We continue this morning in our series on the book of Proverbs, with a focus on wisdom. And so, we’ve been talking about the importance of making good decisions. A couple of weeks ago, we talked about the words that we speak. Because most of the decisions we make in life involve the words that we choose to say (or not say).
Last week, we looked at what Proverbs says about anger, because, let’s be honest, a lot of the poor choices we make in life are choices that we have made in the heat of anger. That’s a time when we often act or speak without first thinking through what the consequences might be.
This morning, I want us to look at another area of our lives where we often make poor choices, and that has to do with our money. And we all have a lot of choices to make in regard to our money. Because any time we have a few dollars in our pocket or in our bank account, we have a decision to make as to what we’ll do with it. Are we going to spend it on something we need, or spend on something we want? Are we going to save it, or give it to someone else who needs it? Virtually all day long, every day, we make decisions regarding what to do with our money.
And so, we all need wisdom so that we will know how to make the best choices. And so, it’s not surprising that as Solomon talks about the importance of getting wisdom, he has a lot to say about the subject of money. In fact, someone has counted over 100 verses in the book of Proverbs that deal with the topic of money.
I’m sure you’re all aware that one of the most common sources of conflict in marriage is money. A lot of those arguments involve disagreements about how to spend money, or whether the money should be saved for something really important.
Imagine, if you will, a husband whose story goes something like this. He says, “I don’t want to save for tomorrow. I want to live for today. I want to spend money enjoying life. Uncle Jack saved up millions of dollars living in a one-room condo and he never went anywhere. He never truly enjoyed life. I don’t want to be like that.”
Meanwhile, his wife’s story goes like this — “My family grew up poor. We never had any money when an emergency came up or if somebody got sick. We never had enough to plan for the future. And so, when my parents got older and they couldn’t work as hard, they didn’t have anything. They didn’t even have enough to retire. I don’t want to end up like my parents.”
One of them wants to spend now. The other wants to save for later. And so, they spend a lot of time arguing. One of the reasons that we struggle so much with money is because money, to a degree, defines us. It determines how we dress. It determines how we eat. It determines what social groups we associate with. Whether we like it or not, money influences what we can and cannot do with our lives.
And a lot of our concept of money has to do with how we grew up. Maybe it was your father’s gambling problem, or your mother’s tight-fisted way of controlling the household finances. Maybe it was your sister’s expensive interest in horseback riding. Or maybe it was your wealthy uncle who had a nine-car garage, leaving you feeling like you just couldn’t measure up.
Or maybe you grew up with an alcoholic mother who spent food money on liquor, making your meals unpredictable, so you made a promise to yourself that high-quality, expensive food was more important than saving for retirement. Or maybe you were picked on by kids in school for the way you dressed, so you eat beans and rice every night so you can spend all of your money on custom-tailored suits.
So when your partner complains about the expensive organic groceries you buy at Whole Foods, or the silk tie that costs more than a plane ticket, an argument breaks out. But, to you it’s not just food or a tie. Those privileges represent stability and success. They define you.
And that’s why arguments about money can get so heated and hurtful. Most of the time, arguments about money aren’t really about money. They’re about our dreams, our fears, and our inadequacies.
So, it’s very important for us to learn to re-shape our perspective on money, to draw our perspective not from our childhood experiences, but from God. Because, if we don’t, money will always be a significant area of struggle in our lives. And it doesn’t matter if you have a lot of money or hardly any money at all.
In fact, I love what Solomon prayed in Proverbs 30:7-9 (NLT), “O God, I beg two favors from you; let me have them before I die…give me neither poverty nor riches! Give me just enough to satisfy my needs. For if I grow rich, I may deny you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ And if I am too poor, I may steal and thus insult God’s holy name.”
The truth is, if you don’t have much money, life is hard. And, if you have a lot of money, it comes with a whole new set of challenges. One problem with having a lot of money is that we tend to rely upon ourselves rather than God. Poor people on the other hand sometimes feel like God doesn’t care about them, and they can start to envy those who are wealthy.
Envy can easily turn into greed and when we become greedy, whether we are rich or poor, we may end up cheating and stealing. Some people steal using a knife or a gun. Others steal by embezzling money or lying to the IRS. Paul said in I Timothy 6:10, “The love of money is a root of all kinds of evils.” And it doesn’t matter whether you’re rich or poor, if money is what’s on your mind, it will lead you into all sorts of problems.
There are always choices that we need to make regarding our money, and so we all need wisdom. A wisdom that comes from God. So let’s take a look together at what Solomon says about wisdom and money.
