Our National Anthem: Envy or Greed?

“Greed is good! Greed is right! Greed works! Greed will save the USA!” – From movie Wall Street –1987

Do not think me mad. It is not to make money that I believe a Christian should live. The noblest thing a man can do is, just humbly to receive, and then go amongst others and give. –David Livingstone

Jesus said to him, “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.” (Matt. 19:21)

Shortly after we moved to Malawi, I listened to a Malawian pastor speak on the subject of envy. In his message he pointed out that the danger of envy was even written in the national anthem of Malawi. I decided to look it up. Here are some of the words I found: (From “And Mother Malawi”) “O God bless our land of Malawi; Keep it a land of peace. Put down each and every enemy; Hunger, disease, envy. (Italics my addition)

“Hunger,” I understand. It is everywhere. “Disease,” I understand. It is everywhere. But, envy? Why would the author of the national anthem list “envy” as one of the three great enemies of the nation of Malawi? Since then I have found out that he was not only an author, he was a prophet.

I have witnessed incidents of envy in the villages around us that really surprised me. For instance, I cannot give out Bibles to only those who do not have one. I have to give them to everybody or they will be upset. They cannot celebrate the fact that those who have none get one. I found a similar response when we gave a goat to a family of orphans, whose oldest, a 17 year old, was trying to keep four siblings alive. The church leaders wanted to know why that family received the gift and not others. They could not celebrate the fact that these vulnerable ones were getting help. Those who have little will always struggle with envy.

That caused me to ask: “If envy is the prevailing sin of Malawi, what is the prevailing sin of America?” What is the struggle of those who have much? I think it is greed. I think we Christians struggle with this more than we would like to admit. Most Christians would never say, “Greed is good.” But, the way we live would seem to suggest that in America, it has become an acceptable way of living. We even bring God into the situation, thinking we have much because God has given it to us. So, as long as we are grateful, as long as we pay our tithe, as long as we give special offerings to missions, we can spend what’s left on ourselves without a tinge of guilt.

Before I go on, let me confess that I am as guilty of this as the next American brother. I have spent most of my life trying to get the newest, largest and fanciest gadget my culture had to offer. I have wasted so much money on things that have now lost their appeal or have been taken away by decay and time. And, I would still be doing that without guilt, even claiming God’s approval, if I had not come to Malawi and come face to face with real poverty. When I stand before 200 starving children and see their faces, I can’t believe I have been so selfish and greedy in the past. And, what I see on Facebook, the purchases we celebrate and the prayers instigate, I realize that I am not alone.

My conclusion is that most of us are much more conformed to our “greed” controlled culture than we think or would admit. We are constantly being told by advertisers that we deserve a new car, a big home, a comfortable retirement, even a hamburger. If we feel a little tinge of guilt over our joyful acceptance of such dogma, our consciences are set at ease by preachers who tell us that God wants his children prosperous. After all, why else would we have such an abundance of things?

We love verses like 2 Corinthians 9:11, which promises us that God will make us “rich in every way,” but gloss over the reason He does that: “so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us our generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.” How many of us even give a thought to the slightest possibility that Jesus might be asking us to do the same kind of thing that he required of the rich young ruler in Matthew 19:21: “go, sell all your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (also see Luke 12:33-34)

And what do we do with Jesus words when he gave us this stern warning, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” (Luke 12:15) We hear much about fleeing sexual immorality and avoiding sexual sins, and rightly so, but how many sermons address the possibility that we have just as big a problem with greed? I am thinking that if the preachers went that way, their tenure would probably be a lot shorter and their congregations a lot smaller.

The thing that we miss is that God is not a miser nor is he interested in destroying our happiness. When he says, “sell your possessions and give to the poor,” (Luke 12:33) he is telling us how to protect our treasure rather than his trying to seize it. Your treasure is what you enjoy, what satisfies you, what you consider valuable. If we take that treasure and squander it on the things of this world, we will lose it and we will miss the joy it was meant to bring us. And, God wants our joy to be full! (John 15:11)

The point is this: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35) There is more happiness to be found in giving than to be found in receiving and hoarding. Our culture does not believe that. That is why it tells us we deserve to have this and that. That is why we have been schooled into thinking that what we have worked for and acquired is ours to spend on whatever our appetites desire. That is why it preaches the dogma that says the more money you have, the more happiness you have. The more fancy the car you drive, the more successful you are. The bigger your retirement cache, the more security you have.

The Scriptures will have none of that! Listen to the wise words of Isaiah.

“If you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday. And the Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your desire with good things, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water whose waters fail not.” (
Isaiah 58:10

It is the hardest thing we will ever do. The roots of greed are now firmly planted in our culture and in our hearts. But, if we want joy, real joy, joy that will last, we need to fight that spirit like the devil, which it is. We need to take what God has blessed us with and give it to those who are in need. Greed dams up joy. Giving releases it. If you want to radically change, come to Malawi and see how your excess can bless our orphans.