Please open your Bible at the book of Proverbs. This is the last week in our series ‘Wisdom for Life.’ We have looked at what God says about fear, friends and family, about words and work, and today we are looking at what God says about wealth. I want to make four observations from the book of Proverbs about money, and the first, very simply, is that the book of Proverbs celebrates the blessing of money as a good gift from the LORD.
1. The Blessing
The blessing of the LORD makes rich,
and he adds no sorrow with it – Proverbs 10:22
Now, Proverbs has something else to say alongside this:
A slack hand causes poverty,
but the hand of the diligent makes rich, – Proverbs 10:4
Solomon affirms the reward of hard work. The blessing of the Lord makes rich, and the hand of the diligent makes rich. This reminds us of a very important principle in the Bible, which is, that God works through means, and the normal means by which God prospers us is through the diligent work of our hands. But while our hands may be the means by which blessing comes, God is the source of blessing. It is the blessing of the Lord that makes rich, and you find exactly this principle throughout the Bible.
Unless the Lord builds the house,
Those who build it labor in vain – Psalm 127:1
The blessing of the Lord makes rich, and He adds no sorrow to it! That is a wonderful statement. Sometimes people who have money are just not able to enjoy it. There may be various reasons for that; sorrow came with it. Sorrow may have come from guilt over how they got it, or they fear about how they might lose it. But Proverbs makes very clear, that when you know what you have came through the blessing of God, you have freedom and peace to enjoy it. No sorrow is added. Thus, Proverbs celebrates the blessing of money as a good gift from the Lord, and we should do the same.
2. The Danger
If money is a blessing, how can it also be a danger? Well, the answer is, that money is a power. It lures us as a rival to God Himself, and then makes increasing demands. Remember, Jesus said,
No one can serve two masters…
You cannot serve God and money. – Matthew 6:24
Money is a master, and it will seek to take control of your life. It will lure you by offering great benefits, but then it will hide from you its increasing demands. Money is a wonderful servant, but it is a terrible master.
Never envy those who are more wealthy than you are. The reasons I say this is that they have more temptations than you do, and they have more responsibilities in this regard than you, and they have more to account for one day before God than you do. Jesus said,
Everyone to whom much was given,
of him much will be required. – Luke 12:48
Better is a little with the fear of the LORD
than great treasure and trouble with it. – Proverbs 15:16
We must all give an account for what we did with the money God has entrusted to us. We saw earlier in this series that we will give account for our words. We will also give an account for the money entrusted to us, and the more that we have, the greater our responsibility; so we need to know the dangers.
What are the dangers that money can bring? Let me identify three from the book of Proverbs.
a. Money Can Ruin You
An inheritance gained hastily in the beginning
will not be blessed in the end. – Proverbs 20:21
Wealth gained hastily will dwindle,
but whoever gathers little by little will increase it. – Proverbs 13:11
These proverbs focus on the special dangers of money that comes quickly. Though it was many years ago, I remember with great sadness in my heart, a man in the church I pastored in London. He was headhunted for a prestigious job in the city and his salary had quadrupled overnight. He was overjoyed, and I rejoiced with him. But within a year, he had left his wife and had abandoned the faith which for years he had professed. The money went to his head, and it ruined him.
Parents with money should weigh these proverbs. What would be the effect in the lives of your children if suddenly they inherited a large amount of money? Money is a blessing, but those who are wise will think about the capacity of a person to handle the responsibility that comes with it.
Wealth can be gained hastily. How else can that happen? The lotteries thrive on the promise of instant wealth. You drive down the interstate, and you see flashing billboards, inciting you to dream about multiple millions. When it is won, it will drop a massive amount of money with great haste, into the life of someone who may not be prepared to handle it at all. The same of course applies to lawsuits, which in our culture have become another way to gain large amounts of money hastily.