I. Wisdom will make a difference in how we view our money
For starters, it will help us to see that money is not the most important thing in the world. Now, I’m well aware that most people in the world would disagree with that assessment. We seem to have this instinctive perspective that more money will make us happier, and less money will make us less happy. As the bumper sticker says, “The one who dies with the most toys wins.”
Someone once said, “Money isn’t everything, but it’s a long way ahead of whatever is in second place.” But Proverbs lets us know that not only is money not in first place, it isn’t even in the running for second place. Because Solomon tells us there are a lot of things that are more important than money.
A. Godly character is more important than money
“Better to be poor and honest than to be dishonest and rich.” (Proverbs 28:6, NLT)
“Better to have little, with godliness, than to be rich and dishonest.” (Proverbs 16:8, NLT)
Solomon says if you absolutely have to make a choice, it’s better to be an honest person than it is to be a wealthy person, because godly character is more important than money.
B. A good reputation is better than money
“Choose a good reputation over great riches; being held in high esteem is better than silver or gold.” (Proverbs 22:1, NLT)
Now, I can think of several reasons why having a good reputation is valuable, but I think one of the most important is this — when you have a good reputation, people can trust you. That trust is a stabilizing factor in your relationship with them. They know what they can expect from you, and they can trust your decisions, knowing they are made with pure motives.
But, those whose reputation has been tarnished have a difficult time building trust and maintaining friendships. Their motives will always be questioned, because they’re seen as simply looking out for themselves.
So, given a choice between the two, having a good reputation is far more valuable than money.
C. A peaceful home filled with love is better than a bank account filled with money
“A bowl of vegetables with someone you love is better than steak with someone you hate.” (Proverbs 15:17, NLT)
“Better a dry crust eaten in peace than a house filled with feasting—and conflict.” (Proverbs 17:1, NLT)
I think about how many homes are filled with tension and conflict, as husbands and wives fight and scratch to get more and more money, often on the pretext of providing for the family. Solomon tells us that it is much more important to have a home filled with love and harmony than a family that only has money.
There are many things that are better than having money, and so we have to admit that money must not be nearly as important as some people think it is. To further make his point, Solomon tells us that there are some real shortcomings of money.
A. Money can’t provide us with security.
We like to think that it does. The more money we have in our checking account or in our retirement fund, the more secure we feel. But Solomon reminds us that money is very temporal.
“Don’t weary yourself trying to get rich. Why waste your time? For riches can disappear as though they had the wings of a bird!” (Proverbs 23:4-5, TLB)
More to the point, “Riches can disappear fast.” (Proverbs 27:24, TLB)
And Solomon’s not telling us something that we don’t already know. Our money can disappear in a hurry. In fact, if you have any retirement funds in the stock market, you saw about 10 percent of your money disappear this past week. Money can never provide us with security.
B. Money can’t provide us with happiness.
“Better to have little, with fear for the Lord, than to have great treasure and inner turmoil.” (Proverbs 15:16, NLT)
John Rockefeller, one of the richest men in the world in his day, said, “I have made many millions, but they have brought me no happiness.”
Multi-millionaire, Andrew Carnegie said, “Have you ever noticed, millionaires seldom smile.”
I’m sure you’re all familiar with the story of Robinson Crusoe, but what you may not know is that it was written as an allegory of the Christian life. Crusoe was marooned on a desert island and before long, he came to accept the fact that he might never get off the island. After coming to grips with his situation, Crusoe said:
“I learned to look more upon the bright side of my condition and less on the dark side and to consider what I enjoyed, rather than what I wanted….Discontented people…cannot enjoy comfortably what God has given them. All our discontents about what we want appeared to me to spring from the [lack] of thankfulness for what we have.”
Which is just another way of saying that money can’t provide us with happiness.
C. Money can’t provide us with salvation.
“Riches won’t help on the day of judgment, but right living can save you from death.” (Proverbs 11:4, NLT)
“Trust in your money and down you go! But the godly flourish like leaves in spring.” (Proverbs 11:28, NLT)
While it may not be accurate to say that the “best things in life are free,” it should at least be evident that the best things in life cannot be bought with money.
But if we believe that money is the most important thing in this world, then our whole life will become a pursuit of wealth. And when that becomes our all-consuming goal, we miss out on those things that are truly of greatest value.
So, wisdom will make a difference in how we view our money. Secondly…
II. Wisdom will make a difference in how we get our money
We should never forget that everything we have is because God has given it to us. “You shall remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth.” (Deuteronomy 8:18).
