The Curse of Riches

The Curse of Riches

(Ecclesiastes 5:10-17)

Steven Harper

The society in which we live today is one that is, without a doubt, materially-minded. About half of what is shown on television is an advertisement for one thing or another, in one way or another [whether blatantly or subtly]. Our economy is what is often called “consumer-driven” but might be more properly identified as “salesman-driven.” We are constantly bombarded with advertisements that tell us we cannot be healthy without the latest diet program, that we cannot be beautiful without the latest fashionable clothing, that we cannot be happy unless we drink a certain brand of alcoholic drink, that we cannot be noticed by others unless we drive the right brand of automobile, and that we cannot really be happy with the income we now make so we are encouraged to gamble or get a higher education or learn the latest strategy so we all can make more money. Money is the bottom line!

But, as we have all probably heard, “Money doesn’t buy happiness,” and the studies prove it true. Kennon Sheldon, University of Missouri [Columbia] psychology professor, said, “We consistently find that people who say money is most important to them are [the unhappiest].” [Gaming Magazine, April 17, 2002] The same article listed several lottery winners who, after winning, had much less happier lives. One was sued by his best friend; another was divorced and arrested for selling drugs; one declared bankruptcy within five years and his wife divorced him; and another was broke within two years and convicted of selling drugs. Other stories abound of winners whose lives worsened because of the extra money, one even committing suicide within two years of winning over $31 million. Truly, money was not what brought happiness, yet this country spends over $70 billion dollars each year on legal gambling in the hopes of winning the proverbial “big one.” And money again is the bottom line. Let us be reminded of the words of the apostle Paul, who said, “But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows” (1 Tim. 6:9, 10).

Today, we will consider these facts as we seek to see the folly of the pursuit of riches. Far too many in the world make the pursuit of riches their sole or primary aim in life, yet many Christians have joined in the pursuit and are revealing themselves as even more foolish because they — of all people — should know the folly of such a pursuit. Have we not learned the words of the inspired writers who speak of the folly and foolishness of pursuing vain riches? Have we not read the many passages that speak of what might honestly be called The Curse of Riches? Today, we will do just that.

There Is Never Enough. [vv. 10, 11] The mind set on material possessions — ­particularly on riches — is one that is set for a fall, for those possessions are not what brings happiness and, as many find out, they always want more. There is no satisfaction in material possessions, and yet God’s own people followed this path, chasing after the things that did not last, and God chastised them, asking, “Why do you spend money for what is not bread, and your wages for what does not satisfy?” (Isa. 55:2) They failed to see that the pursuit of earthly gain was not what would bring true joy, and they would find no satisfaction when it was attained. Ask those lottery winners if their riches brought contentment! Surely we, as God’s people today, can see beyond the false claims of those who would have us believe we’ll be happy if we just have enough or make enough money. And even if we should somehow find satisfaction in money, what does that say of our heart? (cf. Rom. 8:5-9)

The mind set on obtaining and amassing financial wealth and riches is the one that is set on personal destruction. The apostle warned that many “who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition,” and went on to say, “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” (1 Tim. 6:9, 10) Have we not learned this lessons after 2000 years?!?

Real contentment will not be found in the riches this world has to offer, but only when we can be happy with what we have, and not believing it is in what we do not have (Heb. 13:5). Real contentment will be found when the Lord blesses those whose hunger is for righteousness and not material goods (Matt. 5:6).

It Give No Real Comfort. [vv. 12, 13] Solomon himself learned this lesson the hard way, after many attempts to find happiness in material pleasures (Eccl. 2:4-10). His conclusion was that it was all “vanity and grasping for the wind” (Eccl. 2:11). There is an abiding principle that applies to this subject and many others: “For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required” (Luke 12:48). The fact that a man has more material goods is not in itself a comfort, for the more he has, the more he has to tend and to worry over and protect. He, in fact, loses sleep over his gain!

Sadly, there is no comfort to the one who has gained these material possessions for another reason: the end of the riches — and his own end. Regarding the material possessions, he knows that when he dies he has to pass it on to one who has not worked for it as he has (2:21-23). Knowing this, he finds “his days are sorrowful, and his work burdensome; even in the night his heart takes no rest.” And the rich man himself? If he ever had the word of God in his heart, it will soon be choked out by the cares and riches of this world and he becomes unfruitful (Luke 8:14). Surely this can be a source of discomfort!

Real comfort will not be found in the accumulation of riches, but in the fact of being a faithful servant of the Lord. The psalmist could say — each night — “I will both lie down in peace, and sleep; For You alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety” (Psa. 4:8). He could rest easy because he knows where he stands with the Lord and he knows where he will be should he die, and in this knowledge he can sleep an uninterrupted sleep, comforted by the Lord’s promises of protection. Those faithful ones will be further comforted in knowing what lies ahead (1 Thess. 4:13-18).

