An old Greek myth goes something like this:  There was an old satyr named Silenus who got drunk and went missing.  He ended up in the rose garden of King Midas.  Midas recognized him and treated him with kindness.  Eventually, he was taken home to his foster son, Dionysus.  As a reward, Dionysus offered Midas his choice of whatever he wished for.  Midas asked that whatever he might touch would turn into gold.

            At first, Midas rejoiced in his new power.  He touched an oak twig and a stone, both turned to gold.  Then he touched every rose in the rose garden and they all became gold.  But he soon lost enthusiasm for his new power after ordering his servants to set a feast.  When he went to partake of the feast, he found out that his food and drink also immediately turned to gold.  In one version of the myth, Midas' daughter came to him, upset about the roses that had lost their fragrance and become hard and when he reached out to comfort her, she also turned to gold.  In that version, he hated the gift and asked Dionysus to deliver him from what turned out to be a curse.  He was cured of the curse and everything no longer turned to gold.  In another version, he died of starvation as a result of his greed for the gold touch.

            Greed is defined as "excessive or reprehensible desire to acquire things."  Greed can be very damaging and is a much greater problem or temptation than many of us are willing to admit.  It is even considered one of the seven deadly sins.  I don't think that it's an overstatement to say that greed is a disease that consumes us from the inside out.  It can be especially damaging when it comes to believers and our mission to serve others.  That's because greed is everything that ministry is not.

            Ministry serves others; greed serves self.  Ministry calls people to set aside selfish gain in order to assist others; greed is an excessive desire to acquire something for the benefit of self.  A believer must live by the highest ethical standards; greedy people sacrifice ethics when it blocks what they desire to obtain.  Ministry uses things to serve people; greed uses people to obtain things.

            There are different aspects of greed.  The one that most of us probably think of when we hear the word greed is the greed for more money.  This is a hunger for more money at any cost, even at the expense of relationships and personal integrity.  But greed isn't always, or only associated with money.  The insatiable drive for more of anything is the very essence of greed. 

            There is also greed for possessions.  Needless to say, this type of greed is a desire for more and more things.  The greed for possessions is closely tied to the greed for money.  But even if someone doesn't have a lot of money, they can still be greedy for more stuff.  Credit cards have made it easy to accumulate stuff without cash.  When a lust for toys surpasses one's ability to afford them, that is greed.

            Another area that we can be greedy with is fame.  Fame is an undivided desire for attention.  The greedy person desires to be known, to be quoted, to be seen, to be popular, to be recognized in public.  Someone with this type of greed will do anything and everything necessary in order to put themselves in the public eye.

            The last area of greed that can entrap people is the greed for pleasure.  At its extreme, the greed for pleasure is what could be called the playboy lifestyle.  It is an existence that seeks to satisfy one's sensual desires above all else.

            As we look at the topic of greed this morning, we all need to caution ourselves.  Don't think that you're not greedy so you can ignore what Scripture says about it.  Also, don't fall into the trap of thinking that this couldn't be you.  We all have the potential to be greedy.  We all have the seed of this sin laying dormant, just waiting for an opportunity to grow and take over our lives.  So we need to pay attention to the Word and we need to be diligent in looking out for the early stages of greed, which are envy and covetousness. 

            This morning, we're going to look at another nobody in the Bible.  This nobody was a servant to one of the better known characters in Scripture.  He was a relative nobody, who completely surrendered to greed in his life.  His name is Gehazi and his story is found for us in 2 Kings 5:20-27.

            As you may have noticed, this story is actually a continuation of the story we looked at last week about Naaman.  Naaman was an officer in the Syrian army whose leprosy was cleansed.  As you recall, the proud general thought that he needed a lot of money in order to purchase his healing.  But as he found out, God's ways are higher than our ways.  He also discovered that all He needed was God's grace, which is free. 

