There used to be a popular T-shirt that said: “He who dies with the most toys wins.” You can actually still buy 1980s vintage versions of the shirt on eBay (I checked this morning). Then another slogan came out to counter that idea: “He who dies with the most toys…still dies.” This second thought is actually much more in line with the Bible, which teaches us that we brought nothing into this world and will bring nothing out of it (1 Timothy 6:7), so we should focus on storing up treasures in heaven (Matthew 6:20). But most Americans today live by a modified version of the first motto that is something like this: “He who has lots of toys and enjoys them for a long time before he dies wins.” It is an approach to life based on the old lie that there is no heaven or hell after death, so we should just try to have as much pleasure in this life now as we can. This mindset has led many to years of self-centered misery on this earth followed by an eternity of torment away from the presence of God. We must be on guard against it!
Proverbs and the whole Bible warn us often about the dangers of riches because they can so easily lead us into loving stuff more than we love God and other people. We see today that some of the richest people by the world’s standards can in fact be spiritually bankrupt, while those with little earthly wealth may actually be very rich in God’s kingdom (Proverbs 13:7). The rich often put their trust in their bank accounts to protect them from potential disasters and enemies (v. 8a). By contrast, the poor have less money to manage and worry about and fewer people who want to take it away from them (v. 8b). Finally, extremely wealthy people have sometimes gained their money through dishonest methods and business practices, and their lack of integrity will eventually lead to their downfall in one way or another (v. 11a). The average working person, however, may have much less money but will see a steady increase of his or her savings over time because they value the money for which they have labored many hours a week and want to spend it wisely (v. 11b).
What about verses 9 and 10? They seem to have nothing to do with money, but there likely is a connection because of their placement in this section. Verse 9 tells us that money, whether we have a lot or a little of it, is not the most important thing in this life or the next. Instead, what really matters is righteousness. As Christians, we received the righteousness of Christ when we accepted Him as our Lord and Savior. Now, our goal in life is to enjoy both inner and outward expressions of our new identity as God’s forgiven, justified, and adopted sons and daughters. We strive each day to turn away from sin and do good, not to earn God’s love but because of the love He has already poured out on us through our faith in Jesus. In our desire for righteousness, the biggest sin of all that we must avoid is pride, which is the belief that we can be our own gods. This sin is particularly a problem for the rich because the more stuff they have, the more tempted they are to think that they should get to call all the shots in life. This evil attitude leads to conflict with the real God and with other people who are also trying to be their own gods (v. 10a). If you have ever helped with nursery or preschool ministries, then you have seen this “little gods v. little gods” principle in action, and it can get real ugly real fast without adult intervention and guidance! No, we must instead grow up into mature Christians who are known as wise by God and others because we humbly receive counsel from God’s Word and from others who know better than us (v. 10b). May we all obey Jesus’ teaching today and stay “on guard against every form of greed” in our lives, for truly there is much more to life than our stuff (Luke 12:15).
The Text (Proverbs 13:7-11)
7 There is one who makes himself rich, yet has nothing; And one who makes himself poor, yet has great riches.
8 The ransom of a man’s life is his riches, But the poor does not hear rebuke.
9 The light of the righteous rejoices, But the lamp of the wicked will be put out.
10 By pride comes nothing but strife, But with the well-advised is wisdom.
11 Wealth gained by dishonesty will be diminished, But he who gathers by labor will increase.
Questions to Think About
- How much of your day do you spend thinking about stuff that you own or want to own? If you were being totally honest with yourself and God right now, would you say that the love of stuff is a sin struggle for you? Why or why not?
- When you think about your future career, do you want to pick a job based only on how much money you will be able to make? Or are you considering other factors such as helping others, furthering God’s kingdom, and doing something that will bring you joy as a way to glorify God?
- How many of your life goals involve owning stuff like houses, cars, boats, and so forth? What other life goals do you have? How do your life goals line up with the goals that God has given Christians in the teachings of the Bible?