“Enjoy it but don’t die for it”: Pastor Benny Ho shares 3 ways we can have a right perspective on wealth
by Gracia Lee // November 17, 2021, 3:53 pm
"Money really is not the ultimate answer to life, so let’s not die for money. Let’s not wear ourselves out chasing after it. Don’t trade your family, your friends, your faith for money," said Ps Benny Ho at the N5 Conference. Photo from a separate event in 2018.
Did you know that there is an ice hotel in Quebec, Canada, that is built entirely out of ice and snow?
A glittering masterpiece for both locals and tourists to marvel at, Hôtel de Glace requires some 40,000 tons of snow and 500 tons of ice to construct each year, and is complete with ice sculptures, ice beds, an ice bar and even an ice chapel.
“That’s exactly what’s so limiting about earthly wealth. For all its attraction, it is only temporal.”
The thing is, the hotel is only open from January to March – the winter months. When winter is done and April arrives, all that had been carefully carved and sculpted will melt. And the hotel will have to be rebuilt from scratch the next winter.
Recounting the first time he read about this ice hotel in an in-flight magazine, Pastor Benny Ho said: “I thought to myself: That’s exactly what’s so limiting about earthly wealth. For all its attraction, it is only temporal.”
The aim of the conference was to equip believers to steward personal financial resources according to God’s Word and for Kingdom purposes.
Digging into Scripture, which he calls “the best economic book of all time”, Ps Benny’s talk – titled What Can Possibly Go Wrong With Wealth? – was based on James 5:1-6, in which James chastised the rich and wealthy in his time to “weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you” (James 5:1).
“That’s not exactly encouraging,” said Ps Benny. “My question is: Why? What went wrong?”
Here are three ways wealth can lead us down the wrong path, as well as three practical steps we can take to guard against falling prey to its grasp.
Wealth can go wrong when …
1. We have the wrong perspective of it
Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. (James 5:1-3)
According to James, the rich were hoarding their wealth instead of using them to serve God and to bless people, said Ps Benny. “Instead of laying up treasures in heaven, they were literally hoarding treasures on earth.”
Just as fire eats away at flesh a bit at a time, so does materialism eat away at our soul bit by bit.
He noted that James did not say that it is a sin to be rich – in fact, many saints of God like Abraham and Joseph were blessed with great wealth – nor does the Bible condemn saving up to provide for our family. (2 Corinthians 12:14)
But the problem is when we accumulate and hoard what we have. Quoting theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Ps Benny said: “Earthly goods are given to be used, not to be collected … Hoarding is idolatry.”
Hoarding is also futile, as the things we accumulate are bound to fade away one day, just like the ice hotel, added Ps Benny.
“The pictures that James used were the very things that the Ancient World used to portray their wealth – crops, clothes, precious metals. And these can all decay. So (James was telling them that) what was happening to their treasures was what was happening to their souls,” he said.
He cautioned that just as fire eats away at flesh a bit at a time (James 5:3), so does materialism eat away at our soul bit by bit.
2. When we pursue it unjustly
Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. (James 5:4)
Another problem with the rich during James’ times was that they were becoming wealthy by exploiting, oppressing and manipulating the poor.
“There are ways to make money that honour God, but there are also ways to make money that dishonour Him.”
“They built their net worth by withholding what they owed their workers, and God hated that,” said Ps Benny.
He pointed out that the word “cries” in James 5:4 is translated from the Greek word krazo, which is used to describe the appeal of believers to God.
“When people cry out to God in situations like this, guess what? Guess who hears their cries? It is the Lord Himself who hears the cries of the poor. And I’ll tell you this, brothers and sisters, when God hears the cries of the poor, He acts on their behalf (Psalm 14:6; Proverbs 22:22-23),” said Ps Benny.
“The point is this: While there is nothing intrinsically wrong with wealth, there are right and wrong means of obtaining wealth. As believers, we want to have nothing to do with what is illegal, immoral or unethical,” he said, adding that these principles should also govern where we invest our money.
He added: “I believe there are ways to make money that honour God, but there are also ways to make money that dishonour Him.”
3. When we use it for the wrong purposes
You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the innocent one, who was not opposing you. (James 5:5-6)
Instead of using their wealth to serve God and to bless people, the rich in James’ time used their wealth for their own indulgence.
Ps Benny noted that the word “self-indulgence” is translated from the Greek word spatalao, which literally means “to give oneself to pleasure”.
“All of their resources were used to bring pleasure to themselves, and they were literally robbing the poor to fatten themselves, if I can put it that way,” he said.
Little did they know, however, that they were fattening themselves for their own slaughter on the Day of Judgement, he added.
“If I am to grow good corn, I must help my neighbours grow good corn.”
