The Expository Files.

The Curse of Riches

(Ecclesiastes 5:10-17)

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