This morning, what I want to do, and what I want to look at is, and consider is the issue of our work, our careers. Our work, or our careers, would seem to be a natural path that leads to a satisfying, meaningful life, because we give so much of our time and our energy, and we get so much of our identity from our jobs that you would think that it would provide a sense of meaning and satisfaction for our lives.
I want to read to you a couple of what I would consider really good insights into what I’ve just said. Jeffrey Sachs in writing in The Wall Street Journal said, “Americans work so hard that we often put work at the emotional and spiritual center of our lives.”
Alan Blum, Professor at the University of Chicago says, “We spend our lives in frenzied work and frenzied play so that we do not have to look into the abyss.” And then finally, Sigmund Freud, who was among the most pessimistic people you will ever read about, who lived truly a life of despair, didn’t believe in God, acknowledged that you therefore couldn’t answer the great questions, even he acknowledged that “work is the most powerful deflector to keep us from having to face the unhappiness of our existence.”
Now, what I want to do before we look at what Solomon has to say about our work, or what he calls our labor, I want to make a couple of comments. And the first comment I want to make is, if you think about it, practically speaking, work is necessary to carry on the human race. I mean, it’s a necessity. And what you read in the Bible; the Bible clearly tells us that work is a good thing. It is ordained by God. In fact, the apostle Paul says, if a man is not willing to work, don’t let him eat.
So, you see work as a good thing from God’s point of view. In fact, the Bible lays out principles for our work that I think that we all would subscribe to—striving for excellence, diligence, integrity, serving our clients. All of these things, again, are good things, but the problem we have is the same thing we talked about when we looked at pleasure. So much of what God has given us that is good, that is good for our lives, we have the propensity to take these things and allow them to corrupt our lives. And work, I believe, is a good example.
Again, think about what Sachs said in The Wall Street Journal. He says, “we allow it to become the emotional and spiritual center of our lives.”
The second comment I want to make about our work is this, and I realize this is a diverse group with an age range, I’m not even sure what that age range is—it goes from very young to very…(laughter)…. very…. thank you, Charlie. But what I want to make, and when I make this comment, I want to make to any of you who have been working for at least 20 years. Now, some of you are approaching that; some of you are not even there yet, but even if you’re retired, if anybody has worked 20 years and over, I want to make this comment.
I don’t believe—to these folks, and this isn’t necessarily true to all of you, I will say that—but to many of you, I don’t believe I have to demonstrate that work does not provide ultimate meaning because you already know it. I mean, there are many of you who find your work to be tolerable, but not really fulfilling. And then there are those—and I know because you’ve shared this with me—there are a number of you who hate your work, but the fact is you can’t find any way out of it. You’re kind of trapped.
And there’s a book that I’ve been reading, which I highly recommend. It’s a book for leaders. It’s called The Paradox of Success: When Winning at Work Means Losing at Life. And it’s written by this guy, John O’Neill, who is president of the California School of Professional Psychology, which is a private graduate school devoted to the training of doctoral level clinical and organizational psychologists. And he’s a consultant for CEOs in Fortune 500 companies, a very, very brilliant man.
And he shares about being at an event several years ago in Long Island. And this event was billed as a gathering of America’s top 100 entrepreneurs. And you had Tom Peters who wrote that book, The Pursuit of Excellence, as a speaker. You had Peter Drucker; you had Peter Senge of MIT Sloan School of Management who wrote the book, The Fifth Discipline.
So, this was obviously a very high-level meeting, and O’Neill says—and he was there as a consultant—he says, “A lot of my clients were there.” And so, he was there. He said, “We started by listening to Peters whip up his high energy sales tales about leaders and their top-notch companies and what made them that way. He led us on a whirlwind tour across the business landscape,” and he’s a real animated speaker if you’ve ever seen him on television.
