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Our Father in heaven, that is our prayer, that You would speak to us and we would have ears to hear. Rebuke us, comfort us, encourage us, convict us, bless us, by Your holy, inspired, inerrant Word. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Well, I’m excited this morning because I get to speak to you about money. [laughter] Now some pastors dread speaking about money. I actually like to speak about money. Number one, because God wants us to be joyful. And everything He says about money and about generosity is meant for our good and our happiness. So when we talk about money, and God has a lot to say about money, He’s not there to crush us or to punish us, but to set us free.
The other reason I like to talk about money is the Bible just has so much to say about it. On some topics, we get off track because the Bible says so little. What does the Bible say about dating? What does the Bible say about essential oils? [laughter] What does… Not a lot. We don’t have a lot of specific instructions, so we have to be careful.
But when it comes to money, or to speak of wealth and poverty and possessions, we have an opposite problem. Because the Bible says so much about money, it is easy to develop an imbalanced theology of money.
On the one hand, we can see in many churches the danger of a prosperity theology. I watched, on one of my plane rides, The American Gospel, this documentary. If you haven’t seen it, it is well worth seeing. It’s in large part about the errors of the prosperity gospel, which has grown up on American soil and tragically exported all around the world. You can take a few promises from the Mosaic covenant, you take the promise from Malachi about bring in your tithes and the storehouses will be full. You can talk about Jesus’ statements, “don’t you receive whatever you ask in faith,” and you put it together, take some things without their proper context, and prosperity theology. Just give some seed money, you’re gonna be rich, you’re gonna be blessed. Big danger.
There’s also a danger in what we might call an austerity theology. You say, “Well, Jesus had nowhere to lay His head, the rich young ruler was told to sell everything he had, store up your treasures in heaven… ” Now, this is going to get us closer to the truth, but there’s a way to be imbalanced there, too, and make it sound like the only way to truly be spiritual is to be destitute of every possession.
You can argue that the rich guys are the good guys in the Bible. Can’t you find lots of rich people who are the good guys? Abraham was rich. Job. Solomon. Don’t you read with the kings that a measure of the good king is how blessed they were with plenty. Don’t we see the picture of heaven is a vision of feasting and a good life in the age to come? Though you could go through and say look at the, the rich guys are the good guys. They’re blessed. That’s why they’re rich.
And you know that you could very easily and persuasively argue that the rich guys are the bad buys. The rich man and Lazarus, Jesus says in Luke’s account “woe to the rich,” the book of James is filled with warnings to the rich, Jesus said “blessed are the poor.”
So how should we think of money and possessions? How do we make sense of dollars and cents? What biblical principle should we keep in mind? There are actually few things that the Bible talks about more than money, and so if you are not developing a theology and an application of biblical principles regarding money, then you are missing a massively important topic in the Bible. If you think that the Bible just touches what you do on Sunday and some finer points of theology and singing good songs to Him and doesn’t touch how you live, how you spend your money, how you work, how you think about what you have, then you’re not living as God would have you live. Because He speaks all the time about money.
And Proverbs, we’ve been studying Proverbs this summer, is a great book to develop a biblical theology of material possessions. There are lots of verses on the subject. And there are lots of diverse strands of teaching. By general, remember, in general, Proverbs is giving us maxims, aphorisms, not ironclad laws. Not always even the way things should be, but they’re telling us the way things are.
I want to give to you this morning 10 principles from Proverbs on money and material possessions. 10 principles. And I will give them to you roughly in order of the least to the most, that is, one or two verses to many verses about it, which is roughly perhaps having us land on the most important of those principles.
This is not everything to be said, for sure, from the Bible, but 10 things from Proverbs.
Number one. There are extremes of wealth and poverty that provide unique temptations to those who live in them. There are extremes of wealth and poverty that provide unique temptations to those who live in them. The passage I’m thinking of you may know it, is Proverbs 30, verse 7,8, and 9. “Two things I ask of you: Deny them not to me before I die. Remove far from me falsehood and lying, give me neither 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.” This is the famous “middle class” passage in Proverbs, the words of Agur here. He prays “don’t make me too rich, don’t make me too poor.”
Why? Verse 9: Because if I’m rich, if I’m so rich I may be full and deny you and say “Who’s the Lord? I have everything I need. Look at what I have. I’m secure. I’m safe. I’m cared for. Why do I need heaven later, I have it here now.” So he says “don’t let me go there, don’t make me too rich, and don’t make me too poor or lest I steal and profane the name of my God.”
