The Trap of Tolerated Transgressions: Greed & Stinginess

These two words are linked together in the sense that they are opposites. To be greedy is to have or show an intense and selfish desire for something. Stinginess is the unwillingness to give of something that I have. The two times the word greedy is used in the New Testament, it is concerning money. Paul told Timothy that a man greedy of filthy lucre was disqualified from being an overseer or a deacon among God’s people (1Tim 3:3, 8; Titus 1:8). However, greed and stinginess have progressed beyond money, to include all things material.

Not surprisingly, of the 19 traits that mark man in the last days (2Tim 3), the expression “lovers of their own selves” heads the list. The phrase is one word in the Greek (philautos), meaning selfish. The second characteristic is covetous, meaning lover of money (philarguros) or avaricious. W. MacDonald comments, “The apostle now gives Timothy a description of conditions that will exist in the world prior to the Lord’s coming. It has often been pointed out that the list of sins that follows is very similar to the description of the ungodly heathen in Romans 1. The remarkable thing is that the very conditions that exist among the heathen in their savagery and uncivilized state will characterize professing believers in the last days. How solemn this is!”

Perhaps it should be concerning to us that these topics are being addressed in a magazine with primarily Christian readership. Is there evidence that these things are prevalent among us? We often make the mistake of judging what is sin by comparing our attitude and action to the ungodly, or even professing Christians. As long as we do not live to their excess, our conscience is appeased. Is not our standard the Word of God and our example the Lord Jesus Christ? Have we grown accustomed to the mindset of western culture, that there are those that have and those that have not? While the Lord said the poor would always be with us (Matt 26:11), He also taught us to “give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away” (Matt 5:42).

Sometimes it is helpful to understand what something is by looking at its opposite. The Lord Jesus, in Luke 21, taught a lesson on giving to His followers. As He looked at the rich placing their gifts into the temple treasury, He saw also a poor widow putting in two mites. He said, “Of a truth I say unto you, that this poor widow has cast in more than they all: For all these of their abundance cast in unto the offerings of God: but she of her penury hath cast in all the living that she had.”

On another occasion, the Apostle Paul writing to the believers in Corinth, told of the “churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord” (2Cor 8:2 ESV). These believers understood the principle of giving, knowing that if they gave all, God would graciously meet their needs. Notice how he closes his statement, “And this they did, not as we hoped, but first gave their own selves to the Lord, and unto us by the will of God” (2Cor 8:5). This teaching of self-sacrifice was seen from the early days of the church. Luke records, “And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common … neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, and laid them down at the apostles’ feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need” (Acts 4:32, 34). Notice that it was not an arbitrary, equal division of all possessions, but giving according to need. “But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him” (1John 3:17)?

The principle of giving goes even beyond money and material goods. There is a word in the Bible, the meaning of which we need to learn again. That word is consecration. It is the giving or devoting of ourselves to something or someone. Notice the language of David in 1 Chronicles 29 as he contemplates building a house for the Lord. “Now I have prepared with all my might for the house of my God … moreover, because I have set my affection to the house of my God, I have of mine own proper good, of gold and silver, which I have given to the house of my God, over and above all that I have prepared for the holy house … and who then is willing to consecrate his service this day unto the Lord … Then the people rejoiced, for that they offered willingly, because with perfect heart they offered willingly to the Lord” (1Chron 29:1, 3, 5). Could we suggest that the giving of our time is of equal or greater value to God than our money and material goods? We could learn much from the example of a former generation of believers who seemed to have a different understanding of what it meant to be part of a New Testament assembly than what is seen today. Gathering to the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ was so much more than just occasionally attending church. It was their life. And from those gatherings emanated a vibrancy of service and sacrifice which could only come from their appreciation of Christ and of the place of His Name.

Might we heed the words of the Lord Jesus in Matthew 6:19-21, “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”