The third thorn in the Parable of the Sower and the Seed is the deceitfulness of riches. Millions of people have been corrupted, ruined and destroyed by the deceitfulness of riches. Wealth has a strong tendency to cause the heart to cry out “I don’t need you God! I have my riches! I have everything I need!” and therein lies the grave danger to the spiritual health of the heart. Riches can turn the heart away from God quicker than almost anything on earth.
John Wesley said wealth had destroyed the godliness of more people than other thing. This thorn illustrates the eternal truth in the Sermon on the Mount that “where your treasure is there will your heart be also” (Luke 12:34). Spurgeon said: “The heart must and will go in the direction of that which we count precious. The whole man will be transformed into the likeness of that for which he lives.[i]” It is when riches become the precious treasure of our heart, and we crave them with intense passion that the heart becomes overgrown with these thorns.
Nothing in the material realm has the power to satisfy a person’s spiritual needs. Nothing in the material realm can ever compare to God Almighty, and it can never quench the thirst of the heart to have an intimate relationship with Creator of the heavens and earth. God warns us in Psalms 62:10 that if riches or wealth increase not to set our heart upon them. As certain as the sun rises every morning, God promises in Proverbs 11:28 that if we trust in riches, we will fall. The love of riches leads us into worshipping them in adoration of their power and affluence. The passion for riches is like a habit-forming drug that we shoot into our heart giving us a momentary euphoria, but eventually we come crashing down enslaved in its wicked snare. Riches are an illusion of strength, security, and success, but are as flimsy as a paper house. The heart that is consumed with the love of wealth and accumulation of riches is on a path of spiritual destruction. The love of riches is a destroyer of relationships with friends, family, colleagues, and ultimately God, which is the biggest tragedy of all. This thorn is a destroyer of everything godly in the heart and needs to be rooted up, if we are ever to live a life that pleases God.
This third thorn is not simply riches, but the deceitfulness of riches where we are deceived into giving our allegiance to the pursuit of wealth above everything else. The Greek word for “deceitfulness” means to seduce by false promises and persuasion, to cheat, beguile, deceive or delude, to give a false impression by appearance, statement or influence, and to lead astray and seduce into error. In the Septuagint, it is the same root word used in Genesis 3:13 when the serpent deceived Eve and illustrates that the author of deceitfulness is the Devil. He weaves the web of deceit concerning riches to lead the heart astray on this deadly path. Riches are so deceitful because they give the false impression that they bring life, status, happiness and everything a person will ever need to have a meaningful life.
The Deep Root in Every Heart
A.W. Tozer in The Pursuit of God explains the deep root in every heart to possess which is at the center of the deceitfulness of riches:
Before the Lord God made man upon the earth He first prepared for him by creating a world of useful and pleasant things for his sustenance and delight. In the Genesis account of the creation these are called simply “things.” They were made for man’s uses, but they were always meant to be external to man and subservient to him. In the deep heart of the man was a shrine where none but God was worthy to come. Within him was God; without, a thousand gifts which God had showered upon him. But sin introduced complications and has made those very gifts of God a potential source of ruin to the soul. Our woes began when God was forced out of His central shrine and “things” were allowed to enter. Within the human heart “things” has taken over … There is within the human heart a tough fibrous root of fallen life whose nature is to possess, always to possess. It covets “things” with a deep and fierce passion. The pronouns “my” and “mine” look innocent enough in print, but their constant and universal use is significant. They express the real nature of old Adamic man better than a thousand volumes of theology could do. They are verbal symptoms of our deep disease. The roots of our hearts have grown down into things, and we dare not pull up one rootlet lest we die. Things have become necessary to us, a development never originally intended. God’s gifts now take the place of God, and the whole course of nature is upset by the monstrous substitution. [ii]
Our culture of greed is a living illustration of this monstrous substitution of “things” taking the place of God in the throne room of our heart. This is the driving mantra of our age as the hearts of so many are consumed with the desire to be rich and famous. Everyone wants to be a star, or an American idol, having fancy cars, big houses and a never-ending supply of new playthings. This is simply the old root of our sin nature raising its ugly head in the fierce passion to possess more and more things. Unfortunately we so often mark success in our culture by how many things we possess.
