Among the topics touched on by Solomon’s poetic verse is finance. Today we’ll consider some rudimentary instruction from Ecclesiastes 3.
A Time To Gain, And A Time To Lose
At least two extreme positions exist with regard to the Scriptures and money. Some believe that every faithful child of God should be extraordinarily wealthy, as God is the owner of all things, and we, as His people are heirs to all things (Colossians 1:16; 1 Timothy 6:17; Hebrews 3:4; cf. 3 John 1:2). Others will go to the opposite extreme, affirming the danger of riches (1 Timothy 6:10) and citing the Lord’s command to some that they sell all (Luke 18:22; Matthew 19:21). As with many cases, the truth is not at the extremes, but between them.
There is “a time to gain.” As we look through the Genesis account, we see the Patriarchs attaining great wealth. As they sojourned, they were blessed greatly in regard to material wealth. When the Israelites left Egypt, the LORD granted them great amounts of the Egyptians’ wealth (Exodus 12:35-36).
There are certainly rich saints in the early church. Many sold possessions, bringing the proceeds, that it might tend to the needs of others (Acts 2:44-45). This was not to be done by compulsion, but out of a willing heart (2 Corinthians 8:12; 9:6-8; cf. Acts 5:3-4). The saints were instructed to use their blessings to bless others, but never was a blanket command given to forsake wealth entirely. Christians are encouraged to labour and to reap the result of their labour (1 Thessalonians 3:7-10; 4:11; Ecclesiastes 2:24; 3:13; 5:18).
As much as there is a time to gain, and it is God’s good pleasure that we do so, there also comes “a time to lose.” Solomon elsewhere cautions, “Riches do not profit in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivers from death” (Proverbs 11:4). And again, “He who trusts in his riches will fall, but the righteous will flourish like foliage” (11:28). And yet once more, “…riches certainly make themselves wings; they fly away like an eagle toward heaven” (23:5).
Recall that Job, a wealthy man, lost all he had. Perhaps a time of loss will come upon us as it did him, testing our faith and reliance upon God. It may be that troublesome times will strike, perhaps by the loss of employment or by the multiplying of financial responsibilities. Regardless, we need to be sure that our faith is not grounded in any measure of wealth, but that it is in the Lord.
A Time To Keep, And A Time To Throw Away
Though the child of God has a responsibility to care for the needs of others, it is also within the Christian’s right to keep his goods unto himself. They are within his own control (Acts 5:3-4). The Bible certainly teaches that the rich are to use their riches for good (1 Timothy 6:17-19), but that does not mean they must devote every last coin to others. There is nothing wrong with spending money on one’s self, or investing for one’s own future.
Sadly, there are some who would take advantage of God’s command for the Christian to deal benevolently with others. There are certainly those who are genuinely needy, and we are responsible for our actions (or inaction) with regard to these (Matthew 25:34-45). But Paul very sharply wrote, “…if anyone will not work, neither shall he eat. For we hear that there are some who walk among you in a disorderly manner, not working at all, but are busybodies” (2 Thessalonians 3:10-11). If there is a legitimate need to be met, meet it; but if there is a swindler seeking sustenance from your goods, and yet unwilling to supply his own need, by all means, keep your charity for another, who truly is destitute and deserving.
Though there is a time to keep, and we can do so justly, there also comes “a time to throw away.” Solomon warns, “…the abundance of the rich will not permit him to sleep. There is a severe evil which I have seen under the sun; riches kept for their owner to his hurt” (Ecclesiastes 5:12-13). Such was the case with the young man who was counselled by Jesus to “…sell what you have and give to the poor…” (Matthew 19:21). We are told, “…when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions” (v 22). He ought to have thrown away his wealth, for it was kept to his own eternal harm. From this, Jesus went on to teach how difficult it is for the rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Not impossible (v 26), but difficult, for his riches may easily become his master (Matthew 6:19-21, 24).
In Acts 19:19, “…many of those who had practiced magic brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted up the value of them and it totaled fifty thousand pieces of silver.” These realized it was time to “throw away” that which was keeping them from serving the Lord faithfully. They would not sell it off (and thus earn proceeds from their evil and entrap another), but burned it. When we come to the realization that we cannot serve two masters, we must choose one or the other. Will we cast away the Lord or will we cast away that which is competing for our soul?
We may gain financially, we may lose all. We might be able to keep our goods, or for the sake of our soul, we may have to throw it away from ourselves. Regardless, let us ever be focused on the Lord’s words: “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:24-26).