This country is blessed with great wealth. It is undeniable that we have much more even the most destitute parts of our land than most country’s do in their finest. Our standard of living is one of the highest in the world, and aside from what it may feel like at times, our unemployment and inflation rates are ahead of only a few countries. We have excellent hospitals, high life expectancy, food in such abundance that we throw it out by the ton, and so much space in our homes that we spend entire lifetimes filling them with possessions that we hardly use. In almost every sense of the phrase, we live in a land of plenty.
There is nothing necessarily wrong with having an abundance. God did not create us for the purpose of being miserable, and even affirms happily through the Preacher in Ecclesiastes 2:24-25, “There is nothing better for a man than to eat and drink and tell himself that his labor is good. This also I have seen, that it is from the hand of God. For who can eat and who can have enjoyment without Him?” There is no sin in looking upon one’s accomplishments and the fruit of his labor and feeling content. Furthermore, we are told, “As for every man to whom God has given riches and wealth, He has also empowered him to eat from them and to receive his reward and rejoice in his labor; this is the gift of God” (Ecclesiastes 5:19). Even Paul, who some assert was a man who relished in his poverty, admits that he had the ability to live quite happily in times of plenty. “I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need” (Philippians 4:12).
While it is entirely possible, as Paul proves, to be content in whatever situation we happen to find ourselves economically speak, it is difficult because both wealth and poverty come with inherent downsides. Those who are rich will always want more, and will have the tendency to put abundance of possessions ahead of God. This is not just money, too, since we see people put many of the manifestations of wealth ahead of God – homes, food, clothes, collections, motorized recreational equipment, etc. Abundance distracts us from serving God, and makes us feel great pain, just as an overfilled stomach will wreak havoc for hours or days. On the opposite side of the spectrum is complete poverty, which tends to distract us just as much. Instead of reveling in the things we have, we daydream about everything we do not have. Our lack of abundance becomes an obsession and we fall in love with self-pity and the pursuit of “ever more. “
What I want to talk about in this lesson is the practical defense of the soul against an abundant life. How do we deal with living in a land of plenty? It is not a sin to be a wealthy American, but what can we do to keep our abundance within reason, our souls healthy, and our spirits always joyful? The answer in a few words is to keep all things in perspective. Remember God, for He is both the One who blesses us with abundance and warns us against its evils.
Abundance Can Hurt
A primary lesson that must be understood about a life of great abundance is that it has the potential to harm us. Our worldly culture would assert that there is nothing dangerous about wealth – it is harmless, innocent, desirable, and is a means of securing protection from the ills of our world. While there is a thread of practical truth to that idea, we must bear in mind that excess can destroy us. It can distract us from serving the Lord, for example, as is the case in Luke 12:16-21, in which the wealthy man concludes after a life of hard work and accruing abundance, “Well done!” He believes that he is safe and secure from all alarm, but comes to find himself being judged by the Lord that very night. A lifetime of collecting and he had not spent but one moment thinking about eternity. Did his many barns give him safety then? While there is nothing necessarily wrong with having wealth and being successful, we must always remember this man’s story.
But gluttony can also hurt us in more practical ways. A glutton is not only one who eats too much, but can also be one who wastes in any aspect of life. People who drink too much soda, spend vast amounts of money on clothes, buy “toys” like jet skis, boats, or ATVs haphazardly. But the problem is that their abundance leads to their ruin. “Listen, my son, and be wise, and direct your heart in the way. Do not be with heavy drinkers of wine, or with gluttonous eaters of meat; for the heavy drinker and the glutton will come to poverty, and drowsiness will clothe a man with rags” (Proverbs 23:19-21). It is not that any of these are inherently sinful, but that those who seek them obsessively or excessively will find themselves ruined and absolutely unfulfilled in their pursuits.
Is true what parents say about too much of a good thing? Indeed, abundance has the negative effect of harming us when we take something good and wholesome to an extreme, just as Proverbs 25:16 tells us, “Have you found honey? Eat only what you need, lest you have it in excess and vomit it.” Do not look to excess for fulfillment, because it only laves us sick. How many very wealthy families lose everything they have of true value because of the pursuit of abundance? And how many broken families think that more possessions will plug the hole? Even more, how does excess leave us feeling? Sick to our stomachs.
