Labor Not to be Rich

July 26, 2009 / No. 3473

Dear Radio Friends,

In our series of sermons in the last Sundays on our response to economic woe, we have seen, as children of God, that the economic downturn, or recession, in our country has been sent for our good. Our Lord Jesus Christ, in Luke 21, says that in the last days, when men see all God’s judgments falling upon the world, their hearts will fail them for fear. Rather than responding with fear and dread, we look up in these days and see our heavenly Father reminding us of crucial lessons that we have forgotten.

We have seen, first of all, that God reminds us of the truth that He will supply our earthly needs. He says that our life does not consist in the abundance of the things that we possess, but rather in being rich toward God. He reminds us that we must seek first the kingdom of God and its righteousness, and that we are not to labor for the bread that perishes but for the bread that He will give us unto everlasting life.

We have seen, further, that God is reminding us that we are His stewards. He owns all things as the Creator and as the God of providence He upholds them. And He also dispenses them as the great sovereign. The economic downturn is God’s spiritual slap on our hands. And when we reach out and begin to say concerning the earthly things, “It is mine, and I have a right to it,” no, we have no ownership. We have only responsibility.

We have seen that God is reminding us of the calling that is ours to work and that the purpose of work is not to amass millions or to amass more than the other guy or to make a name for ourselves. But it is to labor as God labors. It is to enjoy the good of being able to work productively. It is that we might have priorities in seeking first His kingdom.

And, last week, we were reminded by God’s Word of the grace of giving, that we are to have a heart that looks to God not as the Taker of all things, but as the One who has given us all things. And out of a bountiful, cheerful, willing heart, we are to contribute liberally for the needs of God’s kingdom: the church, the poor, the Christian schools. Whatever the cause of the kingdom might be, we are to contribute willingly and joyfully as a privilege that He gives to us.

Today we want to hear a warning of God against the sin of materialism. It is found in the book of Proverbs, chapter 23, where we read in verses 4 and 5: “Labour not to be rich: cease from thine own wisdom. Wilt thou set thine eyes upon that which is not? For riches certainly make themselves wings; they fly away as an eagle toward heaven.” Here we are confronted with a basic question: Why do you work? Even more basic: “What is the goal of your family; what is your own personal goal? And how does that goal differ from that of an unbelieving person?

This proverb describes a materialistic man. He is a man who labors to be rich. He ignores God’s Word. He ignores the truth that God is the owner of all things. He thinks that life consists in what he has. He sees life on only one level: the earthly, materialistic level. He does not see God. He does not see His own soul.

Jesus says that this is folly. Man’s like consists, Jesus says in Luke 12, not in the abundance of things that he possesses. And then He went on in a parable to say of a man who thought that he could feed his soul with earthly things, “Thou fool. This night shall thy soul be required of thee. And then whose shall these things be that you have accumulated?”

We must be warned of idolatry, for covetousness, says the Scriptures (Col. 3:5), is idolatry. If you work and if you labor and your goal is simply to be rich, then God says that you have an idol, you are guilty of the sin of idolatry. You have opened your home to idols—all types of idols in your home.

This sin is a sin that is destructive of the covenant family. Materialism destroys covenant families in hundreds of ways.

Think of Lot. Lot, who separated himself from Abraham, who pitched his tent toward the prosperity of Sodom. And soon, we discover, he lived in Sodom, and his wife and his children had their heart in Sodom, not in the kingdom that was before.

So, why do you work? What is your goal? So that you can have what others have? So that you can reach the American dream? So that you can have more than your father had? So that you can keep up with the Joneses? Do you work simply so that you can have the latest fashions, a bigger home, greater pleasures? And the result of all of these things when you gain them in your home is discontent, jealousy, envy, bickering, self? Great idols of self: constricted hearts, no communication.

Little children of faith, do not labor to be rich, but rather press to the mark of the high calling that is ours in Christ Jesus. Whatsoever ye do, do it for the glory of God!

As I was saying, the proverb that I quoted (23:4) is a warning against the sin of materialism. “Labour not to be rich: cease from thine own wisdom.” There the Scriptures are seeking to remove from us the cancer of greed. Let us be clear what that means.

It does not mean that it is wrong to work and to work diligently. We saw that a few weeks ago, that work is a calling that God gives to us. It is a good calling, and we must not be lazy, which is a great sin. Nor does it mean that it is wrong to work for money and seek the return from your investment, to increase your wage-earning ability, or to invest your money wisely. We are stewards of God in His house and we are called to invest His goods carefully in His name.

