All That Glitters Isn’t Celestial

John was considering his goals in life. He made plans to be financially successful at an early age. “Then,” he thought, “I’ll be economically free to serve the Lord on a mission, as a bishop, or however he may need me.”

John not only wants to achieve financial independence, but apparently he wants to use that independence to devote himself to the Lord’s service. But is John planning to achieve his goals the way the Savior would have him achieve them?

To his disciples, Jesus taught: “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon the earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt. …

“But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal:

“For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. …

“No man can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.” (Matt. 6:19–24.)

Is it wrong to strive to be wealthy? Not necessarily. As Jacob pointed out, we may seek for riches after we “have obtained a hope in Christ” if we seek them “for the intent to do good—to clothe the naked, and to feed the hungry, and to liberate the captive, and administer relief to the sick and afflicted.” (Jacob 2:18–19.)

Seeking the kingdom of God, then, must always be the major focus of any activity if we are to live righteously and enjoy the “riches of eternity.” (See D&C 68:31.)

One of the noblest characteristics of living righteously is “loving our neighbor as ourself.” That is, we must be as concerned about others’ well-being as our own. By contrast, those who seek the things of the world primarily seek riches, power, position, and recognition. Their motivation for seeking wealth usually lies in the desire to enjoy nicer cars, bigger homes, and more expensive clothes. Their charitable contributions are made only after these primary goals are achieved; and even their charity often has the wrong motivation—the need for power and prestige.

Worldly success is almost always measured in terms of financial success and is sometimes justified by such statements as: “But look how much good his money does. Does it matter if his motivation is wrong?”

The answer, of course, is yes, it does matter. Preoccupation with financial success tends to encourage selfishness. First and foremost is the desire to get what I want—cars, houses, more clothing, and the vain things of the world. These efforts to gain “the good life” for “me and mine” may lead one to think, “I worked hard for this; I deserve it. If others were more ambitious, they could have it too” (implying the poor are such because they are unwilling to work). This attitude dulls the spirit of sacrifice and feeds a spirit of selfishness and pride.

For many, even those who have started out with good intentions, the earnest pursuit of riches too easily gives way to greed. This phenomenon is known as the Frog Principle. It is said that if a frog were dropped into a pan of boiling water it would immediately jump out to save its life. However, if that same frog were placed in a pan of cold water and the heat was gradually turned up, the frog would stay put until cooked.

When pursuing wealth for the wrong reasons, it is very easy for the Frog Principle to take over. The process of accumulating enough money to buy that “nice car,” then a better house to go with the car, then better furniture to go with the house develops. All of this requires more and more money until a person’s appetite for luxury develops into a spirit of selfishness.

Sometimes people fall victim to the Frog Principle as they pursue their careers. When first starting work with a company, some are expected to do certain things that go contrary to their personal ethics. However, as time passes, they may slowly give in to deeds that might be considered questionable.

At first, they may distort the truth only slightly—through overstatement, understatement, or omission of a bit of information. Such actions are easily justified with, “That’s the way things are done here.” From there, it’s only a small step to a minor cover-up to preserve the company’s (or their own) reputation of being reliable or honest or knowledgeable.

These cover-ups, small at first, tend to grow and grow just like the heat under a pan until one is eventually caught doing something that is obviously dishonest. The path to sin is traveled step by step, not in one tremendous leap.

Like the individual, society, as a whole, can be led astray. As Nephi, the son of Helaman, proclaimed, “How could you have forgotten your God? … Behold, it is to get gain, to be praised of men, yea, and that ye might get gold and silver.” He goes on to state how setting one’s heart upon riches causes people to bear false witness, steal, plunder, and even murder. (See Hel. 7:20–21.)

In summary, centering our thoughts on obtaining riches tends to feed many of the sinful desires of man, often moving people away from the Christlike life rather than pulling them toward it. By contrast, centering our thoughts and desires on the Lord and his work inclines one to become more like him in several important ways.

First, selfishness and greed are eliminated because one’s eye is kept focused on keeping the commandments and using what means one has to help provide for the needs of those who are without.

Second, the sin of pride is forsaken. Because sharing and compassion are the motivating forces in our lives, whatever wealth we obtain serves as a resource for generosity rather than the means for pride and boasting.

Third, we remain “other” oriented. We keep Christ first, our neighbors second, and ourselves third—a very spiritually healthy order of priorities.

John, and others like him, should recognize the dangers in seeking wealth before seeking the kingdom of God. In fact, wealth has little to do with one’s ability to serve the Lord. In the Lord’s church, those who manage a store, those who farm the land, those who work in an office, and those who teach in a classroom all have opportunity to serve if they are faithful and capable.

“Seek not for riches but for wisdom, and behold, the mysteries of God shall be unfolded unto you, and then shall you be made rich. Behold, he that hath eternal life is rich.” (D&C 6:3–7.)

Let’s Talk about It!

1. Whether you consider yourself rich or poor, what kind of attitude would the Lord want you to have about your personal resources?

2. For further understanding concerning the Lord’s counsel on this matter, read and discuss D&C 56:16–18.

[photo] Photography by Craig Dimond