Proverbs 28:11 should probably be a scary verse for a lot of people in America: “The rich are wise in their own eyes; one who is poor and discerning sees how deluded they are.” I know it scares me.
Don’t get me wrong. Material possessions are a blessing from God. Money, in and of itself, is not evil. The Bible teaches that wealth is often the result of hard work and a tangible blessing from God. If you consider yourself rich, I don’t mean for this post to condemn you. I know far too many generous and godly people to believe that great wealth is always a cause of problems. It can, in fact, be a great tool for the gospel.
But the Bible also consistently and repeatedly warns against the dangers of wealth. For many, material gain is a snare. It’s a trap. It chokes out spiritual life. The love of it is the root of all kinds of evil. “Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction” (1 Timothy 6:9).
Proverbs 11:4 says that “wealth is worthless in the day of wrath.” When you die your money will do you no good. It is worthless. The best you can hope is that you will pass it along to your heirs. But it’s not just that “you can’t take it with you.” If you’re not careful, it might just bring you down with it!
Wealth is dangerous because, according to Proverbs 28:11, it has a potential delusion-inducing effect. “The rich are wise in their own eyes” the text says. This makes sense. “Hey,” I may say to myself, “look at all the money I was able to make. I must be a pretty smart and intelligent and good and worthy. You know, I probably even deserve all this.” This language sounds pretty reasonable doesn’t it? It sounds reasonable to me, and it’s exactly the kind of language we’re warned about.
Moses warned Israel about this kind of pride. “When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the LORD your God for the good land he has given you. Be careful not to forget the LORD your God… You may say to yourself, ‘My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.’ But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth…” (Deuteronomy 18:10ff). Failing to remember God’s provision ultimately leads to pride, to being “wise in your own eyes.”
I am reminded of Proverbs 3:7 “Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and shun evil.” And I am reminded of Proverbs 16:18 “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.” Agur, who wrote part of the book of Proverbs wisely prayed, “give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may disown you and say, ‘Who is the LORD?’” (Proverbs 30:8-9)
This path to destruction is well worn. God brings blessings. Our sinful nature causes us to forget the source of those blessings. We’re deluded into believing it came from our own wisdom, independent of God. We become “wise in our own eyes,” forget God, and are filled with pride. Then we face the same fate as the rich fool in Luke 12. We see how much we have earned, build bigger barns to store all our stuff, imagine our life of future comfort and pleasure, and then face the judgment. “This is how it will be,” Jesus says, “with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God” (Luke 12:21).
How can we avoid the delusions of wealth? 1 Timothy 6:17-19 gives us the answer:
17 Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. 18 Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. 19 In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.
Put your hope in God. Be rich in good deeds. Be generous and willing to share. In this way we take hold of the life that is truly life.