They Can Be Lost. [v. 14] Another sad fact about the riches which so many pursue and which so many seem to ignore is the reality that they can and will be lost sometimes through absolutely no fault of the owner and — many times — in spite of the owner’s best efforts to prevent it. Does anyone remember their history? Do we remember the day called “Black Tuesday” when fortunes were erased within a matter of hours and people were turned to begging for food where they had lived in luxury just the day before? It can happen again! Truly, as the wise writer said, “Will you set your eyes on that which is not? For riches certainly make themselves wings; They fly away like an eagle toward heaven” (Prov. 23:5). Just open your wallet at your local mall and watch!

And should he be so careful and lucky to hold onto his material possessions for a long time, it is still a futile pursuit because when this world ends, everything — including his wealth so carefully protected — will be burned up and he will have nothing once again (2 Pet. 3:10).

Real security will not come with those riches, but there ARE some riches that are secure, and it is that promised by God to the faithful — what Peter described as “an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you” (1 Pet. 1:4). Let us never forget that we have “a better and an enduring possession for yourselves in heaven” (Heb. 10:34) — better than any earthly possession! The reward we have been promised is also described as “an imperishable crown” (1 Cor. 9:25), versus the corruptible rewards of this life. Paul called later his future reward “a crown of righteousness” (2 Tim. 4:7, 8). We may be enjoy the earthly riches for awhile, but why not seek the riches that do not fade away and, once received in judgment, can never be taken away?

You Can’t Take It With You. [vv. 15, 16] The old adage, “You can’t take it with you” is certainly true, and one that should not be ignored in the context of the wise writer’s words. Though he enjoyed the earthly riches that most men can only imagine, he knew that when his life ended, those riches would go to someone else and he would take nothing with him. He also understood it would not prevent death (Psa. 49:6-9). As rich as Bill Gates is now and as rich as Andrew Carnegie was in the 1800s and as rich as an Arabian sultan may be, they all died and none will take one thin dime with them into eternity. The fact is, “it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment” (Heb. 9:27) and all the riches in the world will not prevent it! And neither will those riches sway the Judge in the end (Prov. 11:4). Some wealthy man may understand and even believe his death is inevitable, but then think those riches will somehow sway the judgment he faces. It will not. Again the wise writer warns, “Riches do not profit in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivers from death.” Material wealth will do absolutely nothing in the saving of the soul, but righteousness will go far!

Real treasure is not the riches the world sees, but we can hold one great treasure in our hands: the word of God (Psa. 19:10). The psalmist said it best when he said of the word of God, “More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold; Sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.” In the precious words of God are found things more valuable than any earthly treasure, for these are the words of life (John 6:63); these are the words by which we may be saved from our sins (Acts 11:14); these are the words given to us by God that we might know His will and the very words that will judge us in the end (John 12:47, 48)! We need these words!

But let us not forget the treasures we seek are not on this earth, but the ones we lay up in heaven (Matt. 6:20). Real treasures are not those we can hold and see and feel and spend here on earth, but the treasures that we may have when we begin by taking up our cross and following Jesus (cf. Mark 10:21). Those treasures do not fade away, cannot be lost, and are more valuable than any earthly possessions we may accumulate. Do you have those treasures?

Where is your treasure? Jesus said, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt. 6:21). Where is your treasure? Where is your heart? I plead with you to set your heart on the heavenly things and make heaven your goal — not earthly things and earthly treasures and earthly riches. You may, in the eyes of the world, “go far” but in the eyes of the righteous Judge, you will go nowhere unless you have riches laid up in heaven. Let us not be as the foolish man who laid up for himself treasures and had none reserved in heaven (cf. Luke 12:16-21). Why not begin now laying up those treasures?

 By Steven Harper
From Expository Files 12.7; July 2005

Think before you sign

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Proverbs 6:1-5 and 11:15

I have a useful book of essays on Proverbs written by William Arnot, reprinted twice by Kregel Publications, but originally published in 1884. Modern readers may find his style distracting but there is substance in his teaching. Of particular insight, Arnot commented at some length on the subject of what he called “suretiship” based on the teachings of Prov. 6:1-5 and 11:15. Before I relate his observations, here are the passages along with some of my comments:

Prov. 6:1-5

1 My son, if you become surety for your friend,
If you have shaken hands in pledge for a stranger,
2 You are snared by the words of your mouth;
You are taken by the words of your mouth.
3 So do this, my son, and deliver yourself;
For you have come into the hand of your friend:
Go and humble yourself;
Plead with your friend.
4 Give no sleep to your eyes,
Nor slumber to your eyelids.
5 Deliver yourself like a gazelle from the hand of the hunter,
And like a bird from the hand of the fowler.

