You might have heard about Forrest Fenn’s hidden treasure. In 2010, the millionaire Fenn squirreled away a chest full of valuables worth an estimated $1 million. Hundreds of thousands of people searched for the buried treasure, which wasn’t discovered until June of 2020 by a medical student named Jack Stuef. As exhilarating as I imagine a treasure hunt would be, Fenn’s quest also proved deadly. Five people lost their lives in the process of trying to find the treasure—one of them was even a pastor.
When the quest for temporal goods is viewed as ultimate, it becomes an all-consuming cancer. Wisdom says that greed for unjust gain takes away the life of its possessor (Prov. 1:19). Our Lord Jesus listed greed among the pollutions of the human heart, right along with murder and adultery (Mark 7:21–22, NASB). In Luke, He prefaced the parable of the rich fool by saying, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:15). The original word behind covetousness is the same word used for greed in Mark 7:22. It’s the Greek word pleonexia, which is defined as “the state of desiring to have more than one’s due,”1 or “a strong desire to acquire more and more material possessions or to possess more things than other people have, all irrespective of need.”2 Thomas Aquinas simply defined covetousness, or greed, as “the immoderate love of possessing.”3
But have you ever heard someone confess to being greedy? Perhaps more importantly, have you ever asked God to forgive you for greediness? Based on how infrequently this particular sin is named, one gets the sense that the immoderate love of possessing is something we rarely, if ever, struggle with. This would have surprised the Apostle Paul, who wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit that in the last days men would be lovers of money (2 Tim. 3:2). Perhaps it isn’t that we’re less greedy than previous generations; we’re simply less aware of our own sin as a society.
Jesus frequently preached about the love of money and possessions because He knew how blinding greed could be. It’s a terminal illness such that the person who has it rarely, if ever, actually knows they’re sick. Tragically, this silent killer is also one of the most destructive vices. The sin of greed destroys the self insofar as it disorders our affections. It destroys our neighbors since the overabundance of riches often comes at the expense of the poor, and it’s a direct sin against God because by greed we “contemn things eternal for the sake of temporal things.”4 Greed is therefore a deceitful and a damnable vice. Because of this, Jesus calls us to pray against it every day.
There’s a good chance you’re already doing this, you just haven’t made the connection yet. Embedded in the petitions Jesus taught His disciples to pray is the request for daily bread: “Give us this day our daily bread” (Matt. 6:11). Often when thinking about this request, we focus on the fact that we depend on God for our temporal goods. While true, there’s more to the fourth petition than earthly provision—there’s also moderation. We might even call this a prayer against immoderate possessing since the request isn’t for life’s delicacies, but life’s necessities. In the history of interpretation of the Lord’s Prayer from the church fathers to the Reformers such as John Calvin, the modesty of this request has been noted. Thus, Calvin notes:
Yet those who, not content with daily bread but panting after countless things with unbridled desire, or sated with their abundance, or carefree in their piled-up riches, supplicate God with this prayer are but mocking him. For [they] ask him what they do not wish to receive, indeed, what they utterly abominate—namely, mere daily bread—and as much as possible cover up before God their propensity to greed, while true prayer ought to pour out before him the whole mind itself and whatever lies hidden within.5
Each of us must ask ourselves, “Do I despise God’s daily bread by grasping greedily [and often anxiously] for something more?” Of course, this doesn’t mean earthly riches are inherently sinful (see 1 Tim. 6:17–19). We must, however, recognize that the manic pursuit of them is symptomatic of a deeper discontentment with our divine lot. We do well to be watchful and to recall the words of Jesus: “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). Instead of getting lost in the treasure hunt that continues to claim countless souls, we ought to let the gospel form us until we become a generous people. We have been ransomed not with perishable things such as silver and gold, but with the divine blood of God the Son (1 Peter 1:18–19). That Jesus freely gave that which is more precious than all the treasure on earth should put things in perspective. May God slay our greed and give us each day our daily bread.
This article is part of the Virtues and Vices collection.