This isn’t to say that really wealthy people are always self-righteous sinners, or that really poor people are all going to go out and steal, but rather it points to the reality of the human heart, and the dangers of both extreme prosperity, where you forget God, or extreme poverty where you think that you need to be God, because He hasn’t really taken care of you. Didn’t Jesus teach us to pray “give us today our daily bread”? Just give me today what I need.
1 Timothy 6: “If we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.”
Paul says those who desire to be rich fall into many temptations, the love of all money is the root of all kinds of evil.
So there are dangers on either end. And remember here, this is a prayer, verse 7, “two things I ask of you. Deny them not before I die.” It’s as if he’s modeling for us a prayer that says “Lord, would you give me enough of your material blessings so I don’t do something stupid out of desperation, but don’t give me so much that I begin to trust in myself.”
There are extremes of wealth and poverty that provide unique temptations to those who live in them.
Here’s the second principle. And with 10 of them, we need to move through them quickly. Number 2: Do not worry about keeping up with your neighbors. Do not worry about keeping up with your neighbors. Proverbs 12:9: “Better to be lowly and have a servant than to play the great man and lack bread.”
What is this about? This is about conspicuous consumption. Better to be lowly and have a servant. Now we think of a servant, oh, you must be on Downtown Abbey or something, you have footmen waiting for you and butlers, but of course there many people would have had servants, and still in many parts of the world, which are much less prosperous than the United States, it’s very common, and in fact I’ve talked to different missionaries in Africa and places and it’s considered very rude if you don’t employ someone as a household servant, and so it’s a way of providing for their livelihood, and so don’t hear “servant” and think aristocracy.
It says better to be lowly and have a servant, just be an ordinary person, but you have a servant, than to play the great man and lack bread. So better, we might say, to have a used car and a smaller house and have not the best vacation, and not yet be anxious all the time about how you’re going to make ends meet than it is to have a McMansion and be flying all over and have the fanciest cars and you’re always wondering how you’re going to make ends meet. To be house rich and cash poor. To say we’ve gotta have these things because we have to keep up with everyone else. We stretch out the last dime because we need that kind of house or we see all of our friends doing… And it happens so imperceptibly. It’s not that we wake up and we say “they got a cottage, we ought to get a cottage; their house looks nice, ours looks shabby.” It just happens. It becomes normalized. A new level of prosperity.
And we all know there is a danger, a great danger, in our part of the world where many of us live, south Charlotte, Mint Hill, Matthews, Ballantyne… This whole area of very high levels of prosperity seeming very normal.
Consumption gets normalized instead of generosity being normalized.
Appearances can be deceiving. So don’t worry about maintaining appearances. Look at chapter 13, verse 7. “One pretends to be rich, yet has nothing. Another pretends to be poor, yet has great wealth.” You don’t know what’s really going on inside that opulent house on your street. You don’t know what their life is really like. You don’t know how they’re barely hanging on, or perhaps they have money that they don’t even know how to spend, but they’re hardly happy in the Lord and their family is disintegrating. You don’t know, so don’t bother keeping up with the appearances when you don’t really know what’s going on on the inside
Third principle: The rich and the poor are more alike than they think.
Proverbs 22:2: “The rich and poor meet together. The Lord is the maker of them all.”
When it says they “meet together” it probably means meeting at the city gate to do business, or it could even mean more strongly meet together in a common bond. They have the same maker. Whether you are in the highest tax bracket or the lowest non tax bracket, we are all made in God’s image, we all have inherent worth and honor and dignity. The Lord is the maker of them all.
You remember that famous line from Abraham Lincoln: “The Lord must have loved the common people or He wouldn’t have made so many of them.”
He made us all. We may dress ourselves up differently, live in different parts of town and have different sort of homes, but we’re much more alike than we are different. Same maker. Same struggles. Same heart problem.
You cannot acquire so much wealth that you don’t have the same sin nature.
Who was it one time said “money can’t buy you happiness, but it can help you look for it in more interesting places.” Well, that may be true, but it still can’t buy it. And you still can’t find it.
Proverbs 29:13: “The poor man and the oppressor meet together. The Lord gives light to the eyes of both.” Both have life by God’s design.
If you are rich, do not see the poor as some other species of human being, something you would pass in a, in a museum or a safari or some mission trip, “look at the poor” as if they were not real people, with worth and dignity and stories.
