Here is why we need the Word of the Lord so greatly: because without His wisdom, we miss our way, and all too quickly we think that we know the right way to walk in, not seeing that our ideas of good can destroy us. “Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered.” (Prov 28:26)
In Proverbs 28:20 the Lord reveals the sin of choosing to be rich rather than choosing to be righteous. Rather than arranging and defining one’s life by this faithfulness, a person chooses to arrange their lives by whatever will make them rich, and to live by the “rule” of obtaining wealth.
If we look around in the world today, we can see that all of mankind guides their lives by a similar belief system. While it’s true that not all of mankind might live after money or materialism, every person naturally lives by the same belief or “rule” that whatever will be to our advantage, whatever will grant our desires, this is what should guide our whole lives. Man trusts in this principle, believing it over that of trusting in faithfulness to God to be the way to rightly guide our lives. It is this belief system in the heart, and attitude in our lives, above everything else that we must see as significant. It is this attitude in a person that is at the heart of what it means to hasten after riches rather than choosing faithfulness.
Mankind believes in pursuing these “riches”, trusting that this attitude is the very thing they should set their whole lives after, that this alone will grant them meaning, purpose, and satisfaction, and that living in this way is justified and “lawful”. In a word, this is the great “Northern Star” by which they set the course for their whole lives.
The tragedy for mankind is that without God’s help we do not see how sinful such living is, nor how much it will fail us. We don’t even question that such thinking and living could be so wrong, but wholly trust in it. Yet following such a course as this is deceptive and will destroy us in the end. Why? Because people, for whatever they seek to obtain, live by the rule of what will be to their advantage, whatever they think makes them “rich”, and they do not live plainly by the rule of righteousness before God. They have exchanged the great guiding rule of their lives, trading that of faithfulness to God for that of hastening to be rich in the things of the world. They are coveting these riches over truth and righteousness, God and His Word. The only true way to navigate this world below is to guide our lives by godliness and righteousness alone.
If we will allow it, we can discern how the titular verse (Prov 28:20) speaks to the heart of the sin within man, speaking to all the worldly passions people live after. And these “riches” can take a million different shapes, not just one or two. These riches can be a great variety of things: living after fame, wealth, or pleasure; a career, or to be good at some skill; family, friends, or community; for pleasure, travel, or love of ease, and many other things.
A person would exclaim that many of these things are not wrong, that certainly a person who cares for their family, works hard at their job, or seeks these other things in “lawful ways” is not someone guilty of sin. And while this is true in part, it is precisely this kind of thinking that is deceiving so many today, because such people do not see the sin that can still remain in such things. That sin is not merely a greedy desire for gold, but it is filling up our lives with anything while they remain empty of God—godlessness. Many people today are convinced that as long as they don't pursue great evils they cannot be faulted by God, but fail to see how a life empty of faithfulness to God is always what is faulted before Him. Life can be just as empty of God for the person who lives after philosophy as the person who lives after greed, the person who lives for family as the person who lives for a convertible, or the person who lives after travel and culture as the person who lives after social climbing.
Again, it is this living after ourselves, whereby we forsake God, where we live after our desires and for that which grants us something for ourselves, that is the evil belief at the heart of mankind. Man trusts in this principle, creates all his rules and justifications around it, and fails to see that after the very center of all of it is his forsaking of God and His commandments. Some mere variation from one form of this to another makes little difference. One person lives after wealth, another lives after pleasure and love of ease; one person lives after fame another person lives after entertainment and games; one person lives after their careers another lives after social justice; one lives after substances another lives for family; one person lives to appear enlightened or moral and another lives to be funny or cool… While there are degrees of sin within these things—surely the person who is minding their own business at home is undeniably different from someone oppressing the poor for wealth—still we must see that forsaking God for anything, that this is us casting God out of our lives. And this means our whole life is in rebellion, even if we’re a simple farmer or stay at home mom. Still, at the center of all of these things, this is a person who lives after pleasing themselves rather than pleasing God (2 Cor 5:15), forsaking God for their own pleasures, ambitions, and desires. The same sin is at the heart of all of these things—godlessness (Rom 1:18-23). And no amount of mere exteriors, or less sin in one area, can cover up the great sin of godlessness in our lives.
If we look closer at these things, certainly a person can see that in pursuing a career, family, hobbies, exercise, community, etc—all of these are things we are pursuing to our advantage. And while pursuing our advantage is not entirely wrong—we need money to live, food to eat, and family is a great blessing, etc—yet pursuing these things entirely is wrong. Pursuing these things to the degree of having whole days, of whole weeks, of whole months, of whole years, of whole lives without knowing God, honoring God, and keeping His Word, is sin. And being satisfied in these things without God and His commandments reveals the deep godlessness and unrighteousness in our hearts. Sin is being blind to everything we owe to God and leaving off seeking Him, obeying Him, and loving Him, and instead giving ourselves wholly to our own desires.
