4 ¶ Labour not to be rich: cease from thine own wisdom. 5 Wilt thou set thine eyes upon that which is not? for riches certainly make themselves wings; they fly away as an eagle toward heaven.
Although it is one American dream to be rich, it is not the dream of God’s people, at least rich in the worldly sense. We are told to learn a trade, to have something to offer that other people need.
1Thessalonians 4:11 And that ye study to be quiet, and to do your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you;
Paul was engaged as a tentmaker while he preached God’s words and started church families.
Acts 18:3 And because he was of the same craft, he abode with them, and wrought: for by their occupation they were tentmakers.
And although he was justified in doing so he took no income from the churches for himself. See the passage starting in 1 Corinthians 9:6. In verse 4, laboring to be rich has a clarifying clause after the colon of “cease from thine own wisdom”. When we are young and are told “you are a pearl and the world is your oyster” or some such platitude as that and “you can be anything you want” the implications are that wealth and power are things to be desired. There’s nothing inherently wicked about having money. It certainly makes living indoors and eating a whole lot easier but if your goal is to be rich and have millions of dollars at your disposal to purchase power and influence and to live an insulated life of ease far from life’s little calamities then that is your goal. You can’t serve God and wealth.
Luke 6:13 No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon. (Mammon is an Aramaic word for wealth personified, as if it were a god.)
Furthermore, Paul has some very specific things about being satisfied with what you have. After giving some instructions he starts with a comment about any man who is opposed to his doctrine.
1 Timothy 6:5 Perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself.
6 ¶ But godliness with contentment is great gain. 7 For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. 8 And having food and raiment let us be therewith content. 9 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. 10 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. 11 But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness.
What God gives us when we know how to do something useful with our hands, to provide a product or a service the community needs or wants, is enough. Seeking to be wealthy is not the Christian’s goal. Supporting your family, preparing for your old age when you can’t work (and folks, even the Social Security Administration website points out that Social Security should be only 40% of your income in retirement. Its not a pension and will probably disappear soon although the tax won’t, I’m sure), and helping those who have a need should be your goals as a Christian, not that second home in the Bahamas, a yacht, or a membership to the High High Muckety Muckety Country Club.
For those people who consider themselves traditionalists let me point out that your view of going out and earning a wage, working 40 to 60 hours a week, looking for a raise after a time, and then one day retiring with a pension is a rather new thing. For our ancestors working for a wage was considered wage-slavery. It was looked down upon. (Read the Pulitzer prize winning “What Hath God Wrought” by Daniel Walker Howe) The early American and Colonial American was often a yeoman farmer owning his own little plot of ground, not keeping industrial age hours, sometimes working more but always able to determine his own working hours based on the necessities of farm life. If near a community the family made products to sell in the market and the home was also a mini-factory. The employer was a master craftsman and you were an apprentice who worked alongside the master/owner of the business. You knew him personally and he had an interest in your success. When your apprenticeship was complete you were a fully qualified Journeyman fit to work your craft as someone else’s employee. Your goal was not to always work for a master craftsman but to one day be a master yourself.
The wage slave, knowledgeable only to operate a machine, was a byproduct of the industrial revolution where owners are far away and hired hands manage you and care not for your success. After all, they can always get more people.
Of course, I have simplified things and there were certainly exploited agricultural laborers, slaves, indentured servants, and others under this system who suffered at the greed and ruthlessness of their masters. That hasn’t changed although we have tried to temper some of that with collective action in government regulation on how employees are to be treated. My point is that the way we work today is a new thing and unnatural and the lust to be wealthy is implanted in our eyes at a young age by the deceptions and distortions taught in school and by the idiot box in your living room. Don’t look at your employer as a paternalistic father figure who will take care of you all your life. Look at your employment as a stepping stone, learning a skill, something of value, with which to start your own endeavor. We probably will no longer be able to depend on the employer “taking care of us” as our economy changes. As good churches produce men called to the ministry who plant churches, good employers will develop employees who learn skills and strike out on their own, possibly as competitors but always seeking self sufficiency. That’s another argument, though.
The money you lust after is essentially worthless, not based on anything of value, just printed out of thin air, whose little value is determined by wicked, powerful men in high places who use and exploit us like little plastic game pieces on a board or easily disposed of like the wrapping around the last piece of candy you ate.
It’s funny how an eagle is used here as a simile for money. The eagle on our dollar bill has certainly flown away, hasn’t it? Probably, if things get worse we’ll have to create a new system on a local basis where real value is determined by a precious metal or some type of barter. And it does look like things are going to get much worse.
I can remember being told how if you put your money in a 401K and just waited out the stock market that over a long period of time you would actually make money for your retirement or emergencies. The lesson given was clear, that if a young man started with investments at an early age he could easily be a millionaire before he retired. Perhaps that is laughable now. Many people’s life savings are wiped out, either by the deceptions and fraud of the Stock Market or by having to spend them while unemployed and looking for work, also eaten up through that additional tax called inflation. Letting other people play Monopoly with your life’s work hasn’t worked out too good for us, has it?
We are not to labour to be rich. As Proverbs has said before;
Proverbs 11:28 He that trusteth in his riches shall fall: but the righteous shall flourish as a branch.
Proverbs 13:7 There is that maketh himself rich, yet hath nothing: there is that maketh himself poor, yet hath great riches.
Just remember what Jesus had said,
Matthew 6:19 ¶ Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: 20 But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: 21 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
And remember also;
Philippians 4:19 But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.