And he says, “Vibrating with his own excitement, he was utterly engaging. I was enchanted by his vision and wanted very much to believe in it. But the longer I listened, the more troubled I grew. There was something missing from Peter’s extravagant picture of contemporary success or excellence as he called it. His optimistic analysts didn’t fully describe the lives of business and professional leaders whom I knew. In fact, I knew that some of the excellent leaders in companies he referred to had serious problems that were not being addressed. And my personal experience had taught me that success is not always the glittering prize that it seems to be on the surface. I didn’t lead to look far for evidence of the toxic problems lurking below public achievements. The previous night, at this meeting, a tough and highly successful entrepreneur now seated three rows ahead of me told me about the train wreck of his personal life. His wife was threatening a vicious proxy fight for his company and his two children were threatening to join her. Nearby sat a client and friend whose media empire sprawls across the Southwest. He was suffering from depression and required medication to get out of bed. Two others I knew in the audience were considering leaving high-level positions that they hated. They felt stuck, afraid to let go, and at a loss of what to do next. They were starting to manifest ominous physical symptoms of extreme stress. Furthermore, I knew that in that living room and in offices around the country, countless other leaders were entering the early stages of career disenchantment. And a central part of the mystique of business success has been to present a corporate happy face and an image of solid strength to the public. The need to maintain an image of invulnerability and vitality is felt by successful individuals to men in particular, although women are by no means immune. But in human life, success cannot be sustained over the long term by denying the existence of problems. Problems having nothing to do with finding the best locations, computer systems, or product manager, but with deeply personal matters, such as the loss of passion, commitment, vision, and meaning.”
You know, when Thoreau made that comment years ago, I never really connected with it. It didn’t resonate with me when he said, “Men lead lives of quiet desperation.” It’s kind of finally hit me after reading, “men lead desperate lives”. And the reason he says quiet desperation is because we never tell anybody. We keep it under the veneer, under the surface. But I think he was right. Many men lead lives of quiet desperation.
Now I’d be remiss if I didn’t say this. There are some of you here that really love their work. And if this is the case for you, where you love getting up in the morning and you have a hard time going home because you love what you do doing, you need to consider yourself blessed. And I find usually these are the individuals that have been able to align their talents and their abilities and their passions with their work. Now when we turn to Ecclesiastes, Solomon has much to say about our work, or as he calls it our labor, and as you read the book of Ecclesiastes, it doesn’t take long to see that Solomon was quite an achiever.
He accomplished a great deal, and it’s all outlined in the book of Ecclesiastes. And then he says something quite instructive, quite interesting, in the fourth chapter, the fourth verse. He says, “And I saw that all labor and all achievement spring from man’s envy of his neighbor. This too is meaningless; a chasing after the wind.”
It’s interesting what he says here. He says, as humans, instead of being satisfied and content with what we do and living humble lives, we’re always looking at our neighbor. We’re always wondering what he’s up to. We’re always comparing ourselves to him. And, in the process, we find ourselves wanting to always impress others.
And what has struck me powerfully that as men, regardless of how much we accomplish and regardless of how successful we might be, we do not feel successful unless others know about it. I mean, think about what I just said. We don’t really feel successful unless we get recognized, unless others know about it, because true success in our eyes today is achievement plus proper recognition.
I was an economics major and though I don’t know that I ever read this book, I remember in one of the courses discussing it and maybe in reading parts of it. It was written in 1899 by a guy by the name of Thorstein Veblen and it’s become a famous book, even though it didn’t make a huge splash when it was published. It’s called The Theory of the Leisure Class. And from this book is where that term that everybody I think is familiar with, conspicuous consumption. He coined that phrase. And what you learn from this book is that successful people with a surplus of money, he says, and again, this is one hundred and five (105) years ago, he says, “we do not seek to employ it for useful purposes”.
And this is a quote from the book he says, “they do not seek to expand their own lives, to live more wisely, intelligently, understandingly. Instead, they use their money to impress people, to make a statement to the world.”
Now, why is it, why is this? Why do we always have to drag our neighbor into this? You read in the seventh chapter of Ecclesiastes, Solomon says, God made man simple. Man’s complex problems are of his own devising. And I think that’s true. Why are we this way? Why are we so bizarre? I think Tim Keller puts his finger on the issue. And Keller, I believe, is one of the great teachers in our country. He’s a Presbyterian minister up in New York City.
