He who loves silver will not be satisfied with silver; nor he who loves abundance with increase. This is also vanity.
In addictions like alcoholism, people experience a phenomenon called tolerance. A person’s body gets used to the level of alcohol so he or she has to drink more to get the same effect. And the process continues as the body adjusts to taking in more and more.
The same phenomenon occurs in the world of money and possessions, but in this case, tolerance is a psychological effect. People believe that the next rung up the ladder will give them the happiness they long for, so they work hard to get there. When they achieve it, they feel great- even euphoric- for a little while. But soon, the feeling wears off, and the next rung comes into view. The pursuit of more always promises ultimate fulfillment, but it always leads to deep disappointment. It is, as Solomon observed, vanity- empty and futile.
The solution to the problem of tolerance in money and possessions isn’t to get more and more. It’s to kick the habit! We need to step back, take a hard look at the compulsion to acquire, and confess our sin to God. He will forgive us, give us wisdom, and put us on a path of filling our lives with things that really satisfy.
Money will buy you a bed, but not a good night’s sleep; a house, but not a home; a companion, but not a friend.
Money never made a man happy yet, nor will it. There is nothing in its nature to produce happiness. The more a man has, the more he wants. Instead of filling a vacuum, it makes one. If it satisfies one want, it doubles or triples that want another way. That was a true proverb of the wise man, rely on it: Better a little with the fear of the Lord than great treasure and trouble therewith.
Often misquoted is 1 Timothy 6:10. Most people say, “Money is the root of all evil.” But that’s not accurate. 1 Timothy 6:10 actually says:
“For the love of money [that is, the greedy desire for it and the willingness to gain it unethically] is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves [through and through] with many sorrows.”
The context of this passage is in a letter written by Paul to a young minister named Timothy. In the preceding verses, Paul instructs him and us to learn to be content with whatever God has blessed us with. He tells us that the pursuit of godliness is the greatest gain and it is accompanied by contentment. It connects us to the statement of Jesus who told us to seek the kingdom of heaven first. Paul reminds us that we came into the world with nothing and we will leave it the same way and only what we store up in heaven will await us in eternity.
There is no idea of taking a vow of poverty as though being poor somehow contributes to righteousness for even the poor can have a love of money. I read a passage some years ago that I think speaks well of the moderation that the Bible teaches:
“Two things I have asked of You; Do not deny them to me before I die: Keep deception and lies far from me;Give me neither poverty nor riches; Feed me with the food that is my portion, So that I will not be full and deny You and say, “Who is the Lord?” Or that I will not be poor and steal, And so profane the name of my God.”
Proverbs 30: 7-9
In the letter to Timothy, Paul says that it is the love of money that is the root of all evil and those who love it will do anything to attain more of it including unethical practices. We live in a world today of elaborate contracts designed to protect both parties in a business transaction. Rarely do we stop and consider why it is so. Many seek to find and seize an advantage that will profit and benefit themselves often at the expense of others and rationalize it as just being good business. Unfortunately Christians don’t seem to be exempt from these things, so Paul instructs Timothy to learn to be content and to trust God for his needs. As he addresses the love of money, Paul tells us that the “greedy desire” and the “longing” for it has drawn some away from faith. We all know that the devil will use anything he can to deceive us and draw us away from God. He will, if we allow him, even use the blessings of God against us. Sometimes our possessions can become a hindrance in our faith journey. They don’t have to be. Abraham was incredibly blessed by God with the treasures of this world but his wealth never hindered him in following God. As a matter of fact, Abraham established the model of the tithe. After a battle in which Abraham attained additional wealth, he meets Melchizedek, the high priest and gives him a tenth of his possessions. The antidote for the love of money is giving. When giving becomes a delight to us, then we know we’re cured of the disease of the love of money. The amount we give is not as important as the attitude with which we give. Paul tells us to “give cheerfully,” not begrudgingly nor out of obligation. In Jesus day those who loved money gave, sometimes large amounts, but they made sure everyone noticed their giving. Sometimes they would have their servants to ring bells to get the attention of people so their giving could be seen. I have to think that in reality they weren’t giving but rather trying to buy recognition. Sitting in the temple one day and observing those who were giving, the disciples mentioned to Jesus about some large gift but Jesus pointed out a little widow who had given only a few pennies. Jesus said she had given more than anyone for she had given out of her heart.
So how do we resist this pressure of the world around us to gain more and more? Do we take ourselves off the grid and live some monkish life? Do we take vows of poverty? Let’s look at the wisdom of Proverbs.
The prayer of Proverbs is “give me neither poverty nor riches.” Poverty can be defined as the lack of what is necessary to live a decent life. The writer of Proverbs understood that want and lack, especially in desperate need can lead to lying, or stealing. In the story of Les Miserables, the main character is arrested and imprisoned for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his family. I’m sure that there are such crimes committed today for the same reasons. The temptation to take something that’s not ours escalates in dire need. For that reason the writer of Proverbs prays that he would not be given poverty. But he also prays that God doesn’t give him riches. I’m sure most of us have no problem praying for God to not give us poverty, but the wise writer of Proverbs tells us that riches can be just as dangerous as poverty. So he prays that God will provide sufficient need; for he says that with too much, he may forget that God is his source and with too little he may succumb to stealing.
There are those in this world that God can and has entrusted with great wealth and they use it to expand the kingdom of God. There are those who seem to always struggle and yet God uses them to expand the kingdom of God. The secret to this is that both recognize that God is their source. At the end of the day it matters not how much or how little we have. What matters most is how we used what we have and whether we used it for the benefit of the kingdom of heaven.
In the Lord’s Prayer we are taught to pray first for the kingdom to come and for God’s will to be done before we pray for Him to provide our daily bread. God wishes us to ask for His blessings and God delights to bless us but we would be wise to ask for His will to be done before all else.
I pray that today all of us will enjoy every blessing that God has provided, that we will pause and give Him thanks for all He has provided, and we will seek out ways to use our blessings to bless someone else and to increase the kingdom of God here on earth. I pray that we will choose to lay up treasure in heaven rather than trying to accumulate wealth here on this earth. I pray that in whatever state we find ourselves we will learn to be content, trusting God to supply our every need. Let me remind us once again that Paul says, “contentment with godliness is great gain.” May the enrichment of your soul and your relationship with Christ be the most important pursuits in your life.
Dr. John Thompson