One of my daughter’s favorite things to do is to go outside with me and blow bubbles. I’ll spread out a blanket on the grass and sit down and blow the bubbles and Ansley will run around chasing them. She’s three years old and fascinated by bubbles, and for good reason. I brought a bottle to remind you just cool bubbles are. Notice their perfectly round shape, the way they effortlessly float in mid-air, and the way the light glistens off of them… Ansley’s favorite thing about bubbles is running up behind them and trying to catch them. She grasps at them and they pop, but then she sees another and chases it until it pops, then another and another, until she’s finally exhausted.
I love watching her try to catch the bubbles, as I sit back serenely and relax. But recently as we did this routine I was reminded of how much energy I exert chasing my own brand of bubbles. My bubbles are more sophisticated than Ansley’s, a lot more expensive, and come in various shapes and sizes… recent ones for me were a new laptop, a set of commentaries I had my eye on, a cooler cell phone, and small home theater system. Just like Ansley and her bubbles, I chase these things because I’m fascinated by them, but the minute I grab onto them and then open my hands there’s nothing of substance there. So my eye catches the next, then the next, and I have found I can waste huge amounts of energy on things that in the end don’t really matter… I’m just chasing bubbles. Perhaps you can identify. In fact, I’m convinced we are all tempted to spend too much energy chasing material things that don’t last.
These bubbles aren’t inherently bad. But the problem comes when we’re never satisfied… when enough is never enough. The bible calls this the pursuit of wealth. It took me a while to buy into this connection. After all, we’re not really trying to become wealthy, are we, or we surely wouldn’t be here of all places, right? There may be some truth to that, but I’ve come to believe that the pursuit of wealth can take subtle forms. We may not care about amassing large sums of money, but we want just enough for life to be secure, convenient, and comfortable… in other words, enough that we’re satisfied… and we get to decide how much “enough” is. The problem is we never get there, so we keep chasing bubbles.
Today we’re going to talk about why pursuing wealth will never satisfy us. Our text gives us the reason. Turn to Proverbs 23:4-5. In these two verses, we will see what the ancient sage of Israel had to say THEN about the nature of wealth. Then we’ll examine the truth that trusting in God’s provision rather than wealth ALWAYS provides satisfaction. And finally we’ll look at an implication for us NOW: that we should let His provision for us be enough, so that the bubbles don’t get in the way of our ministry.
Let’s start with our text, and explore what these verses meant to the author’s original audience. Proverbs 23:4-5… “Do not wear yourself out to get rich; have the wisdom to show restraint. Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone, for they will surely sprout wings and fly off to the sky like an eagle.”
The Israelite sage wrote a clear command to his son, that he should not waste his energy pursuing wealth, because it was fleeting… he should not waste his energy pursuing wealth, because it was fleeting. Verse four breaks down into two parallel commands. The first, “Do not wear yourself out…” He was basically telling his son, “Look, you have a finite amount of energy and time, so don’t spend too much of it on riches, because though they seem attractive, they’re not worth it.” In other words, the bubbles really aren’t that satisfying. The parallel command is “Have the wisdom to show restraint.” Interestingly, the time of Solomon’s reign was the golden age of Israel’s material prosperity, and many Israelites no doubt devoted themselves to pursuing the good life. After all, God had finally given them this land overflowing with milk and honey and had blessed them according to the promises in Deuteronomy 28, so why shouldn’t they enjoy it? But the wise sage of Israel shared a different perspective in this proverb. He was saying to his son: “Even in a land of plenty, a wise man will show restraint. He will say, ‘Enough is enough.’” Verse 5 spells out the reason for the sage’s command to his son: Riches don’t last. “Cast but a glance… and they are gone.” In other words, he was warning his son that wealth is so short-lived, so volatile, that as soon as your eyes grab hold of it, you better not blink, because it’ll vanish. In second line he created a word picture that reinforced the point. Riches will “sprout wings and fly off to the sky like an eagle”… out of your reach, son, out of your grasp, out of your control completely. I have the image in my mind of an obsessed hunter trying to track down a beautiful bird, and every time he gets close enough to take a shot it takes off into the sky. It also makes me think of Ansley chasing after those bubbles. She thinks she has grabbed a hold of them… but then she opens up her hand and wonders where they went.
I think there’s something here beyond than the fact that money loses value, and changes hands, and disappears quickly. The reason wealth is so elusive is that it is subjective. Do you consider yourself wealthy? Ask someone you consider wealthy if he thinks he is and he’ll say, “No, I’m not wealthy… but that guy over there is.” Then ask that person and you’ll get the same response. When you think you have enough there’s always someone who has a bit more. So you’re never content. Enough is never enough. It was through this perspective on wealth that the sage warned his son: “Don’t waste your energy pursuing this stuff, because it’s fleeting… you can never hold it… it will leave you empty-handed every time.”