What then should we do with our riches, if not to please ourselves?
To answer this question, Ps Benny told a story about a farmer who would win the first prize in a corn-growing competition every year.
When a reporter asked what was his secret to winning, he said simply: “I share my corn seed with my neighbours.”
Baffled, the reported wondered how he could afford to share his best corn seed with his neighbours when they were also entering the same competition.
The farmer replied: “Oh, I must do this. Don’t you know? The wind picks up the corn pollen from field to field. If my neighbours grow inferior corn, the cross-pollination will cause my crop quality to go down. If I am to grow good corn, I must help my neighbours grow good corn.”
Said Ps Benny: “That’s the key to success in this life: To help others to succeed. We cannot live our lives totally inward for ourselves, or else our wealth will end up in our destruction.”
So how can we guard against falling prey to bad practices?
1. Be watchful of hoarding wealth
“Wealth has a way of gripping a man. In fact, I think it has gripped the whole of our society and even Christians can be seduced to bow our knees to this false god of Mammon,” said Ps Benny.
“When materialism has done its worst, it can make slaves out of us.”
The grip of money is so strong that it can destroy us, he added, pointing to 1 Timothy 6:10, in which the Apostle Paul warns that those who are eager for money can wander from the faith and pierce themselves with many griefs.
Materialism causes us to be fixated on the temporal and fills our souls with anxiety that can never be satisfied (Ecclesiastes 5:10), he cautioned.
“The more you get, the more you’ll want … When materialism has done its worst, it can make slaves out of us.
“We all know the famous (and extremely wealthy business magnate) John Rockefeller. When he was asked how much money it takes for a man to be truly satisfied, standard answer: Just a little bit more.”
But at the end of the day, the danger of hoarding wealth is that you can lose it – not once, but twice. “You either lose it before you die, or you will definitely lose it when you die,” said Ps Benny.
2. Be liberated to enjoy your wealth
“The Bible never teaches that we must be poor in order to be spiritual,” said Ps Benny, cautioning participants from swinging to the other extreme of becoming a “reverse snob”.
“Poverty is not the answer to materialism. Contentment is.”
“I am a reverse snob when I feel more spiritual than you because you put on an Armani but I put on a Uniqlo. I feel more spiritual than you because I wear a G-Shock but you wear a Patek Philippe … I feel more spiritual than you because I drive a Toyota and you drive a Mercedes,” he elaborated.
“Poverty is not the answer to materialism. Contentment is,” he said.
The key to being contented is to see our wealth as a gift and blessing from God’s hand, he added. This allows us to freely enjoy it, yet also guards us from being resentful when God chooses to take it away.
Pointing to the example of Job, Ps Benny noted how Job was still able to praise God even when he had lost all his wealth, because he acknowledged that it was the Lord who had given it in the first place (Job 1:21).
“That’s the attitude that we should have. Let’s enjoy, be freed up, be liberated to enjoy everything that God gives you, but hold it with an open palm … If God chooses to take it away, God need not have to pry open our fingers,” he said.
“And if the Lord should prompt us to give it away, we can release it because we recognise that it is a gift from God in the first place.”
3. Be grateful for the grace to enjoy wealth
The ability to even enjoy our wealth is in itself God-given grace, said Ps Benny, adding that not everyone has this ability due to reasons like poor health or poor relationships.
In Ecclesiastes 6:2-3, King Solomon said that a stillborn child is better off than a man who has great wealth but is not enabled by God to enjoy it.
“So, for those of us who think that we constantly don’t have enough, like ‘My car is too old, my house is too small, my computer is too outdated, my food is too boring’, let’s be thankful and realise that just to be able to enjoy the little or much that we have, it is a grace from God,” said Ps Benny.
Don’t die for money
Summarising his sharing, Ps Benny again pointed to the temporal nature of wealth described in Proverbs 23:4-5:
Do not wear yourself out to get rich;
do not trust your own cleverness.
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 ability to even enjoy our wealth is in itself God-given grace.
He said: “Money really is not the ultimate answer to life, so let’s not die for money. Let’s not wear ourselves out chasing after it. Don’t trade your family, your friends, your faith for money.”
But if God so chooses to bless us with wealth, be thankful and enjoy it, using it wisely to serve God and bless others, he added.
Leaving the audience with 2 Corinthians 9:10-11, he said: “Paul was talking about money here. He tells us that God desires to increase our store of seed.
“But the question is this: What are seeds for? It is for sowing. But what is sowing for? So that we can get a harvest. But what is the purpose of a harvest? It’s so that we can be generous.
“Why do we want to be generous? It’s so that in the end, God can be glorified through all of this. That’s the end goal of all our wealth.”
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