Overabundance And Overindulgence
We see as a theme throughout human history that societies with a great abundance of wealth and food tend to fall into the trap of great indulgence in those things. The pattern is not left out of the Bible, which describes the history of the Israelites in clear detail. Even from the very beginning of their history, the Hebrews were noted for their penchant for immoderation and excess. Consider Numbers 11:31-33. Having recently escaped the Egyptians, the former slaves are blessed by God with a great amount of quail. The birds so thickly dot the landscape that they are, in many places, waste deep. “And the people spent all day and all night and all the next day, and gathered the quail (he who gathered least gathered ten homers) and they spread them out for themselves all around the camp. While the meat was still between their teeth, before it was chewed, the anger of the Lord was kindled against the people, and the Lord struck the people with a very severe plague.” In the surplus of food, there was no moderation, but only extreme gluttony. Each person took far more than was needed and was punished for it. Is this not similar to phenomena throughout our own land? People buy food at the grocery store and throw much of it away when it spoils in the refrigerator. Heartless businessmen continually drive people to poverty by ruthlessness. Patrons fill their plates and stomachs at buffets far beyond what the human body calls for in its desire for sustenance. We spend, splurge, pour out, drink up, top off, and max out everything when excess is totally uncalled for by the situation.
But is there any joy in this? How many of us have heard the phrase, “If I only had a little more, then I’d be happy?” This was Solomon’s philosophy, and he describes his experiences in Ecclesiastes 2. There is no other man in the world more qualified than Solomon to tell us about absolute indulgence, for nobody else had as much as wealth as him. If we are to take anybody’s word for it, then Solomon is the man to do it. “I said to myself, ‘Come now, I will test you with pleasure. So enjoy yourself.’ And behold, it too was futility” (Ecclesiastes 2:1). Pleasure is often the first place to which people turn for fulfillment in life. We often think that a boat, a fast car, a life of fun and games, or gross misuse of our sexuality will bring happiness and contentment to our souls. This philosophy is called hedonism, a term which means “pleasure-seeking or self-indulgence.” With all of the resources available to him, the writer must have had quite a time trying every pleasurable activity this world has to offer. “This experiment. . . proves itself a failure: he found a life of pleasure to be a hollow life; that also, viz. devotedness to mirth, was to him manifestly vanity” (Commentary On The Old Testament, Vol. 6, Keil-Delitzsch, 233).
He continues in his discourse with a short point about intoxication. He says, “I explored with my mind how to stimulate my body with wine while my mind was guiding me wisely” (2:3). This is often what happens to the alcoholic; he, at first, seeks the alcohol (or any intoxicant for that matter) for the purpose of pleasure. He uses his mind to know exactly how much he can get away with, riding the fence between boredom and a drunken stupor. He seeks the optimum amount of pleasure from the intoxicant. When the substance provides none, he uses his mind to find ways to improve his “high.” This is telling of all kinds of drugs; it is never enough. Alcohol is never strong enough to make our life’s problems disappear. This is something that took great experimentation on Solomon’s part to discover for himself!
2:4-6 is a description of the marvelous construction projects that the King underwent during his reign. These and many more are documented well in 1 King 6-10. A magnificent palace, which took 13 years to build, was one of the first projects on Solomon’s list. At the same time, the Temple of Jerusalem was constructed, made from materials that were the choicest in all the earth. He rebuilt overthrown cities, expanded Jerusalem, established parks and vineyards, and even constructed for himself a grand throne. Other descriptions are found in 2 Chronicles 8 and 1 Chronicles 27. But in all of this, he still found no true pleasure. Buildings crumble and fall into disrepair, so what is the point behind making them our future? Notice what is written in 2 Corinthians 5:1, “For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.”
From these descriptions, he now proceeds to explain the kind of people with whom he associated, as if interaction with others is a means of gaining spiritual fulfillment. This is found in 2:7-8. “I bought male and female slaves, and I had homeborn slaves.” The real problem with slavery is that the affection a slave shows for his master is usually feigned (fake). All of these slaves only liked Solomon because they were forced to like him! He also possessed great flocks and herds of animals, but none of these animals could make him happy, either. It is very much like a man who devotes his entire life to purchasing automobiles – his garage is full of priceless historic cars, but these objects can never love him, care for him, empathize with him. So, too, his myriads of sheep and horses could no nothing for him on a deeper level. “I provided for myself male and female singers and the pleasures of men – many concubines.” Having found contentment nowhere else, he finally resorts to sex as a means of joy. But how fulfilling would these relationships be? Solomon ended up with dozens of sexual partners, possibly hundreds in the course of his lifetime. Surely, this cannot make a man happy because it is not the design implemented by God in Genesis 2. What makes a man happy is having one wife for his entire lifetime (Ecclesiastes 9:9).
