There is that maketh himself rich, yet hath nothing: there is that maketh himself poor, yet hath great riches.
A poor man can be rich in things other than money. Moses traded riches and pleasure for affliction and reproach (Heb 11:24-26). Why? God’s reward was better than Egypt’s treasures. He chose God’s poor people over Pharaoh’s rich family. He knew this proverb.
Consider Moses (Acts 7:20-23). He was very gifted from birth. He learned all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and he was mighty in words and deeds in Egypt. He had all the opportunities of the royal household of the greatest nation on earth. But at the prime age of forty, he made an important life choice. He chose the kingdom of God over the world.
Did he lose? No way! He spent 80 years walking with God, heard I AM THAT I AM from a burning bush, saw the back parts of God, talked with God face to face, and led His people out of Egypt. His riches here and in eternity far exceeded Pharaoh’s waterlogged body in the Red Sea and his demolished nation and the emptied treasury in Egypt!
What costly choices have you made to follow Jesus Christ? None? Then you are not His disciple (Luke 14:25-33). If you have not counted the price and paid it, you are not His disciple. If you are not willing to count and pay a price, you do not even know Him.
The proverb describes two men. The noun “a man” and the pronoun “he” are to be understood twice in this verse. The figure of speech called ellipsis leaves out the words for beauty and force. With the words in place, the verse would read like this:
There is a man that maketh himself rich, yet he hath nothing: there is a man that maketh himself poor, yet he hath great riches.
The first man chose to be rich, but actually had nothing of value. The second man chose to be poor, but had true wealth. The lesson is the difference between worldly riches and heavenly riches. There are two kinds of riches under consideration. The first man chose worldly riches; the second man chose heavenly riches. The first man loses, and the second man wins. Heavenly riches are true wealth. What will you choose, dear reader?
What are heavenly riches? Jesus called them “true riches” (Luke 16:11). They are the presence of God, the fruit of the Spirit in your soul, wisdom and truth by revelation, and eternal life. Do these things mean anything to you? Are they the most important things to you? Satan does not want you to know about them, let alone experience and love them.
Consider just a few of the comparisons in the book of Proverbs, where Solomon taught his son that some things are better than other things. He showed his son the true riches!
Wisdom is better than money (Pr 3:14; 8:11,19; 16:16). Little with the fear of the Lord is better than treasures with trouble (Pr 15:16). A salad with love is better than prime rib with hatred (Pr 15:17). A little with righteousness is better than much with wrong (Pr 16:8). Humility with the lowly is better than wealth with the proud (Pr 16:19). A cracker with quietness is better than filet mignon with strife (Pr 17:1). Grasp these comparisons.
Consider other comparisons. The exceeding and eternal weight of glory far exceeds short and light affliction here (II Cor 4:17). The pleasures of this life can be easily seen, heard, and considered, but God has prepared things that are beyond your senses (I Cor 2:9).
David, with kingly riches and pleasures, thought being a doorkeeper in the house of God for one day was greater than living for years with the rich and famous (Ps 84:10). Was he crazy? Or very wise? He settled on one thing for his life – the kingdom of God (Ps 27:4).
Paul, whose star was rising rapidly in Jerusalem, forsook it all to follow Jesus Christ (Phil 3:4-11). Though he suffered horribly for choosing Christ (II Cor 11:22-28), he was confident of being crowned in heaven (II Tim 4:7-8). He could not wait to be there!
Dear reader, you must choose one! You cannot have both worldly and heavenly riches. Jesus said, “No man can serve two masters” (Matt 6:24). You cannot be a friend of the world and God (James 4:4). If you love the world, you do not love God (I John 2:15).
No man has forsaken the things of this life and not received more of those things here, and he will receive everlasting life in heaven (Mk 10:28-31). Almighty God has promised all the things others seek, if you put His kingdom and righteousness first (Matt 6:33).
Go ahead! Choose worldly riches! Solomon described the man who sets his sights on riches and gets them (Eccl 5:10-17). He is not satisfied; expenses rise as fast as income, so he only gets to look at income, not enjoy it; he worries about it all the time; he tries to preserve it, but loses it anyway; he ends up with nothing to give his son; he goes to the grave as he arrived, naked; in effect, he has labored for the wind; and his whole life is darkness, sadness, and anger. Do you know what the Preacher called it? Sickness!
If you try to save your worldly life, you will lose it and your spiritual life (Matt 16:24-25). If you will lose your worldly life, you will gain both. The choice is simple. But the flesh is weak. The world is tempting. And Satan does not want you to choose true riches.
What have you forsaken to obtain the true riches? Do you forsake pleasure and leisure on Saturday night to prepare for Sunday’s assemblies? Do you forsake the passive entertainment of television to keep your eyes from sin? Do you forsake friends who steal your soul away from righteousness? Do you forsake family members who oppose your faith? Would you quit a job with much opportunity in order to be a better Christian?
The Lord Jesus left the riches of glory to become poor in this world. Why did He do it? Because His Father asked Him to do it, and He saw the enormous reward waiting for Him in heaven (Ps 16:8-11; Is 53:12; Luke 24:26; Phil 2:9-11; Heb 12:2). There is a day coming in which all the sacrifices of this life will be repaid infinitely. Believe it! Amen.
Appendix for Bible Students
Is this the right interpretation? Commentators describe poor men who pretend wealth for popularity and rich men who pretend poverty for deception. The text condemns neither, so they condemn both. The first is guilty of pride, and the second of ingratitude, they say. They then apply it spiritually. Some men pretend spirituality, but are dead; and some pretend poverty, but are rich. They condemn the former and criticize the latter.
We cannot go where they venture. First, the text neither commends nor condemns, so we are left without a lesson. Second, their explanation provides no wisdom. Third, their explanation has no other Scriptural witness. Fourth, Proverbs continually contrasts material wealth and wisdom. Fifth, the Bible repeatedly teaches the lesson above.
We believe the proverb teaches right priorities, one of the main lessons of the whole book, which is the application of wisdom. Some men place all their emphasis on financial and professional success, but have nothing in and for their souls. They have lean souls, are filled with mental anxiety, loveless marriages, and can take none of it with them. In fact, they destroy their own souls. But others will pass up promotion and worldly gain to exalt peace, love, and righteousness in their dealings. They choose relative poverty for the true riches of quietness, joy, and righteousness. Which man is richer?
Wise men avoid riches (Pr 30:7-9). They know true success is godliness rather than gain (I Tim 6:6). They fear obtaining their desires but having a lean soul (Ps 106:15). They seek to avoid the foolish and hurtful lusts of riches (I Tim 6:7-10). They know Jesus Christ is the ultimate treasure (Ps 73:25-26; Is 66:1-2; Matt 6:19-21; 19:24; I Tim 6:17-19; II Tim 4:10; Rev 3:17-18). They know that a rich man can hardly enter the kingdom of heaven (Luke 18:24). There are things more valuable and precious than financial riches, and a wise man makes them his goal, even if it means forfeiting the riches that the world loves.