Prov. 11:15

15 He who is surety for a stranger will suffer,
But one who hates being surety is secure.

Becoming “surety” is a personal practice we might call “co-signing.” This teaching does not forbid helping someone in this way, but it sends a warning against impulsive commitments. We must be careful what we agree to, what we promise.

Have you ever made a promise you were not able to keep? Have you ever made a commitment with good intentions to help someone, and the whole deal turned bad on you? Most of us have been at this place in life – where we quickly entered into a deal that turned bad … then we had the challenge of figuring out an appropriate way to extricate ourselves from the matter. That’s what this passage is about – the impulsive, quick decisions we may make with good intentions to help someone … the deal goes bad – and we must find a way to resolve the problem. We cannot just walk away from a promise.

We may be tempted to get ourselves out of the problem, the same way we got in – through an act of impulse. This passage does not recommend an act of impulse – followed by another! This passage teaches us to follow an open, honest, humble approach to the problem: “Go and humble yourself; Plead with your friend.” You must not just walk away from a promise – you must seek an honorable resolution in order to deliver yourself. The teaching here is not – just forget it and go to sleep. The teaching is – to humble yourself and plead with your friend. Impulse go you into this trouble – care, humility and skill must be exercised to deliver yourself.

Back to Arnot, whose work on Proverbs was published in 1884 (England), he refers to this teaching as a warning against “rash suretiship.” I’ve taken some liberty to paraphrase his comments below; I set this off in quotation marks since there is no change in the essence of his thoughts:

“Rash suretiship, and the ruin that follows it, seem to have been common in those days, as well as our own. The economy of ancient times was small, in comparison with the vast system of exchange which now compasses the whole world… but the same vices that we lament marred it, and the same righteousness that we desire would have healed its’ ailments…

“In those primitive times, it seems, as in our own, some men desired to get faster forward in the world than their circumstances legitimately permitted. They were determined to attain high financial status, although they had noting to stand on. Their ambition fretted at the slow and vulgar method of climbing up by patient industry; they would ascend by a bound. They must get a neighbor to provide security for them, that they may get the use of money which is not their own. They will throw for a fortune to themselves at another’s risk.

“There were also others, it appears, so simple as to become surety for the adventurers, perhaps because they could not command enough of courage to refuse a friend, although they thereby cast into a lottery the home and the food of their own families. The warning does not discourage considerate kindness in bearing a deserving man over a temporary pressure. When you have ascertained the character of the person, and measured the amount of his need; when you have balanced your own responsibilities and accounts, and discovered that they have buoyancy sufficient to bear both yourself and your brother over the strait, then do a brother’s turn, and enjoy a brother’s love and the approval of God. No precept of the Bible demands that we should harden our hearts against the claims of the needy. The Bible permits and requires more of kindness to our brother than we have ever shown him yet; but it does not allow us to do a certain substantial evil in risk, for the sake of a distant shadowy good.

“It condemns utterly the rash engagements which, under pretence of doing a kindness to one, inflicts injustice on a hundred. Righteousness, in all times, and all circumstances, reclaims against the blind effort which, for the sake of supporting a tottering fabric, incurs the risk of bringing your own house down about your ears, and crushing beneath its ruins many innocent victims.”

(Based on comments by William Arnot, STUDIES IN PROVERBS: Laws From Heaven For Life On Earth, Kregel Publications, 1978, pages 208-209).

By Warren E. Berkley
From Expository Files 8.3; March 2001

Message and Manner

Message and Manner

Eph. 4:15  –  “but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head – Christ.”

The context of this is, Paul writing about the perfect provisions God has made available for the spread of the gospel and the growth of those who respond. As we use what God has generously provided for our salvation, we should speak the truth. That’s part of growth. Our growth and the growth of others who need the truth as much as we do.

But speaking the truth must never be just the cold, mechanical repeating of data. And it must never been spoken with a tone of hatred toward the listener.

This is about two things: what is spoken (the truth), and the manner of the speaker (in love). When I preach, when you visit with family, friends or co-workers, we must not only have the right message but deliver it in the right manner. Check both your message and your manner!

  • I’m preaching on Facebook Live this morning, 10:30 am – Laurel Heights Church of Christ.

We Shall Reap

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 “And let us not grow weary while doing good,

for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart,”

Gal. 6:9.

Some people just get tired of doing what is right, then give up. The devil is at work to bring us to this depressing place, where we just get tired of doing right and we quit. We grow weary while doing good.

