The blessing of the LORD makes rich,
and he adds no sorrow with it.
Wisdom is skill for living well. We need wisdom when we don’t have an obvious rule to go by, which is often. Solomon prayed for wisdom. He asked God for “an understanding mind . . . that I may discern between good and evil” (1 Kings 3:9). Why pray for that? He had the Ten Commandments to define good and evil. But Solomon needed more, and we need more. We need “an understanding mind” – literally, a listening mind. Then we can discern between good and evil as we’re making decisions moment by moment in the complexities of every day. And now God is going to coach us with his wisdom about money.
Now here I am, a minister preaching about money. You know what I’m going to say. You know I’m going to tell you to tithe. And I should. Jesus told the Pharisees, “You are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore the more important aspects of the law – justice, mercy and faith. You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things” (Matthew 23:23, NLT). What was the Lord saying? The Pharisees tithed carefully from all their income, and Jesus did not tell them they were taking it too far. He told them to pay attention to the weightier matters of the law as well. So let’s not think of tithing as heroic, high-level commitment. Tithing is entry-level obedience, and then we go from there. Are you tithing?
What is tithing? It’s the first item in a Christian’s monthly budget, the first check we write, ten percent of our gross, and that check goes to the cause of Christ. Something comes first in our budgets. Do we really want to say to our Lord, “I’ll fit you in if I can”? So we write out our personal budgets at home, on a legal pad or on a computer, and we put the Lord first with our tithe every month. It’s basic obedience. It’s simple. We just do the math. But wisdom takes us further. Wisdom makes us sacrificial, like Christ, which is beautiful. But let’s all admit it – money has an almost hypnotic spell over us. It makes us feel secure and in control and important. We need wisdom to get free from the illusions of money and live in the generosity of Christ. Let’s receive it from him right now.
God made money a blessing – and it’s available
The blessing of the LORD makes rich,
and he adds no sorrow with it.
Like it or not, the basic attitude of Proverbs toward money is positive: “The blessing of the LORD makes rich.” So if you have a money problem, the answer is not money. The answer is the Lord. Your employer does not provide for you; God does. So if the blessing of the Lord makes rich, then our business with him. He’s the best partner in the universe. When you make money by the blessing of the Lord, you don’t have to bend the rules, you can keep your promises, you don’t have to overwork yourself, your conscience is clear, and you make enough to share with others, which is joyful. There’s no sorrow in that.
Why is the book of Proverbs basically positive about money? Because of the book of Genesis: “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good” (Genesis 1:31). God has packed into this world vast potentialities. The wheat fields of the American Midwest, the breadbasket of the world – God made that. The gold and silver and gems hidden in the earth – God made that. According to Genesis 2, God put gold, fine gold, in the world before sin ever came along (Genesis 2:11-12). But interestingly, it says the gold was located in one place, the land of Havilah. So God created a world in which some people would have more financial opportunity. Why? So they could share with others and become more like God himself, the ultimate Sharer.
No other worldview is positive about the creation the way the Bible is. Before the Bible, people in the ancient Near East saw the universe as the result of a battle between the gods. People saw the world as the leftovers of a cosmic catastrophe. The Greeks saw the universe as an icky material barrier to spirituality. But the Bible was written to protest every worldview that diminishes both the Creator and the creation. Our problem is not God. Our problem is not his creation. Our problem is that we look at the creation in all its splendor and we think, “Oh, so this is how I stop feeling empty – I’ll make money.” We bring our sadness to the creation and we say to it, “You are my happiness.” That idolatry adds sorrow to our lives. The Bible says, “Some people, craving money, have . . . pierced themselves with many sorrows” (1 Timothy 6:10, NLT). But the gospel gives us new eyes for everything. Now we look out at that same creation and think, “If this is what God made, what better wealth must be in him?” Savonarola, the Italian reformer, put it this way: “What must not he possess who possesses the Possessor of all things?” If the Creator is yours, your emptiness has found its fullness. The Bible says, “All things are yours” (1 Corinthians 3:21). God made everything for you. Why? To draw your heart up to him. We are swimming in an ocean of divine generosity. God is not holding out. He is blessing us in every way that won’t add sorrow to our lives.
But how does God bless us? How does God put his money into our pockets? Through the dignity of our own hard work:
A slack hand causes poverty,
but the hand of the diligent makes rich.
Poverty because of injustice is no disgrace; but laziness is. God made us for work. Our bodies thrive when they work. Our emotions are pleased when we reach a goal. And when we have something to share, it really makes us happy. That’s true wealth.
We are rediscovering in this recession that poverty is never far away. The diligent understand that. Things never turn out well automatically, even in good times. So “the hand of the diligent” intervenes, to keep making progress. The prosperity we Americans were born into is not a natural state of affairs. How did it happen? The Greatest Generation, after winning World War II, built this country up by their diligent hands. The privileges we have inherited are the blessing of the Lord through the hand of the diligent. And now it’s our turn. God blesses through our hard work. If you’re not going anywhere financially because you have not disciplined yourself and worked hard and made good use of your time and brains, you need to repent. God has not run out of blessing.
Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread,
but he who follows worthless pursuits lacks sense.