Exploitation of the Poor: One of the Major Reasons for the Flood
God is the source of all blessings. He gave so many blessings to Adam and Eve so they could rise to the fullest potential of life with their Creator. But when sin poured into human nature, human need changed to lust and the pursuit of things became the obsession of the heart. God’s gracious gifts became misused and distorted, as wealth was accumulated and hoarded at the expense of others namely the poor and less fortunate. By the time of the Noah, the deceitfulness of riches reached an enormous peak and played a major part in causing the earth to be completely corrupt before God and filled with violence. The deceitfulness of riches helped to corrupt God’s way on the earth. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia states:
Genesis 6:11,13 describes the socio-economic conditions prior to the Flood in terms of the earth being “filled with violence.” The word rendered “violence” in Hebrew was used by the prophets to describe the exploitation of the poor by the rich (Amos 3:10, Micah 6:12). Thus it appears that exploitation was a major reason for God’s destroying the earth with a flood.[iii]
God’s heart as expressed in the Mosaic Law was that each person and family was entrusted with the blessings of God, which included things like land, food, drink, livestock and material goods. Each person had the opportunity to express His faith in God by dealing justly and responsibly with what God had given to him by not hoarding their wealth, but by helping others in need. When we realize that everything we have is a gift from God, we will not spoil His generosity by turning His gift into personal accumulation. Luxury causes the heart to be ungrateful, arrogant and full of pride and blinds the eyes to see the hand of God and His blessings. God’s gifts are to be shared and given as a blessing to others. It is more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35). Jesus talked about the rich man in the parable who wanted to hoard everything he had for himself with no concern for others.
And then, turning to the disciples, he said to them, “Notice that, and be on your guard against covetousness in any shape or form. For a man’s real life in no way depends upon the number of his possessions.” Then he gave them a parable in these words, “Once upon a time a rich man’s farmland produced heavy crops. So he said to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have no room to store this harvest of mine?’ Then he said, ‘I know what I’ll do. I’ll pull down my barns and build bigger ones where I can store all my grain and my goods. And I can say to my soul, Soul, you have plenty of good things stored up there for years to come. Relax! Eat, drink and have a good time!’ But God said to him, ‘You fool, this very night you will be asked for your soul! Then, who is going to possess all that you have prepared?’ That is what happens to the man who hoards things for himself and is not rich where God is concerned.” (Luke 12:15-21, PHILLIPS)
Rich Toward God
We do not truly love God and serve Him on a heart level if we hoard all our possessions for ourselves and do not reach out to those in need. No one can take his riches with them when they die. No one can take their possessions into eternity. The deceitfulness of riches hardens the heart to protect their riches at all costs and only use them to build their empire of vanity. It creates a false superiority over others and causes the heart to look in disdain to the poor, the struggling and those who do not have many earthly possessions. Pride fills the heart with cruelty and indifference as one is deceived into living in the world of luxury without any regard for God or others. Deceitfulness of riches causes the heart to be deceived into thinking that their rich lifestyle will go on forever and blinds the heart to the vital truths of eternity. The heart is darkened and foolishly does not realize that the bubble could burst at any moment, and then you must stand before the judgment seat of Christ where money and riches have no power to buy eternal life. They are filthy rags compared to the righteousness of God and the eternal treasures of His Word.
Life is Not Measured by Our Possessions
A person’s life is never measured by their possessions or wealth. God could care less how big your bank account is. The bigger question is what are we doing with the blessings that God has given us? Are we building bigger houses to store all our playthings or are we advancing God’s kingdom by being rich toward God and reaching out to bless others from our abundance? We are stewards of what God has given us, and He is to exercise His lordship over all our possessions so that we honor God with our giving. We are to become generous, like Christ is generous, for “in their generosity, believers reflect the character of God, who is the giver of all good things” (James 1:17). Then things do not control us for we are willing to let go of them for the glory of God in order to do His work upon the earth. Things no longer deceive us for we know the source of our blessings and our heart is ready to share those blessings with others. These thorns cannot survive or grow in this type of environment of the heart.
