This past Sunday (8/18) I started a verse-by-verse exposition of Colossians 3; I almost made it through verse 5. Verse 5 contains one of two “sin lists” in Colossians 3 — lists of sins that were nailed to the cross as part of our old lives, sins that still creep up because we walk in this world and still inhabit bodies of flesh. The first list (the one in v. 5) is almost entirely about sensuality outside of marriage, except for the final word – GREED/COVETOUSNESS. I sort of overlooked this in my concern for the effect immorality is having on our youth and families via our culture. Greed (avarice) is also a killer, and I wanted to take a minute here to remind us that it, too, needs to be “put off!”
Let’s look first at the etymology. The word translated greed, or covetousness, here is used almost exclusively by Paul. The word is pleonxia – pleon (more) and echo (have). In the earliest uses (Herodotus), pleonxia denotes immoral lust for power. Plato uses it in the sense of surpassing someone in ambition, power, and possession. In the ancient writers pleonxia was always viewed negatively as all-consuming avarice for power, wealth, and conquest.
Paul used it similarly. He saw it as defrauding (1 Thess 4:6) and dividing (1 Cor 5:11) brothers. The insatiability of greed leads to a willingness to cheat and to ultimately sever the bond with the Creator, making an idol of what I’m seeking. “Thou shalt not covet” was the tenth commandment, but in many ways it summed up several others. Said “positively,” one could say, “Thou shalt be content!” (Hebrews 13:5-6)
There is one more word I want to consider before I close. It’s another of Paul’s and is only used once; in 1 Timothy 6:10. In Greek it’s a single compound word, philargyria; in English it literally translates “love of money.” Paul lifts a piece of a more ancient proverb when in his letter to Timothy he says, “The love of money is the root of all evil.” We all know people who have spent their whole lives chasing the next $ and have only ashes in their mouths to show for it. Brothers and sisters, why do we think it will be different for us? Seek first His kingdom; His glory; He’ll take care of the rest. It isn’t possible to love both God and money! (And those are not my words!)