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As we begin today, let’s recall our series verse from Genesis 4.6–7, as God told the troubled Cain, son of Adam and Eve, “‘Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.’”
Last week, we looked at the destructive vices of Anger and Sloth. We saw how anger affects both the angry and the object of anger, and how forgiveness is the godly response that liberates both parties. We examined sloth and how an unattended spiritual life grows weary and indifferent. We were encouraged to fight sloth with zeal and commitment.
Today we look at AVARICE, a serious word for greed, and GLUTTONY, another word for overindulgence, especially in food. Their opposites are GENEROSITY and SELF-CONTROL
WORSHIP GUIDE QUESTIONS & COMMENTARY
JUST HOW BAD IS AVARICE?
AVARICE may not be a word we use much today, but understanding it is of the greatest importance. It is defined as extreme greed or the pursuit of material gain. The danger of avarice is the lack of contentment that it breeds inside our souls. The more we acquire, the more our heart believes it cannot do without; we develop a false sense of security. This sort of thinking leads to all sorts of behaviors, causing us to spend more than just our money but our time and our love on things that matter very little in the end.
Scripture teaches us in 1 Timothy 6.9–10, ”9 But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.”
Therefore, it isn’t money that is the problem, it is the love of money. And the love of money leads to habits based on money. When the money goes away and our habits beg for attention, we look for ways to feed them, unless we can turn our love away from gain and toward trust in God. The loss of wealth and our habits results in fear. But the object of faith is to de–throne fear and return God to the throne of our hearts. This is no easy battle and avarice is a vice that is acquired, burrowing into a beautiful apple like a small consuming worm. As time goes on, the apple appears fine from the outside, all the while rotting away in the core. The rot will spread and not long after the outside will match the spoiled center.
Jesus points out in Matthew 6, “19 Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also… 24 No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” Our devotion to God must outweigh our devotion to money and to the making money. If God is not enough, then we have truly given ourselves to our material things and placed our wealth–and–habits above our love–and–trust of God. But if we store up treasures in heaven, then we have shown both God and our souls where our true trust and love are found. Which is our greater priority: our things or our God?
GLUTTONY AFFECTS OUR WHOLE LIFE
GLUTTONY and the need for food is something everyone can relate to. Our eating habits can be a revealing metaphor for the state of our spiritual lives. The way in which we choose to appease our appetites can say so much about the way we choose to respond to any number of things regarding our faith.
Gluttony is understood as “excess,” especially in regards to eating and drinking. There are similarities between gluttony and avarice, which make them hard to distinguish from each other. Avarice is the pleasure and security that come through gaining and hoarding. But gluttony is motivated by the pleasure that comes from using and consuming. When we are gluttonous, we eat and drink for an unhealthy sense of pleasure. This numbs our appetite, but only until the vice comes knocking again. For the glutton, pleasure is the driving force, the engine behind the habit. That pleasure, though, is often a mask covering a lack in something else, therefore the pleasure is unbalanced and overindulges to compensate.
You’ve probably heard, “Moderation in all things.” There exists a healthy balance and yet we’ve seen and experienced the effects of an imbalance. For instance, should you eat too much, you get sick. Should you eat too little, you get sick. It is only in taking in what you need that you find true contentment, both in body and mind. Therefore, we can be gluttons for excess and gluttons for denial.
In my own struggles against indulgence, I look to sayings like, “Be sure you are eating to live, not living to eat.” This quote is a perfect example of priority. When we live to eat, we function for the purpose of supporting our appetites and habits. But when we eat to live, we take in only enough to satisfy the moment, rather than overindulging it.
Overindulgence affects our judgment, in both the moment and later moments, as habits form over time. We build a reliance upon food or other things that make it difficult to trust God and God alone. Through gluttony, we create competition between our need for God and our need to consume. Again, this is where we see similarities between the vices of avarice and gluttony.