This is what he says. “For most Westerners, and that would be us, work is not about serving others. It is all about you. We are always trying to prove that we’re someone special. I’m as good as the next guy. There is this deep need by comparing to move up the ladder and prove something to yourself and to the world. There may be other good motives there, but at the core of your heart, there is an identity vacuum.
You don’t know who you are, or you would not feel the need to prove yourself.” I’ll read that again. “You don’t know who you are, or you would not feel the need to prove yourself. You would not be such a nightmare. Therefore, when you lose that big deal.” And then he says, “For this reason, work never seems to satisfy and we never get all the recognition that we think we deserve.”
My wife read a book that was published around 20 years ago called, it was a best seller, called The Search for Significance by a guy by the name of Robert McGee. And in preparing for this, I thumbed through it, and I noticed he asks three profound and probing questions that I think might bring some clarity as we—what we’re trying to do is look at ourselves and understand ourselves better. That’s a part of acquiring wisdom and understanding ourselves and what makes us tick. Listen to these three probing questions and ask, how do they apply to my life?
He asks, “How much different would your life be if it were not for the fear of failure?” Think about it. How much different would our lives be if we never allowed the worry of failure to really bother us. He goes on and says, “How much different would your life be if it were not for the fear and worry about what others think of you, winning the approval of others, seeking to measure up? How much different would your life be if you were delivered from that?”
And then this final question, I think, hits the nail on the head where he says, “How much of your life have you wasted trying to gain the approval of others?” Because what he says is gaining and keeping the approval of others requires a tremendous amount of energy. And he says, how much of your life have you wasted trying to impress the world.
Now I want to shift gears and take what I’ve just shared and kind of give an answer to this, or a part two to this. And this is what I want to share with you; it’s an insight that’s changed my life. I gleaned this insight from a guy by the name of Bob Buford, who wrote a book called Halftime. Listen to what Buford contends.
He contends that, “as time goes by, as we grow older and hopefully more mature, we begin to realize that the grind of success and the perpetual attempt to win the approval of others is not very gratifying.” In fact, what he says, is that it “kind of leaves you hollow.” And he says that “if men would truly be honest with themselves, they would recognize a deep yearning,” what he calls, “for a life of significance”. “Different from success,” he says, “significance is a sense of satisfaction you get when your life makes a difference that lasts over time.” Listen to what, and Solomon recognizes that, and that’s what he hopes for, but he says, this is the problem. He says, “For the wise man, like the fool, will not be long remembered. In days to come, both will be forgotten. Like the fool, the wise man too must die. So, I hated life because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me. All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.”
What he’s telling us, regardless of what we achieve, you know, it’ll soon be forgotten. I mean, think about this, guys. What have you accomplished in your work life that will be significant a hundred years from now? Or somebody else in a tape that I was listening to put it this way. Imagine in your city where you live, you’re the wealthiest person in that town, but that you know that you’re soon going to die. He says, what it often does, and the Bible even talks about this in Psalm 49. Men named land after their names.
He says, “Build the biggest building in the city you live in and put your name across it. And men do that because we think that’s a way we can be remembered.” But he points out, and I think we all recognize, the problem is sometime within the next hundred years, somebody who’s going to buy that building, is going to take your name off of it and put their name on it. And then he says, within 200 to 300 years, that building will probably be knocked down.
He says, there is no lasting remembrance over time and that’s why he makes this statement. He says, I hated my work. I hated my labor. This is all meaningless because nothing will be remembered as far as my life and my work goes. And then you go to the next chapter. And then he says, and this is of crucial importance.
He says this, “What does the worker gain from his toil? I’ve seen the burden God has laid on men. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the heart of men.” You see what he’s saying is that our lives are linked to eternity because we are eternal beings. And he says, because of that, we desire a permanence to our lives. We would like to think that our lives are going to have a permanence and a stamp and a significance in this life that I’ve lived.
For you who were here last time, I quoted several times from Armand Nicholi. For you who weren’t here, he is a psychiatrist who teaches at Harvard Medical School. He also teaches a course in the undergraduate school because he is an expert on the life of Freud and C.S. Lewis. And he wrote this wonderful book called The Question of God.
