At one point in my software development career, a firm hired me to handle a broad range of IT activities for their accounting department. I was immersed in a sea of activities and terminologies that I did not understand. To wrap my mind around my new environment and responsibilities, I went back to school and took a Master of Business Administration with specialization in IT Management. I was determined to get a handle on the world of finance – well, maybe not the world, but at least our accounting office’s part of it.
The MBA studies helped – a little – but I am still mystified to a degree by the underlying functions of many western preoccupations related to money. I get that these things exist and are important to business but, for many, they rise to a level of obsession. Things like investments and returns, capital gains and losses, balance sheets and cash flows.
As I pondered these obsessions this week, it occurred to me that this is not a new phenomenon at all, and it is something God addressed very early in his dealings with humanity. At its core, we are dealing with humanity’s struggle against covetousness.
For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?
– Matthew 16:26, ESV
In this rhetorical, Jesus poses an absurdity to present what is really a gut-wrenching question. I read once that Jesus was suggesting a little “divine bookkeeping” with this, and that some of us need to check our ledger.
The question is absurd because not even the riches of the entire world could purchase one’s own soul, yet I witness so many who seem willing to sacrifice their souls on the altar of that very pursuit. In a world obsessing over investments and returns, this strikes me as the epitome of a bad investment! Totally unsound.
Don’t Misread Me
Earning wealth is fine if one earns it honorably and by God’s design. Coveting and hoarding wealth, however, are acts and attitudes of a fool. Let’s look at another word from Jesus on this subject and get clarity in the matter.
And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”
– Luke 12:16-21, ESV
This man had land that was not only productive, it was very productive. There was so much grain that the man had no place to store it.
What happens when we run into good fortune? How do I handle it if/when a windfall lands in my lap?
This man began reasoning to himself, and there is a tense in the language indicating this was an ongoing debate within the man. He was obsessing over what to do with this good fortune.
His fortune had become his problem.
Depending on the version you’re reading, you’ll find roughly thirteen personal pronouns in three verses, all spoken by the man to his soul, and about himself. He’s talking to his soul when he should be talking to his heart, or his ego.
He says, “Soul, you have so much great stuff here, and you can sluff off for years; take it easy, eat, drink and be merry.” We all thought that that was a 20th-century epigram, didn’t we? But it came right out of the mouth of Jesus.
Eat, drink, and εὐφραίνου (euphreinou). The word is derived from a combination of “eu” which is “good” and “phrein” which is the “midriff” or the “diaphragm” thus, a “good diaphragm.” It’s a weird concept, I know.
Think of it as a state of such satisfaction, maybe following an awesome meal, where you just lay back, fold your hands over your stuffed belly and just let out a big, satisfied sigh – “aaaaahhhh.” Expand your diaphragm.
To the Greek mind, this is symbolic of the guy who has made it, and now hasn’t a care in the world. He has his diaphragm expanded all over the place. For him, things couldn’t get much better. To the epicurean mind, this is true success. If there were truly a Nirvana, this guy had reached it.
So, there is an equation here that claims an abundance wealth will give us an abundance, or the stretching of euphreinou. That is what life is all about. And we know that this is the way the western world thinks!
God says such logic the talk of fools. And the funny thing is (you know the Bible is funny, right?) the way God calls this man a “fool” is a play on the man’s own words. God calls him ἄφρων (aphrone), using the same root word as the man used when describing his belly.
The man is talking about expanding his diaphragm and God says, you don’t even have a diaphragm, much less an expanded one! Rather than having his gut all relaxed and at ease, the man’s gut is tied up in knots like a clenched fist – the very opposite of what the man wanted and thought he had.
The man was pronouncing blessings on his soul, “Soul, take thine ease,” and God was telling him his soul was about to leave town.
An attitude of wealth in this life is an attitude of spiritual poverty in the life to come. This man was pursuing the wrong thing.
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
– Matthew 6:19-21, NIV-1978
©️ Damon J. Gray, Long-View Living Ministries. Used with permission from https://damonjgray.org/.