I read about a specific butterfly this week. Its scientific name is Machulanea Arian. Very unusual creature. As a caterpillar, it lays its eggs in a plant on a leaf, feeds off of the plant for a number of weeks, goes back down to the ground. For this butterfly to complete its development cycle it needs to meet in its caterpillar stage a certain type of an ant. When they meet, the caterpillar exudes a sweet fluid from a special gland in its tenth segment. And the ant loves to feed off it. The ant will stroke the caterpillar with its antennae; the caterpillar exudes the fluid and the ant eats or drinks of this sweet fluid. It likes it so much that the ant will pick up the caterpillar and carry it to its home, to its nest. And all of the ants will sit around and feed on this sweet fluid from the caterpillar. But what does the caterpillar feed on? Baby ants. And all throughout the winter, as they entertain their guest and they drink of the fluid, those baby ants are being consumed until the springtime when it turns into a butterfly, flies away, and the cycle resumes all over again.
There are people who, like the ant, will sacrifice themselves, their future, and everybody else around them for that sweet taste of stuff, of materialism, of money. What would you do for a million dollars? What would you do for ten million dollars? That was the question two researchers, James Patterson and Peter Kim, asked: What would the American public do if they were given ten million dollars? This is what they discovered in their research: Two-thirds of Americans polled would agree to at least one, some to several, of the following: 25% would abandon their entire family for ten million dollars. 25% would abandon their church; I know many who would do it for a lot less. Twenty bucks? Done. 23% would become prostitutes for a week or more. 16% would give up their American citizenships. 16% would leave their spouses. And again, I know some who would do it for nothing. 10% would withhold testimony and let a murderer go free. For ten million dollars, 7% would kill a stranger. And 3% would put up their children for adoption.
Look at the title of this message: 'Money Matters.' Depending on who you are, you will read that one of two different ways. It's really a double entendre. Some of you see it as a noun, others as a verb. What I mean by that is you can emphasize one or the other words and it has a different meaning. You can see it as just things that pertain to money- 'money matters.' Or you can read it in the verb form 'money matters.' And for some people, it supremely matters. I heard about a guy who loved gold. And when he inherited a fortune he was so into gold that he redecorated his bedroom, put gold wallpaper up, yellow curtains, gold-colored rug, and yellow bedspread. He had gold-colored pajamas, the satin, flowing pajamas. But then he got sick, he came down with a liver disease, it gave him a yellow, jaundiced color of the skin. Well when the doctor was summoned by his wife to come over and find out what was wrong, the doctor went upstairs to the bedroom, spent a long time, and eventually emerged back downstairs. And his wife said, 'Well, what's wrong with him?' And the doctor said, 'Don't know. Couldn't find him!'
Some people get lost in their pursuit of wealth---in their money. Now that man could have been Solomon because Solomon loved gold. In fact, to frame this in perspective since Solomon wrote this book, understand the frame of mind that this is written from. Solomon's base salary per year in gold alone was 20 million dollars. That's what he got a year: 20 million dollars in gold; 666 talents of gold per year were delivered to Solomon. Now that doesn't count the perks of the job. Like the throne that he sat on was pure, carved ivory overlaid with pure gold. I don't know why you'd cover ivory with gold, but he did it. His silverware was really gold ware: gold cups, gold saucers, gold plates. The shields on the guards of his elite guards in the palace were wooden shields overlaid with pure beaten gold. His chariot, the finest cedar wood in all of the land, and it was bedecked with gold and silver and tapestries of purple. He probably even had a license plate on the back: Number One.
Solomon had it all and because he had that kind of wealth and control of the national wealth, it's worth listening to a guy like that when he talks about money. He has a very interesting perspective on it. Billy Graham once said, "If a person gets his attitude toward money straight, it will help straighten out almost every other area in his life." The paragraph that we have is the rest of chapter 5 beginning in verse 8. Solomon talks about money matters but he first doesn't talk about prosperity, but poverty. He says, "If you see the oppression of the poor, and the violent perversion of justice and righteousness in a province, do not marvel at the matter; for high official watches over high official, and higher officials over them. Moreover the profit of the land is for all; even the king is served from the field."
He seems to say, in effect, poverty is all around us. You're going to see it and when you do, don't marvel at it. Solomon probably strolled over to the city hall and noticed that government officials under his control were abusing their authority rather than using it to serve people so that the concerns of the poor were overshadowed. If you had a lot of wealth you were in control, you were an official, and that would just mean that the poor classes got the raw end of the deal. The Living Bible renders part of that verse, "The matter is lost in red-tape and beaurocracy." It's true, isn't it? The rich tend to assume influence and positions of authority in a nation. They're usually educated at the best schools, they know how to raise the finances for their agenda, and oftentimes they are in control. And according to Solomon, oftentimes they rule as imperfect, and even corrupt, leaders of nations and of provinces.
