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More Precious

By Michael Roop

Blessed is the one who finds wisdom,
     and the one who gets understanding,
For the gain from her is better than gain from silver
     and her profit better than gold.
She is more precious than jewels,
     and nothing you desire can compare with her.
Proverbs 3:13-15

This passage jumped out at me during a recent devotional study in Proverbs. For all its practicality, Proverbs is one of my favorite books of the Bible. This passage is one of several calls for the reader to treasure wisdom above all else. The particular comparison in these verses is between the profit of wisdom and the profit of material possessions. That got me to thinking: what profit do we receive from material possessions? What are we looking for in the accrual of wealth? Turns out, the following verses offer three answers.

Quality of Life
First, material possessions promise us quality of life. A life of “pleasantness” (v. 17) is a life of comfort and ease, a life that is abundant and enjoyed. Of course, the logic seems obvious: the more ability you have to purchase pleasant experiences, the more pleasant your life becomes. While this of course rings true, the author disputes whether the amassing of material goods is the most effective way to enjoy a high quality of life. Instead, the better life is found in a life of amassed wisdom, the compounding effect of wise, patient, selfless decisions that don’t lead into the proverbial “ditches” of life. Focus on wisdom, argues the author, and you have a better guarantee of abundance than riches can provide.

The author then turns his attention toward protection. The lure is as pronounced today as it was then, despite our unprecedented level of material abundance. The future is unpredictable, so save as much money as you possibly can, and when the disaster comes, you can spend your way out of it. The deep irony is that our concern over the amount of our savings relative to the potential cost of a hypothetical disaster is the very thing that robs our sense of security! Instead, walking each day in wisdom (build on the fear of the LORD; 1:7) will protect us from the self-induced pains of life that are far, far more common than their circumstantial and fantastical cousins.

Finally, the author warns against seeking honor in material abundance. We all want a life of repute, to be thought well of by others. This desire is part of God’s creation design in humanity, but it was meant to be pointed at His praise, not that of other humans. The distortion of sin means we seek the approval and acclaim of others, and one sure-fire way to find it is in being successful and rich. However, at the end of the day, we are remembered fondly for the acts of grace, generosity, and humility extended toward others, and the wise person accumulates such acts.
So the author wraps this conversation with some admonitions against using unwise and unjust means to seek material profit. The list includes instructions against withholding from a neighbor in need, intentionally betraying trust, engaging in meaningless quarrels, and adopting worldly ways and means. A life of wisdom is the seedbed of true, lasting meaning, joy, purpose, and peace. It is more precious than silver, more profitable than gold.
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