Colossians 3:5

Colossians 3:5

Sermon preached on September 17, 2006 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2006. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at

There’s a story told about the
ringtailed monkeys in Africa. They were known to be very hard to catch. Trappers who worked for zoos had very little success in catching them. But then they found out that the Zulus had mastered the secret of catching them. Their method was ingenious. It consisted of a melon. The seeds of the melon are a favorite of the monkey. The Zulus would cut a hole in the melon just large enough for the monkey to insert his hand inside to reach the seeds. The monkey will stick his hand in and grab as many seeds as he can. But the problem for the monkey is that when he tries to pull his hand, which is full of seeds, out, he cannot. His fist is larger than the hole. The monkey will pull and tug, screech and fight the melon for hours, but he can’t get his hand out unless he lets go of the seeds, which he refuses to do. While he is thus preoccupied, the Zulus sneak up and nab him. (Charles Swindoll, Living Above the Level of Mediocrity, p.150f)

Their greed is their undoing. If they only picked one or two seeds they would be able to get their hand out. But they wanted the handful.

Those of you who use computers have probably heard of the
Nigerian email scams. You get an email from someone claiming to be a widow. She tells you that her late husband had hidden away a fortune of millions and she wants your help in getting the money out of the country. If you send her your bank account number she’ll give you 10 or 20%. But of course it’s just a scam. People that are gullible enough to give them the information they want find that their bank accounts are empty.

A few years ago there was an elaborate pyramid scheme that targeted Christian institutions.
New Era Philanthropy told people that they had secret donors who would match funds invested with them and that they could double their money in less than a year. Many Christian colleges, seminaries and churches lost thousands. Greed can even affect Christian leaders, even though their motive is not personal gain, but the financial gain of the institutions they lead.

A few years ago there was a popular TV show called, “
Who Wants To Be a Millionaire? Who wouldn’t want to be a millionaire? The actress Sophie Tucker was once asked about her early struggles for success and whether she found some joy in her years of poverty. She said, (Boice, Sermon on the Mount, p. 21)

“Listen, I’ve been rich, and I’ve been poor. And believe me, rich is better.”

Mark Twain once said,

“I am opposed to millionaires, but it would be dangerous to offer me the position.”

Greed. It affects ringtailed monkeys. It affects many non-Christians. It can affect Christians, even Christian leaders. It is something that we need to guard against and that the Scripture is constantly warning us about. In 1 Timothy 6:10 the apostle Paul wrote,

“For the love of money
is a root of all kinds of evil.
Some people,
eager for money,
have wandered from the faith
and pierced themselves with many griefs.”

In Luke 12:15 Jesus said,

“Watch out!
Be on your guard
against all kinds of greed;

Here in Colossians Paul tells the Colossian Christians that they need to put the old nature and the things that belong to it to death. One of the things they need to put to death is greed. Paul wrote,

“Put to death, therefore,
whatever belongs to your earthly nature:
sexual immorality, impurity, lust,
evil desires and greed,
which is idolatry.”

What’s interesting about this passage is that

Paul equates greed with idolatry.

There is a particularly close relationship between idolatry and greed. We are to put to death,

"greed, which is idolatry"

We see the same thing in Ephesians 5:5. It reads,

"For of this you can be sure:
No immoral, impure or greedy person
—such a man is an idolater
—has any inheritance
in the kingdom of Christ and of God."

Greed is idolatry. F. F. Bruce writes, (Colossians, p. 143-144)

"Covetousness is idolatry because it involves the setting of one's affections on earthly things and not on things above, and therefore the putting of some other object of desire in the place which God should occupy in his people's hearts."

J. B. Lightfoot writes, (Colossians, p. 212)

"The covetous man sets up another object of worship besides God."

That other object of worship is either money or oneself. If you're greedy, it means that something or someone else has taken the place of God. You're worshipping an idol.

This is why we have to so carefully guard against greed.

It's destructive to the very center Christian worship.

Christian worship is about loving God, about praising Him, honoring Him, glorying in Him, magnifying His name, hoping in Him. Christian worship is centered on God. If greed comes into our lives it replaces God with an idol.

Let me illustrate. When I was studying in Scotland we heard that Prime Minister
Margaret Thatcher was coming to Edinburgh to open the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. My school was right next door to that building, so on the day that she was going to arrive we lined up to on the street to see her. Marg, Heather and I arrived about a half hour early to get a good view. Heather was just a baby so I was carrying her. We were front row. But about five minutes before the Prime Minister arrived, some very rude, vocal and pushy demonstrators arrived. They pushed us out of the way and got in front of us. They didn't just do it to us, they did it to everyone- there were many of them. They had signs and placards so they really ruined the view. So instead of getting a good view of the Prime Minister, with the pomp and circumstance that accompanied her, we got a good view of the vile, vulgar, noisy and unruly demonstrators. It was a great disappointment.

