Is greed good?
The short answer is no. The long answer is also…no. Taken out of context that speech from the movie Wall Street seems to make sense. It even sounds daring and avant garde. “Greed is good.” But the truth is greed isn’t good. In fact, greed sucks away at your soul. Greed turns us against each other and greed not only hurts us as individuals, but it hurts us as a society. Who remembers the financial crisis? After receiving a bailout to the tune of $170 BILLION dollars, AIG executives went for a week-long retreat at a posh California beach resort and spent $440,000 – $200,000 on rooms, $150,000 on meals, and $23,000 in spa charges. That is on top of the $165 million in bonuses paid out to company employees and an additional $121 million to executives. All the while having played a large part in the devastation of the American economy. Whether they were legally bound to serve those bonuses or not, it seems unjust and unconscionable for people to be rewarded for causing hundreds of thousands people to lose their jobs, their homes, and their livelihood. Maybe greed is good for some people in the short term, but for the most part, it turns into a rotten egg.
The truth is giving, for lack of a better word, is good.
Giving is right. Giving works. Giving in all of its forms, giving of our time, our talents, and our gifts, is what has proven to be successful in our society. Just as science has backed up our claim that prayer is good and church is good, science again helps us explain why giving is good. It doesn’t just psychologically makes us happier people, but it does so biologically as well. Apparently, the act of giving has been “linked to the release of oxytocin, a hormone…that induces feelings of warmth, euphoria, and connection to others.” Giving is good for our health in other ways, too. It’s associated with lower blood pressure, less depression, increased self-esteem, lower stress, and longer life. Who doesn’t want that? And better marriages. Couples who do small acts of generosity for one another on a regular basis are happier than those who don’t. Not only that but giving is contagious! Studies have found that “altruism can spread by three degrees.” Meaning you’re not only giving to your friend but their friends and their friends and their friends by your one act of kindness.
But God already knew all of this.
Paul wrote about it in the Bible. If you have a Bible or a Bible app on your phone would you go to 2 Corinthians 9 beginning with verse 6. 2 Corinthians 9:6. God is awfully concerned about our giving. And not because he needs money. Why would God need money? But because giving has such a profound effect on our lives. It not only has tangible health and social benefits but spiritual as well as Paul writes about to the church at Corinth. In this part of the letter, Paul is asking the church to continue to give to the ministry he is involved in so that they can “complete the work (2 Cor 8:11)” they have already started. He mentions that the church at Corinth was actually the first to give and the first to openly support him, but that the work is not yet done. What’s important in this passage is to keep focused on Paul’s argument about WHY you should give. Paul never asks for a specific amount of money. He doesn’t talk about tithing or about how much a “good Christian” gives. His entire argument is about a person’s relationship with God through giving. About how our relationship grows as we give. About our attitude of giving. And about how giving helps others to see the love of God.
6 Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. 7 Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8 And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. 9 As it is written:
“They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor;
their righteousness endures forever.”
10 Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. 11 You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.
12 This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of the Lord’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. 13 Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, others will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. 14 And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you. 15 Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!
Giving is a matter of the heart not your pocketbook.
It isn’t a duty but a discipline. Giving trains us to be more like God who gave his only Son for us. God doesn’t require of us any more than he has already done himself. But how we give is as important as the act itself. If we feel forced to help rather than giving help freely, it just isn’t as satisfying. And that goes back to why God loves a cheerful giver. The attitude you have in the act of giving is as important as the gift itself. If your gift is given with reluctance or resentment, then is it really a gift? Can you receive the benefits of giving if you didn’t want to do it in the first place? As C.S. Lewis wrote in his famous book Mere Christianity, “Right actions done for the wrong reason do not help build the internal quality or character…We might think that God wanted simply obedience to a set of rules whereas He really wants people of a particular sort.” God doesn’t want our obedience. God wants us to be of good character. A cheerful giver is one who does it out of love and out of a desire to help and do good. A reluctant giver thinks his money could be better spent elsewhere. A cheerful giver understands it’s about the act of giving that God wants to mold and shape in us. A reluctant giver is weighed down by the results.
Sometimes we focus on the wrong thing.
It seems a no-brainer that God wants us to do the most good for the most people. But if we use that as an excuse not to give at all, then we are really missing the point. There’s a scene in the TV show Sports Night where Dan is wondering who he should give money to. He’s on some mailing list and everyone in the known world is sending him requests for donations. He asks his friend Casey for some advice and they go round and round about who should get his money. After a while, Casey looks at him and says, “You know, while we’ve been having this conversation a couple of people have probably died from something you could have cured.” Throughout the episode Dan is struggling with this dilemma. He honestly wants to help people but doesn’t know who deserves it the most. Finally Casey asks him, “So have you solved your problem?” And Dan replies, “About being a guilt free altruist? It’s easier to be a miser.” Casey looks at him and says, “Can I say something? You’re not going to solve everybody’s problems. In fact, you’re not going to solve anybody’s problems so you know what you should do? Anything. As much of it and as often as you can.” We want to focus on results, but sometimes its as simple as helping the person right in front of you. We can’t help everyone. We can’t even help everyone who “deserves” it. All we can do is all we can do. If we spend all of our time worrying about whether or not that person or those people or that group or this organizations “deserves” it, we’ll never do anything. Instead, God is looking for people of a certain character. And that’s a person with a giving attitude.
As it says in the passage, giving has its own rewards.
Beyond what we materialistically give to the person, the act itself is a witness to God’s love in us and for us. It’s a way for us to express our love of God and our appreciation for what God has done in us. Paul never once writes about material results. Instead he writes about what the ACT of giving does for us and for our community. He writes in verses 12 and 13, “This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of the Lord’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. 13 Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, others will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else.” When we act with a generous heart, people see God in us and will praise God because of us and at the same time we are performing an act of gratitude for God because of what God has done in us. Are there benefits to giving? Sure, but those are perks to the real reason we give – God. Through our giving we are sharing God’s love with the world and giving thanks for that love in return.
When Emma was two she LOVED M&Ms.
The chocolate ones of course. And it was hilarious to watch her eat them because they are supposed to melt in your mouth and not in your hands, right? Well, somehow Emma would find a way to get it all over herself. I mean they would end up on her hands, her shirt, her face, and then she gets this little chocolate stain all over her mouth. It used to be so funny, but that’s just how much she enjoyed it. One day, I had given her a small snack bag of M&M’s and she starts plugging them in her mouth like usual, when she looked up at me and looked at her bag of M&M’s and as if she realized that I didn’t have anything to eat, she gave me the rest of her bag and said, “Here, Daddy.” There’s only one reason she gave me that bag, and that’s out of love. And if a two-year old little girl can give away her favorite thing to her Daddy just because she loves him, then can’t we give more of ourselves out of love for our Father in Heaven? Our God wants us to give with the cheerfulness of a little child, not because of what we get out of it, but because we love him and want to show that love to the world. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
 The Quality of Mercy at 29K,” Sports Night