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“Let no one overreach or defraud others in this matter.” A Meditation on the Scriptural Connection between Sexual Immorality, Greed, and Theft.

April 8, 2014 28 Comments

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Over the years, as I have taught on the matter of sexual morality to both young people and couples preparing for marriage, I have noticed a pattern in the Biblical texts: sexual immorality is quite often linked to or closely associated with greed and theft. This link has become clearer and more understandable to me over the years.

Greed is the 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, sexually immoral, unrepentant person says, in effect, “I want sexual pleasure for myself. I do not want to pay any ‘price’ for it by having to see it in relationship to other goods and people. I do not want to see it in relationship to the institution of marriage, or to the love of a spouse, or to family, or to children. I do not want commitments or responsibilities. I want to indulge in sex because I want it. All that matters is that I want it.”

Many go further in accepting few, if any 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, more responsible context.

For many today, sex is simply something they want. And the mere 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, wanting sex makes it right, and precludes anyone from “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 within 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 an inordinate desire, one 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 seem to 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 other 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 may signal to us that the early Christians saw the connection as more implicit and obvious than we moderns do.

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 with idolatry.

Idolatry values someone or something 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, and creature comforts, and they take on greater importance to us than God, or what God sets forth for us to obey. Through greed, these things become idols, since they surpass God in importance to 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.

For many today, and apparently for many back in the time when these texts 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 also included the word theft, referring to the unjust possession of something. The fornicator and the adulterer both steal what does not belong to them. Sexual intimacy belongs to the marriage bed alone. Hence, the unmarried person and the adulterer both 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, 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 he wants what he wants no matter if it is excessive or wrong. All that matters is that he wants 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, sexually immoral persons defraud others: the sexual partner, families, and society as a whole. They do this by thinking more of what they want than of what is right, or of how it might harm others. They act fraudulently, for they act as though they are married when they are not, and they do this in order 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 alongside thieves and swindlers. They are akin to thieves for they take what does not belong to them, and they swindle because they obtain through deceit. The deceit is that they implicitly claim the status of married persons by seizing the privileges and rights of marriage without taking up its duties.

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 the marriage bed through 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 yours only 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 husband and wife together in a fruitful love. To snatch sex away from its only proper place is to possess unjustly that which is not yours; it is theft. And scripture connects this stealing with greed and covetousness. Greed is the excessive desire to possess, beyond what is just or reasonable. If this desire is yielded to, we take what is not ours simply because we want it.

Many today claim that they can do as they please in terms of sexuality and many even boast of their sexual freedom and exploits. The entertainment media celebrate sexual freedom. But it would appear that Scripture sees such sexual exploits not as liberation, but rather as theft and greed.

It is true that 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.

For those willing to see, God is waiting and God is willing.

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Comments (28)

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  1. Jennifer says:

    Thank you. Friends keep telling me to date and invite romance into my life. But I know that romantic love is fraudulent. I’m sorry that I didn’t realize this earlier in life. It would have saved me from some profound unhappiness. If we break God’s law in any way, we can’t truly be happy.

  2. Robertlifelonfcatholic says:

    I clicked onto This video is a reminder of God’s saving mercy and all I got was a dark screen with a message that says, This video does not exist. Tell me it isn”t so. Apparently the GLBT is crashing your blog.

  3. CG says:

    No video

  4. David F says:

    Excellent, as always. I’d add that selfishness can exist within a marriage as well

  5. Chris says:

    It is a very good thing to note that sexual immorality encompasses all disordered sexual actions, and all are seen as a grave offense to Gods plan. However, trying to get this idea across to one who’s religion is secularism is rather difficult. For this reason being against sexual immorality of any type (and this includes homosexual behavior) will get you charges of homophobe, bigotry and prude.

  6. Cojuanco says:

    Hardly surprising. It is the richest, after all, who are the largest peddlers of legalized immorality these days.

  7. Marina says:

    I was witness to this in my 22yr marriage. Greed and lust. My ex-spouse was never ever satisfied with anything. Always wanting more, more, more. And never satisfied or happy. Made very good money, drove nice cars, lived in upper-income neighborhoods. Had very few friends, none really. A very sad and lonely way to live. He had much to offer if only he wasn’t consumed with his own needs. He still does well financially (remarried right away) but I can image how unhappy he truly is. Greed and lust will never feed the soul.

  8. Karen Aramanda says:

    This was really well thought out. Thank you. I have passed it on. God bless you!

  9. C Beltz says:

    Notice how pride sits at the heart of all those deadly sins with a big I right there in the middle of it. I deserve that money, that car, those women/men. I, I, I. People rarely think about how deadly pride is, yet it’s the one that caused the angels to fall from heaven, not wrath, sloth, envy…it was pride.

    Further, sinful indulgence in the appetites for food, sex, acquisition, often grows from failed coping mechansims. Indulging the appetites feels good, so the sinner decides that they are right to go after them, only later feeling the consequences. But hey! Feeling bad is an opportunity to go out and grab a few more (insert desired pleasure here) and feel good again! Or so they think. It becomes a vicious cycle, which destroys not only the sinner’s life, but often (especially with lust) the lives of those around them. Not only do families suffer when one begins a journey of adultery, but the willing partner(s) also suffer, being used as an object of pleasure, rather than cared for as a human being or child of God.

    Praise be to God that He allows the sinner to repent, and with His Grace, (and a lot of prayers) they will be brought to their knees (as the cycle is vicious and exhausting), to a point where their eyes will be opened and they can begin the journey home.

