I think the Beatles said it best – "Money can’t buy me love." That’s right –
Say you don't need no diamond ring
And despite what the Pharaohs thought, you can’t take it with you either! Great pyramids were built to hold all manner of treasure, but those bodies are still there a moldering in the grave, along with all those goods. Sometimes we forget this, but we didn’t bring anything into the world, and we’re not going to take anything out with us!
The author of this little letter that’s attributed to Paul, takes on the question of wealth, and from the context it appears that at least a few members of that early Christian community were wealthy. The writer fears that they might be tempted to walk away from their faith because of that wealth.
Of course having no money can be just as destructive of the soul. Frederick Douglass declared that "the want of money is the root of all evil to the colored people." And as Ralph Wood writes of Douglass’ observation:
He saw that humiliating, hopeless poverty reduces human beings to bestial creatures. Even black freedmen, he declared, "were shut out from all lucrative employments and compelled to be merely barbers, waiters, coachmen and the like, at wages so low that they could lay up little or nothing. Their poverty has kept them ignorant and their ignorance kept them degraded."1
With Douglass’s warning in mind, we return to the question: If money can’t buy me love and I can’t take it with me, then what should I do with this fact of life – you need money to survive? Being content with what I have is okay, but is there more than simply being content? Is there something I can seek that has true value?
The focus of this text is wealth. You see this clearly in verses 6-10 and 17-19, which speak specifically about such things as the impermanence of wealth and the right usage of wealth. But right in the middle of this discussion is a self-contained unit that moves beyond the discussion of money. You could remove it and move from verse 10 to verse 17 without skipping a beat, but these six verses belong here because they tell us how to be content. It is because of faith in God that we can resist the lure of wealth. While it’s true that riches can draw us away from faith, faith can also fortify us as we seek to be God’s people.
This passage isn’t all that radical. Unlike Jesus, this early Christian leader doesn’t tell us to give it all away. He just warns us about being held captive by its attractiveness. Still, despite its lack of radicalness, the message is powerful, because our culture continually tells us that we should want more and seek more. Every time we turn on the TV, we see ads for products that we probably can live without, and couples are told that even if money can’t buy them love, their love will be considerably enhanced through the purchase of a diamond ring.
1. Ralph Wood, "A Passion for Lesser Things," Christian Century, 1995
Rev. Dr. Robert D. Cornwall
Pastor, First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
18th Sunday after Pentecost
September 30, 2007