But we must never underestimate the power of riches to lead the heart to ruin. Money appeals to the flesh, as it wants to be master of the heart. Money demands allegiance. Money demands our first love. Money demands loyalty and devotion and has a strong pull on the heart to be lured into its trap.
No One Can Serve Two Masters
Jesus made it clear that we must decide whom we are going to serve. There comes a crossroad in a person’s life when they must make this critical decision: Am I going to devote myself to material things or God? Am I going to pursue money or God first in my life? What is my definition of success? Is it a life rich toward the treasures of this world or rich toward God?”
No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon. (Matthew 6:24, KJV)
Mammon is an Aramaic word for wealth, property and anything of value. It refers to total wealth, which includes money, property and possessions. It is interesting in the Young’s Literal Translation of the Bible it capitalizes Mammon as if it were a god and in essence Jesus is saying “You cannot serve God and the god of possessions.” We cannot love wealth and love God at the same time. Both riches and God demand our time, energy, and devotion. Only one can hold and capture our heart. Only one can be the Lord of our heart. Only one will command our love, worship and reverence. One will be crowned king of our hearts and the other will be banished as insignificant. One will have our utmost loyalty and faithful service while the other will be relegated to the bottom of our priorities.
The Greek word for “hold” means to hold firmly, to strongly cling to, and to literally hold in front of one’s face. The Greek word for “despise” means to look down upon with contempt or aversion, to consider not important, to think little of, to neglect and not care for. It is pushing something aside because it is thought to have no value.
Ponder the meanings of these words for a moment and ask yourself which word describes the condition of your heart in relation to God and which word describes the condition of your heart in relation to possessions. We will strongly hold fast to one and place it continuously before our face. We will push aside the other one in contempt thinking it has no value. Do we hold fast to God or the god of possessions? Do we push God aside in contempt because we think He has little value or do we push aside the god of wealth and possessions? Which has more importance to us? Which has more value?
Too Little of God and Too Much of Things
Will we have the fruit of a life rich toward God or will the thorns of the deceitfulness of riches suffocate the life of God from our heart? Which one is our master? That which we love most, we worship as our God. God is always to be loved above all other things. Do we love things more than we love God? Too many of us have too little of God and too much of things.
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions-is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. (1 John 2:15-17, ESV)
Where is Your First Love?
God commands us not to love the things of the world and not to have pride in our possessions for it will cause our love for our Heavenly Father to depart. Both loves cannot live within our heart. One love will suffocate and destroy the other. One love will crowd out and push the other from the heart. There is no room for double occupancy of both loves in the heart. They cannot live in peaceful co-existence. So the critical question for all eternity is: “Where does our first love lie?”
The Greek word for “love” is agapao, which is used to describe the unconditional, sacrificial love of God that He expresses for all men, women and children on earth. It is a love, which is awakened by a sense of value in the object that causes one to prize it. It springs from an appreciation of the preciousness of an object. It means to cherish with deep affection.
1 John was addressed to Christians in the church fellowship and contains one of the most important commandments ever pertaining to the heart. If we break this commandment, then our heart will turn from God and fall into great peril. There should be a huge warning sign beside this commandment. The breaking of this commandment contained in these three short verses will allow the enemy to gain control of our heart and enslave us in the trappings of this world. We are not be fooled by the mesmerizing and alluring display of what wealth and possessions have to offer. It is an illusion. It is such a glitzy presentation, but we do not realize the dangerous thorn and dagger that lurks right below the surface. Most Christians cannot resist. Most succumb to the temptation. Most sell out their love for God for gold. Most allow possessions to become the prize of their life, and God takes a second seat and becomes insignificant in their daily living. Most allow themselves to be deceived by riches and it chokes every trace of the Word of God from their hearts.
Lovers of Money More than Lovers of God
How this must hurt the heart of God when “things” replace God as our first love. We must guard our heart to never set our affection on the things and possessions of this world. We must never take this wonderful agapao love that is meant for God first and instead embrace the “things” of the world with it. This is at the heart of the deceitfulness of riches: the monstrous substitution of agapao love for God being replaced by agapao love for possessions.
