If you’ve been alive for very long at all, you’ll remember this song made famous by the Rolling Stones (aka “The Stones”) back in 1969 (YouTube Video below). So, what is it about “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” that we don’t understand? We have taken greed and cleaned it up to look fine and proper and as Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) says in the movie, “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps”—“Now it seems we’ve made it legal.” And, while this attitude is prolific in our culture and has been for a few decades now, it has also invaded the Church in America because the Church has lost it’s ability to discern, much like the Church in Laodicea in Revelation 3:14-22 (you can read it for yourself, and it’s not pretty . . .).
Church, consider this your wake-up call. Ephesians 5:5 states very clearly, “For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a man is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.” So what it is we don’t get? Just for good measure let me include The Message Bible’s version of that same verse, “You can be sure that using people or religion or things just for what you can get out of them—the usual variations on idolatry—will get you nowhere, and certainly nowhere near the kingdom of Christ, the kingdom of God.” The usual variations on idolatry include “the worship of idols, images, or anything which is not God; the worship of false gods.” And we have a legion of “false gods” in America: Materialism, love of money, power, status, sex, self, gluttony, greed for “more, more, more” of just about anything already listed and much, much more. In other words, never being satisfied with what you have and also using people to try to get it. Ring a bell?
Most church goers don’t consider themselves greedy (and indeed, not all church goers are greedy), but let me ask you a few questions to get you thinking. Are you completely happy with what you have or own right now, or do you want more? Are you in credit card debt that you can’t pay off every month when the bill comes due? Are you always looking for a job that will pay you more? Do you feel you have to keep up with the Joneses or live in a certain neighborhood or own a certain car for the sake of status? When was the last time you actually tithed (and with a good attitude, too) 10% of your earnings to your church? Would you betray a fellow Christian if it would put money in your own pocket? (Watch that last one as it goes on all the time disguised in a variety of ways.)
Even the Stones understood in their lyrics that you can’t always get what you want:
“You can’t always get what you want
You can’t always get what you want
You can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometime you just might find
You get what you need.”
Does it bother you that I quoted the Stones instead of the Bible? The Apostle Paul did say it first: “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances” (Phil 4:11). Even the Stones, who don’t profess to be Christian, understood that you can’t always get what you want, even with their millions. Church folks have a grave tendency of putting God is a box of their own making. God doesn’t fit in any box. He’s the sovereign Creator of the entire universe, folks.
Contentment . . . I haven’t run into too many people lately who are content. Mind you, I’ve been unemployed going on three years now (in April) and I’ve had no income–NONE–since my unemployment benefits ran out last May and yet when I get into conversations with some people (not all) the topic invariably comes to their money problems. Not mine, but theirs. I rarely bring the topic up. Yet I hear about their “unexpected bills” or their constant worrying about “not having enough” and yet they have a job or are collecting social security or a pension (and sometimes both or all three) and yet they are complaining to me about their lack of money–and I’ve had no income since last May and I’m not sure when I will have one again. It’s appalling, really. I’d much rather talk about other things, but they bring up the subject.
Greed is not about what you actually have or own. Most likely there are millionaires who aren’t greedy. Greed is about an insatiable desire to have more no matter where you fall on the socioeconomic scale. Greed is never being content with what you have and striving, in any way possible including using other people, to get more.
If you’re ticked off after reading this far, this post isn’t for you. You’re not looking for a Savior, at least not the One in the Bible. If, on the other hand, you recognize yourself in anything I have said, there is very, very, very good news for you. When Jesus addressed the Church in Laodicea in Rev. 3:14-22, there are two verses that will show you the way out of your greed and discontent– Verses 19-20: “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.”
We live in the most blessed nation this world has ever seen, and yet we complain the most that we never quite have enough. Let me run some stats by you from an article published on January 5, 2012 on CNN.com titled, “What Does It Mean When Americans Make Up Half Of The World’s Richest 1%“:
–When you look at the world’s population as a whole, it only takes $34,000 a year per person – after taxes – to be part of the world’s richest one percent
–60 million people make up the world’s richest one percent. And, according to world bank economist Branko Milanovic, half of them – or 29 million people – lived in the United States as of 2005
–None of the world’s richest 1% live in Africa, China or India – statistically speaking
–People in the world’s true middle live on around $1,200 a year
–The poorest 5% of Americans are richer than two-thirds of the entire world
Does that give you a different perspective on what you really have and what you really need? Let’s all start learning to be content whatever our circumstances (Phil 4:11) like the Apostle Paul. In fact, let me leave you with the passage in context from The Message Bible (Phil 4:10-14 MSG):
“I’m glad in God, far happier than you would ever guess—happy that you’re again showing such strong concern for me. Not that you ever quit praying and thinking about me. You just had no chance to show it. Actually, I don’t have a sense of needing anything personally. I’ve learned by now to be quite content whatever my circumstances. I’m just as happy with little as with much, with much as with little. I’ve found the recipe for being happy whether full or hungry, hands full or hands empty. Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am. I don’t mean that your help didn’t mean a lot to me—it did. It was a beautiful thing that you came alongside me in my troubles.”
We need to sound a whole lot more like the Apostle Paul. Wouldn’t you agree?
YouTube Video of “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” by the Rolling Stones (1969):
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