The Vanity of the Love of Wealth


“He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity” (Ecclesiastes 5:10).

If there is one thing that most people want from life, it is security. Candidates run for public office with their proposed programs for social security. Offers of employment and opportunities for career advancement are presented as providing security in life. Young couples start out looking for economic security, usually interpreted to mean having such things as a house, furniture, a car, and stylish clothing. As we grow older, we tend to think about security in terms of having a nest egg that will provide an adequate retirement.

The reality is that security in this life is elusive. The future is too uncertain for us ever to reach the point of absolute security. In fact, the desire for security is itself largely the result of uncertainty and the fear of the unknown. Sadly, too often we attempt to find security in the wrong things. This is part of the vanity of life under the sun.

In this section of Ecclesiastes (5:10-19), the Preacher reflects upon the pursuit of wealth, and concludes that it, too, is vanity. There are several reasons for this conclusion.

Money will not satisfy. It creates a craving, an inner emptiness, that it never fulfills. The one who make the pursuit of wealth an obsession, his sole purpose in life, finds that it never fills the void. There is always the desire for more.

There is also the problem of those people, hangers-on, who will want to spend your money. “When goods increase, they increase who eat them, and what advantage has the owner but to see them with his eyes?” (v. 11).

Along with money and possessions come the worry and stress about how to manage them. “Sweet is the sleep of a laborer, whether he eats little or much, but the full stomach of the rich will not let him sleep” (v. 12).

This points to another reality, a “grievous evil”: wealth is too easily lost. This might be through poor management, “riches kept by their owner to his hurt,” or riches lost through a “bad venture” (vv. 13-14).

The stark reality, finally, is that you cannot take any of it with you. “As he came from his mother’s womb he shall go again, naked as he came… This is also a grievous evil: just as he came, so shall he go, and what gain is there for him who toils for the wind?” (vv. 15-19).

The Preacher’s message is not that wealth and material possessions are evil in themselves. They are the “gift of God,” so enjoy them, and be thankful (vv. 18-20). But while it is “good and fitting” to find enjoyment in them, material things by themselves will never provide ultimate satisfaction. That’s because God put eternity into man’s heart (Eccles. 3:11). We need something more substantial than material things to bring ultimate satisfaction—and security.

Jesus told the Parable of the Rich Fool to illustrate the principle that “one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” It’s the story of a very successful rich man who built larger barns to store all his goods. Then, with a great sense of satisfaction, he congratulated himself in his wisdom, his accomplishments and the security that it promised for the future. But his life was about to end unexpectedly, and his wealth he could not take with him. Far from being wise, he was a fool. “So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God” (Luke 12:15-21).

Paul’s words summarize the principle well: “But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs… As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life” (1 Tim. 6:6-10, 17-19).

Dan Petty