Scripture warns us in passages like Romans 13.13–14, “13 Because we belong to the day, we must live decent lives for all to see. Don’t participate in the darkness of wild parties and drunkenness, or in sexual promiscuity and immoral living, or in quarreling and jealousy. 14 Instead, clothe yourself with the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. And don’t let yourself think about ways to indulge your evil desires” (NLT).
Reliance upon God reveals that Jesus has all we need. Like the Hebrews in the desert who wondered where their next meal would come from, God provides manna—daily bread—for us to have, enough for today. The key word is “enough.” God must be enough and we must hold fast to God rather than to gluttonous moments that consume our lives and lead to weariness of heart.
Know that gluttony slows down and even ceases the use of other virtues. Overindulgence leads to weariness of heart and life, making it difficult to focus and practice the more important aspects of our spiritual life (which is the sloth we talked about last week). Think back to the many feasts you’ve had around holiday tables and celebrations. You showed up hungry and excited about all the good food. But by the end of dinner, most of the men have found couches and spare bedrooms for naps, and the most common phrase on the way home is, “I shouldn’t have eaten that much. I feel sick.” This is what we do: we make ourselves sick through a lack of self-control and we weaken our ability to both trust God and perform boldly for His kingdom.
HOW WE FIGHT AVARICE & GLUTTONY
First, we fight AVARICE with GENEROSITY. If we are to be lavish in life, then we should be lavish in our willingness to be self–less for the benefit of others. The grace of God is a prime example. God could have anything, do anything, enjoy anything, and yet His efforts are spent on our redemption. God is working for our salvation all the time and we, therefore, should make gratitude and reception of His grace our primary focus.
Liberally lavishing good on others is the example set by Jesus. No one deserved to be helped, healed, or forgiven by Him and yet Jesus met others needs because of His generous character. To be included in the goodness of God is the greatest of gifts. It is that kind of love that we are to have, a generous love.
Look at these example from scripture. In Acts 20.35, Paul says, “35 In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”
Jesus says to the rich man in Matthew 19.21, “21 If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22 When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. 23 And Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven.”
The rich man in the story was sorrowful because his heart was aligned with his things and his pursuit of things. Giving them up was an act of sacrifice that removed the security he had built up for himself. He was afraid. The truly generous person places faith in God and celebrates the gain of others and seeks to meet their needs. When our goal is our own gain, we do not have the success of the other at heart. And success for the other is not that they would gain in un–healthy ways, but rather that we would provide for them the greatest of needs, needs that lead to wholeness and contentment. This is what it means to be generous.
And we fight GLUTTONY with SELF-CONTROL. Self-control in our stomachs is the greatest practice for self-control in the other areas of our lives. Self-control is evidence in our souls that we are not controlled by our impulses. This reality is experienced in God’s statement to Cain, that we must rule over sin, rather than have sin rule over us. But do not think that self-control over our appetites is something that is possible on our own doing or alone. It is the redemptive work of Jesus that frees us from bondage to our appetites, and it is God’s grace that strengthens us for a resolve to control our appetites.
There are a couple of forms of self-control that are helpful. Abstinence is one way, which is the practice of self-restraint. When we deny our appetites their cravings, we starve–out the longings they produce within us. It is painful to say “no” when we have built up a habit of always saying “yes.” Abstinence or self-denial is hard but helpful. By starving out gluttony’s appetite, we weakens it’s grip and place a more firm dependence upon God for meeting our needs.
A second way is through accountability, where we enter into an agreement with another who holds us accountable to our goal. In essence, we’re bearing one another’s burdens, as we are told in Galatians 6. We learn to be good self-supervisors through accountability because we learn for ourselves responsibility. This dependence upon another is training for depending upon God for help in times of need.
…these two virtues of generosity and self-control are how we fight the temptation to act as Cain did. We are generous in our giving to God and others. We are self-controlled, rather than allowing sin to control us. If we will accept the help that comes only from God to live this way, we will see greed turn to giving and consumption turn to restraint.