I could go certain places with this verse, but I think it would be unfair to do so and not to talk about any political party, that's really not the point. He does make a point, however. 'You'll see poverty around you, but don't marvel at it. Don't be surprised at it.' That's an interesting remark. He's not saying, 'Forget about it, ignore it, I approve of it.' He's simply saying that all forms of human government are imperfect. They're inadequate. And yet, verse 9, in spite of their imperfection; it's better to have some form of government than no government at all. Even corrupt government, even some form of organized government, is better than anarchy. And that's true. I know some people that don't like the idea of any organized government, any organized religion---that's because they're unorganized. They want anarchy. It won't work. Yes, some corrupt people will profit from a corrupt government but the organization is profitable for all. He says in verse 9, "Even the king is served from the field." The profit of the land is for all.
Jesus did say, concerning the poor, He said, "The poor you'll always have with you." Again, he's not approving poverty. In fact, Christians ought to try as best we can to do something about it. The virtuous woman, Proverbs 31, extended her hand to the poor. Paul was sent out as a missionary and the church says, 'Whatever you do, don't neglect the poor.' He said that was the very thing he was eager to do. That is, to help the poor. The point here is that, part of living in a fallen world filled with imperfect people like you and me, is that we will have imperfect rulership. All forms of government, though some are better than others, are ultimately inadequate. Because of imperfect people that are running things. No matter who you elect into office, it won't be perfect.
God's form of government, interestingly enough, in the Old Testament, was not a democracy, not a monarchy, but a theocracy. Remember? He was in charge calling the shots and the theocracy was mediated through a benevolent spokesperson named Moses, and later on, Joshua. But love, care, concern for the poor was written into the Law itself. For instance, when you harvest your fields, leave some of the stuff hanging on the branches so the poor can come in and glean freely. There were offerings taken up for the poor, there were incentives to work for those who were poor. So though we cannot eradicate poverty completely, we can help fix it personally.
How? Let me give you three quick practical things that I think emerge from the text. Number one, you need to see it rather than ignore it. See verse 8? It says, "If you see the oppression." It means 'to examine,' 'to notice.' Some people never stop to notice. They never go to other parts of their town where there is poverty. They never get outside of their borders nationally and go to third-world countries. You've got to see it before you do anything about it.
There's an elite school in Hollywood, California. A specialty school for the kids of movie stars, television producers and directors---a high-end school. And the teacher one day asked the class to write an essay on poverty and one little girl wrote her literary masterpiece by saying, "Once there was a poor little girl. Her father was poor, her mother was poor, and her governess was poor. The chauffeur was poor. The butler was poor. In fact, everybody in the house was very, very poor." She didn't have a clue as to what poverty was. You need to see it rather than ignore it.
Second, we need to respond to it rather than react to it. That's sort of implied when he says, "If you see the oppression of the poor, and the violent perversion of justice and righteousness in a province, do not marvel." He anticipated there would be a reaction by most, rather than a response. We go, "That's horrible!" Ok, now that you've gone through that, get over it and respond to that. Don't just react to it. A planned response is better than a knee-jerk reaction. I think a lot of times when we see a homeless person with a sign 'Will Work for Food,' I think some of us do react rather than respond. We'll give a dollar usually to alleviate our guilt, rather than really to help the person. We don't know what he's going to do with the dollar, if he's going to buy alcohol with it or whatever, but 'I feel so much better.' But a planned response, better than a reaction.
We often put people to work when they don't have a job. 'Will Work for Food'? Great. We have a job for you. By the way, I saw a new take on this recently. A photograph on a card. It showed a guy on the street corner with a tattered coat and a sign that said, 'I need a wife. Please stop and talk to me.' I thought I'd pass this new approach on to you single guys.
A third practical thing to do. Notice the word, three times mentioned, 'official' or 'officials.' And I would apply that this way. Elect officials rather than elect to be uninvolved. You know, some people are not involved at all, yet they make the most noise: "That's horrible, this is bad, look at that, look at this." What have you done? Now, this is a form of government in Solomon's time that was a dynastic succession. You couldn't pick your government officials. Today you can. You can vote for them; you can get involved. And I think if you don't vote, you don't have the right to say anything. What have you done about it at election time? If you didn't speak then, you can't speak now. So elect officials rather than elect to be uninvolved.