And if you are poor, do not think of the rich as some level of elite, pharisaic, self-righteousness.
We often view each other in categories that are intended to simply beat each other up, and if we think that any of our politicians are going to help us bridge that divide, well, not many will.
It’s a warning, and the warning to most of us is perhaps not to disregard or to think lightly of the poor, but to remember they are people made in the image of the same Creator.
Fourth, fourth principle from Proverbs, you cannot out give God. You cannot out give God.
Look at Proverbs 3:9 and 10: “Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the first fruits of all your produce, then your barns will be filled with plenty and your vats will be bursting with wine.” Again, it’s not an ironclad guarantee. Input/seed money, output/prosperity. But it is here in the Bible to tell us the way things normally work. Honor God, give to Him your first fruits.
What is first? Even if you say, “Well, I gotta pay for my kid’s education right now.” Give to God your first. “Well, I live on a government check,” or “I’m unemployed,” or “I’m on a fixed income now that I’m retired.” It doesn’t matter. Give to God what is first.
The best way to do that is to start tithing. If you’re not tithing, and I know there’s all sorts of debate, well, did tithing really carry over into the New Testament, and is it an Old Testament idea, and you know what the tithe, when you add up all the tithes, most scholars figure they were really giving about 20 to 25% of their income away.
I know that we have taxes in a way that they didn’t. Here’s the way I look at it: How would we, who live in the most prosperous country on the planet, the most prosperous country in the history of the planet, in one of the wealthiest cities, many of us in one of the best, nicest parts of this city, and we would want to give a lower percentage of our income to the Lord’s work than the poorest Israelite, who never even knew the cross and Christ? Well, that’s gonna be hard to convince.
Now we know Christ, we’ve seen His gift, we’ve experienced His blessing, we’ve been given so much, so of course… A starting point, a tithe, is a floor, not a ceiling. It’s a building block, and many of us should be building towards 15, 20, 25%, much more that we can give away, because you and I cannot out give God.
The next time we are wondering whether to be generous, whether to give to the church, give to that Christian organization, give to those missionaries, don’t think about your shrinking bank account, think about the Lord’s inexhaustible treasury.
It’s easy to hear stories of waste in the government or exorbitant business expenses. Why does that happen? Well, it happens because people are profligate figuring there’s no way, we can never spend all the government’s money, or this business, well they just have billions and billions of dollars, so I can expense that. It’s just a drop in the bucket. That’s why there’s waste. People figure it doesn’t matter. It’s a rounding error. It’s nothing.
Well, what if we thought about that in terms of generosity and God’s wealth? Let it slip through your fingers. It’s all God’s. You don’t think He’s got more? You don’t think He has the power to more than make up for whatever you and I might give away? When we don’t give to the Lord’s work, starting with the church, it not only betrays a stingy heart, worse it suggests we have a stingy God.
The Proverbs is full of admonitions that if you give freely, it will go well with you.
Proverbs 11:24: “One gives freely yet grows all the richer, another withholds what he should give and only suffers want.”
Proverbs 22:9: “Whoever has a bountiful eye will be blessed, for he shares his bread with the poor.”
Honest question: Do you know unhappy generous people? I’m trying to think… I don’t.
Do you know unhappy generous people?
Do you know unhappy miserly people? Yes.
Do you know unhappy rich people? For sure.
Do you know unhappy generous people? Don’t be the person always counting the pennies, taking out the calculator, figuring out okay, all right, what do you, you owe a $1.25 for the pizza, you owe $1.33, just let’s make sure we have it all. Don’t be the one who accounts for every gift you’ve received.
Hey, children, are you listening to me a moment? Kids! Okay? Just relax with your parents. I know you are all amazing accountants when it comes to the size of the pie, the amount of ice cream, the number of times you sat in the front seat versus being banished to the trunk. I understand all of that. Be generous. Practice now what God tells us in Proverbs. Be the generous person, not always counting up how many times did I get it, how many things did you owe me, how many presents did I get for my birthday. Look, give joyfully, give freely, you cannot out give God. Try it. Try it.
Number five. Poverty is not pretty. Poverty is not pretty.
One of the things Proverbs does consistently is paint an ugly picture of poverty. Now listen, this is not to say an ugly picture of the poor, we’ll come to that in a moment. Actually, the poor are described in quite lofty terms often. They are to be honored. But it’s clear that prosperity is depicted as a picture of the good life and poverty is a picture of the not good life.