We let people discourage us. We let circumstances defeat us. We let evil thoughts ruin us. We let the world lure us. We allow our own minds to be crowded with fear, suspicion and bitterness. We grow weary while doing good. Then quit.

In this passage – there are two things: Possibility and Promise. The possibility is – growing weary while doing good. The promise is – “for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.” It is our dependence on the promise that can keep us from the possibility.

I need to be convinced – that “in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.” If I use the Word of God to imbed that promise in my heart – it preserves me from the possibility of getting tried and giving up.

Let me put that another way. If we are wholeheartedly convinced the promise – “in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart,” that gives us the strength to keep doing good.

All Have Sinned

Rom. 3:23  –  “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

The context of this statement actually begins back in Romans chapter one. Paul is not ashamed of the gospel of Christ. It is the power of God to save (Rom. 1:16,17). Save from what? The affirmation of the apostle assumes we need to be saved from something. All of us. That’s where this verse enters: “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

This is actually a conclusion. Rom. 3:23 is a conclusion of what is documented from Rom. 1:18 up to this point. It some detail, Paul documents the sin of both Jews and Gentiles. He speaks of ungodliness, unrighteousness, suppressing the truth, not glorifying God and futile thoughts. Into chapter two, he extends the indictment to include the Jews, who were God’s nation.

Thus the word “all.” “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

Have you ever done anything wrong? An evil thought? A word spoken in anger, with malice? Ascribing a malicious motive to someone without evidence? Any form of immorality? Have you ever told a lie? Or, what about these inquiries: Do you maintain a mind filled with reverence, purity and gratitude for God all the time? Have you fallen short? Do you fall short?

If we have “all” sinned, we all need Christ? I need Him. You need Him. All of us need to know what the Bible says about responding to Him, and be certain we have and we are responding to the Savior.

That One Appointment

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That One Appointment

Heb. 9:27  –  “And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment…”

It is not somewhere appointed that you will be rich or poor, sick or healthy, live in one place or another, be well-known or un-known, or have any particular talent.

It is appointed “to die once.”

The context of this verse is the singular, sufficient sacrifice of Jesus Christ. The writer affirms that “now, once at the end of the ages,” Christ “has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.” This context makes it much easier to read what comes next.

It is appointed “to die once.”

Then, after that, “the judgment.” What has God done to prepare us for death and judgment? Keep reading. “…Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him, He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation.”

A man by the name of James Rodgers, was executed in 1960 in Nevada. The execution was carried out by firing squad. According to custom – the warden asked the condemned man if he had a last request. He said, “Sure, I’d like a bulletproof vest.”

We do all we can do – to miss this appointment. Still, it is appointed to die. It would be dreadful to read that, if we didn’t have the context of Christ offering Himself for us. Have you applied that offering to your life? Christ is the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him (Heb. 5:9).

Jerusalem’s Shame

Jerusalem’s Shame

Zeph. 3:1-4

Within the books of prophecy the Bible reader is able to see clearly the problems God had with His people, often called “Jerusalem” (often described with the feminine “she.”)

The word of the Lord came to these prophets, and they were charged with telling God’s people why they were headed for trouble. Here’s one example:

“Woe to the city of oppressors, rebellious and defiled! She obeys no one, she accepts no correction. She does not trust in the Lord, she does not draw near to her God. Her officials are roaring lions, her rulers are evening wolves, who leave nothing for the morning. Her prophets are arrogant; they are treacherous men. Her priests profane the sanctuary and do violence to the law.”

This doesn’t read like a “chamber of commerce” publicity blurb does it. Almost as bad as ancient Sodom, you wouldn’t want to live there or move your family in. This is a place where oppression, rebellion and pride lived. Even the religion of this place was corrupt and profane. And the government officials were like roaring, hungry lions who went on the attack in the evenings with such ferocity, there was nothing left the next day. This is why the people were in such trouble, and headed for destruction.

But in the middle of this, look carefully for a single phrase that spells out the core issue: “She does not trust in the Lord, she does not draw near to her God.” Yes, that was the foundational problem. They had abandoned God. When God is abandoned, the people suffer multiple consequences generated by sin, even before the eternal outcome.

This should cause us to think, how do we draw near to God? Let us assume we want to be closer to Him and live far away from the corruption and sin of ancient Jerusalem. How do we draw near to God?

  • Read His Word
  • Obey Him
  • Join with others who obey Him
  • Pray without ceasing
  • Worship in spirit and truth
  • Use God’s Word to examine and adjust your attitude
  • Be willing to stand corrected by the Word

 “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded,” (Jas. 4:8).