Look at verse 10. Not only is poverty all around us, but prosperity, says Solomon, will never satisfy us. Keep in mind this is Solomon writing: "He who loves silver will not be satisfied with silver; nor he who loves abundance, with increase. This also is vanity." When I read that verse, I think of 'It takes one to know one.' He who loves silver. Now Solomon loved silver. The Bible says in the book of Kings that Solomon made silver as commonplace in Jerusalem as stones. It was everywhere.
Before we explore the next few verse, ten through twelve, I just want to back up and lay some groundwork about finances in general, money in general. The Bible talks a lot about money, about earning, about investment, about hard, diligent work and the reward thereof. In fact, Jesus spoke more about finances than probably anyone else in the Scripture. One-sixth of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are directly related to our relationship to money. And a couple truths come out of it.
Number one, wealth, in and of itself, is not evil. Wealth is not evil. Notice that even Solomon here says, 'He who loves silver,' not he who has it or possesses it. He who loves it and how often I have heard people misquote what Paul wrote to Timothy. And they'll say, 'The Bible says money is the root of all evil.' You better read that verse a little more carefully. He says, "The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil." That's what it says. You can be poor and love money. It's that love, that preoccupation with, that consumption of, that desire. Many in the Bible were wealthy. And some, who were wealthy, were wealthy as a direct blessing of God. God knew they could handle it, obviously. Abraham was one of them. God blessed him. He had 318 staff members that were his private servants. Job was a wealthy landowner, and though God took it away for a time of testing, the Bible says God blessed Job more in the latter days than in the beginning. A direct blessing from God. Joseph, second richest guy on earth because he was second in command to the pharaoh of Egypt who controlled the wealth of the world. Very godly man.
A second truth is that God enables us to be productive. Deuteronomy 8, Moses said, "You shall remember the Lord your God for it is He who gives you the power to get wealth that He may establish His covenant with you." In the Bible, a good work ethic is praised. People who work hard, the diligent, will get rewarded. Proverbs 14, "In all labor there is profit, but idle chatter leads only to poverty." In Proverbs 10:4, "The hand of the diligent makes rich." Proverbs 13:4, "The soul of the diligent shall be made rich." So hard, diligent work is praised and God enables us to be productive. But, and this is where these verses come in, some make money, wealth, stuff, the be all, end all of life. Their celebrity in life; they'll do anything to get it and once they got it, to get more of it. Because enough is never enough. In our country, we make shows about it. Greed is a show. Hey, honey, let's sit down after our Bible time tonight and watch Greed! One show, and it's actually a fascinating show, Who Wants to be a Millionaire? I always try to guess the answers, see how much I'd make---I don't make very much.
I was in Las Vegas this last week and don't worry, I wasn't there to gamble or anything. But I was there for a convention and we were talking to the taxi driver who was taking us to where this meeting was and he said, "You know, only 2% of everybody who comes to Las Vegas wins. The economy of this city is built upon the 98% of people who lose. Because even if they get some money out of the machine, it goes right back in because it's never enough." That's why the breakfasts are two bucks, the cheap hotel rooms, and there's no tax in the city. Because the city is built on all the losers that are going to come and give away their wealth.
For many unbelievers, money is to them what Christ is to the believer. They will trust in money. Money is their refuge in times of need, in times of trouble---their security. But Solomon, a guy who makes twenty million a year, he's pulling down a lot of gold, he says, 'You'll never be satisfied with it.' He would know. The reason no one will be satisfied with things, with stuff, with money. He always told us why a few chapters ago. He said, "God planted eternity in our hearts." We're creatures made for an eternal substance. So if you put material stuff in it, it'll never satisfy. We are made by our manufacturer to only be satisfied with our manufacturer. And apart from Him, there's just vanity, he said. Jesus was right when He said, "Take heed and beware of covetousness, for a man's life does not consist in the abundance of the things that he possesses."
Look at verse 11. Prosperity will never satisfy us and here are a couple reasons why. Wealth invites a crowd. "When gods increase, they increase who eat them; so what profit have the owners except to see them with their eyes?" When a person comes into money, new people start showing up in that person's life. Phone calls, letters, friends emerge he never knew he had before. Long-lost relatives descend like vultures to consume what has been earned. I spoke to a guy a few months back who won the Texas lottery. He was a fireman, very simple guy, but he won seven million dollars. I said, "What changed?" He said, "Everything. All of a sudden I had friends I never heard of before; churches called me out of the blue---never heard from them before but suddenly interested in me. Interested in my welfare." And there are more people that come around, more mouths to feed, not just friends, not just long lost relatives. There are state attorneys, tax attorneys, accountants. A lot of mouths to feed when somebody comes into money or is an overnight success. You know, it's like whenever you turn on the light a lot of bugs try to come through those windows. They're attracted to it.
