The Eight Patterns: Greed

... a desire for something more.

A desire
for something more

Greed is all about acquisition. Wealth is the most obvious object of greed, but one can also seek to acquire many other things, such as fame, power, prestige, friends, beauty, knowledge, etc. In contrast to gluttony, greed seeks to accumulate rather than to consume.The problem with greed is not possession, but obsession. The pursuit of a greed-driven goal is almost always more satisfying that actually achieving it. Anxiety is a common fuel for greed. With greed, the ends definitely justifies the means, and all sorts of sinful behavior are deemed acceptable in the quest for more.
with generosity
Commonly understood
as love of money
Not to confused
with good stewardship
Other forms:
fraud, lying, deceit, idolatry, stealing, ambition, prodigality, miserliness, impertinence

I recently heard a celebrity pose an interesting question on a syndicated talk show. Which of the following options would you prefer: a) one million dollars, or b) two million dollars? Based on the assumption that everyone would choose "B," he claimed to have conclusively proved that more is indeed better.

But is this really true? Is "more" always better? If "more" is not carefully specified, then there are many circumstances when "more" is clearly worse. For instance, which of the following options would the above-mentioned celebrity prefer: a) no cancerous tumors, or b) one cancerous tumor.

It is not an issue of simply wanting "more." After all, we were created with desires. God wants us to enjoy full and abundant lives (John 10:10). But when these God-given desires are warped or corrupted by greed, bondage and brutality surely follow.

Greed does not arise from within human nature, but is instead stirred by something outside of it. Cassian said the struggle against greed was "unnatural" and a "foreign warfare."

Greed is the most versatile pattern and covers the most territory. If it is difficult to match a particular behavior to specific pattern(s), then greed is almost always involved.

Generally, it is not deemed greed when the object is a necessity (such as food, clothing or shelter). It is possible to incorrectly desire necessities, but then the sin would be either gluttony or vainglory.

While greed has much in common with its fellow appetite-based patterns (gluttony and lust), there are significant differences. The other appetites are natural, and are consequently opposed by "built-in" barriers, or natural "shut off" points. For instance, one can only eat so much before their body forces them to stop for a while.

Greed, on the other hand, is an unnatural appetite and has no such "shut off" point. It is much harder to satiate greed. If unopposed, it will grow continuously and be hampered only by a lack of sinful creativity.

Greed tempts in three ways: 1) hinders a desire to surrender something, 2) fuels a desire to repossess something which has been surrendered, and 3) creates a desire to obtain something one has never before possessed.

Culture plays a very large part in greed. Certain acts can be greedy in one setting, but not in another.

Some cultures are less vulnerable to it. As a society becomes more developed, it also becomes more vulnerable to greed. The least greedy nations on earth are also the poorest. And what is true on a national level is also true on an individual level: those with less material wealth tend to be less greedy and more generous.

When greed is a relatively small threat, then the remaining patterns "take up the slack." Those less troubled by greed will have greater exposure to the other patterns, especially vainglory and pride.

Greed is a gateway pattern, and the principal stimulus for anger. Because the pursuit of more fails to deliver satisfaction, frustration (the heart of anger) sets in. Several early church fathers (Evagrius and Cassian among them) believed it was even impossible to fall to anger without first falling to greed.

Greed is the premier excuse generator. Starting small, it offers plausible and sensible reasons for wealth-related activities. In the early stages, these thoughts are not wrong, and might actually be signs of good stewardship. For example:

"I don't want to a burden to others."
"I want to be prepared for an emergency."
"I need to keep my options open."
"I need something to fall back on."
"There are too many unknowns in my future."
"What will happen to me when I am old?"

Nevertheless, greed can twist these thoughts into something unhealthy and very dangerous. What started out as noble behavior subtly slides into sin as the goal becomes more important than the method(s). Previously unthinkable actions slowly become thinkable. Lying, stealing, and even gross acts of inhumanity eventually spring from a pattern of recklessly pursuing more.