The world continues to deceive itself because they don’t realize that there is not as much of a difference between their way of pursuing “riches” and another’s. Certainly God holds a person accountable for the sins of greed, oppression, and so on—this should never be understated—but man likes to think that as long as he doesn’t walk in the most extreme forms of sin, he cannot be held accountable for sin, failing to understand what the nature of sin even is. He imagines that he is free to pursue his self indulgence just as long as he doesn’t pursue it in certain ways (or in observable ways). Such people fail to see that one person forsaking God and truth for one sin and another person forsaking God and truth for a different sin are still two people forsaking God and truth for their desires. If one person forsakes God for fame and another does so for wealth, what difference is there really in this? Yet mankind loves to think that one sin is gross while we freely indulge the other. People who think in this way fail to acknowledge the real selfishness and godlessness that is still in their lives, that setting up our lives in any way to hasten after being rich, is great sin against God and man. Yes, our sins might not also be oppressive, as other people add oppression to their self-centeredness, yet this selfishness is still sinful.
Man today has many ideas about not living for the external riches of materialism and wealth, but totally embrace living for the riches of experiences, pleasures, or inward riches. And while it is true to some extent that there is a difference in these things, the world loves to think this is all the difference there is or is needed. We must come to see sin accurately, that it is any form of this selfish ambition, and it matters much less if our selfish ambition is chasing after conceit or chasing after a mansion, it is that we have selfish ambition at all, choosing it over God. Oh how foolish the morality of the world is!—how we strain out insignificant gnats of sin and yet swallow whole camels of it (Matt 23:24)—missing the true nature of what sin really even is.
It is this great forsaking of God that defines sin. By this we walk in covetousness, which is idolatry (Col 3:5); and it is this covetousness and idolatry that fills the heart of mankind. The great sin of pursuing self as the world does is when we take anything to excess and rob God of His right worship, love, and our submission/obedience to Him. And when we rob man of his rights, equality, and love. Selfishness is not measured by our small ideas of “selfishness”. It is measured by the two great commandments: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matt 22:37-40) Anything opposite these is what selfishness is, is what sin is. And only in upholding these is there true righteousness.
Vanity is the great word at the center of understanding what sin is like. It is when we chase after anything, filling our lives up with it, but lose truth, righteousness, and godliness in the midst of such pursuits. This makes our lives vain, empty of true substance and worth.
God is calling all of mankind to learn from Him what sin is and turn away from all of it back to Him, accomplishing all of this through Christ (Acts 17:30-31, Matt 4:17, Eccl 12:1). The great call upon all of mankind is that we are to turn from all these various ways of hastening after our own ideas of riches, goodness, truth, and so on, to walk before God, obey God, live to God, and love Him. To miss this path means we forsake God and thereby destroy ourselves, “O LORD, the hope of Israel, all who forsake you shall be put to shame; those who turn away from you shall be written in the earth, for they have forsaken the LORD, the fountain of living water.” (Jer 17:13)
It is only in changing the complete basis of our lives from hastening after any form of riches to faithfulness to God that our lives gain true security, meaning, and are guided in what is true and good. God is calling out to all of mankind to realize this great need, to turn from living by our own imaginations, ideals, and desires, to live guided by the Truth of His Word and His Holy Spirit; to walk in submission to Him, to live unto Him, and obey Him. This faithfulness is what is meant to be the true guiding principle of our lives. “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:15)
God’s Word again and again sets before us a distinct choice: to choose God over our own ways, and that choosing Him is our security. “Oh, fear the Lord, you his saints, for those who fear him have no lack! The young lions suffer want and hunger; but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.” (Psalm 34:9-10)
For the unbeliever, there is the great sin of having forsaken God altogether. They have refused God’s call in His Word and through His Son to turn back to God. Instead of returning to God and obeying Him, following Him, and knowing Him, they choose to continue living after the things of this world, disregarding God and His commandments. This is why God calls us to separate from such people, to make a distinction upon how great this sin is, for such people live actively in rebellion against the Living God. However modest they may be in their lives, nothing about this changes the fact that they scorn the Living God and His Son our Savior if they refuse to grasp God’s open hand. Such people live entirely for hastening after the riches instead of choosing faithfulness to God.
For the believer, this same sin can still exist in our lives. We may not forsake God entirely, but neither are we entirely walking before Him as we should. These “holes” in our lives may in a degree be less than the unbeliever, but we must see that their emptiness is of the exact same nature as the unbeliever, this worldliness. This is why wholeheartedness to God is so essential.
