Summary: Greed is good? If our primary goal in life is material wealth, we will end up with empty, futile lives and spiritual bankruptcy.
Overcoming Futility, a Sermon Series on Ecclesiastes
“Professions and Possessions”, 5:8-20 -Pastor Bob Leroe, Cliftondale Congregational Church, Saugus, Massachusetts
Some of us remember Jack Benny. In a skit on his radio show, a robber held him up, pointed a gun at him and said, “Your money or your life.” After a long pause, Benny said, “I’m thinking! I’m thinking!” Solomon wants us to think about money, and it’s a timely topic, considering that we’re in tax-preparation season, the new game show Deal or No Deal, and with recent news coverage of another big “Powerball” lottery.
“Is there a reason for living?” Solomon asks throughout Ecclesiastes…many people find their purpose in the delusion of material possessions. We all know of people who live by the motto: “Greed is good.” The Christian worldview does not mistake wealth for worth, nor does it endorse greed as a virtue. Solomon isn’t opposed to wealth, but only to the unhealthy pursuit of happiness through any means apart from God. You can’t hug a mutual fund! If our primary goal in life is material wealth, we will end up with empty, futile lives and spiritual bankruptcy. So much for the idea that “I will be happy when I become rich.” Wiser minds speak of the “curse of riches.” Solomon calls it “a grievous evil under the sun.” Materialism isn’t owning things, but being owned by things.
Solomon tells us not to be surprised when we learn of injustice, unethical business dealings, and violations of human rights, verses 8-9. Envy is more than wanting what someone else has--it’s wanting them to not have it. Enviers want to be envied. The prosperity of others diminishes the one corrupted with envy. This can lead to resentment, and deceitful actions to crush all rivals; for example...
I’ve been reading about the Salem witch trials, and I found a key reason behind the accusations: most of those accused were prosperous and embroiled over land and monetary disputes with the accusers’ parents; this was revenge based on greed, envy and personal animosity. The performed hysteria of the accusers was a weapon. The victims of the witch-hunt had all their property and possessions confiscated, and surviving relatives became destitute, while the accusers gained importance and unchallenged power in the community. The authorities, for their part, looked for evil everywhere but in their own hearts. This oppression is what Solomon calls in verse 8 the “exploitation of justice.” Materialism is not a victimless pursuit.
I saw someone wearing a T-shirt that said, “Lord, let me prove that winning the lottery won’t ruin me.” It has ruined many people. According to studies of lottery winners, many ended up with tragic lives: some have gambled away their winnings, some have committed suicide; others died of drug overdoses, many have filed restraining orders against harassing relatives, several were jailed for failing to pay taxes, some were murdered.
In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus warns that material worries—the cares of this world and the deceit of riches—can choke out the seed of the Good News (13:22). In other words, materialism becomes our salvation when we care more about physical comfort than eternal security. We should give importance to Who we have rather than what we have. The world is full of people who are making a good living but living poor lives. Life is tragic for the person who has plenty to live on but nothing to live for.
There’s nothing sinful about having money, but there is a definite word of caution here in verse 10: “Whoever loves money never has enough”. The problem is not money. The Bible points out that money isn’t the root of evil but “the love of money” is (I Tim 6:10). God wants us to find our purpose, security, and delight in Him…yet any given Sunday the “church” with the best attendance in town in the Mall, a cathedral of consumerism.
Sadly, many people with material abundance are unable to enjoy their assets. Verse 12 suggests that they lose sleep worrying. People fear the stock market will take a tumble, they’re afraid of identity theft, or that their home security system won’t keep thieves away from all they’ve acquired. They’ve lost the ability to be content. Such a troublesome life is in no one’s best interests and can only end in tears. We need to remember that money comes with printed instructions: “In God We Trust.”
Solomon quotes Job in verse 15, a man who lost everything. Job’s life shows us that even the very best people can suffer great hardship, for reasons unknown. The one thing Job did not lose is his faith in God. Money doesn’t change us; it brings out who we really are. Our attachment to “things” reveals our character.
People forced to part with their wealth, have been thrown into agonizing desolation. Six armed gunmen broke into the deposit boxes in a London bank and stole valuables worth more than $7 million. A woman whose jewelry was appraised at $500,000 cried, “Everything I had was in there. My whole life was in that box.” What a sad commentary on her values! What if all we hold dear was tied to our material prosperity? To lose it would mean losing our reason for living. Misery is often the result of our attachments to the world.