I must confess that I do not agree very often with Oprah Winfrey, because I find that she tends to push people away from faith in Jesus Christ, not toward it. But I was impressed with a statement she made over the weekend – a statement that echoes one of Jesus’ teachings.
The Daily Mail from the U.K. had a headline, “‘Having a closet full of shoes doesn’t fill up your life’: Oprah Winfrey gives a wisdom-filled commencement speech at Agnes Scott College.” She promoted serving others above accumulating more things.
The Lord once said, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” Jesus also asked the question, “What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?”
Yet clearly we are consumed as a society with how much we make and how much we can acquire. Even many professing Christians get caught up in this quest for more and more.
Greed has been defined as “the desire for more.” It is said that a reporter once asked John D. Rockefeller, “How much money does it take to satisfy a person?” The billionaire snapped back, “Always a little more.”
But the 10th Commandments forbids covetousness: “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant or his maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” D. James Kennedy once noted that this last command shows the divine origin of the Decalogue. How could anyone but God alone know the heart of someone coveting or not?
The thing most coveted is money. That is why the Bible says: “The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” Please note that the Bible doesn’t say money is the root of evil, as is sometimes said, but the love of money.
One of Jesus’ own disciples, Judas Iscariot, betrayed Him for 30 pieces of silver. Later Judas was so sorry for what he had done that he committed suicide. Bible commentator Matthew Henry states, “[T]he only thing that made Judas betray his Master was he hoped to get money by it. It was not hatred of his Master, nor any quarrel with him, but purely love of money; that and nothing else made Judas a traitor.”
Ideally, we would live in a world where some are contentedly poor and others are usefully rich. Ah, but this is not so. We have the greedy poor and the greedy rich. It’s certainly true that millions – whether they admit it or not – envy the rich. I’ve heard that when Marshall Field IV inherited millions of dollars, he was asked about how he would spend it. He commented that you can only wear one suit at a time and eat one meal at a time.
Serving others can bring a type of deep-seated joy that the committed materialist does not know. Mother Teresa, the humble nun who served the desperately poor and dying people of Calcutta (now Kolkata), India, did what she did because of her love for Jesus. It is said that one day she was cleaning a sick, homeless person; the odor was noxious, and the man was grumpy. A reporter who had come to talk with her said in disgust: “I wouldn’t do that for a million dollars.” She smiled at him and answered: “Neither would I, sir, neither would I.”
Mother Teresa was imitating Jesus who said of Himself, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Service fulfills us much more than stuff ever can. But ultimately what we need is a touch from God. The kind that changed a young man who lived in ancient Rome from sinner to saint.
He wrote how he was in rebellion as a young man, beginning with a prayer to the effect: “Lord, make me sexually pure – but not yet!” He describes himself “a most wicked servant of base lusts.” But his mother kept praying for him. And her prayers were answered. And the sinner was converted to Christ and went on to become a great saint, St. Augustine.
In his “Confessions,” Augustine said, “You have made us for Yourself, Oh God, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in You.”
Knowing Christ and serving Him by serving others certainly beats accumulating more and more things – things we can’t take with us. It sure beats a closetful of shoes.
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