Warning: Improperly justifying greedy behavior exposes one to a subtle danger. When people trick themselves into believing that they have done something good, then they are at an increased risk to vainglory (just as if they had genuinely done something good).

Greed is a pit where the walls grow steeper as one sinks deeper into it. It intensifies and diversifies as it progresses with each step leading to greater degrees of self-blinding bondage.

Greed causes one to care less and less about virtue. Eventually, it will destroy the concern someone might have for even a shadow of godliness. Hypocrisy is rarely found in the advanced stages of greed.


Start young. A proper and strong foundation is the most effective guardian against greed. Once permitted to get its foot in the door, it becomes a very nasty and persistent houseguest. It will not leave easily. You are never too old to resist greed, but the longer you wait, the more difficult the struggle will be.

Share. The basic remedy for greed is fairly and straightforward – be generous. Patience and humility are two other virtues that effectively counteract greed (and are helpful in reducing anger and sadness as well).

Learn from others. Greed may be the most creative pattern, but generosity just might be the most creative virtue. Study the lives of those saints who appeared to be fairly resistant to greed, such as Elijah, Elisha, John the Baptist, the Apostles, members of the early church, Paul, and (of course) Jesus. Apparently, they lived a relatively material-free, unencumbered lifestyle. There are negative examples as well: Nabal, Solomon, Ahab, Gehazi, and many others.

Avoid accumulation. Limit the quantity and quality of your possessions. Doing so gives greed less raw material with which to work.

Recognize the difference between "enough" and "more than enough." It is possible to possess too much. It is also possible to want to possess too much. Both are forms of greed.

Sidebar: Renunciation
In developing this material, I have tweaked each definition to varying degrees (such as expanding gluttony to include non-food issues). These changes are nowhere else more evident than in this section on greed. Evagrius, writing from a monastic perspective to a monastic audience, had relatively little to say about greed for those who did not take a vow of poverty. For this reason, some critical adjustments were necessary because of the difference in audiences.

Life in a monastery absolutely required a vow of poverty. I deeply admire and respect those who make this completely valid decision. I firmly believe that God still calls some to bear a burden of poverty. Renunciation is much less common today than it was during the time of Evagrius and Cassian; however, it remains a valid option and worthy of some consideration.

Greed can actually be renounced with a single act by taking a vow of poverty. While such an extreme measure is almost always unnecessary, consider what you are willing to sacrifice for victory. If you unconditionally refuse to even consider this option, then you are limiting God's ability to work in your life. Much like a boat in a storm, there comes a point when the danger is so great that the crew is willing to throw everything overboard in an effort to save themselves. For some, greed may pose such a severe problem that a "throw it all overboard" approach is warranted.

I also believe God calls some to shoulder the burden of wealth. Scripture even appears to teach that wealth is the greater burden. For example, God gave great wealth to Solomon, and there is no sound reason to believe God wanted him to renounce it for a life of poverty. Unfortunately, he failed to live up to his responsibilities. Those who handled their wealth without apparent greed-related problems include Abraham, Isaac, Joseph, Boaz, Josiah, and others.

Scripture teaches that it is more blessed to give than to receive, but this does mean that receiving is wrong. It even implies that receiving is itself a blessed thing (albeit less blessed than giving). Being a receiver can teach valuable lessons such as how to be humble and gracious.

Suppose that a man wrestling with lust owned a large pornography collection. He should destroy the material rather than selling it or giving it away. It would be irresponsible for him to saddle another man with his inherently evil burden. However, wealth is an altogether different creature, and it would be irresponsible to destroy morally-neutral resources. The proper response to greed is to distribute the excess. Money is not intrinsically evil, but the love of it is.<


Greed is a pattern of empty promises, unhappiness and restlessness that mercilessly devours its victims.

"Such is the end of all who go after ill-gotten gain; it takes away the lives of those who get it." – Proverbs 1:19

"One man gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty. A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed. People curse the man who hoards grain, but blessing crowns him who is willing to sell." – Proverbs 11:24-26

"Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income. This too is meaningless. As goods increase, so do those who consume them. And what benefit are they to the owner except to feast his eyes on them?" – Ecclesiastes 5:10-11

Generosity is a virtue of sure promises, unimaginable happiness and peaceful contentment.

