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Christian Pioneer - eBook for Cell Phone - The Deceitfulness of Riches 



Chapter 3 - The Roman Emperors, a study of the corruption of wealth.

In the book 'An Outline of History' we are implored to be kind in our consideration of the Roman emperors by being asked to think how we would turn out if every desire we had from infancy was instantly fulfilled.

The Roman empire could be considered a centuries lasting Ponzi scheme. At the core a small group of people fed off the wealth brought in by expanding conquest. While marginal democratic ideals were favored early in the empire, the institution of emperors defined most of the rule of Rome. Depending on how they were counted, there were approximately 83 emperors. Of these 26 died of natural causes, 8 died in battle, 6 committed suicide, and 43 were murdered or executed. Being emperor could be considered hazardous to your health.

Rome could expand and prosper as long as there were wealthy neighbors to plunder. When the limits of geography, population, and wealth were reached, Rome faced two destructive forces. The first was similar to the starvation a parasite faces when the host dies. The second was the exposure of the intrinsic weakness of the Roman system, when that to which one has become addicted disappears, there is no 'plan B'. At a more basic level, when there was no more money to pay or provide for the soldiers, they were open to invasion.

The sale of captured lands, slaves, goods, and positions created an income stream that appeared to many to be unending. This highlights one aspect of the deceitfulness of riches, that of being narcotic (one requires increasing amounts and frequency).

"Just a little bit more." - John d. Rockefeller, in response to the question, "How much money is enough money?"

But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. - 1 Timothy 6:9

Here just the desire to be rich results in lusts that entangle and carry one down a path of destruction and ruin. Even if one is successful in obtaining riches. there is a real physical danger in having that which others also lust after. The ostentatious display of wealth has led to more than one murder in history.

However, the additional dangers of having or even just seeking wealth are often not fully appreciated. The perversion, debauchery, and excesses for which the Roman emperors are so famous are not found among the poor as frequently or to such an extent. This is not necessarily because the poor are more noble, but more because poverty imposes limits and even a sort of discipline.

We have an example from the Tower of Babel where God limited the scope of use to which we could put our collective imagination.



And the LORD said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do. Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another's speech. - Genesis 11:6-7

One can also see in the original curse that God was not so much punishing us with hard work, but setting limits so that our fallen nature would not have much chance to indulge itself.

And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return. - Genesis 3:17-19

Modern life has largely achieved freedom from the limits God instituted for man. We have often used this freedom in the same way Roman emperors used theirs. Philosophers have long pondered the essential nature of man, is he essentially good or bad. One way to measure this is to see what people do when they are freed from restrictions and provided with surplus resources. The 'sex, drugs, and rock and roll' of the 1960s seems to parallel the lives of the Roman emperors.

We might consider that the Roman emperors were not a uniquely flawed group of humans, but representative of that which is within all of us.

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?- Jeremiah 17:9

To consider the natural orientation of the human heart, we should consider what the bible describes as works of the flesh.

Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. - Galatians 5:19-21

The current idea that man is basically good could only be plausibly presented in a Christian society such as Western Civilization. In Asia, the Mid East, or Africa such a foolish idea would not long be entertained.

As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: - Romans 3:10

It is easy to see in the Roman emperors a decadence and debauchery unique to themselves. However, we must overcome the tendency to see ourselves in such a favorable light that we deceive ourselves into thinking that we are not like them. Paul writes that the law was given to the nation of Israel to help them see that they could never keep it and were in need of a Redeemer.

Sadly many, like the Pharisees, thought they had kept all the law and thus had made themselves righteous, In a similar way, we are inclined to see ourselves as immune to the corruptions and deceit of riches, because we often come to think that we are not rich.

Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God. - 1 Corinthians 6:9-11

While most of us do not have armies at our command like Roman emperors, we do have access to even greater comforts than they enjoyed. Consequently we begin to expereince the same delusional thinking, descents into perversion, and perpetual dissatisfaction.

The 'deception' comes from thinking we are pursuing that which eases, frees, indulges, and satisfies. Only to discover that we have unleashed that within us that devours, enslaves, corrupts, destroys, and is never satisfied.

It is not so much the amount of damage we do to others. It is not even the amount of riches that we have. What matters more is the internal damage that changes us. The Roman emperors represent an extreme example. What is less discernable is the effect of the lies we come to tell ourselves to justify the harm we do others. It is a tragedy if one becomes deaf or loses his eyesight. However, the loss of the ability to discern truth, be sensitive to others, or trust in a Savior who died for us is so much greater a tragedy we should all weep when we see the effect of the deceitfulness of riches.

Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you. Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are motheaten. Your gold and silver is cankered; and the rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as it were fire. Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days. Behold, the hire of the labourers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of sabaoth. Ye have lived in pleasure on the earth, and been wanton; ye have nourished your hearts, as in a day of slaughter. - James 5:1-5

One does not need to be an emperor, banker, industrialist, or even business owner to be vulnerable to the deception of riches. One does not have to be a farmer who exploits agricultural workers. One can cheat on taxes or food stamps as well. Regardless of how much a person possesses, it is the power of selfishness that fuels the deceitfulness of riches.

The poison of selfishness destroys the world. - Catherine of Siena


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