A few days passed, and from the bottom of the stalk, a little green finger tugged. As days passed, the growing stalk felt a small vine grasping and spinning up between its branches. The speed at which the vine grew was more than the little plant could handle. Before long, the vine had contorted itself around every branch and with the daily nutrients it was receiving, eventually it was as big as the young plant that was supporting it. When the little plant succumbed to the weight of the vine and bent over, the vine reached from the top of the plant to the ground, fastening itself into ground-gripping shackles. Within a few weeks, the vigorous plant eventually died from the trauma, having been choked out by the weeds and other vines. It had seemed so promising, but devastatingly it was overtaken and destroyed.
This is the picture that Jesus uses in a parable in Matthew 13 to describe those in whom the word of God had begun to take root but eventually “the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choketh the word.” Bound and wrapped with cares about their own financial stability and with amassing to themselves, they have overweighed themselves with things they were never supposed to hoard. The deceitful work of riches caused them to pursue treasure on earth to the neglect of treasure in heaven. In their pursuit of what they viewed as most valuable, they have been left without that which is truly valuable.
To this group of treasure-heapers, James begins chapter 5 by telling them to “weep and howl for your miseries.” As time had progressed, they had become ensnared by a desire to get more and to acquire as much as physically possible. Their view of investment had left them with barns that were filled goods, closets that overflowed with fancy garments, and bank accounts that glistened with gold and silver. Literally no better word could be used to describe their wealth than “heaps.” But they had failed to use their money in ways that truly mattered. They neglected to see that God is the giver of every gift. They imagined their worldly wisdom had brought them into success, James warned them that it had instead left them precariously on the precipice of destruction. Unless they adjusted their view, the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches would leave them howling and weeping on the day of judgment.
Do you desire to be wealthy? Do you have an itch for more? Do you find yourself with a Smaug-like desire to make your own heaps? Purge yourself of the greedy desires that lead to damnation. Paul warns in 1 Timothy 1:9, “they that will be [want to be] rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition.” Will you be so ensnared to imagine that wealth comes into your hands from the Father so that you can squander it on your desires? Or will you have a proper view of the eternal, kingdom-advancing uses of money? May God set us free from the sweet poison of excess that laces the American Dream.
Reflect: Read Luke 18:18-30. What was that Jesus gave for someone who had succumbed to the idolatry of riches?