  10. Paul says:

    I was abused as a child. Both sexually by a total stranger adult, psychologically and phisically by my father (God rest him) and brother and left with this condition of sexual disorder (homosexuality) that prevented me to live a normal life. A condition that prevented me to pursue a vocation to the priesthood for which I felt totally inadeguate. A condition that prevented me to build up a family for which I also felt totally inadeguate.
    I am now getting closer to the end of the race and still try to deal with all this. I keep going to confession with my sins of impurity but I feel it is rather like those past abuses corrupted my soul and my prayers to restore it to its original state have so far been unanswered.
    I now am thinking that this is really my cross.
    I accept it if this is what God wants of me.But is it ?

    • Diane says:

      Paul, you are my hero. and a real saint in the making. Can you find a Courage group near your home for support? or a good Spiritual Director? While you may never be free of same sex attraction, you have taken the high road. God will reward you for the tremendous suffering you have endured in this life. The graces you are earning benefit not only you but the entire world. Remain prayerful, remain faithful. We are all sinners in need of God’s mercy. Try not to be too hard on yourself. Most of all know that you are loved. God sees all and I believe you are a little bright spot in the midst of darkness when He gazes at our world of souls. Your suffering has a purpose, even though you may not know what it is in this life. It is not God’s Will that any of us suffer, but He allows it, as He did in His Son because there is merit in it and graces to be had. I will pray that you can be at peace. I also recommend spending time in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament. Many miracles occur there. I will offer my communion for your intentions today and remember you in my prayers. Keep fighting the good fight! Your reward in Heaven will be worth it.

      • Paul says:

        Thanks Diane. As I read you, I am moved to tears.
        Also I Just read the next blog “How long O Lord!” and I took it as an answer to my prayers.
        I am sure I will endure to the end and with St. Paul I too will say “…I have kept the faith”
        God help me, God help us all.
        Stay blessed!

  11. folle says:

    The only way to happiness is to listen to God’s word and put it into practice .Everyone should have a copy of this amazing recommendation for ones life. It could be a better world for all.

  12. stan Interrante says:

    Today we hear a great deal about the mercy of God, and this is good because God is infinitely merciful and we are living in a special time of mercy as Our Lord told Saint Faustina. But I want to recommend two very good books. The first is called “Preparation for Death “by Saint Alphonsus Liguori. The other is called “Death, Judgment, Heaven, Hell.” The author ‘s name escapes me but it can be obtained from Tan Books. It provides wonderful material for meditation and one comes away with understanding how God ‘s justice renders to each what they deserve by the free choices they make. It is very sobering! When temptations come your way, as they surely will, remember the expression, “Eternity is too long to be wrong.” Laudetur Jesu Christie.

  13. 500years says:

    C Betz, you are so wise………………

  14. John Thomas says:

    You could argue that because of the prevailing culture of immorality, many practicing Catholics will never be able to marry. Marriage, married life, children, companionship in old age, a place in the parish community–all these have been stolen from us. Not sure I would go that far, but there is a lot of truth in it.

  15. Dick says:

    Thanks for the insight here and I think it illuminates the faulty argument that because a person is born a “homosexual”, that behavior is justified. Following that line of thinking then, because I was a born a thief then I should be allowed to steal. Or I was born a killer and consequently I should be allowed to murder. Not sure if I have this right?

  16. Kat L says:

    To Paul,
    (((hugs))) I’m so sorry that horror was visited upon you. I can only imagine the terror and pain that comes with that cross you bear. I’m so incredibly sorry that you had to suffer so much as a child and continue to suffer as an adult. I’m praying for you. Don’t give up. Sometimes the only good thing about life is that it doesn’t last forever. You keep getting up, dusting yourself off and continue the journey. I am so proud of you. God is so proud of you. I keep thinking of Sister Faustina: “…I saw two roads. One was broad, covered with sand and flowers, full of joy, music and all sorts of pleasures. People walked along it, dancing and enjoying themselves. They reached the end without realizing it. And at the end of the road there was a horrible precipice; that is, the abyss of hell. The souls fell blindly into it; as they walked, so they fell. And their number was so great that it was impossible to count them. And I saw the other road, or rather, a path, for it was narrow and strewn with thorns and rocks; and the people who walked along it had tears in their eyes, and all kinds of suffering befell them. Some fell down upon the rocks, but stood up immediately and went on. At the end of the road there was a magnificent garden filled with all sorts of happiness and all these souls entered there. At the very first instant they forgot all their sufferings” (Diary 153).
    Someday, we’ll reach the end of this sorrowful road. You and I, both. And when we do, we’ll celebrate together. You and I.

  17. Scott Kirkpatrick says:

    Excellent article- learned much!

  18. dan says:

    Paul,
    Hang in there. God bless you. I will keep you in my prayers, as will all the people who read these comments.

  19. Paul says:

    I read the other answers to my testimony after I answer Diane.
    It is my very first time taking part in a blog, though I read Msgr Pope often.
    I never new I could get so much encouragement and love.
    For this how God is showing us His love, through each other.
    “Love one another as I have loved you”
    God bless you all

  20. mary says:

    Father you are awesome. thanks for all you do.

  21. Steve B says:

    God Bless you Msgr. Pope! Keep on, Keep’n on.

  22. Abuloke Michael says:

    Wonderful and inspiring, God bless your apostolate.

  23. Mary says:

    Thanks so much Msgr. Pope.

    I was reading an article on another Catholic blog related to sexual issues in the Catholic Church and this video was recommended “The Third Way: Homosexuality and the Catholic Church” from Blackstone Films.

    After watching that powerful video testimony and after reading the posts here, I thought I would share the link with you in hopes it may of some help and support for those that read your blog. http://vimeo.com/93079367

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