            One of the unusual ways that God worked was through a young Israeli girl who was employed serving Naaman's wife.  She mentioned that there was a prophet in Israel who could heal her master.  As soon as Naaman heard that, he did something about it.  When he arrived at Elisha's house to be cleansed, the prophet sent out a servant and told the general to dip seven times in the Jordan River and he would be well.  At first he hesitated, but eventually did as he was told and was healed.

            Not only was Naaman's skin healed, but so was his heart.  (v. 15).  This was a man whose life had been changed by the free gift of God's grace.  In response to that, he wanted to offer a gift of thanksgiving to God for what He had done for him.  This was no small gift, either.  It was equivalent to over one million dollars.  But Elisha wouldn't take it.  (v. 16). 

            The question then becomes, why did Elisha turn down the gift?  There was nothing wrong with Naaman offering a gift of thanksgiving to the Lord for his healing.  We're not told why, but it's quite possible that Elisha turned down the gift to reinforce the lesson that Naaman had learned about God's salvation being freely given by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.  Taking Naaman's money would potentially compromise that message.  Elisha kept his ministry clearly in focus and would not allow even the slightest hint of greed to taint it. 

            But that sense of character and integrity cannot be said of everyone in this story.  Verse 20 begins with the ominous words, "But Gehazi."  With those words, the story turns.  Standing alongside Elisha through this whole scenario is a servant, the prophet's assistant, named Gehazi.  We know from other passages that he had been with his master for a number of years, working closely with him and even going on his behalf to perform miracles.

            But even though Gehazi should have known better and done better, somewhere along the way, his thinking got twisted.  (v. 20).  We see just in this verse how Gehazi justified his actions.  In essence, he thought that Elisha saying no to the gift was denying the general a chance to say thank you.  Gehazi's attitude was even to the point of thinking that Elisha had kept Naaman from doing what was right.

            Not only that, but the justification of his greed went so far as to argue that taking Naaman's gift was actually God's will for his life.  To kind of sum up what he might have been thinking at this point:  "My master has plenty, but I don't.  I haven't gotten a raise in years even though I've served faithfully and diligently all that time.  He may not need the gift, but I have a family to take care of.  Therefore it's right and it's God's will that I get something out of this."

            So what's wrong with Gehazi's rationalization?  Plenty.  His role as Elisha's assistant was to make the prophet more successful in his ministry.  He was to follow Elisha's lead and model the character of his master in all things.  Elisha turned down the generous gift and Gehazi should have supported that decision.  Plus, the gift was never offered to him, it was offered only to Elisha.  He also knew that what he was doing was wrong because he hid it from his master.    

            Gehazi's greed is manifest in at least five different ways and we can learn from him how not to be greedy.  First, he pursued the goods without a single word of prayer.  He also apparently acted with no thought as to how it might harm Naaman's spiritual growth as a new follower of God.  He also gave no thought to how it might harm Elisha's reputation.  It was nothing more than selfishness in action.

            If we are going to guard ourselves against becoming greedy, then it would be wise for us to always look out for others.  How we live, what we do and what we say has an effect on other people.  Phil. 2:3-4.  We always need to have an awareness that our lives will affect and impact others.  It's pure selfishness to only think about self and what you want and what you like and what benefits you in life.  Life isn't about us, it's about how we can positively affect the lives of others.

            Therefore, when we're in the process of making decisions, we always need to seek God to determine His will and what He wants from us.  Isa. 55:6.  Seek God while He may be found.  As believers, God is always near us; He can always be found by us, we just have to seek him with our heart, mind, soul and strength.  Before you do anything, get in the habit of seeking God first to make sure you're on the right track and to make sure you're positively impacting others. 

            Second, Gehazi crafted an elaborate lie to swindle Naaman.  All was not well; his master had not sent him; there were no needy sons of the prophets.  He was taking the gifts for nobody but himself.  Not only did he lie about what was going on, but he also left the general feeling that he was doing something special and spiritual for some needy folks.      

