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March 18, 1991

Don’t Be Too Impressed (Part One)

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Do not be overawed when a man grows rich. . . for he will take nothing with
him when he dies, his splendor will not descend with him. PSALM 49:16-17
Once when I (Tom) was on a trip with my parents and siblings, we stopped for supper at the home of some family friends. As we pulled up to their very large house (it was a mansion, really), my father said to my mother, “That’s quite a shack!”
They didn’t realize that my brother, who was about five years old, was eavesdropping. And much to my parents’ chagrin, the first thing out of his mouth when he met the man of the house at the door was, “That’s quite a shack!”
We laugh, but this little story aptly illustrates how natural it is for us to give great deference, either in our words or our actions, to people who are wealthy. Think about what you say when you meet a rich person: “Wow, your house is amazing!” “You must be really good at what you do.” “You clearly know how to manage your money.” “Man, you’ve really accomplished a lot here.” We praise them— simply because they have a lot of money.
Measuring a person’s value based upon his or her bank account is not an invention of modern society; people have been doing it for thousands of years. Even Job, the first book of the Bible to be written, begins with a description of the main character’s wealth. But it does seem that society’s emphasis on money is stronger now than it’s ever been. The more money you have, the more valuable you are to society. The larger your stock portfolio, the more important you are. When was the last time you saw a listing in Forbes magazine of the five hundred poorest Americans? It would never happen; the rich are always the ones who are elevated in our culture.
Even those of us who know where our worth really comes from tend to get awed by wealth because we’ve grown up with such a mind-set. But in Psalm 49:16-17, David brings us back to reality. He doesn’t say wealth is bad or evil; he just tells us not to be overawed when someone gets rich because when he dies, he’ll end up just like the rest of us—with nothing.
Keep that in mind next time you visit the home of a wealthy friend who seems to have everything!

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