Proverbs 10:15: “The poverty of the poor is their ruin.”
Proverbs 14:20: “The poor is disliked, even by his neighbor, but the rich has many friends.”
Proverbs 19:4: “Wealth brings many new friends, but a poor man is deserted by his friends.”
Now, Proverbs isn’t saying well, this is great, poor you don’t need friends, rich get more of it. No, it’s just describing this is the way the world works. It worked 1500 years ago that way, it still works that way. People want to be with rich people. Why? ‘Cause they do fun stuff and they can give you stuff.
What does the Bible say? Why does the Bible describe poverty in these terms? Is God trying to be cruel, trying to kick the poor while they’re down? No, what the Bible wants to do is motivate us therefore to care about the poor. The Bible wants everyone to listen to this advice so that the wise person will avoid poverty in so far as they are able.
And the Bible wants us to avoid the romantic ideals about poverty. You know who thinks it would be really great and romantic to be poor? Rich people. Not poor people. Sometimes we have the romantic notions of how simpler or better and well, it’s all relative to some degree, but when you don’t have enough to eat or you don’t have water to drink, or you can barely scrape by, or you don’t have access to medicine… It stinks. Now God is still gracious. Most of us have been parts of the world that are impoverished to some degree and see people and Christians in particular living happy, joyful lives.
But if we care about people, we will care about this predicament. Proverbs paints a picture of poverty that is unattractive so that we might be drawn to avoid it and that we might be drawn in our hearts to help those who are in it.
Number six: Money cannot give you ultimate security.
If there is one balloon the Bible constantly tries to pop, whether Proverbs or the Psalms or Jesus or Paul, it is the myth of financial security. I’m not opposed to those of you who work in financial services and work to provide retirement and there’s Proverbs about that with the ant, but it’s a myth if we think that we can ever, apart from the Lord, be truly secure.
Proverbs 18:11: “A rich man’s wealth is a strong city and like a high wall in his imagination.” His imagination.
There are a thousand ways to get money, a thousand ways to lose money, which is why the Bible is always telling us not to put our trust in money. That’s the rich fool, in Luke 12, who stored up bigger barns, more grain, there it is, now my soul will be happy.
See, Jesus is constantly telling people, “I know you want security. I know you want to be safe.” God doesn’t say “shame on you for wanting to be safe, shame on you for wanting security for you and your children.” No, God says “I know you want that. You want to know how you can have it? Follow Me. Because money is ultimately not going to give you that.”
If you are feeling nervous about the future, maybe because it seems like you have no money. But then when some of us get money, we continue to feel nervous about the future, next year, and retirement. Either way, we must remember God watches over us. Relying on wealth is like Israel relying on Egypt. We see that all throughout the Old Testament. To Israel’s shame, that they want to lean on Egypt, they want to go back, they want to say “hey, listen, we had it so good in Egypt,” and God says “Didn’t I save you? Why do you want the bondage that you know when I can give you a freedom that you haven’t experienced?”
Proverbs 11:28: “Whoever trusts in his riches will fall, but the righteous will flourish like a green leaf.”
Money cannot give you ultimate security. And the Bible tells us often the more we have, the more we have to worry about.
Proverbs 13:8: “The ransom of a man’s life is his wealth, but a poor man hears no threat.”
How do you ransom a poor man? He doesn’t have anything. A rich man has plenty.
I imagine many of us have experienced this. You get something new, new wood floors, new car, new carpet, new house…. Now I’ve done all those things, not shaming us for it. But what happens is as soon as you have it, then, then you worry about it. Children, that car is for mommy and daddy to ride in; it’s for you to look at. It’s a new car. It’s not for dirty people. [laughter]
When we moved into our house here, which is a lovely house, and the previous people who owned it, they were the first owners and a retired couple and just impeccable, everything was just impeccably maintained. And sometimes we say to ourselves “I hope if they ever come by to visit it, they give us a warning they’re coming.” And when the first time we moved a piano in, which some of you helped with and are still suffering from injuries, made crease marks on the floor it was so heavy. You think “oh, that’s gonna be there forever.” [laughter]
The more stuff you have, the more stuff you have to worry about. Now you have Christian liberty. You can get a boat, you get a second home, you can use them generously… But you just have to think the more I have, the more I have to worry about. Store up treasures in heaven.
