In 1990, best-selling author Randy Alcorn was a pastor of a large church. He had published several books and was making a considerable amount of money on book royalties. He loved his life as a pastor and wanted to stay in that role the rest of his life. Through his study of the Scriptures, he became convicted to fight for the unborn through peaceful, nonviolent protests at abortion clinics. Through his peaceful protests, he was arrested, sent to jail and sued by the abortion clinic. He agreed to pay his fine to the government, but would not give his money to support the taking of innocent lives. The church he was pastoring was about to be ordered by a local judge to garnish ¼ of his wages to pay to the clinic. He had no choice, but to resign from the church and he had to relinquish the rights to all his book royalties. The only way he could avoid having his wages garnished in the future was to make no more than minimum wage.
Alcorn was eventually sued again for participating in another non-violent protest. He lost this case as well which awarded $8.2 million dollars to the abortion clinic. So he had to remove his name off the deed of his recently paid-off home and could never legally own any assets again if he wanted to avoid supporting the work of abortion clinics. How would you handle that? How would you deal with being forced to resign from a job you love, giving up all your assets, and only ever being allowed to make minimum wage? By all worldly appearances, Randy Alcorn would look like a failure. He had no assets and could never make more than minimum wage, but if you were to ask him, he would say, “It was one of the best things that ever happened to us…My inability to legally own assets was nothing I sought after and nothing to be congratulated for, but God used it to help me understand what He means by, ‘Everything under heaven belongs to me’ (Job 41:11).’
Randy Alcorn learned the secret of being content in every situation, whether having plenty or living in want. Sadly, many Americans have yet to learn this lesson. According to a recent report issued by the American Psychological Association, almost ¾ (72%) of Americans feel stressed about money. Almost one in four Americans say they experience extreme stress about money. Another recent survey done by SunTrust Bank says that the number one cause for stress in relationships is the stress caused by finances. We all have to deal with money. And we all have our own perspective of money, but the key is do we have God’s perspective on money?
The theme most emphasized in the book of Proverbs is financial wisdom. Money problems are ultimately spiritual problems. Our checkbooks are an indication of our spiritual health. A wise perspective on money will help limit stress, avoid folly and, most importantly, help us to honor God with our all of our lives.
The Wisdom of Financial Perspective
Wealth is a Blessing
When Wisdom speaks in Proverbs 8:18, she says, “Riches and honor are with me, enduring wealth and righteousness.” The rich man will be able to endure more easily in the day of trial because he wealth will provide him some protection. Proverbs 10:15, “A rich man's wealth is his strong city; the poverty of the poor is their ruin.” Proverbs 14:24, “The crown of the wise is their wealth, but the folly of fools brings folly.” Wealth is a blessing from the Lord. Those who have wealth should recognize that every good and perfect gift comes from above. Proverbs 22:4, “The reward for humility and fear of the Lord is riches and honor and life.” Wealth can be a blessing to people in a vast number of ways.
It is important to point out that proverbs are maxims which generally come true. We may be those who live in wisdom, but still may not possess great wealth. We know people who work hard and are poor and others who live extravagantly while piling up debt. When we look at money, these are general principles that typically are proven true based on our experience.
Wealth is Dangerous
Wealth is a gift of God, but also can prove dangerous to the soul. Riches pose a very real threat to salvation (just ask the Rich Young Ruler). The rich are tempted to put their hope in their wealth instead of their hope in Christ. Proverbs 11:28, “Whoever trusts in his riches will fall, but the righteous will flourish like a green leaf.” Many have walked away from Jesus Christ because of their desire for wealth (1Timothy 6:9-10). You cannot serve both God and money.
We should be very wary of the dangerous pull of wealth. Proverbs 30:7-9 give us a wonderful perspective on money,
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.
Sadly, too many are full and deny God and say, “Who is the Lord?” The prosperity of this country has drawn many people away from God. The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. Wealth is a blessing, but it also can be a curse.
Wealth has limitations.
We all need to realize that money has its limitations. Proverbs 11:4, “Riches do not profit in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivers from death.” No one will be able to pile their money before the Lord on their day of judgment as a reason to enter heaven. You never see an armored car drive behind a hearse. Once someone asked JD Rockefeller’s accountant how much he left behind and he replied, “All of it.” 1 Timothy 6:7, “For we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world.” And Job said after losing all his possessions, “Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” (Job 1:21)
Do not put your trust in riches. Do not expect money to give you ultimate happiness. A bigger car, a nicer house, or more vacations will not fill the longing in the soul, neither will denying yourself all of those things for a larger savings account. Benjamin Franklin has said, “Money never made a man happy yet, nor will it. The more a man has, the more he wants. Instead of filling a vacuum, it makes one.” Wealth has limitations so do not give wealth the place it should never hold.