And listen to the way he puts this, he says, “Once we realize that this world is not our home, the process of becoming aware is extraordinarily painful. The unbelievable brevity of our lives conflicts with our deep-seated yearning for permanence and our lifelong fear of being separated from those we love, is a fear that haunts us from infancy to old age.”
At the 75th anniversary, they had a banquet celebrating the 75 years of awarding the Pulitzer Prize and on this occasion, they had a number of speakers, one of the speakers was a guy by the name of Russell Baker. Listen to part of his comment. He says, “There is a hunger in us for more than the money standard, for assurance that our lives have not been merely successful, but valuable. That we have accomplished something grander than just another well-heeled, loudly publicized journey from the diaper to the shroud. In short, that our lives have been consequential, that our lives truly made a difference.”
And the final thing I want to read to you is very sad, but I think, very insightful. I don’t know how many of you watch the news, and I think everybody pretty much keeps up with presidential politics, but probably one of the best-known presidential historians is a woman by the name of Doris Kearns Goodwin. She’s on the news all the time and you’ll see her a lot in the coming months. And what’s good is, she appears to be very neutral in her politics and very astute. And she shares this about President Lyndon Johnson.
She says, “A month before he died, he spoke to me with immense sadness in his voice. He said he was watching the American people absorbed in a new president, forgetting him, forgetting even the great civil rights laws that he had passed. He was beginning to think his quest for immortality had been in vain, that perhaps he would have been better off focusing his time and attention on his wife and his children so then he could have a different sort of immortality through his children and their children in turn. He could have depended on them in a way he couldn’t depend on American people he said. But it was too late. Four weeks later, he was dead. Despite all his money and power and accomplishment, he was completely alone when he died. His ultimate terror realized.”
When you think about it, if being President of the United States does not give you a sense of satisfaction and fulfillment, what will? So, this is the first component of our labor that Solomon addresses; this idea of achievement, recognition, and then significance.
The second component that you see in Ecclesiastics, which shouldn’t surprise us, he spends a lot of time on the fruit of our labor. In other words, the money that is generated by our work. And what I’d like to do is read to you about 10 verses. The first from chapter two and then the second from chapter five.
He says, “I hated life because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me. All of it, meaningless, a chasing after the wind. I hated all the things I had toiled for under the sun, because I must leave them to the one who comes after me and who knows whether he will be a wise man or a fool, yet he will have control over all the work unto which I have poured my effort and skill under the sun. This too is meaningless. So, my heart began to despair over all my toilsome labor under the sun.”
And then in chapter five, he says, “Whoever loves money never has enough. Whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income. As goods increase, so do those who consume them, and what benefit are they to the owner except to feast his eyes on them? The sleep of a laborer is sweet, whether he eats little or much, but the abundance of a rich man permits him no sleep.”
Did you see that article recently in The Wall Street Journal about the problem of insomnia?
“I’ve seen a grievous evil under the sun. Wealth hoarded to the harm of its owner or wealth lost through some misfortune. Naked a man comes from his mother’s womb and as he comes, so he departs. He takes nothing from his labor that he can carry in his hand.”
Solomon, who had untold wealth; if you take the wealth that’s described that he had in the book of Ecclesiastes and convert it into today’s dollars, someone has said Solomon would make Bill Gates look middle-class. And with what I’ve just read, I think Solomon makes three important observations that I want to mention just very briefly. The first is he says, and he kind of is frustrated.
You know, this doesn’t frustrate me, but obviously, he kind of stood back and was very philosophical about this. He says, “All of the fruit of my labor, which is a result of so much of my blood, sweat, and tears will one day pass away.” In other words, I must leave all that I have labored for, I have to leave it behind. He says, what’s worse, once I leave it behind, I have no control over it. I have no control over it. And he says, somewhere down the line, somewhere in future generations, somebody is going to squander it, going to squander everything I’ve worked for. And that’s why he says, I hate the fruit of my labor because it’s so transitory.