And still more. It does not mean that if the Lord so prospers us that we are wealthy, there is something wrong with this. Proverbs 10:22: “The blessing of the LORD, it maketh rich, and he addeth no sorrow with it.” Even in the sharpest warning in the Bible concerning the peril of riches, the apostle makes this point (and I am referring now to I Timothy 6:17), where he has warned Timothy to “Charge them that are rich…that they be not highminded,” nevertheless, in that verse, the apostle (the Holy Spirit) says that God “giveth us richly all things to enjoy.” When God blesses us in riches, that is not something to be suspicious about, but we may enjoy those things. And we do not need to feel guilty over that prosperity.

But what is that Word of God warning us against? Well, it is very simple. It is to labor with the goal of being rich, to have that as your set purpose—I work because I want more and I want to be wealthy.

Solomon speaks of a man who is dedicated. He goes to work with purpose. He works hard, very hard. And if you ask him, “Why are you working so much?” he says, “So that I can get ahead, so that I can be rich, so that I can have more, so that I can have more than my parents, so that I can increase my net worth, so that I can have more of the earthly fun and pleasures.”

We must ask, Why do I (you) work? How do you answer that question as a child of God? Is it an answer that is different from the world’s answer? It must be different. Jesus once said to His disciples, “Children, what do ye more than others?” That is, how do you distinguish yourselves from others who are of the world and who believe not in Me? What is your goal? What is your purpose? What is your work ethic? How is your work ethic different from that of the world?

The proverb says, Labor not to be rich. And then it goes on to say, Cease from thine own wisdom. What is our own wisdom? Our own wisdom, apart from God, is: the more you have, the happier you will be. The good life is just around the corner. Money makes the man. You should have more, you deserve more. Cease, says the Word of God, from your own wisdom. Humble yourself, by the grace of God, before the cross and seek the wisdom that is from God, the wisdom that is from above.

In verse 5 of Proverbs 23, the question is asked, “Wilt thou set thine eyes upon that which is not?” To set your eyes on something means that it has captured your thoughts and your desires. You set your eye upon that car, that home, and suddenly you say, “Honey, we need it. We need to have it. In fact, we really can’t be satisfied unless we have that.” Think of Lot’s wife. Where did she set her eyes? Upon God, His promises, an everlasting kingdom, a full righteousness in Jesus Christ? No, she set her eyes upon Sodom. And so she turned around and looked. Her eyes had two choices: She could look ahead, by the grace of God, to eternity, or she could look back. And she looked back. For her heart was upon pictures, things, antiques, dresses, homes. Her heart was upon it. She thought she could find peace and satisfaction in those things.

Children, labor not to be rich.

The warning here is to labor not for self, to labor not for our own wealth and possessions. But rather, we are to labor as stewards in the service of God in all that we have. Christianity, you see, is a radical truth. It is utterly contrary to the world. It is a truth based upon grace, what the grace of God does to the heart and to the thinking of a man or of a woman. This radical grace is displayed in Colossians 3:22-24, where the apostle says, “Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh; not with eye-service, as menpleasers; but in singleness of heart, fearing God: and whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men…for ye serve the Lord Christ.” Now that is speaking to the Christian working man. What is to be our motive, what is to be our desire, why do we do what we do, why do we get up in the morning, why do we pursue our business? And the answer of the child of God is: We do all things to serve the Lord Christ. We do all things that we might seek His kingdom, the kingdom of heaven that is above.

So, why do you work? What is the goal of your family? What is life to you? What is your world-and-life view?

It is very easy, of course, to excuse ourselves here, to say, “Well, no, I don’t love money. I’m happy with what I have. I have a modest income. We’re struggling, still trying to support the church and the causes of the kingdom.” God’s Word is not finished with us if we answer Him so today. His Word is warning us of the heart.

Where is your heart? Is it upon the broad way or the narrow way? What is your goal in life: financial security, or to be faithful in the kingdom? What about the jealousy in your heart over what other people have, over what they get paid, over their home, business, and beauty? How do you define yourself? How do you define life? By what you have, by what you make, by what you wear? Or is it by what you are by grace in Jesus Christ?