Now in some ways that's not a good illustration because as much as one may admire the pomp that the British use to surround their Prime Minister—how can you compare that with God? Yet I think it can open our eyes to the truth of what greed does. If greed comes into your life, it takes your focus and devotion off God and puts some vile and ugly in His place. Don't be fooled by the false glamour of money. It doesn't bring happiness and contentment. It doesn't make you a better person. There's a lot of truth in the comment that
Dorothy Parker made about money,

"If you want to know what God thinks of money, just look at the people he gave it to."

God doesn't think that highly of money.

Greed takes us away from God. It makes an idol of money of possessions, of self. That's why we need to put the old nature and greed to death.

The underlying principle we see here is that

God is to be at the center of your life, devotion and worship.

As a Christian you are to have God on the throne of your life. This is vitally important. If we're going to change the world for God, if we're going to live as Jesus wants us to live, if we're going to praise Him as we should—there is one fundamental and essential thing that we must do. We must have God central in our life. The first commandment is of the utmost importance. It reads, (Deuteronomy 5:7)

"You shall have no other gods
before me."

God is to be on the throne of your life. The second commandment deals with the horror of putting anything else in God's place. It's about idolatry. God said, (Exodus 20:4-6)

"You shall not make for yourself an idol
in the form of anything in heaven above
or on the earth beneath
or in the waters below.
You shall not bow down to them
or worship them;
for I, the LORD your God,
am a jealous God,
punishing the children for the sin of the fathers
to the third and fourth generation
of those who hate me,
but showing love to a thousand[ generations]
of those who love me and keep my commandments."

The thrust of these two commands is that God alone is to be worshipped. He created us, He sustains us, He gives us life and breath. He gives us all the good things we enjoy. He is to be the exclusive focus of our worship, praise and adoration. When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was He focused on how we are to love God. (Matthew 22:35f) He quoted from Deuteronomy 6:4-6 which says,

"Hear, O Israel:
The LORD our God,
the LORD is one.
Love the LORD your God with all your heart
and with all your soul and with all your strength."

God is to be at the center of your life.

I believe that if you asked a hundred people on the street today if they worshiped idols, very few, if any would admit to it. I think they would all deny it. In our society many people think of idolatry only in terms
of graven images, of bowing down to them. But idolatry consists of more than graven images. Our society today is full of idolatry. The media is about sex, self-gratification, greed. It's all about idolatry. The old nature and all things associated with it need to be put to death. You must put greed to death.

So we need to get greed out of our lives. How do we do that?

The Greek word translated 'greed' here, according to F. F. Bruce,

"denotes not merely the desire to possess more than one has, but more than one ought to have, especially that which belongs to someone else."

More than you ought to have. Hendriksen phrases it this way,

"'to have more than his due.' He is overreaching, going beyond what is proper."

That's what the word means. But in itself, that doesn't seem very helpful. How are we to define what is too much, what is more than one's due, what is overreaching?

To see this we need to look to Jesus. First, we're going to consider one of His teachings and then we're going to look at an incident from His life. Both of them show us how we are not to set our hearts on the things of this life, but to be rich toward God.

First, let's look at Luke 12. It's about the rich fool.

The rich man who had a great crop didn't think he was overreaching. In fact, he could have thought it was a gift from God—for it was his land that produced a good crop. You'll remember the story. Jesus said, (verse 16f)

"The ground of a certain rich man
produced a good crop.
He thought to himself,
'What shall I do?
I have no place to store my crops.'
Then he said,
'This is what I'll do.
I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones,
and there I will store all my grain and my goods.
And I'll say to myself,
You have plenty of good things
laid up for many years.
Take life easy;
eat, drink and be merry.'
But God said to him,
'You fool!
This very night your life will be demanded from you.
Then who will get
what you have prepared for yourself?'
This is how it will be with anyone
who stores up things for himself
but is not rich toward God."

The point is that we're not to be focused on gaining possessions at all. We are not to run after them. Rather we are to be rich toward God. We are to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. We are to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. Jesus began that story with the words, (Luke 12:15)

"Watch out!
Be on your guard against all kinds of greed;
a man's life does not consist
in the abundance of his possessions."