Now, the second point he makes is that we always want more. He says we never have enough. I was listening to a story about Ron Blue. I don’t know if you’re familiar with Ron Blue. He is an economic financial consultant and has written a number of books; maybe you’ve read them. And he supported a missionary organization over in Africa, then he decided, and this tribe that this missionary was working with lived in abject poverty and Blue wanted to observe this work since he was giving money to it and supporting it. And he goes and flies over there, and as he gets there, he sees they live in this squalor. I mean, truly impoverished.
And he asked this Christian missionary, you know, who is trying to reach these pagan people, he says, “What’s your greatest barrier to reaching these people with your message? What’s the greatest number one barrier?” He said, without hesitating, “materialism”. He said Ballou was dumbfounded. He says, “What do you mean?” He said, “Well, it’s quite simple. If a man has a manure hut, he wants a mud hut. If he has a mud hut, he wants a stone hut. If he has a thatched roof, he wants a tin roof. If he has one cow, he wants two cows. If he has one wife, he wants to wives, and on and on and on.”
And what this missionary points out to Blue, he says, “Materialism really is not so much about things as it is a condition of the heart; this insatiable desire for always wanting more.”
Now guys, in my research, as I was researching this issue of work and labor, I read a number of books and I continued to encounter the work of this one man, a very prominent psychologist who I had heard of, but I really didn’t know much about. Last night at 10:30, I was searching the Internet, trying to find as much information as I could. He is a prolific writer. His famous work is called Flow. I bet some of you read it; it’s called Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. And the only reason I hadn’t mentioned his name is it’s hard to pronounce. His first name is Mihaly. His last name is 21 letters and I’m going to give it a shot. It’s called Csikszentmihalyi. But he’s obviously a very prominent guy because he’s cited over and over in these wonderful books that I read.
And he wrote an article in 1999 for The American Psychologist, which I assume is a journal, and the title of his article was “If We’re So Rich, Why Aren’t We Happy?” And I don’t, I can’t tell, I don’t believe this guy is a religious guy, he doesn’t really say in his writing, but let me read to you what he says about this issue of us as humans always wanting more. He says, “As is true of addiction in general, material rewards at first enrich the quality of life. Because of this, we tend to conclude that more must be better.”
In other words, he’s saying, you know, we’re at a point in our lives where we have nothing and then the first time we start making some money, it immediately improves the quality of our lives. And it does.
He says, “The problem is we begin to believe every time we have more money, it’s going to increase the quality of my life. Because of this, we tend to conclude that more must be better, but life is rarely linear. In most cases, what is good in small quantities becomes commonplace and then harmful in larger doses. There are hidden costs that do not become apparent immediately.” He comments that “as people become increasingly materialistic, their sensitivity to the other rewards begins to atrophy. They become bored with things that are not immediately connected to making or spending money.”
He goes on and talks about friendship, art, literature, nature, beauty, religion, philosophy become less and less interesting. And then this Swedish economist, Stephen Lindner, concurs; he points out that “as income and therefore the value of one’s time increases, it becomes less and less rational to spend it on anything besides making money or on spending it conspicuously. The economic cost of playing with one’s child, reading poetry, attending a family reunion becomes too high. And so, one stops doing such irrational things. Eventually a person who only responds to material awards becomes blind to any other kind and loses the ability to derive happiness from other sources.”
Now this second point about wanting more is linked, I think, to the final point that Solomon makes, and that is the fruit of our labor does not satisfy us. In other words, money, wealth and material possessions do not satisfy the human heart. That’s what he contends. The question that I would throw out is, do we believe that? Do we really believe that?
In Lee Iacocca’s biography at the height of his success, he made this statement. “Here I am in the twilight years of my life still wondering what it’s all about. I can tell you this; fame and fortune is for the birds.” But the problem is, do we really believe him? I think our attitude is well, that’s easy for you to say, Lee, you got all that money and all that prestige.
A little over a year ago in Newsweek Magazine, there was an article, fascinating article, titled “The Science of Happiness”, where a group of psychologists, they did all this research about human beings and trying to find happiness. They called it subjective wellbeing. They said, that’s how happiness is, subjective wellbeing. In their research, they spent a lot of time interviewing people that had won the lottery. And it said their research indicated that when people win the lottery, and you can imagine this, I’m sure you’ve probably may have imagined it yourself, when people win the lottery, they experience a huge surge of euphoria in their lives. But in almost every case, no exceptions, they said their research showed that after six months, the same people returned to the same level of satisfaction they experienced before their sudden change of fortune.
