Organic Discipleship - Helping People Overcome Avarice

From the book:

Typical areas to counsel: Avarice

In our opinion, materialistic greed is the greatest enemy of spirituality in the American church. The Bible teaches strongly against greed. Paul says, “But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God's holy people.” (Eph. 5:3) The word for greed is pleonexia, which means a continual thirst for more. Here we see greed in the same list with sexual immorality, which should give us an idea of the seriousness God attaches to this danger. Jesus warned against greed as well when he said, “Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions.” (Luke 12:15) He also taught that “You cannot serve both God and Money” (Mat. 6:24) Paul goes so far as to say, “Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry.” (Col. 3:5) Greed is really idolatry, according to Paul because money becomes the thing around which our lives revolve. People caught up in materialistic avarice never seem to have time for the things of God. They are so preoccupied by their careers and enjoying their money and possessions they never can develop quality ministries. With their frequent absenteeism and divided loyalties, they are unable to build quality relationships or engender true love of God in others. One of the saddest side-effects of greed is the way it chills our love for God and for others. Just as Jesus warned, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Mat. 6:21) All too many American Christians simply cannot match the enthusiasm and thrill they feel for God with that they feel for their la test SUV, home theater, or room addition. With this area, like others, a simple pastoral counseling approach can bear fruit.

Awareness and understanding. As with other areas, blindness is our first obstacle. We rarely meet people who affirm that they are materialists. Most people look to those richer and more obsessed than themselves as materialists. They view their own level of greed as only normal. As Americans, we live in an ocean of wealth, unprecedented in the history of the world. We have come to view affluence as so normal and necessary, how would we know if we had a problem with materialistic avarice? Americans need to begin with a careful study of God's word. (You can begin with Appendix 9). As Christians, we know that happiness in life comes from the spiritual and relational side of life, not from possessions, power, prestige, or money. If we can convince our disciples of this truth, we will be sparing them a life of emptiness, and freeing them to enter into the “true riches.” (Luke 16:11)

Practical Ideas. How do people get out of the mindset of avarice? Think through with your disciples what practical steps (like regular giving, reassessing purchases, changing goals, etc.) might help effect change in this area.

Support and encouragement. Watch for shifts in attitude and action that may follow. Never miss the opportunity to encourage such shifts.

More Ideas for helping people overcome avarice

We suggest letting God speak to people through his word. Try a study of basic finance principles with points like these. After reading the verses together, ask your disciple if she sees anything questionable about any of the points:

  1. God owns the world and all that is in it. (1 Cor. 4:7; Ps. 24:1; Job 41:11; 1 Chron. 29:12-15)
  2. Believers should acknowledge God's right to control their wealth because private property is stewardship - not ownership. To this end:
    1. God has entrusted His possessions with you, so private property is affirmed by the Bible. Therefore, no one has the right to force you to use your property in a way against your will. (Acts 5:4; Eph. 4:28; II Thes. 3:12)
    2. But God holds you responsible to acknowledge his ownership of your property and to use it in a way which advances His purposes. (Matt. 25:14-30; Acts 4:32; Lk. 12:41-44)
  3. If you cannot give away any or all of your possessions, you are an idolater. (Col. 3:5; Luke 14:33; 18:18-23)
  4. Our possessions should be considered a means for ministry and therefore an opportunity for spiritual growth. (Lk. 16:11; Gal. 6:6-10; Rom. 12:8; Phil. 1:5;4:15: 1  Tim. 6:17-19)
  5. Worrying about money or trusting in it is a sin, because this attitude denies the faithfulness of the owner to his stewards. (Matt. 6:24-34; Phil. 4:6)
  6. In the New Testament, wealth is in no way a sign of God's blessing or spiritual success. (Matt. 19:23,24; Luke 12:13-21; James 5:1-6; Rev. 3:17,18)
  7. Wealth should be viewed with caution because it tends to stunt spiritual growth. (Matt. 6:21-23; 13:22; 1  Tim. 6:9,10; Prov. 30:8,9)
  8. Wanting to or deciding to get rich is wrong. (Matt. 6:19; 1  Tim. 6:9,10; 1  John 2:15-17; Phil. 4:12; Heb. 13:5; 1 Cor. 5:11)
  9. Serving the Lord for the sake of financial gain is disgraceful. (Matt. 23:14; John 10:12,13; Acts 8:20; 2 Cor. 2:17; 11:20; 1 Thess. 2:5; 1  Tim.3:3,8; 1 Pet. 5:2)
  10. Showing partiality to the rich is prohibited. (James 2:1-7; Acts 20:20,27,33,34; 1  Tim. 6:17-19)
  11. The poor (especially the Christian poor) should be cared for. (1  John 3:17; Gal. 6:10; Prov. 14:31;17:5; 21:13;29:7)

