Proverbs on Finances
Most dedicated Christians feel uncomfortable regarding the subject of their finances. They feel almost guilty if they have very much money; in fact some are very defensive about their finances, making sure nobody knows how much income they make each year. The truth though is that it is not wrong to be rich. Some of the godliest people in the Bible were rich: Abraham (who was basically a sheik), David, Solomon (the wealthiest man on earth at that time), several of the women who supplied the material needs of Jesus and His disciples, Barnabas in the NT, and Lydia (who financed Paul's ministry in Philippi and most likely in Thessalonica and Corinth as well). The question regarding finances is not whether or not you have money, but whether or not your money has you. The question basically is: "Who is control of the situation, you or your money?"
How do I know the answer to this question? How easily do you turn loose of your money? When you feel a nudge from God to support a certain worthy endeavor, do you let go of it? (Now endeavors which advance your business or fame in the community don't count.) How would you be if tomorrow you lost all your money? Would your self-esteem plummet, or would you take the hit and still be able to function well in life? Answers to questions like these determine whether you have your money or your money has you.
PUT YOUR MONEY IN PROPER PERSPECTIVE
The result of humility is fear of the Lord, along with wealth, honor, and life (22:4).
So many Christians recoil at the thought of this verse. Concepts like these have been so polluted by people like Robert Tilton that we have almost claimed that being poor is more spiritual than being rich. That's simply not true. Obeying God with your finances, no matter how much or little you have, is what determines whether or not you're spiritual with regards to your finances. The truth is that the person who walks humbly in his relationship to God and to life generally does well financially. He works hard on the job; he doesn't blow his money; he gives as the Lord would lead him to give; he saves for the future. All these actions tend to lead towards financial security. Many times we think that the richest people in the world live in New York City because they are always flaunting their wealth, while stats show that most of the wealth Americans ride around in a Ford F150, F250, etc. pick-up truck--humble people who have worked hard for their money and who have not blown it.
I think one of the best examples of this happened while I was ministering at a church in Dallas. At that church were people who were reportedly to be extremely wealthy. They had tons of fine jewels (which they wore to church). They drove spectacular cars. They carried themselves as if they were extremely important. One day though the financial secretary told me that the family who gave the most money to the church had just moved away to another town and would not be attending our church any more. I couldn't believe it. I thought through all the supposedly big money givers and realized that none of them had moved away. When she told me who the family was, I dropped my jaw in disbelief. They were the least pretentious of all the families who attended the church. Based on appearance I would have never guessed they were the top money givers. They lived out this proverb to the fullest extent.
Don't wear yourself out to get rich; stop giving your attention to it. As soon as your eyes fly to it, it disappears, for it makes wings for itself and flies like an eagle to the sky (23:4-5).
One thing a person should keep in mind is the transitory nature of wealth. Many times people hold onto their money with fists grasped tightly shut. We believe that if we just hold onto it with all our might we are going to be OK financially. So many sad stories to emerge from the collapse of Enron and the stock market in 2002-2003 show that money can not only easily come but can also easily go. A lot of people were flying high off the arrogance and idiocy of Enron; the 401k's of so many people were destroyed during that time.
"But," you say, "I invest in solid companies. I've hedged my bets." The truth is that even the most solid of companies can come crashing down. Who would have ever thought that Safeway Food Stores, Inc. would have suffered as much as it did during the 1980's. To be sure it has come roaring back; however, during those off years, the lives and finances of a lot of faithful Safeway employees were devastated. You can let the fickle world of the economy determine your finances, or you can let God.
How do I let God determine my finances? The best way to hold onto your money is to give it to the Lord. When you allow Him to dictate the way you spend your money, then you can rest assured that He is going to give you the money He wants you to have to spend it on the things He wants you to spend it on. I don't understand why a person would want it any other way.
Other illustrations of the transitory nature of wealth: (1) The question was raised: "How much money did Howard Hughes leave behind?" The answer: "All of it." (2) B.F. gave the good illustration of the person who was asked about the house he owned. He replied that he did not own the house. The questioner looked puzzled. The "owner" replied that in another 100 years somebody else would be "owning" that house; therefore, how could he claim he owned anything?
With regards to the relative value of wealth, the following illustrations sums it up best. When a man was told he could bring anything he had along with him to heaven, he took along a case of gold bricks. When Peter met him at the Pearly Gates, Peter called to an angel to come and get the bricks the man had brought to help pave the streets of heaven. From heaven's perspective the man had just brought along some pavement, nothing more.
Two things I ask of You; don't deny them to me before I die; . . . Give me neither poverty nor wealth; feed me with the food I need; Otherwise, I might have too much and deny You, saying "Who is the Lord?" or I might have nothing and steal, profaning the name of my God (30:7-9).
Look at the humility expressed in this passage. How many of us are just dying for God to bless us financially? We play Texas Lotto just hoping against hope that they will draw our number. Unfortunately God does allow some Christians to win the Lotto. Overnight they discover that wealth is not all it's cracked up to be. Suddenly they discover they have relatives they never knew they had before. I like the saying: "Wealth is relative; the more wealth you have, the more relatives you have." My dad turned out to be very successful in life. Although he and the family enjoyed some wonderful benefits from his success, the loss of certain personal relationships hurt him. Once he lamented to me that the only time he heard from certain people or members of his family was whenever they wanted something from him. For this reason many times you will see wealthy people who kept friends from that time of their life when they had no money.