You know, I don’t know if you believe Solomon or not about money and its ability to satisfy us. I think we’re kind of hard to convince. That’s why Jesus, I think, talks about the deceitfulness of riches, but whether we believe it or not, I do think that every single one of us would acknowledge that the fruit of our labor cannot purchase that which is of ultimate value and makes our lives so good. You cannot purchase a good marriage. You cannot purchase a meaningful family life. You cannot purchase good solid friendship. You cannot purchase with money, wisdom. You cannot purchase contentment in your soul. These things cannot be bought.
So where does this leave us? Well, in Luke 12:15, Jesus makes this comment. He says, “A man’s life is not measured by the abundance of his possessions.” And then, He launches into what I think is one of the great parables in Scripture in Luke 12:15. It’s about a successful businessman. Several years ago, I read this parable and a man had transformed it into a modern parable, and it’s a little lengthier than Jesus’ parable, which is about seven verses, which I invite you to go back and read. And I read this two and a half years ago at one of our first breakfasts, but there were only about 70 or 80 men then and even if you were there, you’ve probably forgotten it. So, I want to read it to you again. I think it’s very pertinent as we close this up.
This is the parable about a very successful man who owned a very successful business. Like many successful people, he was consumed with his work. He did what it took to get the job done. When he wasn’t working, his mind would always drift back to the business. At home, his wife was continually trying to get him to slow down, to spend more time at home. He was vaguely aware that the kids were growing up and he was missing it. However, the kids had come to the point of not expecting much from him. He would continually think to himself, I’ll be more available next year when things settle down. He, however, never seems to notice that things do not ever settle down. He continually reminds himself and his wife, I’m doing it for you and the kids. His wife bugs him about going to church and he goes on occasion, but he prefers to sleep in because it’s the only day to do so. He would have more time for church when things settle down. One night, he felt a twinge of pain in his chest and his wife rushes him to the hospital. He suffered a mild heart attack, and his doctor informs him of the changes he must make in his lifestyle. So, he cuts down on red meat and ice cream and begins an exercise program. Soon, he feels much better, and all the pain goes away. Eventually, he lets things slide reminding himself that I’ll get in better shape when things settle down. One day, the CFO of his company comes into his office to see him. He is told by the CFO that their business is booming to the point that we cannot keep up with all the orders. He says, ‘We have the chance to strike the mother lode.’ He says, ‘If we can catch this wave, we can be set for life. However, we need larger facilities, new equipment, and the new state of the art technology and delivery systems to keep up with all the orders.’ So, the man becomes more consumed with his work. Every waking moment is devoted to this once in a lifetime opportunity. He tells his wife, ‘You know what this means, don’t you? When I’m through with this new phase, I’ll be able to relax. We’ll be set for life. I’ve covered all the bases. I prepared for every contingency. We’ll be financially secure and can finally take all those trips you’ve been wanting to go on.’ As he shares this with her, she realizes she’d heard this before, and she didn’t get her hopes up too much. And so, that night at about 11 o’clock, she tells her husband she’s going up to bed, and asks him if he is ready to go up with her. He said, ‘You go ahead, I’ll be up in a minute. I have one thing I need to finish’, as he sat in front of his computer. She goes up, falls asleep, and wakes up at three in the morning and realizes her husband is not in bed. She goes downstairs to get him and finds him asleep in the front of the computer. She reaches out to wake him up, but his skin is cold. He doesn’t respond. She gets this sick feeling in the pit of her stomach. She dials 9-1-1. And by the time the paramedics arrive, they tell her he died of a massive heart attack some hours ago. His death is the major item of discussion in the financial community. His extensive obituary was written up in all the papers. It is a shame he was dead for he would have loved to read all the good things written about him. They had a Memorial service for him and because of his prominence, the whole community comes out for it. Several people get up to eulogize him at the service. One said he was one of the leading entrepreneurs of the day. He was a real leader. Another said he was a real innovator in new technology and delivery systems. A third said he was a man of principle. He would never cheat anyone. It was noted by many that he was a pillar in the community and was known and liked by everyone. His life was truly a success. Then they buried him, and they all went home. Late that night, in the cemetery, an angel of God comes along and makes his way through all the markers and tombstones. He stands before this man’s memorial tombstone and traces with his finger the single word that God has chosen to summarize this man’s life.