The believer must come to see that any area in our lives where we forsake God is sin. It might not be a wholehearted rejection of God like the unbeliever, but tragically many in the church imagine they can continue to walk in their own desires, ideas, and plans simply because they’re not entirely rejecting God! This attitude shows great foolishness and sin on our part. We must come to see what the nature of this sin is—that we are walking in the same evil as the world. Every “spot” in our life is of the exact same nature of godlessness and rebellion against God, and the same lovelessness to man.
How tragic that so many today think they can get away with these sins in their lives, imagining they can pursue worldly desires under the guise of “lawful things”, failing to see how they continue to choose some “riches” over faithfulness to God. Believing that as long as they don’t live after selfish desires in “those” sinful ways (love of money, sexual immorality, etc), they can somehow get away with living in selfishness and godlessness. They imagine that correcting a few exterior sinful issues is all that is needed, failing to grasp the heart of what sin truly is, and that thinking in such a way is to think the same way as the world, as the person who forsakes God entirely.
We are meant to learn in Christ that it is only in having the Kingdom of God first—His righteousness, Gospel, and God Himself—that our lives are ever really right. And no amount of ideas, watered-down morals, or refusal of certain sins will ever substitute for this great call on our lives. It is only in putting the Kingdom of God truly first that our lives will become rightly ordered, rightly moderate, and actually holy.
So often we cling to lawful enjoyments and disregard how taking anything to excess, anything out from beneath having Christ first, distorts our lives. There are so many idols in the church today—marriage/romance, family, politics, travel, hobbies, ministries, etc—and we fail to see how any of these things could possibly be wrong in our lives. Yet the Lord teaches us that our lives are only right when we truly have His Kingdom and righteousness first, and that if we do not hate anything and everyone in comparison to Him cannot be His disciple (Luke 14:26). Do we really imagine that when we give all our time to marriage, our children, hobbies, and group events that we are really right with God? Sadly many people think so. Yet Christianity is not defined by having a little morality in our lives, it is having Christ and holiness in Him first in our lives. And everything else must be put beneath this.
All of these lawful things can be so wonderful and we should enjoy them! But we must see that the Lord commands moderation even in these things, this moderation always being controlled by God being first and supreme in our lives, and loving our neighbor as ourselves. We must temper everything in our lives with this right balance. Failing to do this will mean our lives are weak, foolish, and even deceptive. When we are so greatly controlled by our desires—even lawful desires—then we no longer are controlled by godliness itself.
The question for us is if we are willing to forgo our desires for the sake of choosing God if it comes down to it? To fight and learn to have everything beneath Christ? To choose this faithfulness to God which is choosing sanctification and serving Him. Are we willing to learn how to not just eat our daily bread but to eat it in real gratitude to God? How to not just want to get married but to desire godliness above marriage and only have marriage if it's godly? To not merely live for family values, traditionalism, or Christian education but live for holiness and God Himself? To not imagine that worship music or “Christian music” is the pinnacle of the Christian calling, but true religion is? To see that community is something we all desire yet living focused upon Christ Himself and serving His Kingdom is what we are actually called to in this life? That social justice is a legitimate concern yet Christ places Himself even above the injustices of the world—are we prepared to accept this? To see that we are allowed a degree of rest and enjoyments in this life, yet living for these and filling our life with these things means we put off the work we are called to of sanctification and serving God in this world? “The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works.” (Titus 3:8)
The path for all of mankind is to embrace faithfulness to God. To see that we must choose righteousness over riches, and to learn the depths this righteousness should reach in every area of our lives, rooting out all rebellion, willfulness, foolishness, and vanity in our lives. All of us are meant to come to see that choosing riches, whatever they are, over God, is a great evil and danger to our own souls. That God is calling all of humanity back to Himself, to turn away from this godlessness and come back into knowing God, serving Him, obeying Him, and loving Him. This is the very relationship we are created for; it is a person’s greatest joy, deepest peace, and highest satisfaction (Ps 18:30, Prov 3:17, Matt 11:29, Ps 23:3, Jer 6:16, Is 28:12, Rev 3:19, James 4:8).
We may not yet understand everything, but the pathway forward for all of us is quite clear: to choose faithfulness to God through Christ. To choose the fear of the Lord, obedience, seeking Him, and to fight to conform to all that He calls us to, to fight each day to grow more and more in this. The truth that God reveals from Heaven is that it is the “faithful man [who] will abound with blessings” (Prov 28:20), so may we stop hastening towards riches, believing the lie that they are where our blessings lie, but let us trust the Lord, that He knows where life is to be found, and that it is in faithfulness to Him.
“The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.” (Prov 12:13)
“A faithful man will abound with blessings, but whoever hastens to be rich will not go unpunished.”
Whoever Hastens to Be Rich
Pursuing God Over Every Form of Riches
I. Pursuing Riches
II. Pursuing Faithfulness