Now, notice what Proverbs commends instead: money that is saved “little by little.” Wealth gained hastily will dwindle. Remember Proverbs are describing what often happens in the world; not always, but normally. Wealth that is usually hastily gained is not always wisely used, but whoever gathers little by little will increase it. You see what we’re being encouraged to do here; very practically, begin to save, and as your money grows, your wisdom to handle it can grow alongside.
b. Money Cannot Save You
Riches do not profit in the day of wrath,
but righteousness delivers from death. – Proverbs 11:4
Very simply, money makes us more comfortable in this world, and so it distracts us from the plain reality that none of us will be here for very long. The Bible says “it is appointed for man once to die, and after that comes the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). And Jesus asks, “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his soul?” (Mark 8:36).
Jesus told a story about a man with a bumper crop, who was already rich, who asked himself:
“What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?” And he said, “I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods.” And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”’ But God said to him, “Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” – Luke 12:20
This man had money to enjoy for many years, but he did not have many years to enjoy it. Money seems so solid and so real, while eternity seems so vague and so distant, but actually it is the other way around.
Do not toil to acquire wealth; be discerning enough to desist. When your eyes light on it, it is gone, for suddenly it sprouts wings, flying like an eagle toward heaven. – Proverbs 23:4-5
Money is fleeting. Don’t make the acquisition of money your life goal, for inevitably, either you will be taken from your money, or your money will be taken from you. Setting your heart on money is the wrong goal. The only things in life that are solid and lasting are the things that are unseen, not what are seen! Set your heart on things above where Christ is seated.
Remember riches do not profit in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivers from death. Here is what you must pursue! Righteousness is wiser than going after riches, so make this the goal of your life.
c. Money Will Tempt You
Money is a great blessing from God, but it carries with it great dangers of which we must be aware. The more we have, the more important it is that we have a more clear and working knowledge of the dangers that come with it. Proverbs identifies at least four ways in which money will tempt you, and the first is that you will be tempted to use money as a means of exerting…
i. To Control
The people curse him who holds back grain,
but a blessing is on the head of him who sells it. – Proverbs 11:26
Here are people who need food, and there is a merchant who has grain. God has blessed a farmer with a good crop, but he holds it back from the market to drive up the price. The people can’t make him sell it. No law can compel a man to sell what he owns. So the people are helpless, and they curse him, because his only interest is his own bottom line.
But a blessing is on the head of him who sells it. Here is another farmer who says, ‘I could probably get more for my grain if I held it back from the market. But there are people who need it, and I have to think about them too.’ So he sells it.
“To him that subordinates his own interest to the public good,
blessings will be upon his head.” (Charles Bridges)
The curse came from the people, but here, the blessing comes from God Himself. To only consider the bottom line, and not to weigh the common good is to be cursed. But, to subordinate your own interest to the good of others is to be blessed. As our Lord Jesus said;
Do to others as you would have them do to you – Matthew 7:12
ii. To Cheat
Unequal weights are an abomination to the LORD,
and false scales are not good, – Proverbs 20:23
Now here we’re in a market, and a customer wants to buy ten pounds of grain. The merchant pours the grain into a bucket on one side of the scales, and on the other side he places a weight. The weight says on it, “ten pounds,” but it’s not; it is actually eight pounds. So when the scales balance, the customer gets short changed. That’s what is being described here, and notice the strong language: unequal weights are an abomination to the Lord.
Now there are so many ways in which this can happen in business today; what’s hidden in the small print, the added costs that are not mentioned, etc. We could easily discuss how these things are pressed upon us. Money will tempt you to cheat, but money may also tempt you to…
iii. To Credit Yourself
A rich man is wise in his own eyes,
but a poor man who has understanding will find him out. – Proverbs 28:11
Proverbs suggests that being ‘wise in your own eyes’ is a temptation that comes particularly in the wake of great success. A rich man is wise in his own eyes. A distinctive temptation that comes in the wake of any great success is to credit it to ourselves. God warned His people about this when they came into the land where they would prosper, saying:
Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ You shall remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth. – Deuteronomy 8:17-18
Fourth, money will tempt you in the most serious way of all.
iv. To Deny the Lord
Give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, “Who is the LORD?” or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God, – Proverbs 30:8-9
This is the only prayer in the book of Proverbs, and it is a prayer of wisdom. ‘Lord, I don’t want to be poor, and I don’t want to be rich. All I want is to have what I need.’ Notice why: If I am too poor, I may be tempted to steal, but if I prosper––what will I be tempted to do?––I may be tempted to say, ‘I really don’t need God. Who is He anyway?’ That is the temptation that success will bring.
