Sunday 23 August 2020
Ps Ben Hooman
Please open your Bible at the book of Proverbs. This is the last week in our series ‘Wisdom for Life.’ We have looked at what God says about fear, friends and family, about words and work, and today we are looking at what God says about wealth.
Proverbs 11:17-20, 24-30
I want to make four observations from the book of Proverbs about money, and the first, very simply, is that the book of Proverbs celebrates the blessing of money as a good gift from the Lord.
“The blessing of the LORD makes rich, and he adds no sorrow with it” (Proverbs 10:22)
Now, Proverbs has something else to say alongside this:
“A slack hand causes poverty, but the hand of the diligent makes rich.” (Proverbs 10:4)
Solomon affirms the reward of hard work. The blessing of the Lord makes rich, and the hand of the diligent makes rich. This reminds us of a very important principle in the Bible, which is, that God works through means, and the normal means by which God prospers us is through the diligent work of our hands. But while our hands may be the means by which blessing comes, God is the source of blessing. It is the blessing of the Lord that makes rich, and you find exactly this principle throughout the Bible.
“Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain,” (Psalm 127:1)
The blessing of the Lord makes rich, and He adds no sorrow to it! That is a wonderful statement. Sometimes people who have money are just not able to enjoy it. There may be various reasons for that; sorrow came with it. Sorrow may have come from guilt over how they got it, or they fear about how they might lose it.
Proverbs makes very clear, that when you know what you have receive through the blessing of God, you have freedom and peace to enjoy it. No sorrow is added. Thus, Proverbs celebrates the blessing of money as a good gift from the Lord, and we should do the same.
If money is a blessing, how can it also be a danger? Well, the answer is, that money is a power. It lures us as a rival to God Himself, and then makes increasing demands. Remember, Jesus said,
“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” (Matthew 6:24)
Money is a master, and it will seek to take control of your life. It will lure you by offering great benefits, but then it will hide from you its increasing demands. Money is a wonderful servant, but it is a terrible master.
Never envy those who are wealthier than you are. The reasons we say this is that they have more temptations than you do, and they have more responsibilities in this regard than you, and they have more to account for one day before God than you do. Jesus said, “Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required.” (Luke 12:48)
“Better is a little with the fear of the LORD than great treasure and trouble with it.” (Proverbs 15:16)
We must all give an account for what we did with the money God has entrusted to us. We saw earlier in this series that we will give account for our words. We will also give an account for the money entrusted to us, and the more that we have, the greater our responsibility; so, we need to know the dangers.
What are the dangers that money can bring? Let me identify three from the book of Proverbs.
Dangers of money
- Money can ruin you
“An inheritance gained hastily in the beginning will not be blessed in the end.” (Proverbs 20:21)
“Wealth gained hastily will dwindle, but whoever gathers little by little will increase it.” (Proverbs 13:11)
These proverbs focus on the special dangers of money that comes quickly. Through the years in ministry, I have seen some people that God has blessed after they joined this congregation. But in a short period after joining the church, their businesses were doing extremely well. They were overjoyed, and we rejoiced with them. But then they don’t attend the gatherings on Sunday, having other interests or just being just too busy. Some then gave up on their marriages, some gave up integrity, and had abandoned the faith which for a period they had professed. The money went to their head, and it ruined them.
Parents with money should weigh these proverbs. What would be the effect in the lives of your children if suddenly they inherited a large amount of money? Money is a blessing, but those who are wise will think about the capacity of a person to handle the responsibility that comes with it.
Wealth can be gained hastily. How else can that happen? The lotteries thrive on the promise of instant wealth. You drive down the highways, and you see flashing billboards, inciting you to dream about multiple millions. You put your faith in a lottery and then give what was suppose to be a blessing, to the lottery.
The same of course applies to lawsuits, which in our culture have become another way to gain large amounts of money hastily.
What about all the get rich quickly schemes? I have counselled people not to get involved in such schemes but the temptation of a false promise of getting rich quickly engulfed them and accordingly my council was ignored. Afterwards just to find themselves conned out of their blessing.
Now, notice what Proverbs commends instead: money that is saved “little by little will increase” and “Wealth gained hastily will dwindle”. Remember Proverbs are describing what often happens in the world; not always, but normally. Wealth that is usually hastily gained is not always wisely used, but whoever gathers little by little will increase it.
You see what we’re being encouraged to do here; very practically, begin to save, and as your money grows, your wisdom to handle it can grow alongside.
- Money cannot save you
“Riches do not profit in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivers from death.” (Proverbs 11:4)
Very simply, money makes us more comfortable in this world, and so it distracts us from the plain reality that none of us will be here for very long. The Bible says “it is appointed for man once to die, and after that comes the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). And Jesus asks,
“For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul?” (Mark 8:36-37)
Jesus told a parable about a man with a bumper crop, who was already rich,
“And He told them a parable, saying, ‘The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods.’ And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” (Luke 12:16-20)
This man had money to enjoy for many years, but he did not have many years to enjoy it. Money seems so solid and so real, while eternity seems so vague and so distant, but actually it is the other way around.