Verse 12: wealth can promote worry. Solomon says, "The sleep of a laboring man is sweet, whether he eats little or much; but the abundance of the rich will not permit him to sleep." The more you own, the more you have to manage, the more you have to pay taxes on, the more you have to worry about. The late Joe Lewis, world heavyweight boxing champion once said, "I don't actually like money but it just quiets my nerves." Solomon says, 'Oh no it doesn't. Take it from a guy who pulls in twenty million a year. It doesn't quiet your nerves.' A laboring man, the guy who works nine to five, punches the clock, has a simple life, he sleeps well. Guys like me, Solomon says, they don't sleep all that well.
Now picture a guy: punches the clock, goes home, beat-up old car, simple life, simple meal. Kisses his wife, wrestles with his kids, sits down to watch the evening news, couple hours later---he's out, man. Not much anxiety connected with that. No pressure. There's a lot of freedom in that. Whereas the rich are occupied with their pursuits and lawsuits, financial entanglements, future installments. John D. Rockefeller, his name often comes up when people talk about this kind of wealth. John D. Rockefeller, at age 53, was the only billionaire in the world at the time. Fifty-three years of age, a billionaire who made his wages. He got a million dollars a week. But he was a sick man. His meals weren't filet mignon, they were milk and crackers. Because his stomach was so upset; he said he was worried about his wealth. A sick man who decided he would give a lot of it away. And that was a turning point for his health---he got better. He started giving a lot of it away. He lived to be 98 years of age.
There's an article in Fortune magazine. Billionaire Ross Perot. Remember Ross Perot? He was running for office some years ago. Ross Perot said, "Just remember if you get lucky, if you make a lot of money, if you get out and buy a lot of stuff, it's going to break. You've got the biggest, fanciest mansion in the world, it has air conditioning, and it's got a pool --- just think of all the pumps that are going to go out. Or go down to the yacht basin, any place in the world. Nobody is smiling and I'll tell you why: something broke that morning. The generator's out or the microwave oven doesn't work. Things just don't mean happiness."
Verse 13 is another thought. Not only is poverty all around us, not only will prosperity never satisfy us, but productivity may ruin us. The constant and upward amassing of wealth, hording of wealth, can ruin a person. Verse 13: "There is a severe evil which I have seen under the sun: riches kept [you might translate that 'horded] for their owner to his hurt. But those riches perish through misfortune [a bad investment]; when he begets a son, there is nothing in his hand." It's easy to see, you can lose something as quickly as you can gain it. It can ruin a person. Just one big dip in the Dow Jones, if you invest only there. A failed dot com business. A heart attack---quickly lose it. A freer translation of these verses puts it this way: "Riches are sometimes horded to the harm of the saver, or they're put into risky investments that turn sour and everything is lost and in the end there's nothing left to pass on to one's children."
The very pursuit of productive wealth that promises security can ruin a person. That's why you need to have a light touch with stuff. Money is a good servant but a poor master. We need a light touch with it. Paul wrote to Timothy and said, "Those who desire to be rich," and again, this could be a poor person, "Those who desire to be rich will fall into temptation and a snare into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition." The more you have, the more you have to lose. And those who lose the most when there's an economic crunch are the most depressed.
In 1929, the stock crashed. Many business executives jumped out of their windows or committed suicide in other ways. They were so depressed they couldn't handle it. They lost it all. Or the guy who runs into his house to grab the stuff. 'I gotta get that thing!' And they die in the blaze. Or the person who faces an armed bandit and won't let go of their stuff. I heard about a 1975 bank robbery in London. Six armed gunmen rushed into a bank at gunpoint they took 7 million dollars out of the bank. A part of their robbery included a box of woman's jewelry. $500,000 worth of jewelry in that box. When she was told what she had lost, she just came unglued. She wailed and said, "Everything I had was in there! My whole life was in that box!" Did you hear that? My whole life was in that box? Well, if your whole life is in that box, I guess you've lost it all.
Speaking of everything being in a box, he speaks now of another box that we'll all end up in---the casket. In verse 15: "As he came from his mother's womb, naked shall he return, to go as he came; and he shall take nothing from his labor which he may carry away in his hand. And this also is a severe evil---just exactly as he came, so shall he go. And what profit has he who has labored for the wind? All his days he also eats in darkness, and he has much sorrow and sickness and anger." You can lose temporally your stuff, but you can also lose eternally if that's all you invest in. Solomon takes this to the ultimate reality of life which is death. He takes us to the funeral now of the hoarder. The casket of the one who's just amassed nothing but stuff, finances. It's the same thought that Paul said to young Timothy when he said, "For we brought nothing into the world and it is certain we can carry nothing out."