This wise perspective about wealth did not come out of thin air. Like the rest of the Proverbs, it came from a deep understanding of God, His creation, and His plan for the world. From this foundation we find rich truth that applies beyond the original audience to all of God’s people throughout time. So now that we’ve discussed what these verses meant to their original audience, let’s explore the theological foundation that they rest upon.
Perhaps the most foundational truth in the mind of the Israelite sage was this: unlike fleeting wealth, God’s provision for His people is always enough. God’s provision for His people is always enough. We don’t have to look far to begin to understand the sage’s theology. This proverb is in a portion of the book called “Sayings of the wise” that begins in 22:17. While we don’t know who the author was, he did give us the exact reason that he wrote these proverbs to his son. Look at 22:19. “So that your trust may be in the Lord… I teach you today.” “So that your trust may be in the Lord…” If there was one thing that history should have taught Israel by the time of Solomon, it was that Yahweh was Jehovah Jireh – the Provider. He could be trusted to provide for His chosen people. God’s provision is always enough. I can imagine the sage teaching his son: “Think about Abraham on the mountain about to offer up Issac… did God provide the sacrifice? Yes. Think about the great famine when Joseph was in charge in Egypt… did his family have enough?…Yes. How about when the Israelites were wandering in the wilderness, did they have enough to eat and drink?… yes. Think about Gideon going to battle with the Midianites… did he have enough warriors?… yes. Yes… yes… yes… yes. So son, don’t waste your energy chasing wealth when God’s provision for you is always enough.
So our theology should be the same. How many of you can look back in your own life and see times that God has met your needs out of His perfect provision? We have Scripture, and we have personal experience, and yet we often live from a different worldview. We’re not quite content with how He provides for us so we chase after just a bit more. Without even thinking about it we forget who sustains us and provides for us and instead start chasing bubbles. But let’s get it right right now: The words of the ancient sage remind us that money can’t satisfy us because it won’t last. Our theology reminds us that God’s provision is always enough for His people. We don’t need to chase the fleeting bubbles of material things to be satisfied because our Jehovah Jireh can be trusted to give us exactly what we really need.
So where does that bring us? Now that we’ve looked at what the passage meant, and explored the theology behind it, what is the application of these truths for you and me – seminary students who probably don’t have much wealth and didn’t come to DTS to pursue it? I believe the message for us is this: Don’t compromise God’s calling in your search for satisfaction. Don’t compromise God’s calling in your search for satisfaction.
When enough is not enough, the bubbles get in the way of our discipleship and our leadership. It might be tempting as a seminary student to dismiss this Proverb, but we must wrestle with this difficult issue. There are many examples we could talk about but I want to focus on just one… an area that, if it’s not at the forefront of your mind already, it will be in the next year or two. Let’s talk about our first jobs after graduation.
Most of you probably have a general idea of the direction you think God is calling you but you probably don’t yet know where you’ll be living, what your job title will be, or how much money you’ll be making. Here are some things to think about. The alumni office tells me that 40% of DTS graduates are not working in vocational ministry. I’m not by any means saying that these alumni are not serving God where He wants them, but I do wonder how many of them never came to the point where they could say “God’s provision is enough”… how many of them compromised their calling in search for satisfaction… how many are just chasing bubbles. Here’s the challenge for us: When it’s time to find that first ministry position, will you say “yes” to whatever He asks, trusting that His provision is enough? This sounds great, but what happens if it gets uncomfortable? What if He calls you to turn down the staff position at the large church and go to the small church that’s barely getting by? What if He calls you to raise support and serve overseas outside of your comfort zone? What if He calls you to teach at an international bible school that can’t afford to pay its faculty? What if He calls you to plant a church from scratch and work nights at a factory to make ends meet? What if God’s call does not include maintaining the standard of living you’ve gotten used to? Here’s the big question: Will you take your gaze away from the bubbles long enough to be content in His provision?
If you’re like me, it’s time for a gut check. We need a reminder from the ancient Israelite sage that the material wealth of this world is never enough, because it’s fleeting. We need a reminder from our theology that God’s provision for His people is always enough. And we need a challenge to us today not to compromise our calling in our search for satisfaction.
As I was preparing this sermon an image came to my mind I wanted to share with you. Imagine walking into the emergency room at a busy hospital. The waiting room is lined with people trying to get in, but there are no doctors or nurses in sight. Some of the patients are so sick they can’t talk, some are bleeding, a group is huddled together crying softly, all have looks of desperation on their faces. Now imagine bursting through the doors into the operating room to find someone to help them, only to see the ER staff smiling and laughing… and blowing bubbles. It’s a preposterous image, isn’t it? Men… we are called to bring the hope of God to hurting and dying people. We dare not compromise this calling in pursuit of our own satisfaction. Settle this today. The bubbles will never satisfy us like God’s provision will. Let God’s provision be enough.