The website WikiHow is a handy resource to learning how to do pretty much everything. You can learn how to stay out of a truck’s blind spots, how to make a home brewery, how to get six pack abs, how to know if a guy or girl likes you. You can even learn how to get rich:
It seems that everyone wants to get rich. Many books have been written on this subject, classes have been taught by many who claim to show you an easy way to get rich, rich people have given advice on how to get rich, and many other schemes have been developed that guarantee you will get rich fast. Getting rich is one of the main goals of many people. Here are some techniques that may help you succeed if this is what you want to do.
Are you ready? You may want to write this down. Actually, it’s a pretty boring list. It’s a disappointing one, actually:
- Define rich
- Get a job
- Keep your eyes and ears open
- Delay gratification and cut expenses
- Save money fast
- Then stay rich
There’s also this piece of sobering advice:
Get rich quick schemes are invariably scams. Avoid them. There is no such thing as free money unless you inherit it. Then you must handle it wisely, or you will lose that as well. As there is no free lunch, nothing can be obtained without struggling for it. The best way to get rich quickly is having a plan and able to implement it successfully, if possible with a well-experienced team interested in helping you.
It seems like everyone wants to get rich. In the past, thousands joined the gold rush. Today, we search for high paying jobs. Some try lotteries and casinos or rolling up the rim to win. It’s highly unlikely that any of us are going to become filthy rich, but we sure want to get enough so that we’ll be comfortable. We want to have a comfortable life, to earn just a little more money, to be debt-free, to buy some nice things and travel if we want, and to have enough money until we die.
We’ve been studying the book of Ecclesiastes together. There was also a huge hunger for riches when the Teacher wrote Ecclesiastes. The land of Israel had become a province in a huge empire. International trade was booming. Some people struck it rich; others dreamt and worked hard hoping that they too could join the ranks of the rich, or at least the rich enough.
The Teacher, though, gives us a warning. The warning is this: there’s danger in pursuing wealth. Do you remember those commercials for prescription drugs in the States? They sound awesome for the first part of the commercial. Near the end you hear something like this: “Side-effects may include heart failure, coma or death. Ask your doctor if this drug is right for you.” At the end of the commercial, you want to say, “No! There’s not a chance that I’m going to take that medication!”
We live in a world that highlights all of the benefits of our desire for wealth. In this passage the Teacher says, “The side effects of desiring wealth may include…” So let’s pay attention to what the Teacher says, because he can spare us a lot of heartache. He’s cluing us in on how to live faithfully and well in this world.
Let me describe how the text before us is structured. What we have before us is something called a chiasm. You can picture a chiasm as a matted frame that draws our attention to what’s at the center of the frame. The outside pictures - the beginning and the end of the passage - tell us something. Then the middle pictures - the matte in the frame - tell us something else. Then at the centre of the frame we get the main idea. Another way to look at it is as a pair of staggered bookends around a central point, or a stacked pyramid building up to its main point.
So let’s look at what the Teacher says in the beginning and the end of this passage, which is kind of like the frame of the picture that he’s painting for us. And at the beginning and end of this passage he tells us something we really need to hear:
1. People who pursue wealth won’t be satisfied.
That’s the first thing he tells us in 5:8-12 and 6:7-9, which bookend this entire passage. The Teacher makes the point in repeated ways that people who pursue wealth won’t be satisfied. This is a pretty harsh reality, but it’s much better to know this up front than to spend a lifetime pursuing wealth and finding this out when it’s too late.
The Teacher gives us three reasons why we won’t be satisfied pursuing wealth.
For one thing, our greed often leads to injustice and oppression. Our desire to get ahead can lead to us making choices that will hurt those who are more economically vulnerable than we are. In verses 8 to 9 he talks about the effect of our pursuit of wealth upon those who have less. The problem with the poor is that they often work for someone who’s trying to maximize profits from their labor. The goal is to get as much from them as possible for the least amount of pay possible, so that you can make the most amount of money from them possible. But that boss also has a boss who’s trying to do the same with them. Human greed, left unchecked, prevents justice for the poor.
There’s a second reason that we won’t be satisfied in pursuing wealth. It’s that more money brings more headaches. Read verses 10-12:
He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity. When goods increase, they increase who eat them, and what advantage has their owner but to see them with his eyes? Sweet is the sleep of a laborer, whether he eats little or much, but the full stomach of the rich will not let him sleep.
The Teacher says that more money and wealth don’t satisfy. Why not? The more money you have, the more headaches you’ll have. Verse 11 talks about all the increased expenses that come when you have more money.