“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.” (Proverbs 23:4-5)
Money is fleeting. Don’t make the acquisition of money your life goal, for inevitably, either you will be taken from your money, or your money will be taken from you.
Setting your heart on money is the wrong goal. The only things in life that are solid and lasting are the things that are unseen, not what are seen! Set your heart on things above where Christ is seated.
Remember riches do not profit in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivers from death. Here is what you must pursue! Righteousness is wiser than going after riches, so make this the goal of your life.
- Money will tempt you
Money is a great blessing from God, but it carries great dangers of which we must be aware of. The more we have, the more important it is that we have a clear and working knowledge of the dangers that come with it.
Proverbs identifies at least four ways in which money will tempt you, and the first is that you will be tempted to use money as a means of exerting control.
- To Control
“The people curse him who holds back grain, but a blessing is on the head of him who sells it.” (Proverbs 11:26)
Here are people who need food, and there is a merchant who has grain. God has blessed a farmer with a good crop, but he holds it back from the market to drive up the price. The people can’t make him sell it. No law can compel a man to sell what he owns. So, the people are helpless, and they curse him, because his only interest is his own bottom line.
But a blessing is on the head of him who sells it. Here is another farmer who says, ‘I could probably get more for my grain if I held it back from the market. But there are people who need it, and I have to think about them too.’ So, he sells it.
“To him that subordinates his own interest to the public good, blessings will be upon his head.” (Charles Bridges)
The curse came from the people, but here, the blessing comes from God Himself. To only consider the bottom line, and not to weigh the common good is to be cursed. But, to subordinate your own interest to the good of others is to be blessed. As our Lord Jesus said; “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, …” (Matthew 7:12)
- To Cheat
“Unequal weights are an abomination to the LORD, and false scales are not good.” (Proverbs 20:23)
Now here we’re in a market, and a customer wants to buy ten kilograms of grain. The merchant pours the grain into a bucket on one side of the scales, and on the other side he places a weight. The weight says on it, “ten kilograms,” but it’s not; it is actually eight kilograms. So, when the scales balance, the customer gets short changed. That’s what is being described here, and notice the strong language: “unequal weights are an abomination to the Lord”!
Now there are so many ways in which this can happen in business today; what’s hidden in the small print, the added costs that are not mentioned, etc. We could easily discuss how these things are pressed upon us. Money will tempt you to cheat, but money may also tempt you to credit yourself.
- To Credit Yourself
“A rich man is wise in his own eyes, but a poor man who has understanding will find him out.” (Proverbs 28:11)
Proverbs suggests that being ‘wise in your own eyes’ is a temptation that comes particularly in the wake of great success. A rich man is wise in his own eyes. A distinctive temptation that comes in the wake of any great success is to credit it to ourselves.
God warned His people about this when they came into the land where they would prosper, saying:
“Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ You shall remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth…” (Deuteronomy 8:17-18)
Fourth, money will tempt you in the most serious way of all:
- To Deny the Lord
“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.” (Proverbs 30:8-9)
This is the only prayer in the book of Proverbs, and it is a prayer of wisdom. ‘Lord, I don’t want to be poor, and I don’t want to be rich. All I want is to have what I need.’ Notice why: If I am too poor, I may be tempted to steal, but if I prosper what will I be tempted to do? I may be tempted to say, ‘I really don’t need God. Who is He anyway?’ That is the temptation that success will bring.
The book of Proverbs is full of wisdom about this most important and practical area of our lives. It begins by celebrating that money is a gift and blessing from the Lord, of which we should be profoundly thankful, but with it comes great danger. Money can ruin you, it cannot save you and money will tempt you to control, to cheat, to credit yourself, or to deny the Lord.
The question we must ask ourselves is, ‘How can I master my money rather than have my money master me?’ How can I enjoy the wonderful blessings of this gift from the Lord, and break the powers that are inherent with it, and in it?
“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.” (Proverbs 3:9-10)
‘Honour’ means ‘give weight to.’ Give weight to the Lord with your wealth. You do this by laying aside a portion of all that God has given you and giving it back to Him.
Now, what should we put aside? Answer: the firstfruits of all your produce are a portion of all that you have. Firstfruits are the first part of whatever comes to you. God is honoured and shown to be of first importance in our lives when what we set aside for Him is our first commitment, not our last. What we give is not to be taken out of what’s left when the other costs of life are met. What we give comes first. It is to be taken off the top.
If God is first in your life, you give first to God. The way many are doing this, is putting the government before God, they take their cut and God gets a portion of what’s left. I have decided to put the Lord before the government, also in my finances. Many of you have been doing that and you can testify to the blessing of it.
You wonder, “How are we going to manage?” And by God’s grace, some careful planning and wise stewardship, we do. On Wednesday during the application of this wisdom, we will look at planning and wise stewardship in the area of your finances. ‘Honour the Lord with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your projects.’
One more question: How much should you give? In the Old Testament God’s people gave a tithe, ten percent of all that God had given to them, but there is no place in the New Testament where God tells us how much we should give.