You see, what Jesus means there is not only that, you know, if you love Jesus you should put your money there, He also means that where your money is, your heart follows. You put your money in all earthly things, your heart is going to follow there. That’s what your heart’s going to be interested in. And if you give your money away generously to the poor, to the church, to the work of the Gospel, your heart goes there.
Don’t trust in riches because you cannot take them with you.
Proverbs 11:7: “When the wicked dies, his hope will perish, and the expectation of wealth perishes, too.”
It’s that old saying that you’ve never seen a hearse pulling a U-Haul.
Actually, a friend of mine sent me a picture about two weeks ago that actually was a hearse pulling a U-Haul and the caption was “a thousand preaching illustrations blown up in one minute.” [laughter] Okay, but you usually don’t see it, because you can’t take it with you.
Plan ahead, be wise, work hard, we’re coming to that, but use your money for eternal purposes. Not mainly for earthly purposes where rust and month will destroy.
Number seven. The Lord hates those who get rich by injustice. The Lord hates those who get rich by injustice.
Ill-gotten gain is an abomination to the Lord. I’m not in your lives to know all the details of the work that you do, the money that you have. I hope I’m safe in assuming that for almost all of you it’s good, old-fashioned hard work, opportunity, open doors, the Lord’s kindness, but you need to hear very clearly, if anyone in this room has gotten their wealth by oppressing the poor, by cheating customers, it is an abomination to the Lord.
Proverbs 21:6: “The getting of treasures by a lying tongue is a fleeting vapor in a snare of death.”
Proverbs 22: 22 and 23: “Do not rob the poor because he is poor, or crush the afflicted at the gate, for the Lord will plead their cause and rob of life those who rob them.”
Proverbs 22:16: “Whoever oppresses the poor to increase his own wealth or gives to the rich will only come to poverty.”
Thankfully, in a modern capitalist system, it’s not a zero-sum game, and so it isn’t the case that everyone who is rich has gotten rich at the expense of the poor. It is possible for the pie to expand, for rich to get richer and the poor to get richer. But just because that is the case doesn’t mean that at times it may not also be the case that the rich get richer precisely because they have made the poor poorer.
There are so many harsh condemnations about the rich in the Bible because often the rich were the oppressors of the poor. Through land grabbing, through not paying agreed upon wages, through cheating scales, through bribes that would pervert justice… God hates those who get rich by injustice.
Number eight. Conversely, the Lord loves those who are generous to the poor. The Lord loves those who are generous to the poor.
Now we can detect several reasons for poverty in the book of Proverbs, and in the rest of the Bible. Sometimes poverty is the result of folly or laziness. Sometimes the result of injustice, other times because of unforeseen calamity. So, yes, the poor are poor for any number of reasons, and we must be wise in how we help the poor.
Many of you have read the book that came out several years ago When Helping Hurts about how to help the poor without actually hurting the poor. So it’s always right to help the poor, but we help the poor in different ways depending upon their circumstances.
The emphasis in Proverbs is on simple generosity.
Proverbs 14:21: “Whoever despises his neighbor is a sinner, but blessed is he who is generous to the poor.”
Proverbs 14:31: “Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors him.”
Did you see the connection there? If you mock the poor, you mock God.
Proverbs 28:27: “Whoever gives to the poor will not want, but he who hides his eyes will get many a curse.”
One of the difficulties in our day is that poverty in the ancient world was almost always a matter of simple charity. People do not have something because the harvest didn’t come through, because the locusts at it, because of a hail storm. They were poor, they don’t have something, you have some food, you can give them food, they can eat.
Poverty in the Western world is a much more complex phenomenon, not solved merely by transfer of wealth from one person to another, or after two generations of the Great Society we wouldn’t have poverty. But of course we do. Which means that we must be intelligent in how we try to help the poor, and yet we do not want to excuse that the Bible says and say well, that’s just, that’s the role of the government now.
How might you and I help and be generous to the poor? Especially if many of us live in neighborhoods that are not surrounded by the poor.
Well, it might be by giving generously to the Mercy Fund at this church, which does much more behind the scenes, with many more people in need in this congregation than you might imagine. That’s one way.
Perhaps to support church plants, like the one that we just mentioned this morning, or others through our presbytery or others in different parts of the denomination that are sometimes working in particular areas of need.
Maybe it’s by supporting missionaries. Maybe it’s by giving an anonymous gift to someone that you know is in need. Do you know you have permission to help people even if you don’t get a tax break to do it? You could just give them something.