When people become rich, they will need a maid to clean their house, a gardener to trim their lawns, a nanny to watch their kids, a chauffeur to drive their car, an accountant to keep their books, a broker to invest their money, a bodyguard to protect themselves and their family. All these people and more have to be paid. In addition, the tax man will require a good cut, and charities will fill their mailboxes with requests for donations. They will also discover that they have many so-called friends who would like to relieve them of their money. “When goods increase, those who eat them increase; and what gain has the owner?” Nothing! There is no gain. All the owner can do is “to see them with his eyes.” The owner merely gets to watch as others consume his goods. There is no gain for the owner. (Sidney Greidanus)
This is so much so the case that the Teacher says that it can keep the rich awake at night. The laborer who doesn’t make as much lies asleep at night. The rich, he says, can lie awake at night worrying about their riches. They see it slipping away as more and more people want a piece of the pie. They fret about their investments and what the markets are going to do. They second-guess themselves about that trade they made yesterday. They’re anxious about a recession. Will they lose everything? After all, they have much more to lose. The desire for wealth can actually cause you to lose sleep.
There’s a third reason why we won’t be satisfied in pursuing wealth. It’s at the other bookend, in chapter 6:7-9. It’s that no matter how much money we have, we never quite have enough. If you’re famished after church, I can take you out for lunch and order enough food so that eventually you say, “I’ve had enough. I can’t eat anything more.” That’s not the way that it works with money. No matter how much we make, we want just a little bit more. 6:7 says, “All the toil of man is for his mouth, yet his appetite is not satisfied.” We never have enough. We always want just a little bit more.
If you buy a child a battery-operated toy, the box will often say “batteries not included.” The Teacher is telling us that if we pursue wealth, we need to understand that the wealth comes with a sign, “satisfaction not included.” What you’re looking for can’t be found in wealth, no matter how much you have. George Hebert once wrote a poem about that. He pictured God making man by taking a glass, and pouring out as much blessing as he could on us: riches, beauty, wisdom, honor, and pleasure. But when the glass was almost empty, God decided to stop pouring. The only thing that God didn’t pour out was rest, deep soul rest. “For if I should (said he) / Bestow this jewel also on my creature, / He would adore my gifts instead of me.” God has made this world, the Teacher says, so that no amount of money will ever satisfy our search for meaning. We’ll never find rest and satisfaction in wealth, because we’re meant to find it in God.
“If anything is worse than the addiction money brings,” writes Derek Kidner, “it is the emptiness it leaves.”
The Teacher says that if we pursue wealth, we won’t be satisfied. We’ll be tempted to oppress others; we’ll have all kinds of headaches because of our money; and we will never have enough to truly be satisfied.
But that’s not all. The Teacher has give us the bookends, the frame, of the chiasm. He now moves closer to the main point he’s going to make by coming in and making a second point:
2. It’s evil when people don’t enjoy life like they’re supposed to.
We’ve seen the first set of bookends. Now we’re going to move in a bit closer to the central point. The Teacher has told us that people who pursue wealth won’t be satisfied. Now he’s telling us that this is wrong. It’s evil. We were meant to find joy and satisfaction in life. Turn back to 5:13:
There is a grievous evil that I have seen under the sun: riches were kept by their owner to his hurt, and those riches were lost in a bad venture. And he is father of a son, but he has nothing in his hand.
The Teacher calls this a “grievous evil.” You could literally call it “a sickening evil.” The Teacher is saying that it makes him sick to even think about this. What is he talking about? It’s about somebody who hoarded riches and then lost it all. We don’t know how it happened. It could have been a bank failure, or a recession, or a war. Overnight, they lost everything. Verse 15 describes the result: no net gain. Everything lost. Again in verse 16 the Teacher says that this is a grievous evil. You can spend your whole lifetime accumulating wealth, and in the end it can slip through your fingers, and you can lose it all. All it takes is one bad venture, and an entire lifetime is wasted. The result in verse 17 isn’t pretty: vexation, sickness, resentment.
The Teacher then gives us another picture, this one even more tragic. In chapter 6:1-6 he adds another story of a rich person who doesn’t enjoy life. He has everything: wealth, possessions, and even honor. He has everything that his heart desires. He has a hundred children. He lives a long life. He has everything that an Israelite desired: many children, a long life, and financial success.
He has everything except for one thing: the ability to enjoy God’s daily gifts. We read in 6:2, “God does not give him power to enjoy them.”
We don’t know why he wasn’t able to enjoy everything that he had, but we know that there are lots of people like him. In his autobiography Just As I Am, Billy Graham recalls a story of such a man:
Some years ago Ruth and I had a vivid illustration of this on an island in the Caribbean. One of the wealthiest men in the world had asked us to come to his lavish home for lunch. He was 75 years old, and throughout the entire meal he seemed close to tears. "I am the most miserable man in the world," he said. "Out there is my yacht. I can go anywhere I want to. I have my private plane, my helicopters. I have everything I want to make my life happy, yet I am as miserable as hell." We talked to him and prayed with him, trying to point him to Christ, who alone gives lasting meaning to life.
