The greed we all miss
Bill and Melinda Gates have recently been in the news as they visited Britain and talked about giving away all their wealth. They were launching their ‘living proof’ programme which, apparently, sets out to show the benefits of aid projects such as those their foundation sponsors.
Bill Gates made his fortune with the software company, Microsoft, becoming the world’s richest man, a position he relinquished this year to the Mexican businessman Carlos Slim Helú. However, it is now his aim in life not to make a fortune, but to give it away. He and his wife Melinda have set themselves the goal of disbursing their wealth during the remainder of their lifetime, sponsoring health and education projects and using their money towards the alleviation of poverty. They now seek to work full time at removing themselves from the ‘World’s richest’ lists. It is a commendable goal.
What struck me, as I stumbled across a couple of the TV interviews and radio interviews, was not so much the admirable philanthropy of Bill and Melinda Gates, so much as the incredulity of some of those who interviewed them. It was clear that, for some of the journalists, the Gates Foundation represented the surrender not so much of money but of security and even of personal significance. Their attitude to money, betrayed in their questions, was deeply revealing, but caused me to ask questions about my own attitude to money, and how easily I can invest it with powers appropriate only to deity.
Let me explain. Money can very easily become an idol. How can I tell something is an idol when it is at home? Three things to look out for: First we tend to love our idols, which means that we find our significance in them. We fantasise over them, wondering, in this case, how we might secure more money, or more possessions to show our money, or we become jealous of those who have more money than we do. When we do this we are ‘lovers of money’. It is very easy to slip into this. How do you react to your Bank Statements? How do you react to your pension projections (if you’re not there yet)? How do you react to the value of your property (if you have one)? How do you react to the expensive car in the driveway nearby?
Secondly, when money is an idol we put our trust in it. We reckon that with more money our lives will really be secure. If only the Stipend for ministers would rise a bit more I would really have control over my life…. If only I could get a job I would be set up in my life… if only I could get a better paid job then my life would be safe… once I get such and such an amount in savings then I’ll be set up for life… and so on. We end up believing that money has the power to provide us with shelter from the storms of life or the uncertainties of life. We choose to place our confidence, our trust, in money. The disturbing thing is that we can do this without noticing it.
Thirdly, we make money an idol when we serve it. We sell our souls to our idols and we begin to serve them. Our lives become wrapped up in pursuing money, so that we find we have to have more. Not without reason did our Lord repeatedly warn us about greed: Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions (Luke 12:15) It is a fact that Jesus warns more often about greed than he does about illicit sex! It is because we so easily miss our own greed that we miss the warning.
If we live for money then we become slaves to money. It is only by ensuring God is at the centre of our lives that greed is dethroned and we discover our identity and security are firmly located in Him. Only when we live for God can we be liberated from the corrosive worry about things that Jesus warned was also a sign (perhaps paradoxically) of greed.
Paul writes: For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich. (2 Corinthians 8:9)
In other words, Jesus gave up the treasures of heaven in order to make us His treasure. Grasp this gospel and money no longer grasps you! Significance and security are then found in Christ. You don’t get rid of an idol by trying hard to root it out, but by allowing it to be displaced by Christ.
Here is a test I have had to apply to myself: Suppose Jesus came to me, as he did to the rich young ruler, and challenged me to sell up everything and give it all away. How do I feel about that? Sell all your possessions, empty the Bank accounts, cash-in the pension and give it away! If I feel that I would have lost my significance and security then I have perhaps made these things an idol. They have taken the place Christ ought to have in my heart.
How lightly can I sit to my possessions? Or am I possessed by my possessions?