We have become lovers of money more than lovers of God as our secular, materialistic society has contaminated our faith and corrupted our hearts. I pray God that this thorny weed of the deceitfulness of riches never is allowed to flourish in our hearts for it always contaminates our love for God and strangles it from our hearts.
We must ask our heart these questions daily: “Whom do I reserve my agapao love for today: God Almighty or the god of possessions?” “What do I prize as my most beloved possession: God or riches?” “What captures my affection and is the valuable treasure of my heart: God or our prideful possessions?” Both crave our love. Both crave our attention. Both crave our devotion. Both are jealous and want to be loved more than anything else. Which one will you choose?
Are we like the rich ruler in Luke 18 that desperately wanted eternal life, but he loved his riches so much that he refused to sell all that he had and give to the poor so he could accumulate great treasure in heaven? He went away very sorrowful from the presence of Jesus because his riches were more precious to him than Jesus. He cherished his possessions more than he cherished God. His wealth has such a hold on his heart that he walked away from eternal life!
Even Jesus was tempted by the Devil to sell his soul for the all the riches and power of the kingdoms on earth, but the Lord God Almighty was the treasure that Jesus’s heart worshipped. He would not bow his knee to the god of possessions and allow its thorny weeds to destroy his heart.
Our heart should cry out like Job 22:25-26: “Yes, the Almighty will be your gold and your precious silver. For then you will have your delight in the Almighty and lift up your face to God.” God must be our delight and joy. He is our precious gold, silver and treasure. God’s riches of love, grace and mercy are a thousand times more valuable than the riches of this world. What does it matter if we gain the whole world and all its possessions, but lose our soul? What does it matter if we have all our possessions, but lose our love for God?
Money cannot buy us eternal life or an intimate relationship with God. Money cannot buy us treasures in heaven. Money cannot buy joy, love, peace or even true happiness. Money is temporal and is like a vapor that is here today and gone tomorrow. Possessions pass away quickly and we cannot take them with us when we die. God is eternal and is from everlasting to everlasting. His magnificence, glory, grace, mercy, love and faithfulness are infinite and never perish. We have to be complete fools and absolutely deceived to place our heart in the hands of the god of possessions.
Wake up Christian church to this monstrous deception and cast down every vestige of gold from our hearts. Promise God that you will never worship our golden calf again. We must blazon this eternal truth in our souls and write it with a pen of iron on the tablets of our hearts: Nothing in the heavens and earth compares to our God! Nothing is greater, nothing is stronger, nothing is wiser, and nothing is more glorious that our Almighty God. He alone is what we should glory in. We should never waste the life of our heart on the temporal things of this world.
Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.” (Jeremiah 9:23-24, ESV)
The Riches of Our Inheritance in God
Do we know the riches of the inheritance we have in Christ? Is our heart acquainted with the riches of the glory of Christ, which dwells within us? Do we know that the Bible declares we are heirs of God and joint heirs of Christ? Money is nothing and mere fool’s good compared to this.
Paul prays in Ephesians that the eyes of our understanding may be opened wide to see and know in no uncertain terms the riches of His glorious inheritance in the Christian believer. If we understand this mind-boggling truth, the riches of this world and their value will fade away into oblivion. The heart that understands these heavenly treasures in Christ will never be overgrown by the thorns of the deceitfulness of riches. There will be no deception because our eyes have been opened, and we have caught a glimpse of the heavenly glory of God’s rich inheritance that He has invested in each one of us.
The Example of C.T. Studd
C.T. Studd was born into immense riches and also became the most famous cricket player in England. He was the like the Michael Jordan or LeBron James of his generation, and he had it all: riches, fame, and luxury. However, he gave up everything to become a missionary in China, India and Africa.
What would lead a person to gladly leave riches, celebrity, and possessions to proclaim the gospel in some of the most remote areas on earth? He endured daily insult, danger, sickness, and extreme conditions of poverty when in China as even his bed was infested with scorpions. C.T. Studd could have been living in a stately mansion in England with his every need catered to, but he gave it all up, even living in tents in the deepest parts of Africa.
