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Giving in to Greed

Webster defines it as “excessive or reprehensible acquisitiveness.” Though Scripture offers repeated warnings against it, most people find ways to read around them and justify their selfish actions.

Webster defines it as “excessive or reprehensible acquisitiveness.” Though Scripture offers repeated warnings against it, most people find ways to read around them and justify their selfish actions.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />
 
It is greed, and it can get ugly. Consider several recent corporate trials in which greed has played a significant role.
 
By highlighting defendants’ over-the-top excesses and consumptions, often funded at company expense, prosecutors attempt to shift public sympathy away from the defendants. Their strategies usually work. Lavish lifestyles reflect on a person’s character, and the question for jurors then becomes, just what kind of character is this person? Can he or she be trusted?
 
For example, a friend of Martha Stewart testified in her recent trial that Stewart wanted her company to foot the bill for the $17,000 vacation they took together.
 
In the fraud trial of <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />John Rigas, founder of the now-bankrupt Adelphia Communications cable company, and his sons, prosecutors revealed shocking examples not only of excess and extravagance but also of misuse and abuse of company funds.
 
On one occasion, the Adelphia corporate jet transported a Christmas tree to John Rigas’s daughter. Unfortunately, it was not quite the size she wanted, so the plane made another trip to deliver a different tree. The cost, passed along to shareholders, was somewhere between $10,000-20,000. Such greed and the lies and fraud that accompanied them, prosecutors charge, led Adelphia to bankruptcy.
 
Dennis Kozlowski, the former chief executive of the industrial conglomerate Tyco charged with grand larceny and securities fraud, was labeled the “undisputed king of excess” in one news story. He’s perhaps most well-known for the $2 million toga part he threw for his wife’s birthday on the Italian island of Sardinia, complete with a replica of Michelangelo’s “David” carved from ice and from which flowed an apparently endless stream of vodka.
 
We can easily decry such actions because they are extreme. They exceed the limits of our imagination, and certainly of our experiences and means. Tremendous wealth not only opens doors to great power and wide-ranging influence but also offers fertile soil where greed can grow unabated.
 
Yet the pressures to compete, acquire, consume and accumulate affect us all. So does the temptation of greed and its effects.
 
Perhaps because we see too much of ourselves in it, we tend to treat the story of Gehazi, the prophet Elisha’s servant, as a mere footnote in a larger story. We race past it as we read the surrounding Scripture about Naaman’s miraculous cure and consequently miss its important lessons about the dangers of greed.
 
Like we often do, Gehazi thought his actions would affect no one else. He was wrong. His self-serving greed and then his attempts to cover it up had harmful consequences.  
 
What we are quick to condemn in others–corporate CEO or servant–we must also be willing to recognize in ourselves. Our net gains from greed may be great, but they are temporary. Worse, they move us farther from, instead of closer to, becoming the person God intends for us to be.

Jan Turrentine is managing editor of Acacia Resources.
 
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