Wealth can’t save you

Chatswood Baptist Church https://www.chatswoodbaptist.com.au

Psalm 49

How often in life do we not listen well, do we not really pay attention. If you ask my lovely wife, then I have no doubt that she could tell you a time or two where I might have not given her my full attention. I admit there are times where I have been distracted and while I should have been focusing on what she was trying to tell me, I had my mind elsewhere. It was not only rude of me, but not listening meant not hearing and understanding what Larissa had asked and this has led to wrong decisions and frustrations. In not actively listening or paying attention we often end up making a mess of a situation. However, sometimes not listening properly can have much bigger consequences. The biggest air disaster in history happened when KLM flight 4805 collided with Pam Am Flight 1736 on March 27, 1977 at Tenerife in the Canary Islands. 583 People died because one of the Pilots wasn’t listening properly, he wasn’t paying attention. He didn’t ensure that he had understood the instructions given and therefore didn’t follow them. Now of course not everything is of vital importance like take off instructions to a Pilot. But perhaps this psalm is that important?

Psalm 49 begins with what I would label ‘A call to pay attention’! Last time I preached on a psalm, it was Psalm 113 which was part of the Hallel group of psalms and is a call to Praise Yahweh. Well it may be helpful this morning to think of Psalm 49 as a ‘call to pay attention’ and be instructed by the psalmist.This psalm is a wisdom psalm, or some would call it an instructional psalm. This type of psalm typically asks a question and in the case of psalm 49 the question is posed as a sung riddle. Let’s read the first four verses that serve as the psalms introduction

  1. Pay attention! v1-4

“Hear this, all you peoples; listen, all who live in this world, both low and high, Rich and poor alike: My mouth will speak words of wisdom; The meditation of my heart will give you understanding. I will turn my ear to a proverb; With the harp I will expound my riddle:”

This message is important. The first four verses all point to this. We can see this by the repetition of the psalmist, hear, listen. It is not only important, but it is for all people, not just Israel, but for all who might read it or hear it. To further emphasize that it is for all people, the writer makes it clear that financial status and indeed social status are not a factor in whether or not to listen to this psalm. No one is too good or too bad to not need to listen. It is a message for all not just because the psalmist says it is, for this is scripture, this is God breathed and this is why it is for all. Psalm 49 speaks of eternal consequences. As we dive into the pool of this psalm we will see that it does speak to all of us where we are. We just need to hear and understand. Not only is the psalmist calling us to pay attention, he is also asking us to stay attentive. For if we do we will gain understanding. 

  • The Idol of Money v5-6

We often talk about idolatry or putting our trust in something apart from God. However, today’s psalm, psalm 49 focuses in on the idol of money or wealth. It goes to the heart of one of the major problems we have in the western world and indeed in the western church, the worship of money.

Do you know who the wealthiest person in the world was in the 1980’s? I had a guess or two, however, I had never heard of Yoshiaki Tsutsumi, yet he was a Japanese Property magnate in the 1980’s and by 1987 was worth $20 Billion US (which is 44 billion in today’s money). Many will know Bill Gates or Warren Buffet, for they are household names and were the richest people in the world through the 90’s and 00’s respectively. I introduce these people to you because this psalm that we are looking at today is indeed talking about money, about wealth. I am not going to speculate about where these three aforementioned men sit in relation to their relationship with God, as I don’t really know. They are though in financial terms, at the top of the tree. 

Our society is centred around the idea of making money. We live in a capitalist society. Many in society want to be wealthy and look upon wealth as something to aspire to. Something to put their trust in.

“Why should I fear when the evil days come, when wicked deceivers surround me – Those who trust in their wealth and boast of their great riches.”

There is little doubt that when the psalmist who wrote psalm 49 spoke, he was speaking about wealth in terms of financial riches. While there are other types of worth or riches. Indeed, there are proverbs that speak of other types of wealth. One of my favourites is Proverbs 31:10 “A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies.” This is speaking of wealth in terms of character. However, today’s psalm is much more in keeping with the kind of wealth spoken about in Proverbs 22:7, where we read “The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is slave to the lender.” 

Now there is a truth in this verse isn’t there. Indeed, for anyone here (and I include myself) that has a mortgage on a property we are indebted to the lender. We would probably not use the language of being a slave to the banks, but there is no escaping that we under an obligation to the lender. The money will have to be paid back in some fashion. I pray that this will be through gainful employment and the rightful rendering of principal and interest to the bank. Although for some this may mean that the house which is mortgaged will need to be sold at some stage to cover the cost. 