The book of Proverbs is full of wisdom about this most important and practical area of our lives. It begins by celebrating that money is a gift and blessing from the Lord, of which we should be profoundly thankful, but with it comes great danger. Money can ruin you, it cannot save you and money will tempt you to control, to cheat, to credit yourself, or to deny the Lord.
3. The Priority
The question we must ask ourselves is, ‘How can I master my money rather than have my money master me?’ How can I enjoy the wonderful blessings of this gift from the Lord, and break the powers that are inherent with it, and in it?
Honor the LORD with your wealth
and with the firstfruits of all your produce;
then your barns will be filled with plenty,
and your vats will be bursting with wine. – Proverbs 3:9-10
‘Honor’ means ‘give weight to.’ Give weight to the Lord with your wealth. You do this by laying aside a portion of all that God has given you and giving it back to Him. Now, what should we put aside? Answer: the firstfruits of all your produce are a portion of all that you have.
Firstfruits are the first part of whatever comes to you. God is honored and shown to be of first importance in our lives when what we set aside for Him is our first commitment, not our last. What we give is not to be taken out of what’s left when the other costs of life are met. What we give comes first. It is to be taken off the top.
When our family came to this country, saying goodbye to parents was one of the hardest things we have ever done. But we made a commitment that we would go back each year so that the boys would be able to enjoy their grandparents, and so the grandparents could get to enjoy them. So when we came here, we had two financial commitments; what we give to God was first, and then four plane tickets to Britain each year was second.
When we started working on what a budget would look like for our family, these were the first things to be written down, because these were commitments. They were none negotiable. Then there was a mortgage, and then someone said to me, “Your boys are ten and eight years old; you should be thinking about saving for them to go to college.” I said, with the smile of a newly arrived person, “So how much is that likely to cost?” That became commitment number four very quickly.
This principle of priority has been profoundly helpful. For some years, the amount we set aside was a portion of the paycheck that we received. Then it dawned on me, the way we are doing this puts the IRS before God, and they take their cut and God gets a portion of what’s left! We didn’t feel good about that. So we decided to put the Lord before the government. Many of you have been doing what I am, describing for years, and you can testify to the blessing of it. You wonder, “How are we going to manage?” And by God’s grace, some careful planning and wise stewardship, we do. ‘Honor the LORD with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your projects.’
One more question: How much should you give? In the Old Testament God’s people gave a tithe, ten percent of all that God had given to them, but there is no place in the New Testament where God tells us how much we should give.
“The law dealt with us as children and prescribed the exact amount
The gospel treats us as men, and leaves it to circumstance, principle and conscience.”
You have to tell children exactly what you want them to do, because they’re not yet at a stage of maturity to be able to work it out for themselves. The gospel treats us as grown mean, as mature adults, and so this is why, with great freedom, we read in the New Testament…
Each one must give as he has decided in his heart,
not reluctantly or under compulsion,
for God loves a cheerful giver. – 2 Corinthians 9:7
God does not command you with regard to how much you should pray. You have to pray, but nowhere in the New Testament tells you how much time you should spend in prayer, or when it should be done. Why? Because the whole point of prayer is that it should arise from a heart that desires communion with God. A law about how much you should pray would kill the whole thing. The same is true when it comes to giving.