At the age of twenty-five, he was to inherit a large sum of money, yet he gave it all away. What would compel him to such a radical act of giving to win souls for Christ? Could it be that his heart beheld the living, glorious Christ and he knew him in such an intimate way that few ever experience. Something happens in the heart of a man or woman when they behold the cross and see the resurrected Christ in all his glory. C.T Studd beheld Christ, and his heart grabbed a hold of Christ, and his eyes were opened to the futility of a life sold out to possessions. He had experienced what the Apostle Paul had experienced, and he could not remain the same.
Yes, furthermore, I count everything as loss compared to the possession of the priceless privilege (the overwhelming preciousness, the surpassing worth, and supreme advantage) of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord and of progressively becoming more deeply and intimately acquainted with Him [of perceiving and recognizing and understanding Him more fully and clearly]. For His sake I have lost everything and consider it all to be mere rubbish (refuse, dregs), in order that I may win (gain) Christ (the Anointed One). (Philippians 3:8, AMP)
Nothing on earth compares to the priceless privilege of knowing Christ Jesus our Lord in an intimate and abiding relationship. This is the greatest possession a person could have and the greatest treasure to abide in the heart. C.T. Studd dedicated His life so others may gain this great possession, the pearl of great price Jesus Christ. Listen to the heart of C.T. Studd:
I cannot tell you what joy it gave me to bring the first soul to the Lord Jesus Christ. I have tasted almost all the pleasures that this world can give. I do not suppose there is one that I have not experienced, but I can tell you that those pleasures were as nothing compared to the joy that the saving of that one soul gave to me.[iv]
Norman Grubb in C.T. Studd, Cricketer and Pioneer wrote:
C.T’s life stands as some rugged Gibraltar—a sign to all succeeding generations that it is worthwhile to lose all this world can offer and stake everything on the world to come. His life will be an eternal rebuke to easy-going Christianity. He has demonstrated what it means to follow Christ without counting the cost and without looking back. The riches of Christ are eternal, glorious, and precious beyond measure and the lure of the riches of this world fade into the night in comparison. CT Studd lamented the fact that so many heeded the call of gold over the call of God: “Last June at the mouth of the Congo there awaited a thousand prospectors, traders, merchants and gold seekers, waiting to rush into these regions as soon as the government opened the door to them, for rumor declared that there is an abundance of gold. If such hear so loudly the call of gold and obey it, can it be that the ears of Christ’s soldiers are deaf to the call of God? Are gamblers for gold so many and gamblers for God so few?”[v]
So many do not even give a second thought to selling out for gold, and so few even consider the thought of selling out to God. C.T. Studd’s life stands as a shining example that worldly possessions and riches can never compare to the satisfaction and joy of living for Christ. Riches can never deceive a heart that has beheld the glory of Christ and has abandoned all to know and love Him for all eternity. A few stanzas of C.T. Studd’s timeless poem should ring in our heart.
Only one life, yes only one, Soon will its fleeting hours be done; Then, in ‘that day’ my Lord to meet, And stand before His Judgement seat; Only one life, ’twill soon be past, Only what’s done for Christ will last.
Only one life, the still small voice, gently pleads for a better choice Bidding me selfish aims to leave, And to God’s holy will to cleave; Only one life, ’twill soon be past, Only what’s done for Christ will last.[vi]
[i] Charles Spurgeon, The Gospel of the Kingdom: A Popular Exposition of the Gospel According to Matthew (London: Passmore and Alabaster, 1893), 37.
[ii] A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God (New York: Start Publishing LLC, 2012, originally published in 1948), 18, 19.
[iii] International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Volume Four: Q-Z, (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdman Publishing Company, 1988).
[iv] Norman Grubb, C.T. Studd, Cricketer and Pioneer (Cambridge: The Lutterworth Press, 1970), 33.
[v] Ibid., 127.
[vi] C. T. Studd, “Only One Life, Twill Soon Be Past” (1860-1931).
Excerpt from: “The Heart: The Key to Everything in the Christian Life” By Tim Rowe https://www.amazon.com/Heart-Key-Everything-Christian-Life/dp/148344791X/ref=sr_1_2?keywords=the+heart+the+key+to+everything&qid=1561297718&s=gateway&sr=8-2