Then we went down the hill to a small cottage where we were staying. That afternoon the pastor of the local Baptist church came to call. He was an Englishman, and he too was a widower who spent most of his time taking care of his two invalid sisters. He was full of enthusiasm and love for Christ and others. "I don't have two pounds to my name," he said with a smile, "but I am the happiest man on this island."
Billy Graham relates how he asked his wife Ruth after they left, "Who do you think is the richer man?" She didn't have to reply because they both already knew the answer.
Martin Luther said that these verses are “a description of a rich man who lacks nothing for a good and happy life and yet does not have one.” It’s a story that’s repeated countless times even in our neighborhood - people who have everything except for happiness.
Not only that, but this man dies, and for whatever reason he doesn’t receive a proper burial. Again, we don’t know why, but his death goes largely unnoticed. He had everything but ends up with nothing. Karl Barth once talked about the day that he would die:
Some day a company of men will process out to a churchyard and lower a coffin and everyone will go home; but one will not come back, and that will be me.
This is the future of the man who has everything. Eventually he too will die and have nothing.
The Teacher concludes that a stillborn child is better off. This is harsh. “A long life without enjoyment…is far worse than no life at all” (William Brown).
You can’t make the point more strongly than this. The first thing that the Teacher has told us is that when we pursue wealth we won’t find satisfaction. The second thing that the Teacher has told us is that this is evil. It’s a tragedy when people do not enjoy their lives. It makes him sick.
What, then, are we supposed to do?
So: Enjoy God’s daily gifts.
I mentioned that this passage is a chiasm. It’s bracketed with sub-points, building up to the main point. The main point is found in verses 18-20:
Behold, what I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot. Everyone also to whom God has given wealth and possessions and power to enjoy them, and to accept his lot and rejoice in his toil—this is the gift of God. For he will not much remember the days of his life because God keeps him occupied with joy in his heart.
People who pursue wealth won’t be satisfied. It’s sickening to see someone who has everything except for enjoyment. So, the Teacher says, enjoy God’s daily gifts. I like how Sidney Greidanus puts it:
It is true that God has given us but few days here on earth. There is nothing we can do about this. But there is something we can do about how we live those few days on earth. We can use them to pursue money and end up with vexation, sickness, and resentment. Or we can begin every morning with the goal of enjoying the day God is giving us. We can start with the common, everyday things, the Teacher suggests: find enjoyment in our food, and drink, and our toil. We don’t have to be rich to find something to enjoy each day.
Instead of pursuing wealth, enjoy God’s daily gifts. More isn’t necessarily better. Enjoy what God has given you. Life is meant to be enjoyed with laughter, dance, love, and thankfulness. It’s only when we treat the good things of life as ends in themselves that they become deterrents to happiness.
By the way, this is not just the message of Ecclesiastes. The apostle Paul wrote much later:
Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. (1 Timothy 6:6-10)
If we have food and clothing and Jesus, we have enough.
Bryan Wilkerson tells the story of a couple who exemplifies what the Teacher is saying:
Charlie and Agnes are some of the meekest people I've ever known. Charlie is a bright, energetic, hard-working man who could have been successful at just about anything he set out to do. What he set out to do was mission work. He spent his entire career working with some of the lowliest people on earth—alcoholics on skid row…At a time in life when most people his age were playing golf or taking cruises, Charlie would commute every day to minister to homeless men on the streets of New York.
You don't get rich doing mission work your whole life, but every once in a while, Charlie and his wife, Agnes, would get to do something special. One year they invited me and my wife, Karen, to join them for a night on the town. Someone had given them tickets to hear Handel's Messiah at Carnegie Hall—velvet-covered seats in a private booth. It was a great night, and we all enjoyed it. As they drove us home that night, Karen and I were sitting in the back seat, and I was admiring Charlie and Agnes. They were all dressed up for their big night out. She was sitting close to him, like they were high school sweethearts. They struck me in that moment as two of the happiest people on earth. Just then I noticed a little plaque they had stuck to the dashboard of their old Chevy. It explained everything: “God always gives what's best to those who leave the choice to him.”
Charlie and Agnes had long ago given up striving, fretting, and demanding things from God and from life. Instead they had surrendered to God their talents, their careers, their safety, their material needs, and even their retirement. Instead of chasing the abundant life, they waited for God bring it to them.
Instead of pursuing wealth, enjoy God’s daily gifts. “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32 ESV)