"A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold." – Proverbs 22:1

"Do not wear yourself out to get rich; have the wisdom to show restraint. Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone, for they will surely sprout wings and fly off to the sky like an eagle. Do not eat the food of a stingy man, do not crave his delicacies; for he is the kind of man who is always thinking about the cost. 'Eat and drink,' he says to you, but his heart is not with you. You will vomit up the little you have eaten and will have wasted your compliments." – Proverbs 23:4-8

"Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, 'Who is the LORD?' Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God." – Proverbs 30:8-9

"If anyone teaches false doctrines and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, he is conceited and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions and constant friction between men of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain.

"But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs." – 1 Timothy 6:3-10

"Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, 'Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.'" – Hebrews 13:5

Recognize the principle of stewardship. God blesses us so that we may in turn bless others. He wants us to share with others what He has given to us. Honor God's trust in you by thinking of others and ministering to those in need.

"Turn my heart toward your statutes and not toward selfish gain." – Psalm 119:36

"Do not withhold good from those who deserve it, when it is in your power to act. Do not say to your neighbor, 'Come back later; I'll give it tomorrow' -- when you now have it with you." – Proverbs 3:27-28

"Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter -- when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?" – Isaiah 58:6-7

"Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you." – Matthew 5:42

"We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man's gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully." – Romans 12:6-8

"If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth." – 1 John 3:17-18

God rewards generosity proportionately.

"Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. As it is written: 'He has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.'" – 2 Corinthians 9:6-9

You cannot focus on both greed and God. They directly compete for your attention, and God does not enjoy coming in second for your affections.

"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. No one can serve two masters. 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 both God and Money." – Matthew 6:19-21, 24
"Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming." – Colossians 3:5-6

Do not justify greed with "spiritual" excuses. The Pharisees taught it was acceptable to dedicate your wealth to God (which sounds good), but this soon became an excuse for failing to help needy parents (i.e., "Sorry, Dad, but I can't give this money to you because it has already been dedicated to God.").

"But you say that if a man says to his father or mother: 'Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is Corban' (that is, a gift devoted to God), then you no longer let him do anything for his father or mother. Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that." – Mark 7:11-13

Greed renders prayer powerless.

"What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don't they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don't get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures." – James 4:1-3

"The houses of the greedy are filled with the beasts of anger and the birds of sadness will rest in them." – Evagrius Ponticus, Reflections 18 (Aramaic).

"Just as it is possibleto think of water both while thirsty and while not thirsty, so it is possible to think of gold with greed and without greed." – Evagrius Ponticus,Discrimination 4.

"The sea is never filled up even though it takes in a multitude of rivers; the desire of the avaricious person cannot get its fill of riches. He doubled his wealth and wants to double it again, and he does not stop doubling it until death puts a stop to his endless zeal." – Evagrius Ponticus, Eight Thoughts III.8.

"With the increase of wealth, the mania of covetousness increases." – John Cassian, Institute VII.7.

"The love of money is the root of all evils because it produces hatred, theft, envy, separation, enmity, storminess, remembrance of wrong, hard-heartedness, and murder." – John Climacus, Ladder of Divine Assent 16.

"He who has tasted the things on high easily despises what is below, but he who has not tasted the things above finds joy in possessions." – John Climacus, Ladder of Divine Assent 17.

Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5) are occasionally cited as examples of greed, but I believe they are better examples of how the patterns interact with and feed each other. In addition to greed, they were also vainglorious as evidenced by their desire for others to think they were exceptionally generous. Greed was part of their problem, but not all of it.

Regarding the temptation of Christ in the wilderness: Evagrius thought Satan used greed when he offered to give Jesus the whole earth in exchange for worship. Cassian thought this particular temptation was one of pride.

In the case of a monk, greed only strikes when one or more of the following conditions are met:

1) their mind is corrupt and/or sluggish,
2) their initial renunciation was faulty, and/or
3) their love for God is lukewarm.

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