And after the story, He said to His disciples, (verse 22f)

"Therefore I tell you,
do not worry about your life,
what you will eat;
or about your body,
what you will wear.
Life is more than food,
and the body more than clothes.
Consider the ravens:
They do not sow or reap,
they have no storeroom or barn;
yet God feeds them.
And how much more valuable you are than birds!
Who of you by worrying
can add a single hour to his life?
Since you cannot do this very little thing,
why do you worry about the rest?
Consider how the lilies grow.
They do not labor or spin.
Yet I tell you,
not even Solomon in all his splendor
was dressed like one of these.
If that is how God clothes the grass of the field,
which is here today,
and tomorrow is thrown into the fire,
how much more will he clothe you,
O you of little faith!
And do not set your heart
on what you will eat or drink;
do not worry about it.
For the pagan world runs after all such things,
and your Father knows that you need them.
But seek his kingdom,
and these things will be given to you as well."

The point here is that not only shouldn't we set our hearts on things here below—but that we really don't even have to be that concerned about them. We can trust God to take care of them for us. Our focus should be on Christ's kingdom, on seeking to live heavenly lives, with our hearts on things above—using our wealth and material things to advance God's kingdom and to help others.

So how much is too much? The point is that your life and all you have has been given to you by God so that you can be rich toward God. The things that you have are to be used by you to do God's work.

We see more teaching about this in
2 Corinthians 9:6f. Paul wrote,

"Remember this:
Whoever sows sparingly
will also reap sparingly,
and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.
Each man should give
what he has decided in his heart to give,
not reluctantly or under compulsion,
for God loves a cheerful giver.
And God is able to make all grace abound to you,
so that in all things at all times,
having all that you need,
you will abound in every good work.
As it is written:
'He has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor;
his righteousness endures forever.'
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.
You will be made rich in every way
so that you can be generous on every occasion,
and through us your generosity
will result in thanksgiving to God."

Who is at the center of your life? Is it Christ? Are you living for Him? Is He your God? In everything you own His? Or have you made an idol out of yourself? Love God, not yourself. Serve Him, not yourself. Seek His glory, not your own. Work for Him, not yourself.

Secondly, consider an example from Jesus life.

I want to take you back to when He was tempted by the devil.

You'll remember the background. He had fasted for 40 days and He was hungry. The devil came to Him and tempted Him. He urged Him to turn the stones into bread. But Jesus refused. He trusted in the Father to take care of Him.

Not many people would think too badly of a man who stole food because he was starving. But Jesus would have none of it. He trusted in the Father and His care over Him. The point is that the Father did not disappoint.

Satan then offered Jesus
all the kingdoms of the world. In Matthew 4:8f we read,

"the devil took him to a very high mountain
and showed him all the kingdoms of the world
and their splendor.
'All this I will give you,'
he said,
'if you will bow down and worship me.'
Jesus said to him,
'Away from me, Satan!
For it is written:
'Worship the Lord your God,
and serve him only.'"

All the kingdoms of the world without going to the cross—that was what was offered. Jesus refused. He went to the cross. It was because of you. There was no greed in Him at all. He was thinking of you. He allowed Himself to be nailed to the cross for you. He suffered there for you. He endured the wrath that was due to your sins. He died for you.

Where was greed? It was absent. Jesus was not thinking of Himself—but of you, of God's glory, of serving God. As Paul wrote in
2 Corinthians 8:9,

"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."

That should be what your life is like—absent of greed. You should be focusing on God, on serving Him, on others and serving them. Be rich toward God. Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven. That is the way to contentment. As Paul said in Philippians 4:11-12,

"I have learned to be content
whatever the circumstances.
I know what it is to be in need,
and I know what it is to have plenty.
I have learned the secret of being content
in any and every situation,
whether well fed or hungry,
whether living in plenty or in want."

Lastly, for those of you who are not Christians.

God is not at the center of your life. Something else is there. The terrible thing is that whatever it is will eventually disappoint you. It will not satisfy. It will not bring contentment. You need Christ. If you gain Christ, you gain all things. As the apostle Paul wrote in wrote in 1 Corinthians 3:21f,

"All things are yours,
whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas
or the world or life or death
or the present or the future—
all are yours,
and you are of Christ,
and Christ is of God."

In Christ is joy, satisfaction, contentment—and riches. Not the riches of this world that will disappoint—but the richness of God. Go to Christ and gain that.

For you that are Christians, why be greedy? All things are yours. What a Savior we have in Jesus.