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Friday, January 23, 2009

The Good Things in Life

The Roman orator, Cicero, in his essay Paradox I speaks about people who are addicted to the good things in life. In particular he speaks of the accumulation of treasures, mansions, power etc. He then notes “For I have observed, that those to whom these things abounded, still desired them most: for the thirst of cupidity is never filled or satiated. They are tormented not only with the lust of increasing, but with the fear of losing what they have.” He later notes that those seeking pleasure believe that “pleasure is the highest good.” It is interesting to note, in light of his words, that many people believe that an excess of seeking pleasure was a contributing factor in the fall of the Roman Empire.

It doesn’t seem that things have changed must over the past two thousand years. It has been noted that people with an annual income of $10,000 and people with an income of $100,000 both consider themselves broke. The wealthy are just broke at a higher level. As one person has noted, “no matter what our income, we live ten percent beyond our means!” The more we have the more we want. This attitude causes several problems. First, it is a contributing cause of the excessive debt load here in America. The typical family is carrying around $9,000 in debt. Second, the “keeping pace with the Jones” mentality leads to a high level of frustration and dissatisfaction with life. Even when we think we have arrived, we only set a new, higher standard for ourselves. This also fuels our ever competitive society. Third, it can cause us to compromise our moral and ethical standards. The fear of losing our lifestyle can lead us to do things we would otherwise never even consider. This theme is very evident in the movie “The Firm” where the new, young law partner is given every amenable pleasure of life with the goal that he will accept the law firm’s immoral practices in order to maintain his new lifestyle. And fourth, it leads us to be a consumer oriented society which often misuses our available resources.

Things have not changed much in the 2000 years since Cicero. Our society still focuses on self gratification. Advertisements implore us to grab all the gusto we can. We are encouraged to seek pleasure. We are a narcissistic society. We may even compromise our convictions to obtain the “good life”. We always want more.

The Apostle Paul’s attitude is far removed from this. His relationship with Jesus was the most important thing in his life. He was in debt to Jesus who had totally transformed his life. Paul found that in whatever state he found himself, he was content. He refused to compromise his message even when it cost him something including his very life. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells the listening crowd “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt. 6:21). He effectively is saying that our priorities and values will follow whatever we hold in the highest regard. His statement should lead us to question our own priorities and values. What do we hold as the highest thing in our lives? Is it Jesus or something else? He asks us to place him above everything else – whether fame, wealth, security, or status. He wants to be first in our lives. But today, as in Cicero’s time, we tend to focus on pleasure and things. Turning Jesus’ statement into a question its time to ask: “Where really is my treasure anyway?”

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