Over the years, as I have taught on the matter of sexual morality, to both young people and also couples getting ready for marriage, I have noticed a pattern in the Biblical texts: sexual immorality is quite often linked or closely associated with references to greed and theft. This link has become clearer and more understandable to me over the years. For, greed is excessive desire to possess wealth or goods, it is the insatiable desire for more. This is closely linked to lust which is an inordinate desire for the pleasures of the body.
Thus the lustful, the sexually immoral and unrepentant person says, in effect: I want sexual pleasure for myself. I do not not want to pay any “price” for it by seeing it in relationship to other goods and people. I do not want to see it in relationship to the institution of marriage, or the love of a spouse, or family, or children. I do not want commitments or responsibilities. I merely indulge in sex because I want it. All that matters is that I want it.
Many go further to accept few limits on what they want, despising norms that in any way seek to limit their access to sex, or to place it in a wider and more responsible context.
For many today, sex is simply something they want. And merely the fact that they want it makes it right. Never mind that lust and sexual immorality have had devastating effects on marriage and family, that as promiscuity has soared so have divorce rates, abortion, single parent families, children without intact families, AIDS, sexually transmitted diseases, broken hearts, and the like. Never mind all this. For many, the merely the fact that they want sex makes it right and excludes any one “telling them what to do.”
And this is greed, the insatiable desire for more, or the inordinate desire for things, such that they are considered apart from wider norms that limit desires with the boundaries of what is reasonable and in service of the common good. Greed cares little for the common good, for the needs and rights of others. Greed just wants what it wants. Lust is very close to greed in that it is also and inordinate desire for bodily pleasures apart from any consideration of the needs of others or of what it just, right and reasonable.
Let’s take a look at some of the texts wherein the Scriptures seemingly connect greed and sexual immorality. Commentary by me on each of them follows in red.
1. But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people….For of this you can be sure: No sexually immoral, impure or greedy person….has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. (Eph 5:3,5)
The connection here between greed and fornication (porneia), translated here as sexual immorality, is not spelled out. Reading the text by itself might permit the possibility that it is only coincidentally connected to sexual immorality. But as seen below there are a good number of texts that connect sexual immorality to similar notions of greed and covetousness. Hence we ought to note the connection. That the connection was not developed or explained my signal us that the early Christians saw the connection as more implicit and obvious that we moderns.
2. Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. (Col 3:5)
Here the list is broadened to include lust, and all evil desires. These are connected in the text to greed, and greed in turn is equated to idolatry.
Idolatry values something or someone in a way that hinders or surpasses the love, trust and obedience we owe to God. It wants the thing, rather than God who made the thing. Through greed we excessively desire things, such as sex, money, power, creature comforts, and they take on greater importance for us than God, or what God sets forth for us to obey. Through greed these things become idols since they surpass God in importance for us. We prefer them to God, we obey our desires more than God. God can take a number and wait, I want what I want, and that is all that matters.
And for many today, and apparently when these text were written, sex is more important than God. Hence the connection to greed.
3. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife. (Ex 20:17)
The 6th Commandment had already forbidden the act of adultery. But note here, how this commandment goes deeper, indicating that we are not to covet. In speaking of what it means to covet the Catechism says: The sensitive appetite leads us to desire pleasant things we do not have…These desires are good in themselves; but often they exceed the limits of reason and drive us to covet unjustly what is not ours and belongs to another or is owed to him. The tenth commandment forbids greed and the desire to amass earthly goods without limit…..When the Law says, “You shall not covet,” these words mean that we should banish our desires for whatever does not belong to us. Our thirst for another’s goods is immense, infinite, never quenched. Thus it is written: “He who loves money never has money enough.” (CCC # 2535-2536).
Hence, to covet the wife of another includes both a sexual desire for her and a greed that wants to have her.
4. For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, (Mk 7:21)
Here again note that in a verse that includes fornication and adultery, is included the word theft, referring to the unjust possession of something. The fornicator and adulterer steals what does not belong to them. Sexual intimacy belongs to the marriage bed alone. Hence the unmarried person and adulterer take what is not theirs. Clearly antecedent to most, if not all theft, is greed.
5. For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God; and that no man overreach and defraud his brother in this matter because the Lord is the avenger in all these things, just as we also told you before and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for the purpose of impurity, but in sanctification. So, he who rejects this is not rejecting man but the God who gives His Holy Spirit to you. (1 Thes 4:3-8).
This text not only links sexual immorality to greed but also to theft, and in a wider sense injustice. For, to fail to live chastely both overreaches and defrauds.
The Greek word here translated as overreach is υπερβαινειν (huperbainein). This word means, “to go over,” to overpass certain limits, to transgress; to go too far, i. e., to go beyond what is right or due. Hence again, we can see how greed is tied into sexual immorality, for it is desire overreaching, going too far, beyond what is reasonable, due or right. The lustful person is greedy because they want what they want no matter if it is excessive or wrong. All that matters is that they want it. And this is greed.
The word translated here as “defraud” πλεονεκτει (pleonektei) is related to covetousness and greed since it emphasizes gain as the motive of fraud. Thus, the sexually immoral person defrauds others, the sexual partner, families and society as a whole. They do this by thinking more of what they want, than what is right or what it might negatively do to others. They act fraudulently for they act as though they were married when they are not, and they do this to steal the privileges of marriage.
6. Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders, nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. (1 Cor 6:9-10)
Again, simply note that sexually immoral persons are numbered among or along side thieves and swindlers. They are akin to thieves for they take what does not belong to them, and they swindle because obtain through deceit. The deceit is that they implicitly claim the status of a married person by grasping its privileges and rights, but they have not taken up the duties of marriage.
Hence the mention of thieves and swindlers along with the sexually immoral may not be coincidental, but may imply “birds of a feather.”
7. Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral. Let your manners be without covetousness, contented with such things as you have; for God has said: I will not leave you, neither will I forsake you. (Heb 13:4-5)
In other words, don’t be greedy and steal the privileges of marriage bed by adultery, premarital sex, or any indulgence of sexual pleasure outside marriage. If you are not married, it is not yours. If you are married, it is only yours with your spouse. Be content with what you have and stop being greedy or covetous.
Hence we see demonstrated a rather consistent scriptural connection between sexual immorality, greed and theft.
Sexual intimacy is a prerogative and privilege of marriage. It exists to build up marriage, to encourage recourse to marriage, and to help knit the spouses together in a fruitful love. To snatch sex away from its only proper place is to unjustly possess that which is not mine, it is theft. And scripture connects this stealing to greed and covetousness. Greed is the excessive desire to posses, beyond what is just or reasonable. If yielded to we take what is not ours, simply because we want it.
Many today claim they can do as they please in terms of sexuality and, many also boast of their sexual freedom and exploits. The entertainment media celebrates sexual freedom. But it would appear that scripture sees such sexual exploits not as liberation, but as theft and greed.
It is true some act in weakness, some fall, but are repentant. Surely God is rich in mercy for such souls as these.
But as for those who celebrate sexual immorality, they ought to consider that what they call good, God calls sin, God calls greed, God calls theft.