The Wisdom of Financial Pursuit
Solomon provides two general principles for those in their pursuit of wealth which should frame how we approach our pursuit of financial gain. We should work hard and honestly.
Pursue Wealth by Working Hard
Those who do not work hard should not expect riches. The best way to acquire wealth is simple, good old-fashioned hard work. Proverbs 10:4, “A slack hand causes poverty, but the hand of the diligent makes rich.” Proverbs 12:27, “Whoever is slothful will not roast his game, but the diligent man will get precious wealth.” As we have said before, proverbs are maxims that provide a general rule of how things work out. There are lazy people who have acquired wealth, but the majority of the world acquires wealth by simple, diligent, faithful work. Do not look for the get-rich quick schemes, but diligently work to slowly acquire wealth. Proverbs 13:11, “Wealth gained hastily will dwindle, but whoever gathers little by little will increase it.” Do not listen to the spirit of the age with the promise of quick and easy money, but be willing to give yourself to a life of hard work to acquire wealth.
One thing I have heard recently is how often young people expect to start their careers and home life at the same standard of living as their parents. Young adults want their dream home and their dream job right when they get out of school. We need to readjust our expectations and realize that it will take hard work over a long time to get where we want to go.
Pursue Wealth by Working Honestly
We should not only pursue wealth diligently, but also honestly. People should work hard, but do it with integrity. An honest day’s work is more valuable than great wealth.
Proverbs 22:16, “Whoever oppresses the poor to increase his own wealth, or gives to the rich, will only come to poverty.”
Proverbs 28:6, “Better is a poor man who walks in his integrity than a rich man who is crooked in his ways.”
Proverbs 22:1, “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold.”
Proverbs 8:11, “for wisdom is better than jewels, and all that you may desire cannot compare with her.”
Proverbs 28:8, “Whoever multiplies his wealth by interest and profit gathers it for him who is generous to the poor.”
Which would you rather have: money or a good name? Wealth or wisdom? Christians should value integrity and honesty more than making money. If you value money more than righteousness, you will probably fall into temptation. “Better is a little with the fear of the LORD than great treasure and trouble with it.” (Proverbs 15:16) “Better is a little with righteousness than great revenues with injustice.” (Proverbs 16:8 ESV) Can you say it? Would you rather have little wealth and Christ, or great riches without him?
There is a reason that Paul says, “But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. (1 Timothy 6:9) The desire for great wealth is tempting, but may lead you to ruin and destruction. Tim Keller warns that, “money can become much more than money. It can become a powerful life-altering, culture-shaping god, an idol that breaks the hearts of its worshippers.” Do not underestimate the power of wealth and the desire to be rich. Choose wisdom over wealth, righteousness over riches.
The Wisdom of Financial Practice
We should work hard and honestly to pursue our money, but how should we spend our money? There are three simple rules that I see taught in the Proverbs on how we should practice with our wealth.
Christians should be generous. Christians are freed to be generous because they understand that all their resources have been given to them by God. Therefore we should practice generosity. Proverbs 3:9, “Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the first fruits of all your produce.” Generosity protects people from idolatry and shows they value the Lord above riches. When we are free to give our money to the Lord, then we show that money does not master us. We show that we are serving God, not money. Throughout Proverbs we see the generous being promised a reward from God.
Proverbs 19:17, “Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed.”
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.”
God loves a cheerful giver (2 Cor. 9:7). Christians should practice generosity because God has been generous to them. We give because God has first given to us. It is more blessed to give than to receive. Those who sow generously will reap generously. Practice generosity.
One of the greatest tools in how one uses their money is to practice restraint. We do not need as much as we think we need. Solomon encourages restraint in three specific ways.
In Spending- Proverbs 21:5, “The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty.” Fools do not plan, but spend their money hastily. We should be cautious in our pursuit of entertainment and luxury. Proverbs 21:17, “Whoever loves pleasure will be a poor man; he who loves wine and oil will not be rich.” We are an entertainment- and a comfort-addicted culture. We are trained to believe that we are entitled to pleasure and comfort. Whether its movies, video games, eating out, or a remodel, we have to be careful not to love pleasure. Think careful in how you spend your wealth.