God does not want us to view your giving like paying taxes. He wants our giving to be an expression of our love and gratitude for Him. So the amount that we give is a matter of Christian liberty. It is a subject on which all of us will make choices, just as we make choices about how much we pray. But here’s the deal; the choices you make will reflect your heart, and as you grow in Christ, your desire for giving will increase.
Growing up I thought of tithing as a command. So, for many years that’s what we did. But in this season of our lives, we have come to think, ‘If we had lived under the Old Testament law, we would have given ten percent of all that we have, and I hope that I would have done it gladly.’ But we don’t live under law. Thank God we live under grace, and grace is so much better than law! Grace is God’s free gift in Jesus Christ. So if grace is far better, why would we not seek to do more?
4. The Opportunity
One gives freely, yet grows all the richer;
another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want. – Proverbs 11:24
When you read that, it may seem counter-intuitive. Surely if I give freely, I will have less, yet this proverb says, ‘one gives freely, yet grows all the richer.’ How does that work?
Think about farming. The farmer has a sack of seed, and what does he do? He scatters it. He throws it out freely, then, when harvest comes, the seed he scattered comes back to him in greater abundance. The New Testament takes up this picture;
Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly,
and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. – 2 Corinthians 9:6
So here are two farmers, and they both have a sack of seed. The first farmer says, ‘This grain that I have is very precious, and I need it to make bread. I can’t afford to throw it on the ground!’ So he holds back most of his seed. He sows sparingly, just off the top, and when harvest comes, there’s not much for him to reap.
The second farmer also has a bag of seed, and he says, ‘This seed is very, very precious. I need it to make bread, but I know that if I sow this seed, it will multiply. I will hold back only what I absolutely need, and everything else I will sow in the field.’ Thus he sows bountifully, and when the harvest comes he reaps bountifully. This is what we are hearing in Proverbs chapter eleven. One gives freely, yet grows all the richer; another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want.
No one ever gave more freely than Jesus. Church…
You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that
though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor,
so that you by his poverty might become rich. – 2 Corinthians 8:9
The Son of God loved me and gave Himself for me. – Galatians 2:20
What comes from this self giving of Jesus? The Father is honored. We are forever blessed, and a day is coming when Jesus Christ Himself will see of the fruit of the travail of His soul and He will be satisfied (Isaiah 53:11). That hasn’t happened yet, but it surely will. The day is coming when all of the Redeemed will be gathered in the presence of the Lord, and when Christ stands before the Father with all of the Redeemed around Him, He will say:
Here I am, and the children You have given me. – Hebrews 2:13
The fruit of the travail of Jesus’ soul will be reaped in heaven, and what’s true for Jesus will true for us as well.
Two brief analogies in closing: Suppose a revelation was given to you, that at some point in your life, your home would be destroyed by fire and everything in it would be lost. You don’t know if it will be your starter home, or in your family home or in your retirement home. You don’t know where this will happen. You don’t know when it will happen. All you do know is that for sure at some point in your lifetime, one day you will wake up and it will be the day when your home and everything in it is completely and utterly destroyed by fire.
What would you do? I know what I would do. I would move as much as I could to another place. I’d only keep what I absolutely need. I’d look at all the things I really value and say, ‘Can I risk holding onto these things here?’ If not, I’d rather put it somewhere else where it will be safe.
Secondly, John Calvin has a marvelous picture of this that Karen and I resonate with because we know it from our own experience. He says in affect that,
If we truly believe that heaven is our home, we will be like those who emigrate to another country. They send their goods ahead of them so that they may enjoy them for a longer time.
I will never forget the day when the truck left our home in London, taking all of our possessions overseas. It was quite a day, but we were not unhappy. Our hearts were here already, and the stuff arrived before we did of course. We were glad when we said goodbye to the truck and saw it driving away, thinking about where it was going across the sea before arriving here. We were sending our belongings to where we could enjoy them for a longer time. Now translate that to where we’re really going for the longest time.
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. – Matthew 6:19-20
 John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, III.18.6.
© Colin S. Smith
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