And we've often said that you'll never see a hearse pulling a U-Haul. You can't take it with you. Once you die, it's over. If you have a dollar in your pocket, pull it out for just a moment. Don't worry; I'm not going to take an offering. But look at it; take a good look at it. You won't have it long. Turn to the back of the dollar bill and notice on the right hand side is an eagle with wings on it. Look at that good and hard. And as you look at that eagle, those wings, let me read this Proverb to you. Proverbs 23: "Do not overwork to be rich, riches certainly make themselves wings, they fly away like an eagle toward heaven." That's the future of it. You know people say, 'Money talks'? All it says to most of us is, 'Bye!' Flies away.
Verse 18. This is the fourth slice of this talk on money that Solomon gives us. Poverty is all around us, prosperity will never satisfy us, productivity may ruin us, and finally, priority will preserve us. He says, "Here is what I have seen: it is good and fitting for one to eat and drink, and to enjoy the good of all his labor in which he toils under the sun all the days of his life which God gives him; for it is his heritage." So if you're a laborer, if your lot in life is that nine-to-five, working hard just to make ends meet, if that's your lot in life---make it count. The priority of enjoyment. Then, "As for every man to whom God has given riches and wealth, and given him power to eat of it, to receive his heritage and rejoice in his labor---this is the gift of God. For he will not dwell unduly on the days of his life, because God keeps him busy with the joy of his heart."
Enjoyment is a gift of God. Learn to enjoy the simple things in life. Learn to laugh a little more. You know, this may not sound real biblical or real spiritual, but, lighten up, loosen up, and laugh. Enjoy the simple things in life. And whatever portion God has given you say, 'I'm going to make the best out of it. I'm going to enjoy it as a gift from God.' With that and closely related, is the priority of contentment. Stay away from the 'grass is greener over there' mentality. David said, "The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want." That's contentment. Don't complain. Do you know anybody who loves complainers?
Moreover, a complaining sheep is a disgrace to the shepherd. Because it tells a lot about how you view God's care for you. See if you're always complaining, always murmuring, always grumbling, the unbeliever will look at your life and think, 'I don't want to follow what you follow. I don't want your God, your religion. You're never happy---you're always complaining.' Contentment, on the other hand, speaks volumes. "The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want." Jesus said, "I have come that they might have life and have it more abundantly." Do you have abundant life? As you evaluate your stuff, your earnings, how much is enough? When is what you have enough? And what do you do with it? Do you give generously to those who don't have? Do you spread God's kingdom?
That last verse is sort of a good motto for us: 'Let God keep you busy with the joy of your heart.' In fact, let God be the joy of your heart. Hebrews 13, two verses sums it all up, puts a nice bow on it. Hebrews 13:5: "Let your conduct [that's your lifestyle, how you live] be without covetousness" You see somebody who has more than you, 'How'd they get that?' What that means is, I want that, I don't have it, I should have it. 'They don't deserve that!' "Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have." Look at what you have rather than what you don't have. And here's the reason: "For He Himself has said, 'I will never leave you nor forsake you.' So we may boldly say: 'The Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?'" You know what he's saying? He's saying contentment doesn't come from what you have; it comes from Whom you have. Whom you have. If you have Christ, if you have a relationship with God, listen: everything you ever need? He'll take care of you. He'll give you what you need. He's not going to let you out there. "The Lord is my helper."
That dollar bill that you pulled out a minute ago---the one that flies away? If George could talk, if the dollar could talk, it might say this: 'You hold me in your hand and call me yours, yet may I not as well call you mine? See how easily I rule you? To gain me, you would all but die. I am invaluable as rain, essential as water. Without me, men and institutions would die. Yet I do not hold the power of life for them. I am futile without the stamp of your desire. I go nowhere unless you send me. For me men will mock, love, and scorn character, yet I am appointed to the service of saints to give education to the growing mind and food to starving bodies of the poor. My power is terrific; handle me carefully and wisely lest you become my servant rather than I yours.'
Let me say finally, it all depends which kingdom you're interested in. Some are interested only in their kingdom. Their kingdom; their growth; their earnings. They live only for here and now---this kingdom. Jesus said, "Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added unto you." So, depending on which kingdom you're interested in, will show and will dictate how you spend your money. You know, money's like manure. You pile it up, it stinks. You spread it around, it helps things grow. It could be an opportunity. We're stewards.