“Treasures of wickedness profit nothing; but righteousness delivereth from death.”
We live in a materialistic society that seeks the things that are below rather than the things that are above. Material wealth has become the god of our society. As society looks to this god for safety and happiness, it praises and worships this god. It even sacrifices marriage, the home and family to enjoy the blessings of this god.
Nor is the church unaffected by this idolatry. The church’s calling is to be in the world but not of the world. Sadly, however, the saints of God, being not yet perfect, easily follow after the world’s idolatry. Constantly the saints of God must be warned against the danger and folly of the world’s money-god.
And so we meditate for a little bit on the great wisdom of God. “Treasures of wickedness profit nothing; but righteousness delivereth from death.”
Treasures of wickedness!
Treasures are the material goods and possessions that we lay up for ourselves to be used and enjoyed in the future. They include the money we have in the bank, the food on our shelves, the clothing in our closets, the home in which we live, the businesses we own and run. Ultimately, “treasures” refer to all of our earthly possessions.
Treasures of wickedness are treasures gained in the sphere of wickedness.
The term describes essentially two situations.
On the one hand, it describes the situation in which treasures are sought and obtained out of evil motives. Some seek and accumulate earthly treasures to provide safety and security. How vulnerable the poor are! Earthly treasure insulates one from the many troubles that befall the poor. Others seek earthly treasures out of a love for the life of pleasure they can bring. Earthly treasures are also sought for the prestige they bring. No one esteems the poor. But the rich have the praise of men. And yes, earthly treasures also provide power and influence over others.
To seek and accumulate earthly treasure out of these motives is to make an idol god of them.
That makes them treasures of wickedness.
On the other hand, treasures of wickedness are also treasures acquired by wicked means. And so wealth acquired by shady or dishonest business practices becomes treasures of wickedness. Monies held back dishonestly from the government during tax time are treasures of wickedness. Wages and benefits gained from one’s employer through union threats and intimidation are treasures of wickedness. We could go on with example after example. This appears to be the emphasis of this proverb. The word “wickedness” emphasizes that which causes hurt and injury to others.
However, treasures gained through wicked means are without exception treasures sought out of wicked motives.
Much of the treasures amassed today and throughout history have been treasures of wickedness.
Treasures of wickedness stand in contrast to righteousness.
Righteousness has the basic idea of obedience to God’s law.
Righteousness as viewed in Scripture has both a legal side and a spiritual side.
Viewed legally, righteousness is the verdict of God that we are righteous before Him. We appear in God’s courtroom every day to be judged by the Judge of heaven and earth. He who sees and knows all will give one of two verdicts. Should He see so much as one sin, His verdict will be guilty. If, however, He sees perfect righteousness and obedience, His verdict is righteous.
Viewed spiritually, righteousness refers to godly living. In this case, righteousness describes a life of obedience to God’s law.
By nature we do not possess this righteousness. In Adam we are fallen, depraved sinners who can only walk in disobedience to God. And that is God’s verdict upon us as well. He finds us guilty and worthy of all damnation.
God, however, provides a perfect righteousness for His elect people in Jesus Christ.
In Jesus Christ God declares His people righteous before Him. He is able to do this because Jesus made the perfect sacrifice for their sin. All His life long but especially at the cross Jesus endured the full punishment of sin that satisfied the justice of God. And through it all Jesus walked in perfect obedience for all those whom the Father had given Him. All those who belong to Jesus are righteous in the judgment of God.
And on the basis of that favorable verdict God also transforms His people so that they are also able to live righteously. No, they are not able to attain perfection in this life. That must wait until heaven. But on the basis of Jesus’ perfect sacrifice, the elect of God, who are declared righteous before God, are also blessed with the ability to begin to live according to all of God’s commandments.
