The Powerball Lottery winning prize for the drawing later today is estimated to be $800,000,000. This is the highest figure ever in our lottery history.
Thousands of people are lining up to purchase tickets for the chance to win this massive amount of money. Of course, the chances to win are something in the neighborhood of 1 in over 290,000,000. So, the likelihood is far greater that you will walk away with a ticket that is worth $0.00 (nothing) rather than a ticket worth millions of dollars.
People are talking about how much $800,000,000 is, really. One graphic that I saw on a news channel showed Earth with one dollar bills wrapped in a single file around the circumference of the planet. The commentator said that you would have to go around the Earth over 3 times before the stack of dollar bills would be exhausted. Of course, there are also the statements that you could purchase 100 Lamborghinis or some million number of Starbucks coffees.
But the reality is that no one knows what they would do with that amount of money. Granted, the government would take over half in taxes, but even then, who would not be willing to have an extra $350,000,000 in their checking account!
Scripture says much about money. The Old Testament prophet Jeremiah quotes the Lord:
Thus says the LORD, “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD.”
Jeremiah 9:23-24 [ESV]
Scripture recognizes that humankind, in our arrogance and desire for control, would trust in our wisdom, might and wealth for protection rather than looking to God. In contrast, God says that understanding Him and learning about Him is far better than mere earthly riches.
This thought is repeated by the writer of Proverbs:
Whoever trusts in his riches will fall, but the righteous will flourish like a green leaf.
Proverbs 11:28 [ESV]
Whether we want to admit it or not, we know that worldly things we trust in can be wiped out in a second. Illness can take our physical and mental prowess away from us with a speed that is, at times, breathtaking. Robbers, fire, stock market crashes can erase fortunes in a day. Righteousness, however, remains forever.
Paul in the first letter to Timothy discusses the desire for monetary wealth and the trap that it can disguise.
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.
1 Timothy 6:9-10 [ESV]
This does not mean that money is inherently bad. The love of money is the problem. When we replace God with money, problems then arise. Indeed, Paul continues in the same chapter to advise Timothy about the proper use of wealth:
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 Timothy 6:17-19 [ESV]
Jesus puts money and riches in stark focus in the story about the rich young ruler found in Matthew 9:16-26, Mark 10:17-31 and in Luke 18:18-30.
When I think of the rich young ruler, my mind goes to the vision of The Biltmore mansion in Asheville, North Carolina. It is a beautiful mansion, on immaculate grounds that go on seemingly forever. The home was built by George Vanderbilt and sits on an 8000 acre estate in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
The young man comes to Jesus asking about what he must do to be saved and proudly tells Jesus that he has kept all of the Ten Commandments from his youth, anticipating that surely this would be sufficient for salvation.
Rather than getting into a debate about the accuracy of his statement, Jesus simply says that the young man should sell everything that he has and give it to the poor, at which point he would have treasure in heaven and could follow Jesus. The young man’s response comes next:
But when he had heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich.
Luke 18:23 [ESV].
The young man had apparently forgotten what the first and tenth commandments require. By telling the young ruler to sell everything, Jesus put his finger on the idolatry that was at the center of the young man’s being — riches.
The Gospel writers then record what Jesus said as the young man left, unchanged, unrepentant and unsaved.
Jesus, seeing that he had become sad, said, “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”
Luke 18:24-25 [ESV]
Note that Jesus is not saying that riches are evil or that riches disqualify a person from entering heaven.
Rather, for this rich young ruler, money had taken the place rightfully belonging to God. This is the seductive lure of riches, in whatever form those riches may take. Jesus is teaching the disciples that those who are rich are tempted to depend on their riches for security, thereby making it difficult for many of them to admit that they need God.
The focus of our thoughts here is on money, particularly the $800,000,000 lottery winnings that are “up for grabs”. But we would be remiss if we thought that only money is the topic of the Scripture’s warnings. We can be rich in achievement in intellectual, artistic, academic, commercial activities, or any of a myriad of other avenues that we can take during our lifetime. Persons who are achievers of great accolade or who have risen in the ranks of their peers at work, school, etc. are in the same position as those who have great monetary wealth, even if it is not $800,000,000.
The same warning applies – turn to the Lord God and rely on Him for your security, in the here and now as well as for eternity. Because your wealth, awards, plaques, possessions will have no ability to save when life ends. Job 1:21 reiterates that we were born naked and we shall go into the grave naked … only the treasures that we have stored up in heaven will remain.
Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD, and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones. Honor the LORD with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce; then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine.
Proverbs 3:7-10 [ESV]
Seek the Lord for wisdom. Use your wealth, your talents, your strength, your intellect, your musical abilities, your business acumen, all your talents and abilities for the honor and glory of God. Then it will be a blessing to you both now and forever more.
Father, I pray that I would honor and glorify you with all that you have provided to me. Whatever money, talent, intellect, abilities that you have granted to me, may I remember that they came from you and that they belong to you. Forgive me when I have taken credit for something that rightfully was due to your grace and mercy. I love you Lord. Forgive me when I have failed you. Strengthen me and enable me to walk in your grace and mercy giving all honor and glory to you, all the days of my life.