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Greed or Self-interest

Updated on January 8, 2012

Greed or self-interest - discerning distinctions

What's the difference between greed and self-interest? Is there one? Does it matter? What about free will and personal responsibility or love and lust or avocation and addiction? This is the first of what I hope will be a helpful group of hubs in which I attempt to discern the difference between concepts which are often confused. Of course, my source is not human intelligence but the Scriptures. That way, you have an opportunity to check me out against an objective standard of truth.

By the way, isn't it curious that we who hold to a high view of Scripture are often labeled dogmatic, when the opposite is the case. If there is an objective standard by which to assess truth and falsehood, right and wrong, we who believe it welcome others to evaluate our opinions against Scripture. It's those who have no objective resource who must assert with utmost dogmatism that their opinion is right! It's all they have.

Greed keeps bad company

Don't you think? "But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler - not even to eat with such a one." I Corinthians 5:11 Leaving aside for the moment what it might mean not to associate with such a "brother", my point here is simply to show that God speaks of greed in the same breath with sexual immorality, idolatry and drunkenness. So much for Ayn Rand's attempt to dress up greed as the noble motivation that keeps society free and prospering. Or does she mean "self-interest"? Trouble is that she uses the terms interchangeably.


Self-interest is a God-given instinct. It's revealed among the very first things God said to Adam. "And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, 'You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.'" Genesis 2:16,17 Do you suppose God knew that Adam would prefer not to die?

The same assumption is made when the Scriptures call us to love our neighbors as ourselves. That's in Leviticus 19:18 and was later quoted by Jesus several times, among them Luke 10:27. Contrary to some popular self-esteem notions, this Scripture is not a command or even an encouragement to love ourselves. It simply assumes our God-given instinct and uses it to teach how we are to love others. Fact is, it is impossible not to love ourselves. The person with low self-esteem or personal identity struggles show thereby that he/she is self-absorbed. It's an inordinate love of self that creates these maladies.

Practically speaking

So much for the heady stuff. How do you know when your are exercising self-interest or might be sliding toward greed?

1.What is the ultimate goal? I always feel a little bad when I hit the sack around 8 or 9 p.m. I leave my wife to spend the rest of the evening by herself while I snooze? Am I greedy for sleep or exercising sensible self-interest? If you understand that I need to be up at 2:45 a.m to punch in at work at 4, the answer is easy. So I need to get over feeling bad. My wife got over it some time ago.

2.What else is going on in your mind? Would you contemplate hurting someone or breaking God's law in order to acquire the desired item or privilege? If you're even thinking about it, greed is lurking about your soul.

3.What are you neglecting in order to gain what you want? A relationship? A prior commitment? A clear responsibility? Thinking about using money set aside to replace a leaky roof to buy a new set of wheels?

I didn't do it!

Actually no one ever does greed. Greed is a sin of the heart. It can be present without being externalized. Actually, from God's point of view, all sin is like that. You are guilty long before you act out.

It's a lose, lose situation, unless you embrace the gospel. In the gospel, the Lord doesn't say to you, "Now get over your greed. Then we'll talk." He says, "Trust me. I'll change your heart." What, in particular, must you trust? Believe that He loves you as much now as He ever will. Know that when Jesus died for you, he not only paid for your sin, but empowers you by his Spirit to become more and more like him.

Jesus knew the difference between self-interest and greed. He slept when he needed to (even on a tossing boat) and got away from the crowds when he desired to be alone with the Father. That was self-interest. But that he was free of all greed is obvious for "though he was in the form of God, he did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped." Philippians 2:6,7

For you! Is it greed or self-interest?

Comments - I'm listening

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    • liftandsoar profile image

      Frank P. Crane 5 years ago from Richmond, VA

      Thanks, Pattie, good to hear from you. Glad you found this helpful.

    • profile image

      Pattie Skaperdas 5 years ago

      Frank, great message! Wonderful clarity. I had never thought to make the comparison between Greed and self-interest.