Read for This Week’s Study: 2 Cor. 8:1–7; Matt. 13:3–7, 22; Gen. 3:1–6; Isa. 56:11; Matt. 26:14–16; 2 Pet. 1:5–9.
Memory Text: “ ‘Now he who received seed among the thorns is he who hears the word, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful’ ” (Matthew 13:22, NKJV).
The lesson this week invites us to reflect carefully on the human penchant to obtain as many material possessions as we can, then to hoard them. The lesson is titled, “I See, I Want, I Take,” a title that reflects a very common human trait driven by the notion that the more possessions we acquire, the better and more secure life will be. This belief is everywhere present in human life, including in some branches of the Christian faith. In fact there are some preachers who actually teach that wealth is a sign of God’s blessing that can be enabled, no less, by the practice of giving generously to their causes. This “prosperity gospel, as it is called, is nothing more than a reflection of the human penchant to obtain possessions that is given an overcoat of scripture to “sanctify” it. It is not hard to debunk this collection of ideas. All one has to do is look for examples of those who are faithful and yet poor, and also to look for those who are not faithful yet are rich.
In the face of this is the admonition found in Matthew 13:22 where the Bible speaks of something called the “deceitfulness of riches.” Here is pause for thought. What could this be, the deceitfulness of riches?
The first thing we might point to is that riches can cause people to more easily obscure the obvious truth, that we are dependent beings and everything here is temporary. It is very easy, if one has many possessions to become quite independent, looking to self rather than to God. That sense of independence can obscure the reality that we are only here for a while in light of which our best attentions should be focused on using our time well while also preparing for what is to come. This point was well-made by Peter when he wrote his letter to the early Christians.
2 Peter 1:5-9 (Common English Bible) – “5 This is why you must make every effort to add moral excellence to your faith; and to moral excellence, knowledge; 6 and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, endurance; and to endurance, godliness; 7 and to godliness, affection for others; and to affection for others, love. 8 If all these are yours and they are growing in you, they’ll keep you from becoming inactive and unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 Whoever lacks these things is shortsighted and blind, forgetting that they were cleansed from their past sins.” (CEB)
Secondly, having many possessions often creates the illusion that life is now secure. But wealth does not secure life. Certainly, it provides a lot more options than does poverty, and having wealth does allow for many more options some of which do make life better and more secure, but wealth itself does not guarantee life. This is the main point of the parable Jesus told of the Rich Farmer, a man who tried to secure his life with his possessions only to lose his life overnight.
Another thing that possessions obscure is the reality that lots of possessions tend to create lots of worry. The primary worry that those with much face is the possible loss of wealth. But there is another kind of worry, more hidden, that besets those who have much and that is the worry that comes from having to care for or monitor all those possessions. An old piece of advice fits well here – “The more things you own, the more things you become slave to.”
Let there be no suggestion here that wealth is a bad thing. Everyone knows that having more money or goods does make life better, but it has its dangers, too. Perhaps nowhere is this revealed more than in the experience of Judas, the disciple who betrayed Jesus, where it is said of him in Matthew 26, that “ the one who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, “What will you give me if I turn Jesus over to you?” They paid him thirty pieces of silver. From that time on he was looking for an opportunity to turn him in.”
A particular danger is covetousness, the craving desire to get something that you do not have. This has led to much sorrow and can still do so today, especially if it drives you to take things inappropriately, or if it produces a real passion to acquire that cannot be managed.
One good cure for covetousness is to give away some of what you have. For many, this is a hard discipline, but it can be a very beneficial one to yourself, but also to those who receive what you give. In this light, consider the experience of the Corinthians who, though many were poor, gave generously to their fellow believers who were suffering in Jerusalem:
2 Corinthians 8:1-7 – “Brothers and sisters, we want to let you know about the grace of God that was given to the churches of Macedonia. 2 While they were being tested by many problems, their extra amount of happiness and their extreme poverty resulted in a surplus of rich generosity. 3 I assure you that they gave what they could afford and even more than they could afford, and they did it voluntarily. 4 They urgently begged us for the privilege[a] of sharing in this service for the saints. 5 They even exceeded our expectations, because they gave themselves to the Lord first and to us, consistent with God’s will. 6 As a result, we challenged Titus to finish this work of grace with you the way he had started it.
7 Be the best in this work of grace in the same way that you are the best in everything, such as faith, speech, knowledge, total commitment, and the love we inspired in you.” (NIV)
What do you think believers can do to limit the growth and effects of greed and covetousness?