You can also go over this study on Giving God's money to God's work, based on a study of 2 Cor. 8,9

  1. Giving is based on grace, not on law. (8:1)
  2. Giving is a privilege, not a task. (8:4)
  3. You may give whether rich or poor. (8:2; I Cor. 16:1,2)
  4. Giving begins with yourself, then your possessions. (8:5; II Cor. 12:14)
  5. Giving should be a response to the example of Christ. (8:9)
  6. You should give from what you have, not from what you don't have. ( 8:12)
  7. Giving should be done willingly and cheerfully, not under compulsion. ( 8:12; 9:7)
  8. Giving does result in blessing, though not necessarily financial. (9:6)
  9. God will provide for our basic material needs, including the means to give to God's work. (9:8-11)

As we have argued earlier, lasting motivation comes from deeply held biblical convictions. Unless we can convince our disciples that God's perspective is right in the area of personal finance, they will almost inevitably succumb to the materialism that surrounds us all in modern America and the rest of the western world.

You could try having a discussion with your disciple on this list of questions:

Values and decisions related to personal finance:

Ask yourself these questions, and discuss possible answers. Interact with scripture wherever possible.

  1. Do I distinguish between "needs" and "wants"? If I do, how do I define that distinction?
  2. Is it right to have a proportional relationship between what I make and what I buy? In other words, should my standard of living increase as my income increases?
  3. Of money spent on myself, should I make any distinctions between those things which are greater and lesser in spiritual value? (For instance, a reliable car that can get me to my ministry venues, versus a car with leather seats.)
  4. Am I equally stable in conditions of abundance and scarcity? If I am not, what does this mean?
  5. Do my actions show that I realize greed can lead to the destruction of my spiritual walk? (1  Tim. 6:7-10) How so?
  6. Aside from normal time allotment for vacation, school, family and sleep, where is my free time usually invested: in material and personal gain, in enjoying my possessions, or in spiritual growth and ministry?
  7. Do opportunities for my spiritual and material advancement ever conflict? If they do not, what could this mean? If they do, how do I routinely choose?
  8. Do I ask for spiritual counsel regarding my personal finances (i.e. major purchases, job changes, saving and giving plans, etc.)? Is there a relationship between my answer and my view of possessions?
  9. Have I demonstrated the ability to “draw the line” with my job's demand of my time? Am I willing to pass up promotions, or even get a different job if it conflicts with my spiritual growth and the advancement of my personal ministry?
  10. Do I have concrete short-term and long-term goals for my spiritual growth and personal ministry? If not, what does this mean?
  11. Do I give substantial amounts of money to God's work in a consistent way? If not, why not?
  12. Do any of these questions anger me? Why?1

As Christians, we know that happiness in life comes from the spiritual and relational side of life, not from possessions, power, prestige, or money. If we can convince our disciples of this truth, we will be sparing them a life of emptiness, and freeing them to enter into the “true riches.” (Luke 16:11)


1 Adapted from Xenos Christian Servanthood class