Labor 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 (Prov. 23:4,5).
The Old Testament book from which the above words are quoted gives a lot of good, practical advice. It is no credit to man that he is slow to accept counsel which runs counter to his inclinations.
Laboring to be Rich
The accumulation of wealth is the avowed aim of some and the secret ambition of others. Sumptuous living is sometimes considered the ultimate goal of one's life. There are people who work, save, and scheme to build up a fortune. They dream of the day when they will have the money to buy whatever the heart desires.
Laboring to be rich is detrimental for a number of reasons.
1. Laboring to be rich consumes time. An individual may rise early, work late, seldom take a day off, and labor under considerable pressure to gain wealth. He leaves precious little time to be with his family, to get acquainted with his neighbors, or to be of help in the work of the church. It may take him most of his life to store up the earthly possessions which he craves, and by that time he is too old and weary to enjoy them. His children are gone from home, his energy is spent, and his most productive years are past.
2. Laboring to be rich leads to neglect of many duties. In the mad quest for wealth one may neglect to visit the sick, to study and teach the word of God, to take a responsible and active part in the work of the Lord, to do simple acts of goodness to one's fellows, and to be spiritually minded. Jesus warned, "Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth" (Lk. 12:15).
3. Laboring to be rich produces disappointment. Wealth cannot satisfy the deep longings of the soul. No amount of money can buy true happiness and peace of mind. Gold and silver cannot reconcile a man to his Creator. Many people have spent their lives in accumulating a fortune only to die lonely and unhappy.
4. Laboring to be rich drowns in destruction. Paul puts everyone on notice who wants to be rich: "But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows" (1 Tim. 6:9,10).
Riches Fly Away
Somehow, riches have a way of sprouting wings and, like the eagle that soars high into the sky and vanishes from view, they fly away. Many factors contribute to the sudden disappearance of one's material wealth.
1. Riches fly away because of theft. The world is full of swindlers, con artists, and thieves. Some of these are smart lawyers and shrewd business men. Some work patiently for years to execute clever schemes that will enable them to steal the wealth of another. The Lord said, "Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through and steal" (Matt. 6:19,20).
2. Riches fly away by means of sudden calamities. Job was one of the greatest men of the east in ancient times. He had seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen, five hundred she asses, and a very great household. The Sabeans fell upon his oxen and asses and took them all away, slaying the servants that were plowing with the oxen at the time. One servant managed to escape and told what happened. While he was still speaking to Job, another servant came to report that fire had fallen from heaven and had burned up the sheep and the servants attending them. Another messenger ran in to tell Job that the Chaldeans had carried away the camels and slain more servants. On that same day Job was informed that a violent wind had struck the house where his sons and daughters were feasting and had killed them. Job's wealth disappeared as if it had taken wings to fly away!
3. Riches fly away due to insecurity. A millionaire may be brought to poverty because of economic trends that he cannot control. A revolution in government can change quickly the whole monetary structure of a nation and make paupers out of men who once had large holdings in real estate, stocks, bonds, and other "securities."
How wretched is the man who makes gold his god! How shortsighted is the eye that sees only the material realm! How miserably has one failed who seeks first the kingdom of mammon!
Guardian of Truth XXXV: 4, p. 105