Don The Armour

October 9, 2023

Whoever loves pleasure will be a poor man; he who loves wine and oil will not be rich.

Proverbs 21:17 (ESV)


At first glance, this short sentence seems straightforward, but like many of the proverbs, it is packed with wisdom. I want to share two interpretations of it that I can see.

The first is spiritual. A man who loves pleasure and the things of this world will never be spiritually rich. His treasure is here on earth, but this treasure is temporary and will be lost to the moths and rust (Mat. 6:19-20). In view of eternity, this type of wealth isn’t wealth at all. The poor beggar whose treasure waits for him in heaven is far richer.

The second interpretation is more literal. In economics, there is a concept called “time preference,” which is the importance one places on having something sooner rather than later. A person with a high time preference wants things immediately. In contrast, someone with a low time preference is willing to delay present gratification for what they perceive will be a greater benefit in the future.

The man described in this proverb, who loves pleasure, is an example of a person with a high time preference. They don’t plan for the future, caring more about immediate gratification. As you can imagine, this mentality doesn’t usually make people rich.

It’s natural for all humans to want things sooner rather than later, but in the past, people had more consideration for the future. Today, it seems everyone is consuming as much as possible as quickly as possible. The vast majority of Americans have far more mortgage, car loan, and credit card debts than they have assets. The worst part is that our country’s lust for consumption has not only made us slaves to debt but also our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. The U.S. is over $30 trillion in debt. Our time preference is so high that we have robbed future generations to consume today.

Many things have contributed to this mentality. The government inflates our money away, incentivizing us to spend rather than save. There is constant fear propaganda from the media telling us that there is likely no future to prepare for because if the nukes don’t kill us, the climate will. The reasons for this could go on and on, but I believe one of the biggest reasons is our society’s departure from Christianity.

As Christians, our time preference is so low that we aren’t even preparing for this life but the next. We know about delaying gratification and suffering because our Lord tells us to “deny yourself and take up your cross” (Mat. 16:24). We don’t live for the pleasures of the present because we are preparing for our reward in the future.

Every time we fight a temptation that would feel good at the moment but would displease God, we are proving we value the future more than the present. And we can translate this same ability to our economic decisions. By not loving pleasure, we can be more spiritually and materially wealthy.