2:9-11 include the phrase “and all that my eyes desired I did not refuse them.” Truly, this is at the core of hedonism. Solomon saw something good, wanted it, and got it without a problem. There are few evils that plague mankind like the desire for instant gratification and uncontrolled consumption. Left unchecked, a man’s desires will lead him into complete ruin – when he gets what he wants all the time, there is no room left for dreaming, striving, goal-setting, or hard-work in earning one’s possessions. “And this was my reward for all my labor” (2:10). Essentially, his possessions were the reward for his lifetime of seeking. But if physical treasures are the sum total, how miserable of a life is that? Solomon is absolutely right when he says that all of life is vanity if life only consists of one’s possessions. Our Lord Jesus refutes this idea by stating, “Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions” (Luke 12:15). Truly, none of our property will help us stand justified before God on the last day. The Righteous Judge does not care about how wealthy any of us are! Solomon proved this, and he stands today as the most complete example of what overindulgence does for the soul.
Abundance Distracts Us From God
As a perfect example of the way that abundance leads our minds away from good things, especially pertaining to God, consider Amos 6:4-7, which says, “Those who recline on beds of ivory and sprawl on their couches, and eat lambs from the flock and calves from the midst of the stall, who improvise to the sound of the harp, and like David have composed songs for themselves, who drink wine from sacrificial bowls while they anoint themselves with the finest of oils, yet they have not grieved over the ruin of Joseph.” Having a life of luxury available to them, these people made themselves a wasteland of arrogance, laziness, and boredom. Do you see the imagery that translates so well to today? People with so much abundance that they have nothing better to do than laze about on a couch and jam! Not only that, but they have themselves so bored by this life that they do not even open their eyes and see the ruin of their nation. An abundance of possessions and wealth averts our eyes from the problems we need to face, and instead leaves us bored, apathetic, and indifferent to the world. Consider a few modern examples, such as kids who do no work at all but spend their time on the couch playing video games, getting no sunlight in front of the computer, participating in few activities, having a room full of toys and possessions and still complaining on a Saturday afternoon, “I’m bored.” Or what about adults? Men and women who have clothes that are worth hundreds of dollars, and still finding an excuse to go shopping – while all the time ignoring their marital troubles, the needs of the Saints, or any other philanthropic activity that could be filling their time. The family is falling is apart, and many people think that possessions will hold it together!
Also ponder Haggai 1:2-6, “‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, “This people says, ‘The time has not come, even the time for the house of the Lord to be rebuilt.’”’ Then the word of the Lord came by Haggai the prophet saying, ‘Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses while this house lies desolate?’ Now therefore, thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘Consider your ways! You have sown much, but harvest little; you eat, but there is not enough to be satisfied; you drink, but there is not enough to become drunk; you put on clothing, but no one is warm enough; and he who earns, earns wages to put into a purse with holes.’” While the house of God remained in ruins, the people of Jerusalem were worried about making their own homes luxuriant. The problem is that the more of our energy we waste on filling our lives with possessions, the less treasure we store up in heaven with the Lord. How many of us do the same thing as the Israelites? How many of us leave our spiritual needs wanting by trying to find some worth or fulfillment in our abundance of wealth, food, or intoxicants? But we will find that none of these things actually make us feel happy. In fact, the more we put into a life of vanity, the more it feels like it vanishes. These people in our text had plenty of food, clothing, and shelter, but never felt satisfied. Again, I would refer back to people today who think that one more car, one more suit, one more drink, one more meal, one more affair, one more of anything will finally fill the void that is left by a life apart from God. “Yet you are never satisfied nor do you have enough. They had wrong priorities in life, therefore they had not reaped the kind of contentment and fullness they could have had from the Lord” (The Minor Prophets, Harkrider, 97).
It is a fact, in conclusion, that we are wealthy in this nation, and that 1 Timothy 6:7-10 is written to us. But it is also a fact that wealth and righteousness do not have to be exclusive (1 Timothy 6:17-19).