In verses 5 & 6 the rich and the poor are represented. The evil days where the wicked surround me. The wicked here are the very people who are not only rich, but, who have put their trust in money, in their wealth. The psalmist is saying don’t fear the wicked wealthy ones. Yes, they may boast in their great riches. The Hebrew word for boast and trust in at its root as I understand it can have the meaning of praise. That these people don’t only boast in their wealth, they actually praise their wealth. Those who trust in their money can and will use their wealth to benefit themselves at another’s’ expense. Examples of this are seen individually and corporately. Australian clothes brands have been under the spotlight over the last decade as the cheap overseas labour wage practices have come to light. There have been instances of child labour used by multi-national companies to make a larger profit. If the mighty dollar is their God, and profit their aim, there will always be people mistreated to keep this going. But the psalmist is saying to us that these deceivers trust in their money, but have no lasting power. They may make life hard for a while, but that won’t last. 

While we were away on the Great Ocean Road enjoying God’s wonderful creation, somehow the game monopoly had been packed into our car and brought out part way through our trip. Hand on heart I don’t like monopoly. My family know it, and generally speaking I don’t join in the game. It is a game of chance and to me quite cruel, for in the end everyone becomes a victim of the one who owns the most property. The object of Monopoly is for the winner to end up with everything and the rest with nothing. We are all indeed part of the system, the society in which we live. This is okay, as long as we remember that we are not to conform to the pattern of this world (Rom 12:2). Not to be a wealthy deceiver or one that approves of this deception. 

The prospect of putting our trust in wealth is tempting. The so-called successful ones in our society are more often than not seen as those with wealth. The Forbes Australia rich list is always a top media story and the number of people buying tickets in the big lotto draws are both ways in which we see that our society is impressed with wealth. That is how our society judges you. The commentator Boice suggests a link between psalm 49 and the parable of the rich fool in Luke 12:15-21. This psalm does in perhaps a different vernacular say a similar thing. For we either store up things for ourselves or are rich towards God. Let me be clear, storing up riches for ourselves is idolatry. It is putting our faith, our trust in our wealth. Being rich towards God is serving him and others, with all that we have. Luke 12:24 “For where your treasure is, there is your heart also.” Money is not evil by itself. It is our attitude to money that is warned about in this psalm. Perhaps this is better said that there are people who are wealthy, yet that is not what defines then. And then there are people who are wealthy and indeed that is all that defines them. There are people that believe wealth can save them.

  • You can’t buy your life v7-9

Money does have its’ limits, doesn’t it. Kerry Packer who owned Channel 9, was Australia’s richest man when he died in December 2005 at the age of 68. Yet his $5B Fortune didn’t stop that from happening. His wealth had no doubt helped him to live longer than a person of lessor means would have. This is no more dramatically shown than by his personal helicopter pilot donating one of his own kidneys in 2000 for a life-saving operation for the tycoon. In 2003 the helicopter pilot was given land worth 3.3m dollars in 2003. So, the money had it’s benefits. Yet Money can’t buy your life. You can’t outlive death through financial means. The Psalmist is clear about this. Read with me verses seven to nine.

“No one can redeem the life of another or give to God a ransom for them – the ransom for a life is costly, no payment is ever enough – so that they should live on and never see decay.”

All the money in the world won’t stop death. The Egyptians used to bury money with the dead thinking that the dead would be able to take it with them into the next life. They are not the only ones. There are still those who won’t give up on the idea of their wealth in this life being able to be used for the next life. In 2017 a man who lived in Kampala, Uganda died and in his will he had asked his wife to put a huge sum of money with his coffin so that he could redeem his soul before God. The Paper called the story “Dead man buried with money to bribe God.” The amount if converted into Australian dollars was $76,000. This man did not understand the Gospel. He did not understand verses 7-9. Wealth, money, material riches are in the end powerless. Spurgeon said regarding this verse “How little is the power of wealth, after all!”. Just to close the story on the Ugandan man, the money didn’t stay buried. Soon after the burial, the body was exhumed, and the money taken out.

  • We will all die v10-14

Not only can money not save us, but now we read that whether wise or foolish, all will die.

Let’s be honest, no one can dispute this. I don’t think that anyone here can speak of someone who is over 122 years, which just happens to be the age that the oldest verified person of the modern era attained according to the Guinness book of world records.. They died in 1997. All of us will die. 

See the riddle of this psalm is not whether one dies or not. We have seen that this is inevitable. No, the question this psalm asks is where was out trust when we living, because this has eternal consequences. The fate of those who trust in themselves is spelled out in verses ten to fourteen. Let’s look at these together.

