When the Titanic went down in 1912, eleven millionaires went down with it. It is estimated that their combined wealth reached $200,000,000 and yet on this night their money would become worthless to them. Major A. H. Peuchen was also a very wealthy man. In fact, in his room on the Titanic, he was storing an estimated $300,000 worth of money, jewelry, and stocks. As Peuchen was sitting down for dinner, reports came in that the boat had struck an iceberg. Even though at the time he didn’t believe the Titanic would sink, he started back to his cabin to grab his wealth and then stopped and decided to go without it. Peuchen recalled, “The money seemed a mockery at that time. I picked up three oranges instead.” By the time Peuchen got into a lifeboat, it became abundantly clear that the Titanic was going to sink. His decision to leave his wealth and grab the oranges very likely saved his life (William Brown, Illustrative Incidents For Public Speakers, 164).
It’s hard to say how much of a role the oranges played in Peuchen’s survival, but they certainly helped much more than his money ever could have. His money would have become a burden and an inconvenience. The oranges were at least smaller, more maneuverable, and could provide energy. As the story goes, the way Peuchen got into the life raft was by grabbing a rope, swinging off the ship, and then sliding down 25 feet to the lifeboat (Encyclopedia Titanica). It would have been very difficult for Peuchen to shimmy down the ropes while trying to hold all his wealth. Not to mention, he likely would have missed out on the lifeboats altogether if he went back for his riches.
It’s not often that we stand in the face of a life or death situation. However, in the times when people have had to do so, their money becomes pointless. Anything that will help us stay alive becomes substantially more valuable. If lost in the desert, water is more precious than diamonds. If lost in the mountains, food and shelter are more valuable than gold. If our house is on fire, even as kids we are taught to get out right away, leave all valuables, and never try to go back in after them. The bottom line is, our lives are worth far more than all wealth.
There is a problem though. An inevitable fact of life is that we will die, unless Jesus comes back first (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17). No amount of wealth can change this. No stockpile of jewels will keep save us from death (Luke 16:19ff). Every penny of wealth we collect here will be lost. But the problem is much more dire even than physical death, because there is life after death. We are all face to face with a spiritual life or death situation.
Jesus told a parable about a man who was focused on becoming wealthier, but what he didn’t realize was that he was going to die that very night. God calls him a fool for focusing on such pointless things. Then Jesus gives the conclusion, “So is the man who stores up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God” (Luke 12:16-21).
God would call us foolish if our focus is on physical wealth and possessions. Only the Lord knows just how close we are to death. While we have time, we must focus on being “rich toward God.” We must store up our treasures in heaven (Matthew 6:20). We must focus on our relationship with the Lord and obeying His commands. This is the only thing that can save us spiritually. It is more valuable than all the wealth in the world (Matthew 16:26). The reality is, our physical “ships” are sinking. Will we hang on to our own wealth, or will we grab on to the Lord? Matthew 6:21 points out, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” What do we treasure most?