This righteousness becomes ours by faith alone. This righteousness is God’s free gift of grace to all His elect people. As with all the gifts of God’s grace, righteousness too is received and enjoyed by faith. This is a faith that brings us to the cross in godly sorrow for sin seeking the covering of Christ for our sins. This is a faith that also seeks the power of the cross to live a righteous life in thankfulness. By faith the believer lives in a forgiven state with God and is able to begin to live according to all God’s commandments.
This righteousness is contrasted in our proverb with treasures of wickedness. By this contrast our proverb emphasizes that these are mutually exclusive, so that you cannot have righteousness and the treasures of wickedness.
This does not mean that righteousness and treasures are mutually exclusive. You can have righteousness and treasures. The righteous are not sluggards but, rather, are very industrious. Their righteousness leads them to labor to provide not only for their own needs, but also that they may have something to give to the poor and the cause of God’s kingdom. And God often blesses their labors so that they have treasure. This treasure often is small compared to the treasures of the world. Their righteous labor and business practices do not make them competitive with those who strive for treasures of wickedness. But the righteous often have more than their daily bread. They also have earthly treasure.
What are mutually exclusive are righteousness and the treasures of wickedness. Treasures of wickedness are treasures gained in wickedness—out of evil motives and in wicked ways. Those that have walked in the righteousness of the cross do not obtain such treasures.
Treasures of wickedness are worth nothing. They profit nothing.
This certainly is not the perspective of the wicked world. The world in its wickedness considers earthly treasure to be of greatest value. This is because earthly treasure affords them all that they consider worthwhile in life—security, pleasure, esteem, and power. For that reason the world pursues earthly treasures in their wickedness.
But the wisdom of God is that these treasures are worthless.
Treasures of wickedness are worthless, first of all, because they do not truly satisfy; they do not fill man with true peace, contentment, or happiness. Such was the experience of Solomon. He had it all. None had more earthly treasure than Solomon. In addition, he had the safety, happiness, prestige, and power that earthly treasures can afford. And he gave himself over to these things for a lengthy portion of his life. When God finally brought him to his senses, He led Solomon to write of his experiences in the book of Ecclesiastes. And the inspired Solomon concluded that it was all vanity. Vanity of vanities! That is all that it was. And vanity means emptiness. The treasures of wickedness at best leave one empty. That is not worth much.
But more importantly, the treasures of wickedness do not deliver from death. The death mentioned in this proverb is the death of hell. The treasures of wickedness do not deliver the wicked from the death of hell. They may deliver the wicked in this life from many things. But these are useless in the day of wrath. In fact, treasures of wickedness will testify against the wicked in the day of judgment, so that they are a tremendous liability. No! Treasures of wickedness profit nothing.
Much different is the righteousness of Jesus Christ. That is of greatest value and worth.
It is of great value during the course of life in that it provides true joy and happiness. Many view the life of righteous living as dull and devoid of any really joy. The righteous life of obedience to God’s law contains too many “don’ts” in God’s law to suit many. “Don’t do this and don’t do that.” What fun is there in that? Yet the life of righteousness is the blessed life. God’s commandments are good. They are designed to bring man into close fellowship and friendship with God. When followed in the power of Jesus Christ, the commandments of God also bring peace to marriage, the family, the church, and society. This is the source of all true joy.
And then, too, righteousness delivers from death. In the day of judgment only those who are clothed with the righteousness of Christ will escape death. Not only will they escape death; but in the righteousness of Christ they will also be exalted into heavenly life and glory.
What great value there is in righteousness!
From this wisdom of Christ our calling in life is very plain.
Certainly we must not pursue the treasures of wickedness. We are sometimes inclined to do so under the influence of our sinful flesh. Each of us should examine his motives and methods of obtaining treasure. Let us never forget that the pursuit of the treasures of wickedness is contrary to what and who we are in Jesus Christ. And that pursuit is unprofitable for us.
Let us rather seek the righteousness of God in Jesus Christ.
We find this righteousness by clinging to the cross in the power of the Word and prayer.
And in that righteousness we will be blessed both now and forever more!