Maybe it’s to help people attend a school that they wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford. Or maybe some will feel a particular call to go live in a neighborhood that is surrounded by the poor and one that they wouldn’t have to live in but choose to.
Or perhaps it’s simply to devote ourselves more and more to prayer that we might have opportunities to be generous to the poor. Always with an eye that we might give them what they truly need, which is the hope of eternal life in Jesus Christ.
Know this promise, Proverbs 19:17: “Whoever is generous to the poor, lends to the Lord, and He will repay him for his deed.” Isn’t that a great promise? When you give to the poor, it’s lending to the Lord. And, and can the Lord not repay? Is the Lord ever running out of money? To give to the poor is basically saying “God, here it is. It’s yours and you’re going to pay it back.”
If you give to the poor, it’s as good as loaning money to God, and He has inexhaustible resources.
Number nine. And I said I’m moving from what Proverbs says little about to what it says most about, so these last categories are what the Proverbs says most about. Number eight, being generous to the poor, and number nine, hard work and good decision making usually lead to increased prosperity. Usually lead to increased prosperity.
Your parents were right. You need to work hard and apply yourself. Proverbs tells us over and over again.
Look at Proverbs 6:6 through 11. “Go the ant, O sluggard, consider her ways and be wise. Without having any chief, officer, or ruler, she prepares her bread in summer, gathers her food in harvest. How long will you lie there, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest and poverty will come upon you like a robber in want like an armed man.”
Proverbs 10:4: “A slack hand causes poverty, but the hand of the righteous delivers from death.”
It isn’t to say that the poor are always the lazy poor. But it is to say, by Proverbs’ calculation, that laziness generally leads to some kind of poverty. The lazy make excuses.
One of my favorite proverbs, 22:13: “The sluggard says there’s a lion outside! I shall be killed in the streets.” “Son, I’d like you to mow the lawn.” “It’s too hot, it’s too cold, there’s lions!” Try that one.
Some of us can make those excuses: “Well, I’m really over qualified… Well, I’m under qualified… It’s not my calling… I don’t, I don’t really take delight in it… I might not be here long… It’s too early… It’s too late… I’m an indoor person… I’m an outdoor person… It’s kinda hard for me… It doesn’t pay very well… I’m not appreciated… It wasn’t my major… I’m still looking for the right job…”
Sometimes the right job is the job you can get. And the job that will pay you something.
Proverbs tells us to be wise decision makers, to avoid looking for the quick and the easy fix.
Proverbs 13:11: “Wealth gained hastily will dwindle.”
Whole studies now that show people that win vast sums in the lottery often end up even worse than they were before.
Do you know the habits of delayed gratification?
Proverbs 21:17: “Whoever loves pleasure will be a poor man. He who loves wine and oil will not be rich.”
Proverbs 21:20: “Precious treasure and oil are in a wise man’s dwelling, but a foolish man devours it.”
The idea there is the foolish man just constantly consumes, never saves, never plans ahead, never practices delayed gratification, it’s always what can I get now.
There was a famous study, I think, Stanford researchers did it years ago. You’ve probably come across it before where they were working with, I think, 5- or 6-year-olds and offered them a marshmallow and said, “Here’s a marshmallow. I’m going to go leave the room for a few minutes. When I get back, if you haven’t eaten the marshmallow, I’ll give you two marshmallows.” And they traced these young kids over the course of the next 15 years, and the ones who waited for the two marshmallows scored something like 200 points higher on average on their SATs. Already learning the habits at a young age of delayed gratification.
I think my kids said something like “I’d eat that marshmallow and take the rest of his marshmallows.” I don’t think quite that’s, that’s not how the study worked. And that’s why your pastor eats Lucky Charms all of these years later… Delayed gratification.
Do you know how to work hard? Do you know how to save? Do you know how to wait? Do you know how to manage well?
Proverbs 27, look at verse 23. “Know well the condition of your flocks. Give attention to your herds, for riches do not last forever; and does a crown endure until all generations? When the grass is gone and the new growth appears and the vegetation of the mountains is gathered, the lambs will provide your clothing, and the goats the price of a field. There will be enough goats’ milk for your food, for the food of your household, and maintenance for your girls.”
This is a passage about being a good manager. You’re paying attention to dollars and cents. You’re looking at the condition of your flocks. You know that if I don’t pay attention to the grass, then the flocks won’t have something to eat, and then we won’t have something to wear, and then when it’s winter I will starve, and so I better pay attention to the details. Someone better teach you how to balance a checkbook, how to pay off your credit card bills.
