For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.
What do you desire most of all? What do you want more than anything else in the world?
If, like me, you grew up going to Sunday School, then you know the “right answer” to this question: God. This may very well be the right answer for you. You may in fact desire the Lord more than anything else in life. But, most of us, even if we desire God deeply, still have competing desires. If we’re truly honest with ourselves, our heart’s desire is God and . . . you can fill in the blank.
Ephesians 5:5 makes a striking and troubling connection between our desires and the worship of idols. This verse says, “No immoral, impure or greedy person – such a person is an idolater – has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.” The grammar of the verse favors the identification of the greedy person, in particular, as an idolater. This interpretation is supported by a similar verse in Colossians, “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry” (Colossians 3:5).
Why might a greedy person be singled out as an idolater? It was not uncommon in Paul’s Jewish tradition for greed to be associated with idolatry. Jesus underscored this connection when he said, “You cannot serve both God and money” (Matthew 6:24). Greed is one version of intense desire. One who is greedy for money longs for it more than anything. Such longing is psychologically close to worship. We tend to worship that for which we long and we tend to long for that which we worship. If you’re greedy for money, then chances are you worship it, or will soon enough. You will structure your life and its meaning around the earning and accumulation of money.
Greed for money is often motivated by deeper yearnings. We want money because money equals security in our hearts. We make lots of money so that we can feel good about ourselves and our accomplishments. Having lots of money seems to prove to the world that we are worthwhile. I know people whose desire for financial abundance comes from a need to prove to their fathers that they aren’t losers. Of course some love money, not for the money itself, but for what it purchases: space, time, toys, freedom, influence. Though our idolatry appears to be focused on money, in fact it may be worshiping something deeper.
If you were to ask me if I am an idolater, my first answer would be “No! I worship the one true God.” That’s true. But if you were to ask me if I am tempted to worship anything besides or alongside God, I might be less confident in my answer. Then, if you were to ask me about my desires, I would readily admit that there is plenty of competition in my heart when it comes to my yearnings. Yes, I desire God. But I also desire lots of other things. Some of these are good things, things that are gifts from God, like the love of family or a sense of accomplishment from having done good work. Yet at times my desire for those things can exceed my desire for the Lord. Periodically, God and I have a good chat about this, which mainly involves my confession, reception of forgiveness, and then a renewal of my commitment to love the Lord more than anything or anyone; more than security, more than health, more than my family, more than making a difference in the world.
Something to Think About:
What are some of your conflicting desires?
How might you know when your desires are out of balance, when you are greedy for money (or other things) in a way that is idolatry?
What helps you to want the Lord more than anything or anyone?
Something to Do:
Talk with your small group or a trusted friend about your conflicting desires. See if you can help each other figure out your deeper and more powerful desires. Pray for each other in light of what you discover. Ask the Lord to enhance your desire for him.
Gracious God, once again I confess to you that my desire for you is inconsistent. There are times I long for you more than anything, times I seek you most of all, times I worship you and you alone. Yet, there are other times, Lord, when my heart is divided, times when my desire for you has competitors. Forgive me when my heart falls into idolatry.
O Lord, as I reflect on your grandeur and grace, as I remember your goodness and holiness, I do long for you. I desire your presence, your love, your glory. I want to offer all that I am to you, holding nothing back. By your Spirit, may I desire you more deeply and consistently, more than anything else in life. Amen.