“He who follows worthless pursuits” can also be translated “he who chases fantasies” (NLT). Is your dream realistic? Is it productive? “Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread.” God made us men especially to build something up and make it successful and use it not for self-glory but for the glory of God and the benefit of others. That takes humility as we plow one furrow and then turn around and plow the next. Next Sunday, when we gather again, how will the world be a better place because of what you do this week? What “land” are you developing in practical ways that work? This week is a God-given tract of land, so to speak, and he is inviting us to make something of it.
Wealth gained hastily will dwindle,
but whoever gathers little by little will increase it.
Here is how God doesn’t provide – the lottery and all get-rich-quick schemes. But how does God get us ahead? By our patient, intelligent effort over a lifetime – not by windfalls but by handfuls. Why? Because God is building us. He is building in us the character that will not dwindle. For God, it’s not about the money. I don’t think God feels one particle of emotion about American dollars. He feels surging emotions about us. Little by little, God is increasing us and preparing us to live forever and never dwindle. That’s the back-story to all our financial ups and downs – the love of God.
I believe that God gives each of us exactly what he knows we need, and at the right time. Personally, I doubt that I’ll ever be rich, because I couldn’t be trusted with it. Some people can be. Some of the sweetest people I’ve known are wealthy Christians. God knows they’ll do a lot of good with it. But the rest of us, who aren’t ever going to be wealthy? Here is God’s wisdom for us:
Better is a little with the fear of the LORD
than great treasure and trouble with it.
Better is a dinner of herbs where love is
than a fattened ox and hatred with it.
We make money a curse – and it’s powerful
In itself, money is good, as a part of God’s creation. But in our hands, it can be destructive. These proverbs alert us to four dark powers that our hearts generate about money. These dark powers are control, conflict, confusion, corruption.
The people curse him who holds back grain,
but a blessing is on the head of him who sells it.
This is about someone hoarding grain to drive up the price. And grain was no luxury. It was basic to their diet. So holding back grain was a way of controlling and manipulating people at their point of real need. Bruce Waltke, an expert on the Proverbs, defined the issue this way: “The righteous are willing to disadvantage themselves to advantage the community; the wicked are willing to disadvantage the community to advantage themselves.” Isn’t that why we put blessing on the head of our Lord? He disadvantaged himself to advantage us.
A greedy man stirs up strife,
but the one who trusts in the Lord will be enriched.
The phrase translated “greedy” is literally “wide of appetite,” that is, a drivenness that doesn’t see boundaries and warning signs and limits. A greedy man isn’t contented with what he has, he overreaches and triggers conflict. The Bible says, “You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel” (James 4:2). Jesus didn’t come to take. He came to give, because he trusted in the Lord to be his Giver. And now he is being enriched with billions of people who gladly live for him. That’s what love can do.
The wicked earns deceptive wages,
but one who sows righteousness gets a sure reward.
The words for “deceptive wages” can also be translated “wages that are a lie.” Selfishness tells us to get what we want, and then we’ll be happy. It seems obvious. But it’s a lie, to confuse us. Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24).
Unequal weights are an abomination to the LORD,
and false scales are not good.
“Unequal weights” are any kind of dishonesty, including false advertising. And the Bible says that’s an abomination to the Lord. That is strong language. An abomination in the Old Testament included sexual sin (Leviticus 18:22). But here the Bible says that dishonest business practices are an abomination, they are corruption. You can be sexually pure, but if you cheat people for money your life is still an abomination. The Bible says, “If you are a thief, quit stealing. Instead, use your hands for good hard work, and then give generously to others in need” (Ephesians 4:28, NLT). And where does glad-hearted generosity comes from? The gospel.
Christ saves tightfisted sinners – and he’s gracious
One gives freely, yet grows all the richer;
another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want.
Whoever brings blessing will be enriched,
and one who waters will himself be watered.
Life surprises us. The truth is, selfish people end up poor in every sense. And open-handed people get richer and richer in all the ways that count. If you don’t believe that enough that it redirects your money, look at Jesus. The word translated “one gives freely” can be more literally translated “one who scatters,” like scattering seed, throwing it around freely and widely, without paying attention to where every little seed goes. When Jesus was flogged by the soldiers, the whip had bits of metal and bone in the lashes so that it ripped his back open and flung bits of flesh all around. He scattered himself, he gave himself freely to all around, including you. And he has grown rich with your love back to him. That’s the secret to life. Selfishness is poverty. Generosity is wealth.
Two things I ask of you;
deny them not to me before I die:
Remove far from me falsehood and lying;
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.
This is the only prayer in the whole book of Proverbs. Again, it’s surprising. I mean, how’s this for a life goal? Never to go broke nor to get rich, because both are filled with temptation, but to live month to month and keep depending on God and doing as much good as we can. But here is the best incentive of all:
For 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
How does Paul motivate us to be generous? He doesn’t appeal to our emotions with sob stories. He doesn’t order our wills with commands. What does he do? He shows us Jesus. Our Savior was rich with heaven. But he gave it up. He came down into our poverty, so that we might become rich with him forever. He lost, so that we could gain. That’s wisdom, and it works. He was raised by the Father with a name above every name. So now we know how life actually succeeds here in God’s universe. Christ is our wisdom. And he changes what we do with our money.