And if you’re familiar with the parable, you know what that one word is. Jesus says about this man, “You fool.” And listen, these are Jesus’s words. “You fool. This very night, your soul is required of you and now who will own all you’ve prepared. So is the man who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich towards God.”
Jesus is saying, this man is a fool. And it’s important to know when you’re talking about being a fool, this has nothing to do with a lack of mental capacity. We read about foolish, brilliant men every day, who are going to jail. Foolishness refers to an outlook of life, an outlook that does not embrace God’s definition of reality. Jesus is saying this, guys. Money made this man a fool because it blinded him to the spiritual reality of life. And the question is, could that happen to me or has that happened to me?
The question that others will naturally ask when you read this parable, because it’s really kind of vague, when Jesus says being rich in the things of God or towards God, what does that mean? Well, it means a lot of things and I’ll get to that next time we meet. When we talk, how do you find meaning in life? But I think that it’s important to realize what the apostle Paul said. He put his finger on the starting place.
He says, “You know, the grace of our Lord, Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake became poor, so that you, through His poverty, might become rich, spiritually rich.” And then, in Ephesians 1, he says, “In Him, in Christ, we have redemption through His blood.” In other words, he says, we have the forgiveness of our sins, according to the riches of His grace, which He lavished on us.
Guys, the foundation of our wealth is the forgiveness of our sins. And the forgiveness of our sins clearly comes through what the Bible says, repentance and faith. Faith, we kind of have a grasp of. Faith is believing and desiring Jesus’s death to atone for my sins. Repentance is something we don’t seem to grasp real well, but repentance is at the heart of the New Testament message. It’s at the heart of Christianity. Repentance involves our commitment. Repentance is merely this approach.
Lord Jesus, I give my life to you. Lord Jesus, I want to live my life for you. This is essential in becoming a Christian because if we refuse repentance, what we’re really saying is I want to live for myself. I thought about this this morning; repentance is to the Christian life what saying your vows is to a marriage. Can you imagine somebody saying, I want to get married, but I don’t want to have these vows and I don’t want to have to live them out.
You know, if you think about it, this is a real paradox. We gain immeasurable riches by giving up and surrendering ourselves. And that’s why Jesus says, if you want to find eternal life, you have to give up your life.
Final thought and we’ll be finished. If Jesus were standing before this distinguished group, and if we asked Him to make a comment about our work and success and the fruit of our labor, I wonder what would He say to us? And I believe that out of love, He might tell us the same thing He told his disciples. Now Jesus always told them not what they wanted to hear, what they needed to hear. And this to me is a powerful, powerful verse from Mark 8:36, “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?”
In other words, He’s saying, what good is it over the course of your life, if you had everything you want materially, but you forfeit your soul for all eternity? And Solomon, when he wrote Proverbs and he really had his perspective, right, listen to what Solomon said in Proverbs 11:4. He says, “Riches do not profit in the day of wrath.”
In fact, if you think about it, this is ultimately what we learned from this parable where Jesus tells us we are all fools if we end this life and are materially successful, but at the same time are spiritually destitute. Let me pray.
Father, we thank You for the gift of life, the gift of family. Well, we thank You for the gift of friendship. So many friendships exist in this room, but we also thank You that You give us light to live by. You give us truth that cuts through all the things this world and this society tells us we’ve got to have. Lord, I pray that You would give us wisdom, that You would give us a heart to want to know You. And then if we don’t know You Father, that we would desire that relationship that starts by coming and recognizing that we’re sinful. We need Your cleansing. And that we must repent that we must come and say, Lord, I give You my life. I want to live for You. We thank You Lord as we leave this place just for all that You’ve done for us. And we pray these things in Christ’s name. Amen.