Greed is a deadly sin, one of the most destructive of all.
Most of us have inoculated ourselves against an awareness of our own greed. As a pastor, I have counseled many, many people who have been quite straightforward about their besetting sins. They will talk with me about struggles with alcohol. They will talk with me about their sexual temptations, as evidenced in their addiction to pornography, or the double-bind they are in with their spouse because of their extra-marital affair. They will talk with me about their tendency toward gossip and dishonesty. What I have never had, in all my 40 years of ordained ministry, is anyone come into my office and say, "Pastor, my besetting sin is greed. I need God's help to deal with this problem in my life."
Yet, I know no sin that is more pervasive, at least in this Southern California culture, than the sin of greed. How sad it is to see the way it robs so many of us of contentment.
Let me make four observations from 1 Timothy 6. Then I will count on you to feed out of this passage additional truths that you will find helpful in your Christian life.
Observation #1: Greed for applause produces the discontent of disruption.
Would you not agree with me that our initial response to the word greed is to think of money. That is a valid word association, and that is a major part of this text. But it is interesting how Paul begins his teachings about greed. He approaches it primarily by emphasizing how disruptive can be our craving for attention. He puts it in these words: "Whoever teaches otherwise and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that is in accordance with godliness, is conceited, understanding nothing, and has a morbid craving for controversy and for disputes about words. From these come envy, dissension, slander, base suspicions, and wrangling among those who are depraved in mind and bereft of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain" (1 Timothy 6:3-5).
Perhaps you have never thought of it in these terms. Why is it that we enjoy a good fight? Paul uses the phrase that describes certain people as having a "morbid craving for controversy and for disputes about words."
This was a real problem in the first century. There were people he referred to as "Sophists" who loved to stand in front of crowds, drawing attention to themselves in the process. They loved to play with words. Clever speech was how they got their attention, and they would say whatever they needed to say to get the ego strokes.
Paul is not putting down the importance of speech. However, if you track through the New Testament teachings, you will realize that God expects from us, in our public utterances, that which is truthful. Our goal in life should not be to draw attention to ourselves, but to God, whom we serve. The Westminster Catechism declares that the chief end of humankind is to "glorify God and enjoy Him forever." We can affirm that in our words, but do we live it in the reality of our daily lives? I'm afraid that there are times in my life when my chief end is to "glorify myself and enjoy myself forever." When that leaks into my teaching and preaching, I become a destructive person wherein my desire for attention, to be the center of the stage in my own family can get in the way of godliness. These verses remind us of how important it is to be Christ-centered, not self-centered. We are to bring the glory to God, not to ourselves. We are to uphold the teachings of His Word, not the vain speculations and clever rhetoric that draws attention to ourselves instead of Jesus Christ.