Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income. This too is meaningless. Ecclesiastes 5, verse 10.
Isn’t this the truth? I mean, some verses seem to have obscure meaning, and some are hard to figure out, and some don’t really seem to translate easily into our lives even as I know they have meaning I need to comprehend. Not so this one.
We live in an era of immense wealth. And even though the worldwide economy is in worse shape than it has been in 80 years, the amount of wealth in the world is still staggering. Late last year, I spent time in Michigan, leading a project in Flint. If you haven’t been there lately (or at all) eastern and central Michigan – the old industrial area – is severely depressed. Last week my son returned from a mission trip there and he confirmed my observation: that the Detroit area is in pretty desperate straits. Whole neighborhoods are abandoned. Factories are shuttered. Sketchy characters wait on sidewalks for something to happen. My impression was that it’s a hope-challenged area; I think my boy would agree.
Jobs and businesses move out leaving real people with real lives behind. Just as the government can oppress us, so can business and commerce. When that commerce dries up, real people – you and me – are affected. What’s that political line? Recession is when your neighbor loses his job and depression is when you lose yours. I’ve been unemployed several times and it’s tough, and there’s the temptation to say that ‘those rich guys just screw the little guys and all they care about is money.’
Shame on you if you believe that. Who are you or I to judge someone else’s heart? Even in areas like the Rust Belt, I wholeheartedly reject the arguments of people who pit the classes against each other. It seems to me their arguments start out with a genuine complaint yet usually degenerate into little more than coveting envy. It is no doubt that, especially in this economy, the wealthy seem much more insulated from wealth-based pain than those of us who aren’t wealthy. Where in that truth are you or I given the right to judge someone else? If someone is an upstanding faithful person who acquires wealth, then I want to know how to do it because I could use some advice on making better financial choices. I dream about that house by the lake, or a nice car, or just being able to pay my bills on the first and fifteenth without feeling like a circus juggler.
Here’s where my interest wanes: if having that wealth endangers my faith in God, then I’ll be content to stay in the struggling middle class where I’ve always lived. There’s the canard (based on a Bible verse) about the love of money being the root of all evil. That’s an extension of this much earlier verse from Ecclesiastes. Money itself is just a tool, a resource. On it’s own, it is meaningless. Obsessing about it, focusing on it, centering my life around its acquisition and multiplication are things I disdain. That’s not just a healthy practice for me: it’s what this verse is talking about. If your heart is set on money – indeed, if your heart is set anywhere but on Him – then your heart is set on wrong.
What happens if we replace ‘money’ and ‘wealth’ with God? Do that and read the first part of the verse again. In a way, though, even that last part holds true because if we love God but don’t do what He asks, then our love is shallow and cold; meaningless. Whoever loves God finds they can’t get enough. It isn’t an unsatisfying craving: it’s seeing how empty you are and how He fills you up, and knowing you want to share it. It is that if you love God, you aren’t satisfied with your income because you get to see how shallow money is compared to living in the Lord. It’s not enough to just say we love God. For that love to be effective, we need to let Him move us, do something small or large with it.
Yet before we go all revival here, let’s heed again that prudent caution: love with a humble heart. Having faith doesn’t mean that your money woes will be over. Living in faith doesn’t mean that you’ll immediately be on easy street. Having abiding faith does mean that you gain perspective, how small or large wealth is a gift from Him that we are to use responsibly and generously. Having faith helps you learn what real wealth is.
You and I are those sketchy characters too. We’re waiting on something to happen in our lives. I’m getting older because I look at videos from today’s popular singers and see little more than hedonism, material obsession with money, the trappings of wealth, and looking cool for the ladies; let’s not explore the mysoginistic side today. I’ve always admired people who know how to invest and turn little into much. It’s a talent that I have yet to master. Like Forrest Gump, I’m not a smart man…but I know what love is. I know how to love. I can love fully. My other talents include keeping a tidy yard, a green thumb, (as of last night) fixing broken cars, managing deficient projects, and restoring order from chaos. And I love the people in my life. Is it much different to build focused wealth from disorderly financial chaos? I’m betting not. If you have that talent, I admire you and would love to learn how you do it. Here, then, is to hoping you and I learn instead how to use the talents God gave each of us for His glory and our betterment at the same time, building real wealth that is more than just numbers on a balance sheet.