2-11-3 The Snare Of Riches
The Snare Of Materialism
Twice in 1 Timothy, Paul speaks about a snare; the snare of the devil
(1 Tim. 3:7), and the snare of wanting wealth (6:9). The desire for wealth
in whatever form is the very epitome of the devil, our inherent sin which
we must struggle against. The idea of a snare is that it results in a
sudden and unexpected destruction. The unexpectedness of the
destruction should set us thinking: surely the implication is that those
who are materialistic don't realize that in fact this is their besetting
sin, and therefore their rejection in the end because of it will be so
tragically unexpected. It's rather like pride; if you're proud and you
don't know it, then you really are proud. And if we're materialistic and
don't know it, we likewise really have a problem. The idea of riches being
a snare connects with copious OT references to idols as Israel's perpetual
snare (Ex. 23:33; Dt. 7:16; Jud. 2:3; 8:27; Ps. 106:36; Hos. 5:1). Paul's
point is surely that the desire of wealth is the equivalent of OT idolatry.
But there is another, even more telling Biblical usage of the "
snare" . The day of the Lord will be a snare to the unsuspecting
worldling, who will suddenly find that the Lord has come and destroyed
him (Is. 8:14; 24:17,18; Jer. 50:24; Lk. 21:35). Yet the materialistic
believer falls into the snare of riches here and now. Surely the point
is that our attitude to riches is a preview of the judgment; the materialistic
believer has condemned himself, right now. Not only does such a man fall
into the devil's snare, but he pierces himself through with sorrows (1
Tim. 6:10), which is the language of crucifixion. This connection suggests
a powerful logic. We face a cross either way; either the cross of the
Lord Jesus, with the matchless eternity it heralds; or the cross, the
twisting, unsatisfied pain of a life devoted to material advancement,
which finally results in the darkness of rejection.
The association between the love of wealth and all sin is demonstrated
by the fact that Judas's offer to betray the Lord was conditional on how
much the Jews would pay: " What will ye give me, and I will deliver
him unto you" (Mt. 26:15). He above all was caught in the snare of
riches. The decision of Judas to make this offer is recorded as coming
straight after the record of the woman anointing the Lord's feet with
the expensive ointment. Judas's heart cried out as he saw all that money
wasted; he knew that the perfume could have been sold for much and the
money entrusted to him as the treasurer, and therefore he would have had
the opportunity to take some for himself. As I read the records, the motivation
of Judas was fundamentally financial, whatever we may like to
speculate about his other reasons. It's almost too far fetched to believe;
that a man who walked in the company of the Son of God, who entered into
deep spiritual conversation with him, who is even described by the Spirit
of Christ as " a man mine equal, my guide and mine acquaintance"
(Ps. 55:13,4), could steal the odd few dollars (in our terms) out of the
bag of those 12 travelling men. It couldn't have been any great sum that
he notched up in those three years. And yet this led Judas to betray the
Lord of all grace, for a sum no more than at most a few thousand US dollars
(in our terms). They valued the Son of God at 30 pieces of silver (Mt.
27:9)- and all it could buy was a field. And Judas was happy
with that. The way he later hurled those coins down and stalked off to
hang himself suggests that he saw the essence of his failure as being
tied up with that money. " The reward of iniquity" was what
Peter contemptuously called it (Acts 1:18). The chief priests wanted Lazarus
put to death simply because “many of the Jews went away” from the synagogue
because of him, and it would have meant the tithes were lost or at least
put in jeopardy (Jn. 12:11). And this cannot be ruled out as a major factor
why they wanted Jesus out of the way too, and why they persecuted the
early church so fiercely, seeing that thousands of tithe-paying members
were being turned against them.
That a man should betray the Lord Jesus just for a bit of money is incredible-
almost. But this is the iron grip of the snare of riches. And our community
is littered with the spiritual wrecks of those who have likewise been
snared by their pursuit of wealth, on whatever level. And Scripture brings
before us so many others: Hezekiah is one of the more tragic. One reason
why Israel failed to drive out the tribes, and thereby lost the Kingdom,
was simply because they wanted to take tribute from them (Josh. 17:13).
Ez. 7:19 defines “silver and gold” as Israel’s stumblingblock- moreso
than idols. They just so loved wealth. The men of Bethshemesh looked into
the ark to see if there were any more jewels left in it (1 Sam. 6:19 cp.
6,15); they trampled upon the supreme holiness of God in their crazed
fascination with wealth. The early corruption of Christianity was due
to false teachers who like Balaam " loved the wages of unrighteousness"
(2 Pet. 2:15); they taught false doctrine " for filthy lucre's sake"
(Tit. 1:11). Time and again the NT warns against elders who would be motivated
by the love of " filthy lucre" rather than the Lord Jesus and
His people (1 Tim. 3:3,8; Tit. 1:7; 1 Pet. 5:2). The Greek translated
" filthy lucre" is hard to understand; it doesn't just mean
'money'. It suggests profit that is somehow filthy, morally disgusting.
This is what money turns into, in God's eyes, when men so love it.