            Another step that we need to take in our lives to keep us humble and not greedy, is to always tell the truth.  We should all know that one of the Ten Commandments is that we are not to bear false witness against our brothers.  In other words, we are not to lie and to always be truthful and honest. 

            The NT also exhorts truthfulness.  Eph. 4:15.  We are to always speak the truth in love.  People should trust that what we say is what we mean.  Our word should be our bond.  That means no one should ever question whether or not we're telling the truth.  Lying never accomplishes anything and is never what God wants us to do. 

            Third, Gehazi received what did not belong to him.  Any gifts received would have rightfully belonged to Elisha.  Even then, Naaman gave it intending for it to go for some starving seminary students.  It would be like taking money given to the Lottie Moon Christmas offering and keeping it for yourself.  In other words, Gehazi stole. 

            This has a direct connection to us keeping ourselves from becoming greedy.  Don't steal.  The fourth commandment is "do not steal."  That is a very direct and very straightforward command.  This is another area where most of us are probably thinking, I don't steal.  I certainly hope not and do not think that is a huge problem.  But we are all susceptible of succumbing to any and all temptations in life, including stealing.

            You might not go into a store and put something into your pocket and walk out without paying for it.  That is stealing, obviously, and it is wrong.  But there are more subtle ways that we can steal.  Not paying your taxes like you are supposed to is stealing from the government.  Believe me, I hate paying taxes as much if not more than the next guy.  But we have that responsibility and there is no reason to cheat on your taxes or lie to the IRS. 

            We also steal when we don't give to God the way He wants us to.  Whether you believe that we should be giving ten percent of our gross income to God as a tithe, like I do, or just that we need to be generous in our giving to the Lord, we do need to give.  To not give to Him is stealing from Him, because it's all His to begin with and He just asks for ten percent back.  I know many people don't think that they can afford to give that much or give anything at all.  If that describes you, you are still stealing from God and robbing Him of what is His and living in sinful disobedience to His commands no matter what your excuses might be.   

            Fourth, Gehazi concealed his actions from Elisha.  He had Naaman's servants carry the loot as far as the ridge in front of the village where they lived and then in case Elisha was watching, Gehazi finished the delivery himself.  His sins were deliberately hidden from his master.

            In order not to be greedy, we need to make sure we don't hide anything from God.  It is imperative that we are open and honest with the Lord about all that we do.  After all, He already knows.  We need to confess.  It is imperative to our spiritual well being that we take responsibility for our sins and our lives and acknowledge what we've done. 

            Part of that involves confessing our sins.  Ps. 32:5.  We also need to confess truth.  Rom. 10:9.  Confessing Jesus as Lord is vital but we also need to be willing to confess other truths and to stand strong in who we are in what we believe about our Lord.  Confessing truth will keep us from becoming greedy.  Lastly, when Elisha confronted him, he lied without hesitation.  He even put a spiritual spin on it by saying, "your servant went nowhere."

            Not surprisingly, Elisha was not fooled and the consequences were tragic.  (vv. 26-27).  Because of his greed, Gehazi forfeited his future ministry.  He now had the very disease that another man was willing to pay millions to have cleansed.  The greedy servant had forgotten that ministry serves others, never self.

            Apparently Gehazi repented, although he was never cleansed of his leprosy.  According to Hebrew law, he was able to continue serving as Elisha's assistant because his skin had turned completely white.  He had been returned to ministry, but his white, flaking skin would forever remind him of what he had done. 

            We should be men and women above reproach in every aspect of how we live our lives.  No one should ever suspect us of deception, or stealing or manipulation or taking unfair advantage of our position.  Because trust is essential, our integrity must remain steadfast.  Maintain a high level of accountability; constantly examine your motives.  Don't let greed ruin your reputation or what you are able to do for the Lord.

            As our singer comes now, we invite you to come and confess whatever it is that God is putting on your heart that needs to be confessed.  Come now and talk to me about that as we stand now and sing.



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