Monday, February 20, 2023

Anonymous Asks (237)

“What did Solomon mean when he wrote that money answers everything?”

It has been said that every virtue carried to extremes becomes a vice, which is probably true. Every good thing indulged in to excess does much the same. This is surely true of money.

The verses prior to Ecclesiastes 10:19 contrast a kingdom run by self-indulgent drunks and gluttons with a kingdom administered by wise, self-controlled princes and officials who know the proper place for leisure and pleasure in their own lives. Obviously, the citizens of the second kingdom will have a better time of it than those of the first.

The Same Subject?

We could read this next verse as an independent, three-clause proverb, but I have a feeling connects with the same subject:

“Bread is made for laughter, and wine gladdens life, and money answers everything.”

In scripture, the word “bread” frequently stands in for food more generally. It really means a meal. When the psalmist says, “My close friend who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me,” I do not think he means to say that the two companions snatched a crust together in the field. More likely he is saying they lingered together at table, talking and enjoying fellowship. Sitting down and dining together is a demonstration of trust, hospitality and friendship. The fact that our families do so little of this today is a commentary on the decline of our society.

When God gave food to mankind, it was not merely for the sustenance of the body, but in order that good times and thankfulness to God might be the result. He intended eating together to produce joy, reflection, contentment and fellowship, not self-indulgence and bloated waistlines. But even those who do not recognize or thank God for the good things they have often acknowledge the value of moderation and the dangers of wanton excess. The better pathway quickly becomes evident when we observe the results of self-indulgence in someone else’s life.

Wine Gladdens Life

On the day he made the vine, God was quite aware of the alcoholic properties of its fruit and the uses, both good and bad, to which it would eventually be put. He could see both the wedding at Cana and the full-on alcohol abuse detailed in Proverbs 23, and he knew some of his creatures would make use of the fruit of the vine wisely and that others would not. Then he went ahead and gave it to us anyway … which is an interesting comment on God’s dealings with us more generally.

Like the other fruit in the Garden of Eden, wine provides a test of character for those who make use of it. The intention in giving wine was a good one. Its purpose was to “gladden life”. Used appropriately, it may do so. But when gladness turns into addiction or abuse, wine no longer serves the purpose for which God intended it.

Money Answers Everything

That’s the context, if it matters. Now we come to “Money answers everything.”

Really? That’s an unexpected idea. The Lord himself spoke of unrighteous mammon. When he tells his followers no man can serve two masters, the point is that serving God and money simultaneously is impossible. The apostle Paul confirms that the love of money is the root of all kinds of evils, and that covetousness is a form of idolatry.

Hmm. If there are so many ways to get morally off-track when dealing with money, how then does it “answer everything”? Should righteous men and women not hate and fear money and the temptation it brings?

I believe we find the answer in the Lord’s own teaching. The key is not to serve money or love it, but to make use of it for the purposes of God. The Lord expects his followers to be “faithful in the  unrighteous wealth”, not avoid it like the plague. Again, “Make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth.” For the servant of God, money is opportunity to do good. Its purpose is to provide human answers to present requirements, both our own and those of others in need. But we need to control it, and not the other way around. The Christian who prays for help for someone else’s need when he has already been given the means to meet it has forgotten why he has this stewardship from God in the first place.

In Summary

So then, bread, wine and money are all gifts from God; gifts to be shared rather than hoarded, and gifts to be used appropriately rather than in excess. All serve as tests of human character: Will we use them according to their intended purpose or abuse them to our own injury?

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