. Greed is more about not losing or sharing what one already has.
Jesus explained greed in Luke 12. A rich man was doing all he could to become richer. His land was very fruitful and his barns were overflowing.
Instead of giving God credit for his abundance and sharing with others, he just built bigger barns to stockpile what he could never possibly use on his own in several lifetimes. Generosity and sharing are what the Lord requires of our lives.
Some would call this the redistribution of wealth, giving from those who work hard to those who hardly want to work. That’s a far cry from scripture that tells us if a man will not work he will not eat (2 Thessalonians 3:10). We should give to those in true need – the poor, widow, and the orphan. Jesus said this guy was rich in material possessions but lacked a rich relationship with God (Luke 12:21.)
The man from Luke 12 was a fool. In this Earthly life, he invested for retirement (maybe 10-20 years) but was totally unprepared for eternity. While generosity, giving, and sharing do not earn a place for anyone in heaven (as we are not saved by good works), those who are saved should do good works (Ephesians 2:8-10).
That rich fool died that same day and left all his hoarded possessions behind, probably for others to squabble over. What a terrible final decision in life. Everyone will die one day, stand before God, and give an account for their lives.
What is more important? A rich relationship with the Lord or earthly riches apart from the Lord’s blessing? Jesus reminded us to, “Sell what you have and give to those in need. This will store up treasure for you in heaven! And the purses of heaven have no holes in them. Your treasure will be safe — no thief can steal it and no moth can destroy it. Wherever your treasure is, there your heart and thoughts will also be” (Luke 12:33-34).
Where is your heart? Greed is not merely withholding abundance but withholding what we already possess and should be using for the Lord. Remember the greedy little kid and his toy? When we lay claim on all the stuff around us and selfishly hoard it for our own pleasure, we stiff-arm the truly needy, and we become that greedy little kid.
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Stephen Harrison is associate pastor of Family Church at White Hall.
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