Even those who work hard for their money need to remember that their riches did not come to them simply through their own efforts. I heard about one wealthy farmer who reluctantly prayed before eating his food, “God, I planted the seed, I plowed the ground, I cultivated the crop, I harvested the grain, I put the food on the table, but I thank you anyway.”
No, “You shall remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth.” But, it makes a difference how we get our money.
There are a lot of Solomon’s proverbs that talk about wise and foolish ways to acquire money. I’m not going to look at all of them, but let me share just a few:
“Wealth from get-rich-quick schemes quickly disappears; wealth from hard work grows over time.” (Proverbs 13:11, NLT)
Horace Greeley once said, “The darkest hour in any man’s life is when he sits down to plan how to get money without earning it.” Solomon would have agreed.
“Hard work brings prosperity; playing around brings poverty.” (Proverbs 28:19, TLB)
“Dishonest gain will never last, so why take the risk?” (Proverbs 21:6, TLB)
Someone once asked Willie Sutton, a notorious bank robber, why he robbed so many banks. His response was, “Because that’s where the money is.”
Solomon said, “Ill-gotten gain brings no lasting happiness; right living does.” (Proverbs 10:2, TLB)
“He who gains by oppressing the poor or by bribing the rich shall end in poverty.” (Proverbs 22:16, TLB)
You may complain about having to get out of bed early every morning and go off to work for 8-10 hours. You may look at the paycheck you receive after all the government and insurance deductions have been subtracted, and feel like you don’t have a lot to show for all your hard work. But all the money in the world can’t buy that peace of mind you have when you lay your head down at night, knowing that that you acquired your money through an honest day’s work.
Wisdom will make a difference in how we get our money. And then, thirdly……
III. Wisdom will make a difference in how we spend our money
One of the most powerful lessons in regard to money has to do with generosity. Because, throughout the scriptures, God commands us to avoid greed, injustice, and oppression of the poor, and instead, we are encouraged to live a life of generosity.
Now, the interesting thing about generosity is that it seems to accomplish the impossible. If you’ve ever studied math, you know that if you have $1000 and then you give away $1000, you don’t have any money any more. But, in God’s world, things operate a bit differently. Things can’t always be tallied up using a ledger sheet.
Instead, Solomon says in Proverbs 11:24 (TLB), “It is possible to give away and become richer! It is also possible to hold on too tightly and lose everything.”
Notice several principles in the book of Proverbs:
A. We need to put God first
“Honor the Lord by giving him the first part of all your income, and he will fill your barns with wheat and barley and overflow your wine vats with the finest wines.” (Proverbs 3:9-10, TLB)
Honor the Lord. I think it means that we are to regard everything we have (our money, our possessions, our talents) as both a gift from God and also as something he has given us to hold in trust. In other words, God has entrusted us with these things, and he will hold us accountable for how we use them. And what God has given us, we are to use not selfishly, but for his glory and honor.
So, how do we honor God? I think the next phrase gives us the answer. It says, honor Him “by giving him the first part of all your income”. The picture here is of a farmer bringing the first-fruits of his harvest as an offering to God. The first-fruits were the first and best part of the harvest. God told his people to set aside a tenth of their crops together with the firstborn of their herds and flocks to be offered to the Lord. In doing this, they would be reminded that everything they had was given to them by God. They were to keep God first in their lives.
And Solomon says that when we put God first, God will fill our barns, which is to say that God will always take care of us financially. Sueanne and I have experienced this firsthand, and I know that many of you have as well. There’s a part of us that wants to say, “I’ll take care of my own needs first, and then I’ll give God whatever’s left over.” But if you’ve tried that approach, you know there just doesn’t seem to be much left over for God. Or we can have the approach that I’ll give to God first and then make ends meet with what’s left over, and it’s amazing how God provides for us in ways we never imagined.
“Honor the Lord by giving him the first part of all your income, and he will fill your barns…”
B. We need to share generously with others
“Blessed are those who are generous, because they feed the poor.” (Proverbs 22:9, NLT)
“Give freely and become more wealthy; be stingy and lose everything. The generous will prosper; those who refresh others will themselves be refreshed.” (Proverbs 11:24-25, NLT)
We have trouble truly believing this. And, in that regard, we’re a lot like the Mazatec Indians of southwestern Mexico. They have a very strange perspective on giving. They believe there is only “so much” of anything they have to give. They believe there is only so much good, so much knowledge, so much love to go around.
And so, they are hesitant to teach anyone because to teach someone else means you might drain yourself of knowledge. To love this child over here means you have to love that child over there less. To wish someone well — “Have a good day” —means you have just given away some of your own happiness.
