Wisdom For Life At The Extremes

Honor the Lord with your wealth. —Proverbs 3:9

Do not despise the Lord’s discipline. —Proverbs 3:11

Here we are at the two opposite extremes of life – when the good times roll, and when hardship strikes. When life is sweet, trusting God with all our hearts feels unnecessary. When life is bitter, trusting God with all our hearts feels impossible. We need wisdom for those seasons in life when we’re on top, and for those seasons in life when nothing is going right. God is with us in both, with a wisdom that really helps. Earlier in chapter 3 God called us to trust him wholeheartedly (verse 5). Now, in Proverbs 3:9-12, he leads us to trust him wholeheartedly when we’re pushed out to these two opposite edges of our lives – plenty and pain.

Wisdom in plenty

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

God our Father gives us his counsel (verse 9), with an incentive (verse 10). What is his counsel? “Honor the LORD with your wealth.” The Hebrew verb translated “honor” means “to treat the LORD as weighty.”[1] The root of the verb means “to be heavy,” like a person who carries social weight. That’s what money communicates – prestige, rank, importance. It’s all around us every day. Right here in Nashville and Brentwood and Franklin is one of the most intense concentrations of money in the history of the human race. Whose prestige is that money enhancing? The sad truth is, we honor ourselves with our money, and the Lord gets second best if he’s lucky. But wisdom changes us. Wisdom is saying, “Make the Lord famous and prominent by means of your wealth. Use your money to increase his prestige in your world.”

Why is that wisdom? Because the more we use our money for self-importance, the sillier we look. The pretense of it, the love of appearances, the over-reaching – we do that because money has an almost mystical power over us. But how many castles in Europe are still lived in by the families that built them? Self-importance is unsustainable. But the more we heap prestige on Jesus by our money, the more weighty and significant and relevant we become. We become serious people. We impact history. That’s the irony of wisdom.

There’s also a Hebrew verb for the opposite of honoring. It means “to make light of, to regard as trifling and frivolous.” As God looks at your financial priorities, should he consider himself honored or slighted? Somebody gets the honor of first place in your monthly budget.

If God grants revival in our time – and we always pray for revival – God will be restored to his place of honor in every area of our lives. This word in verse 9 translated “honor” is the Old Testament word for glory. Don’t we pray, “Show us your glory” (Exodus 33:18)? It’s a meaningful prayer. The glory of God is why you and I are on the planet. The glory of God is why the planet is here. The glory of God is why everything is here. What is God up to in all this? He is displaying his glory, so that we can thrill over him forever. The glory of God is the central theme of the Bible.[2] Everything that’s wrong with the world today is traceable to this mega-sin – trivializing God. And that is folly. Life cannot work when we shut out the glory of God and treat this imposter called Self as weighty. But it is so freeing to throw ourselves into honoring God with all we have, including our wealth.

David Wells, in his book God in the Wasteland, speaks of “the weightlessness of God,” meaning that who God is makes little felt difference in our world today.[3] We want to change that. It’s why we’re here in church. We don’t want what Os Guinness, in his book The Gravedigger File, called “the Cheshire Cat factor.” Remember in Alice in Wonderland how the Cheshire cat began to vanish from the end of its tail forward, until nothing was left but the grin?[4] We don’t want the glory of God to fade away to a stupid grin here in our city. We grieve when God is removed from the power centers of our culture. We know something’s wrong when the founder of McDonald’s hamburgers says, “I speak of faith in McDonald’s as if it were a religion. I believe in God, family and McDonald’s – and in the office that order is reversed.”[5] We know that doesn’t honor God. But what about us? Does anything in our financial priorities carry more weight than God? Honor the Lord with your wealth.

Here are three things I discovered for the first time as I was preparing for this sermon. One, the ESV says, “Honor the LORD with your wealth.” But the NASB is a more literal translation: “Honor the LORD from your wealth.” What difference does that make? I might say, “Hey, I’m honoring the Lord when I pay my light bill on time and when I take my wife out to dinner, and so forth, because all my money belongs to God and I’m doing good things with it, I’m not doing bad things, and that honors the Lord.” Okay. That’s how I might “honor the Lord” with my wealth. And I could do that without ever giving a dime away. But Proverbs 3:9 is literally saying, “Honor the LORD from your wealth.” That is, he gets a cut from my wealth. I part with some of my money for his sake. I give it away to him.

Secondly, the next line of the verse explains how I truly honor the Lord from my wealth: “. . . and with the firstfruits of all your produce.” The firstfruits were the best of the harvest (Numbers 18:12-13). Exodus 23:19 says, “The best of the firstfruits of your ground you shall bring into the house of the LORD your God.” So then, how do we honor the Lord from our wealth? By giving away to him our first and our best. He comes first in our budgets – ahead even of taxes.

Thirdly, I truly honor the Lord from my wealth when I calculate not from the net but from the gross, because it says, “from all your produce,” that is, all our income. We can dishonor God not only by not giving him anything but also by giving him the leftovers after we’ve taken care of ourselves, like a tip thrown on the table for good service. But we honor God by giving away to him the first cut from our gross income.

