“Put to death, therefore, whatever in you in earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry).” – Col 3:5
How peculiar. Paul is smack dab in the middle of exhorting the Christians at Colossae to embrace God’s new life of the Spirit, and Paul spouts off the usual suspects of Judeo-Christian “no-nos” that don’t mesh with life in God’s new age. So far, so good. But then Paul throws a curve ball. After greed, at the end of his list, Paul uses the Greek equivalent of parenthesis to add a footnote: greed (which is idolatry). Fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire – Paul lets these stand alone. But after greed Paul adds, “FYI, to be greedy is to break commandment #2. It’s the equivalent of worshiping Baal or the golden calf. This is serious stuff. Greed is idolatry.” But why? That’s what I’d like to reflect on for a bit this morning.
We mainly associate idolatry with worshipping other gods. And of course this is true. But I want to scrap this traditional definition of idolatry for a moment. I also refuse to define idolatry as “the god that we choose to serve.” To be honest, and I’m speaking for myself, I don’t serve any god. Of course, Jesus tells his disciples they are to serve only one Master. And if someone were to ask, “Do you want to serve Jesus?” it would be appropriate to say yes. But ultimately, defining who or what we worship as “who or what we serve” is problematic. By definition, a servant is useful and needed by their master. Servants add value to those whom they serve. Masters depend on their servants to accomplish their purposes. And as we all know, God isn’t “served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things” (Acts 17:25). How can we serve a God who needs nothing? Or in the case of money, how can we serve, i.e., assist or be useful to, something that doesn’t breathe or think? We can’t. And that’s what I mean when I say I don’t serve any God or god.
And so here is my working definition of idolatry. Idolatry is whenever we strategically position ourselves to be served by anything other than the God who loves us and calls us by name. Now, of course it’s appropriate that we call ourselves servants of God. After all, Jesus does. But what we’re really saying is that we have first and foremost been “served by” God. We’ve been offered life and peace and wholeness. We’ve been “rescued from the power of darkness and transferred into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son” (Col 1:13). Before we do anything for God, Jesus washes our feet (Jn 13:5), calls us friends (Jn 15:15), and prepares a place for us (Jn 14:3). In other words, in Christ, God serves us. And so to worship God is to constantly place ourselves in God’s competent care, allowing Him to serve us. Of course, if we do this we will be transformed to such an extent that we serve others in Jesus’ name. And so if it’s even possible to serve God, it happens whenever we bless others because Jesus has blessed us. “As you did it to the least of one of these you did it also to me” (Mt 25:40).
And so that’s where our formula, greed = idolatry, comes into play. By definition, greed is when our hunger to be served by money is so great that it blinds us to God’s desire to serve us. We all want life and happiness and joy and peace and security. And we all know that we don’t possess any of these things within ourselves. Like Paul says, we simply can’t “live to ourselves” (Rom 14:7). It’s just not possible. We have to live for, and be served by, Someone or something. To live for God, to be served by God, is one way to seek life. To live for money, to be served by money, is a second way.
That being said, Christians aren’t dualists. God says that his creation is “very good.” And many of the things that money affords us (get it?) are part of God’s good creation. Nor should we suppose that one has to have money to be greedy or to seek to be served by money. In our consumerist society of constant advertising and “buy me” evangelizing, it always remains a possibility that the people who love money the most desperately and unrealistically are the ones who don’t have any. And so I guess the question to ask ourselves is, where is our heart? “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Lk 12:34).
FOR TODAY: If you’re upset that the market plummeted yesterday, speak candidly with God about it. Seriously. God wants to hear from you, to know why you’re upset and anxious. Don’t worry about your motives, or if the reason you’re upset is misguided. God doesn’t care. He just wants us to speak freely with Him. And if we do this, God will serve us. He’ll remind us that in Him we have more life and happiness and joy and peace and security than we ever imagined was possible.