The Deceitfulness of Riches


The Deceitfulness of Riches


Have we ever pondered what the “deceitfulness of riches” is; could we explain it to someone if we were asked?  Do we see the deception as Jesus saw it?  If we do not see it clearly, how can we be sure we are free from this deception?  The economic boom after World War II brought a great prosperity to many American homes.  The invention of television, and advancements in motion picture, enabled the artisans of theater to bring their conception of “the good life” right into the living room of every home.  They expressed “the deceitfulness of riches” in a way that millions applauded.  We may remember some of the famous lines from Broadway musicals like, “who could ask for anything more”, or “everything’s going my way.”  These concepts capture the attitude riches engender: self-confidence, optimism, carefree living, and a sense of well-being.  Everything seemingly goes well for the rich man; “the rich get richer, the poor get poorer.”  The attitude of the well off is, “I’m on a roll now!”  They fully expect to roll on to bigger and better things.  This causes them to be lulled into a sense of security that is deadly, a deception of the highest subtlety.  Their experience in this life is that everything is always working out in their favor; good continually comes to them, and why should they not expect it to go the same way in the next life. After all, they are “being blessed” in this life, right?

We can see this in the parable of Jesus, recorded in Luke 12:15-21.  “Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.”   The attitude of the rich man is manifested when he says, “And I will say to my soul; I have much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink and be merry.”   His apparent success made him so oblivious to the impending judgment that God said unto him, “Thou fool.”  This man was fully expecting things to continue to go his way, without any sense of danger: he was deceived by “the deceitfulness of riches.”   David captured the attitude of the rich in Psalm 73, “For I was envious at the foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. For there are no bands in their death: but their strength is firm. They are not in trouble as other men; neither are they plagued like other men.  Therefore pride compasseth them about as a chain;…Their eyes stand out with fatness: they have more than heart could wish.”  Can we hear it, “everything’s going my way?”  David entered the sanctuary, and saw by faith their final end; “Surely thou didst set them in slippery places; thou castedst them down into destruction.”   David knew the importance of sure footing; as a seasoned warrior he realized the outcome of hand to hand combat was often determined by who slipped.  The Bible says that evil pursues the sinner, whether or not he is aware of it: his destruction looms near.

Jesus said, “That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven. And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”   Scholars have said that the eye of the needle referred to a geological structure familiar to camel merchants, a place where they had to unload their camels, and force them to crawl through on their knees.

If a man treasures riches, his heart will be towards himself: if a man does not divest himself of this heart, he will not enter the kingdom of heaven.  “No man can serve two masters…you can not serve God and mammon.” 

Consider the parable of the rich man and Lazarus; Abraham’s words to the rich man in his torment were, “Son, remember that thou in thy life receivedst good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented.”  Here was a man content to bless himself while a poor beggar lay where he came in and out every day.  He comforted who he cared about, himself, and this comfort deceived him about his eternal state before God.  He was obviously being blessed as evidenced by his wealth and status, while Lazarus must have gotten himself into the pitiful state he was in.  Once in hell [i.e., hades, RH], concern for his other rich brothers, who he evidently knew were living like he did, led him to plead for Abraham to allow Lazarus to warn them before it was too late.  They no doubt would have recognized Lazarus as the beggar they also ignored when they passed through the gate, where he laid, on the way to visit their rich brother; certainly they would believe him.  Abraham’s response speaks to the very heart of the deceitfulness of riches, “They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.”

The rich man’s thoughts have produced so many good things, he has no need to heed God’s messengers; instead, he follows his own heart’s counsel, not realizing the heart is deceitful above all things.  The heart that is not sensitive to hearing God’s word hardens itself towards sudden destruction. “Wealth is worthless in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivers from death.” The rich feel very secure, at ease, protected, satisfied, and thus become proud of their status.  We know that God opposes the proud; furthermore, “that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God.”  God considers all the busy activity of the nations as vanity, and fuel for the fire.  Riches are nothing to Him; instead, His eyes run to and fro throughout the earth looking for a perfect heart: God is looking for righteousness, not riches!

Proverbs 1 warns of the coming disaster that overtakes all who will not hear God’s messengers: “Then shall they call upon me, but I will not answer; they shall seek me early, but they shall not find me: For that they hated knowledge, and did not choose to fear the Lord: They would none of my counsel: they despised all my reproof. Therefore shall they eat of the fruit of their own way, and be filled with their own devices.  For the turning of the simple shall slay them, and the prosperity of fools shall destroy them.  But whoso hearkeneth unto me shall dwell safely, and shall be quiet from fear of evil.”   Notice that it is the prosperity of fools that will destroy them.  It destroys by setting them up to be completely unprepared for the day of their death.  Their smug confidence causes them to ignore wisdom, and counsel, in order to pursue their own pleasure.  Solomon evidently understood what Jesus declared, “he will love the one and despise the other, or else he will hate the one and cling to the other.”   He said that those who ignored counsel, despised it; those who did not choose to fear the Lord, hated knowledge.

The parable of the sower indicates that the “deceitfulness of riches” interfere with a person’s hearing of God’s word, preventing it from bearing fruit.   Since faith comes by hearing, anything that affects a man’s hearing of the word is spiritually deadly.   Do we have a passionate love for God’s word?  Is our heart like David, “Thy word is more precious to me than thousands of pieces of silver and gold?” 

How much time do we spend plunging into its fathomless depths, exploring its priceless treasures?  Do we meditate in the law of the Lord day and night, or “burn the midnight oil” to make our business successful?   We live in a dangerously prosperous country, and the “deceitfulness of riches” is the world’s most notorious serial killer, and still on the loose.   If we are not devoted to prayer, meditating day and night in the law of the Lord, and seeking God with all our hearts, we are disobeying God’s word.  If we are in this condition, and still believe “everything’s going my way,” the “deceitfulness of riches” has struck again.  “Who could ask for anything more?”  God can, and will; He asks for your life!  If you try to keep your life you will lose it; whoever loses his life will find it!  There is no security for anyone; unless, “everything’s going His way!” 

 –Alan Martin, 2002

[Note: The reference to “the eye of the needle” as a gate at Jerusalem in which a camel would need to crawl through on its knees is probably incorrect.  It is probably best to take this literally—an eye of a literal needle.  This shows the seriousness of the deceitfulness of riches and the danger of clinging to wealth. RH]



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