And, of course, all of that sounds foolish to us. We all know that giving away knowledge or love or well wishes doesn’t deplete us in any way. But when it comes to money, we’re hesitant to believe God when he that if we give to others who are in need, then we will become even more wealthy. And if we hold onto what we have, we end up having less. It doesn’t seem to make sense. And if it wouldn’t make sense, if it weren’t for the fact that this promise comes from God.
“If you help the poor, you are lending to the Lord — and he will repay you!” (Proverbs 19:17, NLT)
God loves a person with a generous heart. When we share our wealth with the poor, the needy, and the unfortunate, God pays us back.
So, a wise man will use his money to give first to God and then be generous to others. But there are also some things that a wise man won’t do, things that a foolish man will.
A. A foolish man will waste his money.
“A man who loves pleasure becomes poor; wine and luxury are not the way to riches!” (Proverbs 21:17, TLB)
Now, I understand that this is a difficult passage for us to apply because what I regard as wasteful may not be the same thing that you regard as wasteful. I may look at your shopping cart and wonder why you’re wasting money on all that stuff while you’re looking in my shopping cart wondering the same thing about me.
But, if we’re honest with ourselves (and I hope we are), we have to admit that we all buy a lot of things that we really don’t need. Some of us have closets and attics full of stuff that we don’t need.
If you will get in the habit of constantly asking yourself the question before buying something, “Do I really need this?” and, if you don’t, then set that money aside into savings, you’ll find yourself with hundreds or thousands of dollars at the end of the year. But a foolish man will waste his money
B. A foolish man buries himself in debt
I could spend an entire lesson talking about this one, but allow me to simply to share one of Solomon’s proverbs:
“The poor are always ruled over by the rich, so don’t borrow and put yourself under their power.” (Proverbs 22:26, MSG)
Sadly, most people in this country use debt to fund their lives. 2/3 of all people, and 1/3 of high income earners are living paycheck to paycheck because of debt. Debt limits your freedom to live life the way you want to live it. As long as you have debt, you are obligated to put much of your time and energy toward paying it off.
Dave Ramsey’s advice on debt is great. He said we should all live by the saying, “If I can’t afford it, I don’t need it.” “The poor are always ruled over by the rich, so don’t borrow and put yourself under their power.”
C. A foolish man hoards his money
“Don’t eat with people who are stingy; don’t desire their delicacies. They are always thinking about how much it costs. ‘Eat and drink,’ they say, but they don’t mean it.” (Proverbs 23:6-7, NLT)
Over the years I have known and I’m sure you have too, people who hoarded their money. We call them misers, tightwads, cheapskates, “penny pinchers.” We joke about how “they still have the first dime they ever made.”
There’s a difference between being “a wise man who saves money” and a “foolish man who hoards money”.
I hold in my hand a one-dollar bill. Think about how many of these have passed through your hands over the course of your lifetime. Think about how many of these you’ve deposited into a drink machine or snack machine. Think about how many of these you’ve left on a restaurant table to tip a waitress or waiter. Think about how many birthday cards you’ve opened over the years and a number of these fell out.
Money is nothing more than an “earthly tool” to be used in this lifetime to purchase goods and services. But the day is coming when this will be worthless. Which is why we need to be wise about our money and realize the greatest way we can use our money here on earth is to invest in those things that will make an eternal difference in someone’s life.
After looking at everything Solomon has to say about money, it’s clear that you can’t understand the biblical view of money unless you are prepared to accept a number of truths which are held in tension.
• It takes money to live, but if you live for money, you’ll never have enough.
• You’ll probably acquire more money if you work hard. But if all you care about is getting more money, you’re a fool.
• Money is a blessing from God, but you’ll be more blessed if you give it away.
• God gives you money because he is generous, but he is generous with you so that you can be generous with others. And if you are generous with others, God will be more generous with you.
• It’s wise for you to save money, but don’t ever think that money will give you real security.
And again, we need to always remember that money can’t give us any of those things that we ultimately need. It can’t make us holy. It can’t make us righteous. It can’t save us from your sins. Wealth is a sign of God’s blessing, but it’s also one of our biggest temptations because it tempts us to have confidence in ourselves.
In the end, how we view money is a matter of faith. Faith enough to believe that doing things God’s way is the best way. Faith enough to believe that if you give your money away, God can give it back. Faith enough to believe that money can be a good thing, but be careful not to believe that it’s the most important thing. Money is a gift from God, but the gifts you need the most can only be found in God.