Breakfast with Solomon - Proverbs 13:11
"Wealth obtained by fraud dwindles, but the one who gathers by labor increases it."
This proverb deals with a very hot topic: how to have abundance of monetary and material resources. Solomon's answer is a very basic truth of financial management. He basically says there may seem like there are some really good shortcuts to getting rich, but they don't work. You have to work, not cheat or swindle or defraud someone to have an abundance of resources. We should worry about doing the right work rather than how we are going to get rich quickly or how rich we will be.
This is the Hebrew word meaning enough or abundance or wealthy or riches. What is interesting is that the original Hebrew idea for the amount of substance that would qualify for this noun was what would make life easy or not a daily struggle to survive. In this culture this word may be termed comfortable which is the term used to describe the middle-class and their goals for monetary acquisition – I want just enough to be comfortable. Our culture in America now is the most wealthy in the history of the world in that our standard of living is incredible. We are more comfortable and further away from starving than any in history. We are comfortable although that term keeps being moved as more gadgets are being invented that we "need" to have. Beware of comfort-creep.
This is the Hebrew word hebel which means vanity, breath, nothing. The word fraud is the word chosen by the NASB translators to give their sense of something being wrong, but the actual term that Solomon used is the opposite of labor – doing nothing or doing vain things. Solomon is trying to help a person understand that trying to gain an easy life by that which is really nothing will cause the resources to dwindle and go away fairly rapidly. Fraud is a form of doing nothing. Cheating, lying, and stealing are also shortcut ways of gaining wealth in which a lack of proper effort is used to try and obtain a large amount of goods. Included in this would be not paying taxes, cheating on taxes, getting involved in schemes and/or ways to defraud people, or asking people to pay exorbitant amounts of fees for little or no work.
What is important for Solomon to say here – especially to young people – is that everyone wants to find the fountain of easy money, but there are a number of reasons why you shouldn't look and should not drink from it even if you find it. The fountain of easy money with little or no work is a sham. Someone is on the losing end. Its rewards dwindle; it becomes a defeating proposition; it robs its possessors of significance and meaning in life. God has placed in our lives a need to labor and do something to contribute to the society and to others in order to have a sense of well-being. This is why so often trust-fund babies have such a destructive or miserable life. One needs labor, contribution, and expression in order to validate one's life and existence. When your life is done, what have you contributed? It cannot all be consumption. That is why how you make your comfortable life is important. If your money has all come from essentially doing nothing, then you will look at your life as a waste – as hebel – nothingness or vanity. But if you have, through labor and effort, sought to provide for yourself and your family while making a contribution to the society at large, then you have double satisfaction. In other words, through labor one has increased one's wealth in a double fashion.
One of the points that Solomon is trying to make to those starting out in life or those who are trying to figure out how to make life work is that how you choose to gain wealth or ease is critically important. It should not be in a way that demands that you cheat, steal, or defraud; but it should also not be wrapped up in something that requires nothing of you either. It also should not be something that is in itself nothingness.
We are seeing more of this latter form in our culture. The goal is getting rich so people will invent gimmicks that are really useless and get rich selling these things. Pet rocks, singing fish, gag things. Nothing is necessarily wrong with these things; but if the person behind these does not use the money they make for some worthwhile project or contribution, then their wealth has been obtained by nothingness and they run the great risk of slipping into that as the point of their life. THE GOAL OF LIFE IS NOT TO GET RICH.
THE GOAL OF LIFE IS TO BECOME WISE so that at the end of life you can present God with a heart of wisdom. Psalm 90. There are many people who are duped into believing that money is all-powerful. It is powerful but God is all-powerful, and we need to demonstrate a sufficient submission to Him and go after wisdom and not money. We need to realize that we have been allowed to live here on earth to make a contribution. Make that contribution – do the labor that you were made to do.