“ For all can see that the wise die, That the foolish and the senseless also perish, Leaving their wealth to others.
Their tombs will remain their houses forever, Their dwellings for endless generations, Though they had named lands after themselves.
People, despite their wealth, do not endure; They are like the beasts that perish.
This is the fate of those who trust in themselves, And of their followers, who approve their sayings.
They are like sheep and are destined to die; Death will be their shepherd (but the upright will prevail over them in the morning).
Their forms will decay in the grave, Far from their princely mansions.”

So, to add insult to injury as it were, the psalmist after showing that faith in wealth is in the end powerless to save us, then goes on to list how bad it will be for those whose trust is misplaced. From Mansions to a tomb forever. All their money given to others, no control, no power, only punishment.

Both verses 13 and 15 are in a sense the answer to the riddle. However, one outcome is wonderful and the other terrible.

It’s not just the wicked rich, or the rich who are without God, but it is also the those who agree with them. Those who say, yes that is fine. I’m good with that. There are indeed two types of foolishness that are mentioned here. I am rather found of the quote from the movie Star Wars by Alec Guinness when playing Obi Wan Ken Obi, when he says to Luke Skywalker. “Who is the more foolish, the fool or the fool who follows him.” And that in essence is what the writer of this psalm is saying in verse 13. It is not just those with the wealth who are looking out for themselves. It is also those who accept this system, those who admire evil doers. Those who do not trust in God, but trust only in themselves, they will be captives of death. 

For a Christian perhaps verse fourteen is the most jarring. The picture of a shepherd in the bible is mostly a wonderful picture of being taken care of, of being protected, of security. Jesus used this metaphor in the most beautiful way by talking of those who put their trust in him as his sheep. John 10:11 is perhaps the pinnacle of this picture when Jesus says “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”Yet what we read in verse 14 is the opposite of hope. The picture is of death itself being the shepherd of those who die having trusted in themselves. There is nothing there to look forward to. It is doom and gloom.

  • The wonderful hope

Verse 15 is the antithesis of verse 13 and importantly the wonderful answer to the riddle. The hope that the writer has is laid bare in a glorious statement. The picture here is of redemption, of life out of death. Of being with God himself.For, he understands that trust in God is one’s wealth, and boasting in anything apart from God is futile. He understands that only by God’s grace can we be redeemed. Read with me verses 15.

“But God will redeem me from the realm of the dead; he will surely take me to himself.” 

This is wisdom, this understanding, knowing that we can do nothing, that it is all God. Knowing that Verse 7 is true, that no one, no person can redeem the life of another or give God a ransom for them. Only God can save. And we see that God indeed sent his own Son, our Lord Jesus Christ as a ransom for our sins. So that by believing in him we may have life. John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

This is what the Psalmist wanted us to understand. Trusting in God in this life, through faith in his Son Jesus Christ will mean being with God in the life to come. 

  • Encouragement and warning

After the wonderful assurance in verse 15 for those who trust in God, the final verses serve to encourage us not to fear the wealthy and powerful, but they also stand as further warning against trusting in money. Read with me these final verses:

16 Do not be overawed when others grow rich,
    when the splendor of their houses increases;
17 for they will take nothing with them when they die,
    their splendor will not descend with them.
18 Though while they live they count themselves blessed—
    and people praise you when you prosper—
19 they will join those who have gone before them,
    who will never again see the light of life.

20 People who have wealth but lack understanding
    are like the beasts that perish.

In many ways these final verses are a summary of what has gone before in the psalm. They mirror the sentiments in verses 10-14. The writer is making sure that money and the love of money is shown for what it is. It won’t last, you can’t take it with you. It can’t save you.  

The only wealth worth having, the only wealth that lasts is knowing God. Having God. Knowing and having wealth alone will end with the grave. Knowing and having God will mean being eternally with God as one of his children. There are churches around Sydney and indeed around the world that will tell you that you can have it all now. That you can be rich in this life and have all the wealth that you desire. But friends that is not what we read in this passage. We read that we are to trust in God, not wealth. If we have wealth then we are to hold it lightly. That makes sense doesn’t it. For if our trust is in God and not our wealth, then surely this means we are to glorify the one we trust in, with all that we have. 

We need to listen and understand what God says to us through his word. Like the KLM pilot who didn’t listen and 583 people died, not paying attention to what the maker and sustainer of all things is saying to us is fatal. In the end we can choose wisdom or foolishness. We put our trust in Jesus, his death and resurrection. Or we put our trust in ourselves, we make ourselves the idol, the things that we boast in, the thing that we praise. Trusting in Jesus Christ leads to eternal life with our loving God. Trusting in ourselves leads to eternal judgement. Hear what the Psalmist is saying, whoever we are, we need Jesus. Rich or poor, high or low.