Pleasure and Poverty

Whoever loves pleasure will be a poor man; he who loves wine and oil will not be rich.”

- Proverbs 21:17

Proverbs gives us some of the clearest evidence that God’s Word is designed for all of life. There is no area of human life that the book ignores, and it contains a great deal of teaching on the most important realities with which we deal as creatures in this world. Topics such as sex and marriage occupy large sections of the book (for example, Prov. 5; 7; 31:10–31), and we also find many proverbs on righteous leadership and statecraft (8:15; 20:28; 29:4). The entire book is an exposition of the most important matter of all—the fear of the Lord (1:7).

Since Proverbs features much teaching on those areas with which we are most concerned, it unsurprisingly also includes a great deal of instruction on money and wealth. Among the most important emphases regarding money in the book of Proverbs is its commendation of thrift and patience. “Wealth gained hastily will dwindle, but whoever gathers little by little will increase it” (13:11). Proverbs frowns on get-rich-quick schemes and advocates patient saving and investing. It commends the delay of pleasure so that wealth has time to build, not the spending of one’s entire paycheck each pay period. In sum, the book of Proverbs exhorts us to delay gratification, as we see in today’s passage.

Proverbs 21:17 makes the important point that lovers of pleasure will find themselves in poverty. If we live for short-term gratification, short-term gratification will be all that we receive. We will continually run out of money every time we get it if we make it our aim to enjoy every conceivable pleasure that we can afford. There will be nothing left to put away for the future, and no wealth that can grow steadily through investment.

Wine and oil (v. 17b) symbolize the blessing of the Lord (Deut. 33:24; Ps. 104:14–15; Isa. 61:3), but if we pursue the blessings of God as ends in themselves, we will never find them. They were not meant to be those things that fully and finally satisfy us but rather add-ons, extra benefits that come with serving and loving the only One who can provide us with full satisfaction, even God Himself (Ps. 17:15). Just as the one who loves money will not be satisfied with money (Eccl. 5:10), the one who loves pleasure will not be satisfied with pleasure. He will continually seek greater and greater finite pleasures, bankrupting himself both financially and spiritually in the process. But the one who seeks the Lord above all will find himself fully satisfied and secure in God.

Coram Deo

Our culture encourages us to pursue pleasure at all costs, to look for what will please us in the present and not to think about the price we might pay in the future if we do not delay gratification. However, God would have us look toward the future so that we might delay pleasure for the sake of a greater good. It is right to appreciate the good gifts of God, but these gifts are not satisfying as ends in themselves.

Passages for Further Study

Psalm 107:8–9
Proverbs 19:23
Luke 8:14
2 Peter 2:10b–17

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