Restraint is not the same as being stingy. Remember, we should be generous with our resources. We should be hospitable with others, including our families. God has given us good things to enjoy. He is gracious and kind to us and has given us wealth to enjoy his world. “For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving.” (1 Timothy 4:4). Practice restraint in your spending, not stinginess.
To Avoid Debt – Proverbs 22:7, “The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is the slave of the lender.” Whether it is student loan debt, credit card debt, a huge mortgage or a car loan, debt can be crippling. Debt may hinder generosity. Debt may hinder one’s ability to serve others because they have to work longer hours or get a second job. Debt may also bring undue relational stress. There are certain debts that we cannot avoid, like a huge medical bill, but there are others that we bring upon ourselves. We should honor our debts. Proverbs 3:28, “Do not say to your neighbor, “Go, and come again, tomorrow I will give it”—when you have it with you.” Psalm 37:21, “The wicked borrows but does not pay back, but the righteous is generous and gives.” Practice restraint in your spending and your purchases to avoid being put in situations where you will not be able to honor your debt. Be not one of those who give pledges, who puts up security for debts. If you have nothing with which to pay, why should your bed be taken from under you? (Proverbs 22:26-27)
To Avoid Schemes – Restraint will help us discover the various financial schemes of our day. Whether it is getting a free t-shirt on a college campus to sign up for a credit card, being roped into a pyramid scheme, or receiving an email requesting help from Nigeria, restraint will make you think twice before falling to a financial trap. “Wealth gained hastily will dwindle, but whoever gathers little by little will increase it.” (Proverbs 13:11) Restraint will protect you from the get rich quick schemes.
We should intentionally practice saving for the days ahead. The righteous plans for the days ahead like the ant prepares for winter. Christians should work to leave an inheritance for their children and to be prepared for the days of calamity. Proverbs does not specify how much one should save, but simply that one should save. “A good man leaves an inheritance to his children's children, but the sinner's wealth is laid up for the righteous.”(Proverbs 13:22) “The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty.” (Proverbs 21:5).
We practice generosity to honor the Lord and thank Him for his good gifts. We practice restraint to protect us from worldly pleasures, debts and schemes. We practice saving to prepare for the days ahead. There are many other things that could be said in how we spend our money, but these three practices will help one grow in wisdom in the use of their money.
The Wisdom of Financial Payment
There is little doubt that some of you feel weighted down when thinking about finances. Whether you are struggling with debt or bound to an apparent never-ending cycle of poor choices, there is hope for you. The beginning of financial wisdom, like all wisdom is the fear of the Lord. Always remember your greatest debt has already been paid.
Christ Paid Your Debt
The wages of sin is death. We all rightly earn death because of our sin. We have a debt to God that we cannot pay. And through the fear of death we have been subject to lifelong slavery. Therefore God sent forth his Son to free us from our bondage to our debt. We who were dead in our trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. (Colossians 2:13-14) After Jesus was dead and buried, God raised him from the dead proving that he accepted Christ’s payment in full. Jesus paid it all, all to him I owe. Sin had left a crimson stain, he washed it white as snow. The greatest debt that stood against us has been canceled; paid in full, forgiven in the blood in Christ. All who turn from their sin and trust in Christ have their debt wiped out. You may be overwhelmed by creditors, but in Christ, you have righteousness credited to your account forever.
The more we understand the debt that Christ has paid, the more we will love him and strive to honor him with all of our lives, including our finances. We have been bought with a price. We no longer are our own, but we belong to God. Jesus died as our ransom to buy us back to God. Our wealth, our resources, and our investments all belong to God. We should not be hesitant to give, but delight to give as God has given us so much. He did not spare his own Son, but give him up for us all, how will he not graciously with him give us all things? We cannot out-give God. We should delight in giving our all to him for Jesus paid it all, all to him I owe.
Christ Provided Your Contentment
Let me close with one verse that should give us hope when we feel the squeeze of our checkbook. “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’” (Hebrews 13:5) Beloved, keep yourself free from the love of money, be content with what you have, because you have Christ. Jesus will never leave you or forsake you. If you have Christ, the King of glory, what else do you need? Learn the secret of being content with living in plenty and in want, for you can do all things through Christ who strengthens you.