The writer of these proverbs though knows the danger inherent in being wealthy. He fears that he will no longer "need" the Lord. For those of you who have gained much wealth financially, ask yourself if your attitude has changed since you've become wealthy. Does the church need to honor your input more now that the amount of your tithe has increased considerably? Do you feel that from now on that the church should basically consult with you on every major decision, even though the church has not placed you in a position which would determine those decisions? God may be keeping you and me from getting that much money in order to protect us spiritually from the damage we would inflict upon ourselves if we did get rich.
HONOR GOD WITH YOUR FINANCES
Honor the Lord with your possession and with the first produce of your entire harvest; so that your barns may be filled with plenty and your vats overflow with new wine (3:9-10).
The OT specified that God's people were not only to bring offerings to the Temple but that they were to bring the first fruits of the offerings. (In fact the three major festivals originated as harvest festivals.) Typically the first yield of the harvest is the best of the harvest. Whenever the Jews crushed the olives in the olive presses, they would send the first yield to the Temple for use there, sell the second yield on the market, and then use the third and less precious yield for less important consumption.
In the same way, God's people are to have this attitude towards their money and giving. Some people "tithe" only if there is enough money in the bank at the end of the month. The result is that they seldom have enough money to tithe. They justify their lack of faith by saying to themselves that they would have tithed if they had had enough money that month to do so. They give God the left-overs. Most committed tithers though write the tithe check before they write any other check that month to pay bills. Oddly enough they always seem to have enough money for their bills AND the tithe--something the other person did not experience.
I believe that giving the first fruits involves more than just writing that first check for the tithe. God has really been operating in my life in the area of finances. Of course we have to pay our bills. We operate out of a budget. It's wild though how much expendable income families have and don't realize it. A little over a year ago when God wanted me to give more to missions, I responded that I simply didn't have enough money. God then pointed out to me an area of money in my life which I could direct to missions. I've seen God operate in a wonderful way through my finances, providing for me times of entertainment and joy that I otherwise would not have experienced. When God takes charge of your finances, your financial relationship with God can actually become a wonderful adventure.
I remember when one of my employers played favorites among his employees. He would do for one joyfully what he would not do for others. It was really quite painful to see that happen. Once the employer actually initiated a process which resulted in a big financial boon for that particular employee. God told me not to worry about it. I was able to let it go after He reminded me that He and not that employer was the one who paid my salary and who blessed me financially. It was wild how God blessed me. That year I was supposed to get nothing back from the IRS. That year I got from the IRS a check for the exact same amount that the fellow employee got from the employer. The neat thing was that I got to experience God being the source of the financial blessing and not another man.
Notice that v. 10 states that if we give God our best, He in turn will give us His best--the new (best) wine. God is not skimpy on His blessings. He just wants us to trust Him with our finances. At another time the church we were serving at was unable to provide any kind of salary increase. The only problem with that is that cost of living increases even when salaries don't increase, resulting in the actual decrease of a person's buying power. When Nancy and I realized this had happened, we were disappointed but chose wisely to turn it over to the Lord. We decided we would let Him give us the salary increase He wanted us to have. That year we got the biggest "salary" increase I ever received in all my years of work. God is not limited in the way He increases our income. God--not your employer--is the source of your income.
EARN MONEY WITH INTEGRITY
Food gained by fraud is sweet to a man, but afterward his mouth is full of gravel (20:17).
This set of proverbs cautions against gaining wealth in an un-Christlike manner. James warns us against getting wealthy by withholding wages from laborers: "Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries which are coming upon you; for your riches have rotted and your garments have become moth-eaten. Your gold and your silver have rusted, and their rust will be a witness against you . . . The outcry of those who did the harvesting has reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth and the pay of the laborers who mowed your field cries out against you" (James 5:1-4). The employer who skims millions off from his company every year and yet depresses the wages of his employees so that they can barely make a living or even have insurance to take care of basic needs should really rethink his relationship with his employees. He's not doing them a favor by providing for them a job and then treating them like this. (Unfortunately the churches these people attend probably don't ever address this issue because they have benefitted from the man's "blessings" from God.)
One of the best illustrations of this principle is seen in the story of Sir Thomas More. More had not agreed on religious grounds to Henry VIII's divorce of Catherine of Aragon and remarriage to Anne Boleyn. He did not denounce either action; however, he refused to endorse them either. Henry was determined to have either More's endorsement or his head. Since nothing could be done against More because he had never spoken about these matters, Henry bribed a young clerk named Sir Richard Rich to claim that he heard More denounce the king and his remarriage, an act of treason. After Rich perjured himself at More's trial, More asked Rich what was the medallion he was wearing around his neck. Rich replied that the medallion signified he had just been made postmaster over Wales. More replied: "It doesn't profit a man to sell his soul for the whole world--much less for Wales." Many of us have sold our souls for things far less valuable than even Wales.
The one who robs his father or mother and says, "That's no sin," is a companion to a man who robs (28:24).
This verse stuns me because I cannot imagine not helping my parents if they needed it. My sister one day is going to build on the Champions Forest golf course a home large enough so that my mom can live with her and her husband later. To neglect our parents during times of their need is unconscionable in light of all they sacrificed to help us. Paul informs us that the person who does not care for his family is worse than an unbeliever (1 Tim. 5:8).
Good conservative that I am politically, I actually believed that the prescription drug card for senior adults was a good thing. We waste so much money on so many other things that are not important--and yet we can't care for needy senior adults. (The conservative in me though says the help though should go only to those who need it--not to those who don't. The latter can pay their own way.) Senior adults and children many times are the most vulnerable segments in society. The degree that we help the vulnerable in our society is the degree to which we become a truly great society. God will always provide us with enough money to help the truly needy.