How can we be tightfisted? God our Father is sharing his resources with us to expand the family business. He is entrusting into our care his own money, and we are investing for his greater glory in the world. Now, what if you had an investment broker who used your money on himself? He’d be an embezzler. But God is so kind, he gives us his money to invest for kingdom expansion and he lets us use most of it on ourselves. Can we refuse to plow even as little as ten percent back into his cause? We invest, say, 10% as a tithe, which is basic, and then he pays us a 90% commission! He is so kind and generous.

God loves to give even more to his children who understand what money is for and handle it wisely:

. . . then your barns will be filled with plenty,
and your vats will be bursting with wine.
—Proverbs 3:10

God’s capacity to give far exceeds our capacity to receive. Jesus said, “Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you” (Luke 6:38). He does not mean by that, “Give money to God, and he’ll make you rich.” If that were the message, the Lord would not be honored, he would be used. Jesus is not arousing our greed. When then does he mean? He means, as God’s people have experienced with great joy throughout history, if you invest for his sake, he will give you more to invest for his sake. Matthew Henry, the old Puritan scholar, nailed it when he said this about verse 10:

God will bless you with an increase of that which is for use, not for show, for giving away, not for hoarding. Those who do good with what they have shall have more to do more good with.[6]

If you love Jesus, nothing could make you happier than to do more good for his sake. Why? Because here is how he treated you: “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). Someone like that should be honored, don’t you think?

Wisdom in pain

My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline
or be weary of his reproof,
for the LORD reproves him whom he loves,
as a father the son in whom he delights.
—Proverbs 3:11-12

This is very real, isn’t it? It reminds me of The Rolling Stones song, “There’ve been good times, there’ve been bad times, I have my share of hard times too.” The bad times and hard times seem sometimes to double up. When that happens, we’re pushed to face the only two possibilities about our lives. Either God loves us passionately, or God hates our guts. It’s one or the other. And we all have moments when it feels like God despises us. That’s why we’re thankful for these opening words in verse 11: “My son.” Do you hear the tenderness in those words? A wise father is counseling the son he loves. What is he saying about hard times? Two things.

One, when we suffer, it isn’t God angrily taking from us; it’s God lovingly reinvesting in us. Suffering feels like anger. It feels like loss. It feels like hell. But the heroes of faith in Hebrews chapter 11 suffered. Theirs was no country club religion. They trusted God with all their hearts, and some were tortured, killed, mistreated. Was God mad at them? No, he commended them (Hebrews 11:2, 6, 39). That’s why it says, “God is not ashamed to be called their God” (Hebrews 11:16). He was proud of them. To use the language of verse 12 in our passage, he delighted in them. When you’re suffering, here is what you must remember. Your sufferings are not evidence against you, nor are they evidence against God. It’s the opposite. Your sufferings are proof that God your Father cherishes you. As Hebrews 12 says, quoting these verses, “God is treating you as sons” (Hebrews 12:7).

Here’s another way to think of it. C. S. Lewis proposed this in his book The Problem of Pain:

Over a sketch made idly to amuse a child, an artist may not take much trouble; he may be content to let it go even though it is not exactly as he meant it to be. But over the great picture of his life . . . he will take endless trouble – and would, doubtless, thereby give endless trouble to the picture if it were sentient. One can imagine a sentient picture, after being rubbed and scraped and re-commenced for the tenth time, wishing that it were only a thumbnail sketch whose making was over in a minute. In the same way, it is natural for us to wish that God had designed for us a less glorious and less arduous destiny; but then we are wishing not for more love but for less.

If you are in Christ and you are suffering, God does not hate you. If he did, he wouldn’t bother with you. The truth you need to know is this. You are a person of destiny, your greatness has already been won for you by Christ at his cross, and now God is getting you ready with some finishing touches. If you could remove suffering not only from your own life but also from the whole world, you would not improve it. You would rob everything of significance. It would be a world without the love of God. It would be a world where Jesus himself could not suffer and die for your sins.

Maybe your dad didn’t love you enough to discipline you, and now you feel that some blanks were never filled in here and there in your character. You don’t like the way you are. But you can’t change. Don’t worry about it. You have a perfect Father in God, and he will help you along, step by step.

Two, your wise pathway through suffering is to accept it and wait while God fulfills his purpose. If you’re suffering right now, you’re being tempted in two opposite ways. They’re right here in verse 11 – either to despise the Lord’s discipline, which is the active response of anger, or to be weary of his reproof, which is the passive response of despair. What is your only path forward? The Bible says, “Be trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11). We get our modern word “gymnasium” from that Greek word. God has us working out. Is that so bad? Jesus himself suffered: “Though he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered” (Hebrews 5:8). The Bible says that he sympathizes with our weaknesses, because he has been tempted the same ways we are, but he didn’t sin, he didn’t lash back at the Father nor did he go limp (Hebrews 4:15). So we have a Friend in Jesus who is qualified to stand before God on our behalf but who is also sympathetic with us because he knows how it feels. So the Bible tells us what to do: “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).

Here is what to ask for as you kneel there at the throne of grace. In Philippians 3:10 Paul said, “I want to know Christ, and the power of his resurrection, and I want to share in the fellowship of his sufferings.” Paul looked at the cross, he saw Jesus shedding his lifeblood for sinners, and Paul’s heart said, “There is the wealth I want. There is the suffering I trust.” Jesus is your treasure. Jesus is your approval. Will you believe that?