“For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” Rom. 7:7B
I feel the need to say, from this pen the issue of avarice does not come out of “left field.”
I have written on subjects for which I am, to one degree or another, responsible for in the Texas District. I have written about prayer, parish nursing, rural ministry, and disaster relief. I have written about mission work in West Texas and the formation and development of the Lutheran Literacy Project initiative which, parenthetically, is gaining ministry traction not only in Texas but is now expanding into the Rocky Mountain District—as well as other mission initiatives in Area A.
I have also written numerous times about various aspects of biblical stewardship. This is one of those times.
Greed is NOT good
The avarice of covetousness, in a word, is greed. Not a fun topic. According to Wikipedia: “Greed is an inordinate or insatiable longing for material gain.” Deadlysins.com adds to this definition, saying: “Ignoring the dimension of the spiritual.” Greed, traditionally, is one of the seven deadly sins. While the object of greed is material, the impact of greed is spiritual.
Paul himself had been caught by surprise in this as he said in Rom. 7:7b: “I would not have known what it is to covet (be greedy) if the law had not said, ‘You shall not covet.’”
This is a human sin problem. It has impacted and impeded disciples of Jesus throughout history. On top of that, it is a problem that we typically see in others but often fail to see in ourselves. It is pernicious.
We have to face our greed, particularly as we live in our nation and culture. We may be the most prosperous nation in all of history. At least, we may be possibly the most materialistic and consumerist society since the Roman Empire. And with that, it is incumbent upon the church to address our greed. Our culture will not. Our culture screams at us 24/7 “you need this or that” and tells us “we deserve this and that.”
“It’s mine. Give it to me” one financial broker tells us. It is not pretty.
Such greed has caused the church to under-resource the mission. Here is an example that I have created. A congregation says that they can’t make budget. They have 100 giving units. Experience tells me this would translate into about 80 to 100 people in worship on a regular Sunday. Still, these families, in June 2018, have an income of $62,175 (the median household income according to Sentier Research.)
Given each family tithes (10 percent) there are almost $622,000 dollars available for mission and ministry. The reality is that families that tithe are rare (for some reason). Typical giving for a congregation with no real stewardship emphasis is in the neighborhood of 1.75 percent of someone’s income. The dollars available in the above example would be around $109,000.
A vigorous ministry is a challenge in this example and yet it is not an unusual situation. While most are accustomed to working with these kinds of dollars, one could conclude that the narrow margin of survival, much of which is caused by greed, is the issue and not the abundance of the spirit of generosity.
God gives us all that we need
In stark contrast to greed, we read throughout Scripture how God gave and continues to give to His people, His world, and His creation. God told Noah that He gave him everything. Later God gave land to Abram. God gave food—both meat and plants—to eat and the list can go on and on. (Just read Luther’s explanation to the First Article.) But most critically, God the Father has given us His Son to pay for our sin, even for our sin of greed. That is Good News. But there is more. Ephesians 1 tells us that God has given us an inheritance that will last all eternity.
So what do we do with our avarice? First, repent. Repent and confess (agree) to God that we have a need to acquire an inordinate amount of things for ourselves (avarice is in our nature) and that this is not God’s will.
Second, recognize that your Redeemer is also your provider. You trust Him for salvation in the spiritual world, and you can also trust Him for all the things you need in our material world.
Third, live your faith. Deuteronomy 14 tells us that the tithe is really about us learning to trust and even fear the Lord always. Malachi 3 speaks of this even more bluntly. In the Gospels, Jesus is recorded addressing greed with no lack of boldness. This stealthy sin will frustrate not only your life of faith but your joy and your witness to His love and generosity as well. With that, simply give with no expectations, knowing that such reflects the gifts we have been given in Christ.
By Rev. Steve Misch
Mission and Ministry Facilitator, Area A