There are two great realities in almost every church in America that are so commonplace, so prevalent, and almost impossible to change, and they are some of the biggest hindrances to discipleship, evangelism, growth, and world missions: Pornography and debt. They are reality in almost every congregation in this country.
And the Bible says that if you want to be most free, most happy, most beneficial in serving the Lord, do not hamstring yourself with debt. Now, there’s good debt that you can pay, and there’s bad debt that prevents you from serving the Lord and being generous with others. God blesses the humble and those who are faithful with prosperity.
Proverbs 22:4: “The reward for humility and the fear of the Lord is riches and honor in life.”
Proverbs 14:24: “The crown of the wise is their wealth.”
Proverbs 28:20: “A faithful man will abound with blessings, but whoever hastens to be rich will not go unpunished.”
Generally, you work hard, you are wise, you will increase in prosperity. In fact, there’s a famous saying from John Wesley from the 18th century who says, he despaired now Methodism would ever survive, because he said “Whenever Christian virtue flourishes, people are hardworking and frugal and honest and that cannot help but produce wealth, but then as wealth increases, it leads to a decline in true religion.” He says it’s very rare that you can find the sort of Christian virtues and industry that lead to prosperity without that prosperity then leading to the decline in the very same Christian virtue and faith.
And here’ the tenth, final principle: Money isn’t everything. It isn’t.
Proverbs tells us again and again it does not satisfy.
Proverbs 23:4 and 5: “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.”
Money is inferior to wisdom.
Proverbs 8: “Take instruction instead of silver, knowledge rather than choice gold, wisdom is better than jewels.”
Money is inferior to righteousness.
Proverbs 11:4: “Riches do not profit in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivers from death.”
The fear of the Lord is better than money.
Proverbs 15:16: “Better is little with the fear of the Lord than great treasure with trouble.”
Humility is better than money.
Proverbs 16:19: “It is better to be of lowly spirit with the poor than to divide the spoil with the proud.”
Friendships are better than money.
Proverbs 17:1: “Better is a dry morsel with quiet than a house full of feasting with strife.”
Closing, then, we cannot understand Proverbs’ view of money and the Bible’s view of money unless we are prepared to accept a number of truths that we must hold intention. On the one hand, you will probably acquire more money if you work hard and are full of wisdom. On the other hand, if all you care about is getting more money, you are the biggest fool.
On the one hand, money is a blessing from God. On the other hand, you are even more blessed if you give it away.
On the one hand, God gives you money because He is generous. But on the other hand, He is generous with you so you can be generous with others.
On the one hand, it is wise to save your money. On the other hand, don’t think that money can ever provide real security.
On the one hand, wealth is more desirable than poverty. But on the other hand, wealth is not as good as righteousness or humility or wisdom or relationships or the fear of the Lord.
1 Corinthians 1:30 says “Christ is for us, wisdom from God, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption so that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.'”
Money is important. It’s a gift for us to steward well. Money cannot give you, however, any of the things you really need. It cannot make you holy. It cannot make you righteous. It cannot save you from your sins. Wealth can be a sign of blessing, but is also one of your biggest temptations, and mine, because it tempts us to boast in ourselves, depend upon ourselves, rely on ourselves. If it promises to be your self-worth, promises to make you self-sufficient, it is deceiving you. So through and through, money is, like everything, an issue of faith.
Do you believe that if you do things God’s way, in general, things will go better for you? He will take care of you? Do you also believe that if you are generous with your money, He can more than give it back? Do you believe that money is a gift, but it also can be a great evil? Do you believe that while money may be a blessing from the Lord, the blessings you really need can only be found in the One who for our sakes became poor?
What if our God were not generous? What if our God never divested Himself of infinite treasure to suffer infinite loss? We have in the Lord Jesus the One who shows us the way and is the way and the One who promises to give back to us in this life and in the life to come, 30, 40, 60, a 100-fold for all that we generously give away for His sake.
Let’s pray. Father in heaven, help us whenever we talk about money. It is easy to excuse, it’s also easy to condemn. Help us to be thoughtful, help us to be wise, help us to be hard-working, help us to be generous people. And convict us of wherever we have fallen short of these things. Remind us of all that is true, and give to us all that we stand in need of. For your faithfulness is great. In Jesus we pray. Amen.