“The law dealt with us as children and prescribed the exact amount. The gospel treats us as men, and leaves it to circumstance, principle and conscience.” (Charles Bridges)
You have to tell children exactly what you want them to do, because they’re not yet at a stage of maturity to be able to work it out for themselves. The gospel treats us as grown mean, as mature adults, and so this is why, with great freedom, we read what the apostle Paul says:
“The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.” (2 Corinthians 9:6-8)
God does not command you with regard to how much you should pray. The Old Testament gives us clear indications of the importance to have a life of continuous prayer that reflects a relationship with God. You have to pray, but nowhere the New Testament tells you how much time you should spend in prayer, or when it should be done. Why? Because the whole point of prayer is that it should arise from a heart that desires communion with God.
The same is true when it comes to giving. The Old Testament clearly requested the tithe; firstfruits of ten percent. God does not want us to view your giving like paying taxes. He wants our giving to be an expression of our love and gratitude for Him. So, the amount that we give is a matter of Christian liberty, a liberty that is more than ten percent. It is a subject on which all of us will make choices, just as we make choices about how much we pray. But here’s the deal; the choices you make will reflect your heart, are you giving first to God by giving to your church where you get fed the Word of God, and as you grow in Christ, your desire for giving will increase.
We don’t live under law. Thank God we live under grace, and grace is so much better than law! Grace is God’s free gift in Jesus Christ. So, if grace is far better, why would we not seek to do more, more than what the law required?
“One gives freely, yet grows all the richer; another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want.” (Proverbs 11:24)
When you read that, it may seem counter-intuitive. Surely if I give freely, I will have less, yet this proverb says, ‘one gives freely, yet grows all the richer.’ How does that work?
Think about farming. The farmer has a bag of seed, and what does he do? He scatters it. He throws it out freely, then, when harvest comes, the seed he scattered comes back to him in greater abundance. The New Testament takes up this picture;
“Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.” (2 Corinthians 9:6)
So here are two farmers, and they both have a bag of seed. The first farmer says, ‘This grain that I have is very precious, and I need it to make bread. I can’t afford to throw it on the ground!’ So, he holds back most of his seed. He sows sparingly, just off the top, and when harvest comes, there’s not much for him to reap.
The second farmer also has a bag of seed, and he says, ‘This seed is very, very precious. I need it to make bread, but I know that if I sow this seed, it will multiply. I will hold back only what I absolutely need, and everything else I will sow in the field.’ Thus he sows bountifully, and when the harvest comes, he reaps bountifully. This is what we are hearing in Proverbs chapter eleven. One gives freely, yet grows all the richer; another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want.
No one ever gave more freely than Jesus. This Paul explains as he encourages the church in Corinth to give generously:
“I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine. 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 8:8-9)
“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)
What comes from this self-giving of Jesus? The Father is honoured! We are forever blessed, and a day is coming when Jesus Christ Himself will see of the fruit of the travail of His soul and He will be satisfied (Isaiah 53:11).
That hasn’t happened yet, but it surely will. The day is coming when all of the Redeemed will be gathered in the presence of the Lord, and when Christ stands before the Father with all of the Redeemed around Him, He will say: ‘Here I am, and the children You have given Me’ (Hebrews 2:13). The fruit of the travail of Jesus’ soul will be reaped in heaven, and what’s true for Jesus will true for us as well.
Two brief analogies in closing: Suppose a revelation was given to you, that at some point in your life, your home would be destroyed by fire and everything in it would be lost. You don’t know if it will be your starter home, or in your family home or in your retirement home. You don’t know where this will happen. You don’t know when it will happen. All you do know is that for sure at some point in your lifetime, one day you will wake up and it will be the day when your home and everything in it is completely and utterly destroyed by fire.
What would you do? I know what I would do. I would move as much as I could to another place. I’d only keep what I absolutely need. I’d look at all the things I really value and say, ‘Can I risk holding onto these things here?’ If not, I’d rather put it somewhere else where it will be safe.
Secondly, John Calvin has a marvellous picture of this. He says in affect that, “If we truly believe that heaven is our home, we will be like those who emigrate to another country. They send their goods ahead of them so that they may enjoy them for a longer time.”
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-20)
Our heavenly Father knows what we need here and now. He asks from you not to be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is life not more than food, and the body more than clothing?
“But first seek the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33)
Money is a blessing that can easily become a danger if we do not make use of the opportunity to put God first in our lives. Putting God first also with our money and by making use of that opportunity to first seek Him and His kingdom, we are then blessed here and now. God first and you will see Him as your Provider as He sees to your needs.
Let us pray:
Father God, provision is a wonderful gift and blessing from You. Help us to always embrace the opportunity to give to You first from this blessing. Protect us against the dangers of money, but rather we sow bountifully and not sparingly from a thankful heart. Above lead us by the Holy Spirit to firstly also give ourselves fully to Your purpose and calling. Thank you for the Son of God that makes all this possible. In His wonderful Name, the Name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.