Do you neglect your family? Do you neglect church? Why? Because you are forever, ever, ever seeking after the earthly things and never, never, never finding time for the spiritual things? Do you find it hard to be generous? Do you grudge the fact that thirty, forty, fifty, sixty percent of your income goes to the kingdom of God and its causes? Do you work for yourself or for your God?

The proverb not only gives us warning but it also gives us good instruction as to why we must take heed to the warning. It tells us, first of all, that the earthly things upon which we would be tempted to set our hearts are vanishing and are deceptive. Wilt thou set thine heart upon that which is not? asks the proverb. For riches certainly make themselves wings. They fly away as an eagle toward the heaven. Will you set your heart upon that which is not?

Now here you have wisdom and the truth of God, a wisdom that you will not get out of the world. Man says that earthly things, money, possessions are real. When you have that, especially when you have gold or silver, you have something. Man says, those spiritual things—well, who knows about those? What good can they ultimately do you? Oh, it is nice if you want to have it. Maybe in the days of tears and sorrows it might be nice to have some type of spiritual life. But that is not the real world. We are in the real world when we are seeking the earthly things.

And God says, “You have it all wrong. You have it seriously wrong. All the earthly things, everything that your eye sees, everything that the heart of man would set his heart upon, is a delusion. It will vanish in a day. It cannot satisfy. It cannot sustain.” God says, “I, I alone am real and true. I am the fount of life eternal. Apart from Me there is only agony and death. In Me is life.”

Now, will you set your heart upon that which is not? Earthly things, possessions, are a mirage. They vanish in a day. They cannot live up to the expectations that you have of them. They are deceptive. They will not satisfy you. Look at the people of the world, the millions and now, perhaps, billions that they make. Are they happy? No, they are some of the most miserable and tortured souls that Satan has. Because earthly things and the mega bucks cannot satisfy. God alone is the fullness of joy. God is the only One who can make you happy. Psalm 16:11, “At thy right hand is fullness of joy.”

Here, then, is the principle. It is the principle about lust. It is a principle of lust for money, or for things, for honor, for sex, for alcohol. Set your heart upon something other than God, and it does not simply not satisfy, but that thing will leave you empty and will leave you wanting more and more. Read Proverbs 30:15 and 16. You will end up saying, “Give, give, give. It’s never enough.”

In the universe, God has created what is called a dark hole that, they say, sucks all matter into itself and leaves nothing. Why would God make something like that? I’ll tell you why. To show you what is the sin of lust. When you make the center of the universe yourself, money, things, pleasure and not God, you are sucking all things into an eternal emptiness.

But there is more. Not only will those earthly things vanish, but there is another reason here. And that is, as the proverb points out, the peril of setting your hearts on the earthly things. It is not just that they disappear, but they will bring you bitterness. Love of riches leads to all kinds of sin: jealousy, envy, discontentmentsselfishness. Funerals can bring out the worst. Even before the dead body of Mom or Dad is buried, there is the fight for the inheritance. Who will get what?

But the peril is still more. The love of riches becomes a barrier to the love of God, for no man can serve two masters. He will love the one and despise the other. “Ye cannot serve God and mammon.” The love of riches opens the door to the loss of the love of God, to high-mindedness, to pride, to heady living.

The alternative is, by the grace of God, to labor for the meat that the Son of man shall give you (John 6:27). Labor in this way that, through all of your work, the Word of God, the manna of heaven, the true Word of God, and especially the church where that Word is purely taught to you—that this is the focal point of your life. Work for that. Put effort into it. It takes diligence. See that you spread a full table for your children—not a table filled with the earthly things, but a table filled with spiritual things, the things of God’s kingdom, the truths of God’s Word. Lay hold of eternal life.

The alternative is, by the grace of God, to labor to be rich toward God, seeking first the things of God. Think of your heavenly birth. Think of the fact that you are begotten for that life that is above, that in Jesus Christ you have abiding treasures. Think of the blessings of God’s covenant. Think of where true happiness is to be found. It is not to be found in the things of the earth. It is to be found in God. Think of the things that make you joyful. It is not what you wear, not where you live or what you drive. It is Jesus Christ, the true and everlasting riches.

God grant such a faith in the truth of His Word among us that, with the apprehension of glory in our souls, we might, with Moses, esteem the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt, having a respect unto the recompense of the reward that is ours in Christ.

Let us pray.

Father, we thank Thee for Thy Word, and we would ask, through Jesus Christ, that it be applied this day to our hearts. In Jesus’ name, Amen.