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Wisdom and Wealth (Part I)

A Biblical Attitude Toward Wealth

Introduction

In our previous studies in the Book of Proverbs we have concentrated on what the wise is not--simple, a fool, a sluggard. Now we are going to turn our attention to what characterizes the one who is wise in Proverbs. We will begin by exploring the relationship of wisdom to wealth. One of the ways a wise man can be identified is by the way he handles money. Wisdom is not discerned by the amount of money one possesses, but by one’s attitude toward money, by the way it is acquired, and by the way it is used. This message will explore the attitude of the wise toward wealth. The next will probe the ways in which money should be obtained and used.

The fact that I am beginning to explore the character of the wise with a study on money should not be understood to suggest that I believe money is the most important subject we could study--it is not. In Luke 16:10 Jesus referred to money as a “very little thing.” There are several reasons, however, why such a little thing as money should be of importance to us. First of all, little as it may be, it is a major problem in most American homes, Christian or non-Christian. We, like our government, have become accustomed to operating on a deficit budget system, living more on credit than on cash. The result has been the need for one or both spouses to work more than is wise. Christian giving is also apparently declining. When something which is a “little thing” becomes “big” in our lives, it is a problem of priorities. Furthermore, Jesus taught that if we are not faithful in this “little thing” of money, we will not be faithful in those matters of greater import (cf. Luke 16:10). Let us seek to be wise in the way we use money. Let us seek the wisdom of God in this area as we look once more into the Book of Proverbs.

What is Better Than Wealth?

Some seem to think that nothing is better than riches, but according to Proverbs there are many things more important than money. Let us briefly consider some of these better things.

1. HONESTY AND KINDNESS ARE BETTER THAN PROSPERITY. In Proverbs we are told that it is more important to be truthful than to be rich.

What is desirable in a man is his kindness, And it is better to be a poor man than a liar (Prov. 19:22).

The rich do not necessarily find it essential to speak gently to others. According to Proverbs 18:23 the rich man “answers roughly.” The Ebenezer Scrooges of life do not deal kindly with others, but Proverbs implies that kindness is more important than riches. Very specifically, we are told in 19:22 that it is better to be an honest man than a wealthy one, if one must choose between the two.

2. A GOOD REPUTATION IS BETTER THAN WEALTH.

A good name is to be more desired than great riches, Favor is better than silver and gold (22:1).

3. GODLY CHARACTER IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN MONEY. It is more important to be righteous than to be rich. A man’s integrity is more important than his affluence.

Better is a poor man who walks in his integrity Than he who is perverse in speech and is a fool (19:1).

Better is a little with righteousness Than great income with injustice (16:8).

4. A PEACEFUL HOME, FILLED WITH LOVE, IS BETTER THAN A BANK ACCOUNT FILLED

WITH MONEY. Countless homes are sacrificed to the attempt to earn money, often on the pretext of providing for the family. Proverbs instructs us that it is much more important to have a home filled with love and harmony than one that has only money.

Better is a dish of vegetables where love is, Than a fattened ox and hatred with it (15:17).

Better is a dry morsel and quietness with it Than a house full of feasting with strife (17:1).

In negative terms, one who seeks to gain wealth in an unrighteous manner brings destruction to his home.

He who profits illicitly troubles his own house, But he who hates bribes will live (15:27).

5. WISDOM IS BETTER THAN WEALTH. Perhaps no theme is so frequently repeated in the early chapters of Proverbs.

“Take my instruction, and not silver, And knowledge rather than choicest gold. For wisdom is better than jewels; And all desirable things cannot compare with her” (8:10-11).

How much better it is to get wisdom than gold, And to get understanding is to be chosen above silver (16:16).

If so many things are better than wealth, we must admit that money is not nearly as important as some suppose it to be. Further study in Proverbs confirms this; let us next consider what money cannot do.

What Money Cannot Do For Us

“Money isn’t everything,” someone has been quoted as saying “but it’s a long way ahead of whatever is in second place.” Proverbs informs us that not only is money not in first place, it is not even in the running for second place. One reason is that money simply cannot purchase those things in life which are most important.

1. MONEY CANNOT PROVIDE US WITH SECURITY.

There are two primary reasons why money fails to make a man secure. The first is that money simply cannot purchase security, for security cannot be bought. There are those who deceive themselves by thinking that wealth offers them security, but this is only imaginary.

A rich man’s wealth is his strong city, And like a high wall in his own imagination (18:11).

The second reason money cannot offer us security is that wealth itself is often only temporary. Not only does our wealth fail to make us secure, our wealth itself is insecure.

Do not weary yourself to gain wealth, Cease from your consideration of it. When you set your eyes on it, it is gone. For wealth certainly makes itself wings, Like an eagle that flies toward the heavens (23:4-5).

I recall hearing about a man who made hundreds of millions of dollars on a single transaction. Only a few months later the newspapers reported his loss of even more than what he had previously made. Someone commented, “He may not have lost his shirt, but it sure did loosen his tie.” Security can never be gained through money.

2. MONEY CANNOT BUY WISDOM.

Why is there a price in the hand of a fool to buy wisdom, When he has no sense? (17:16)29

3. MONEY CANNOT PROVIDE US WITH LIFE’S MOST PRECIOUS GIFT.

We know that money cannot buy true friends, because bought “friends” will forsake us when our time of need arrives.

All the brothers of a poor man hate him; How much more do his friends go far from him! He pursues them with words, but they are gone (19:7).

The Prodigal Son (Luke 15) is a New Testament example of this truth.

A good wife is a gift from the Lord (of. Prov. 18:22). A godly wife cannot be purchased, but is a gift of God’s grace.

House and wealth are an inheritance from fathers, But a prudent wife is from the Lord (19:14).

4. SALVATION CANNOT BE BOUGHT WITH MONEY.

God’s grace is never obtained by any contribution from man. Because of this, money not only cannot save us, it often produces pride and self-confidence which only furthers our waywardness and sin.

Riches do not profit in the day of wrath, But righteousness delivers from death (11:4).

The righteousness of the upright will deliver them, But the treacherous will be caught by their own greed (11:6).

He who trusts in his riches will fall, But the righteous will flourish like the green leaf (11:28).

While it may not be accurate to say that the “best things in life are free,” it at least should be evident that the best things in life cannot be purchased with money.

What Money Will Do For You

Anyone who has gone from poverty to prosperity can testify that money will produce results. Unfortunately, many of these are not very beneficial. Let us consider some of the effects which wealth may produce in our lives, a further evidence that money is not all it is purported to be.

1. YOU CAN BE ASSURED THAT MONEY WILL ATTRACT “FRIENDS.”

Proverbs teaches us that money adds friends, while poverty removes them.

Wealth adds many friends, But a poor man is separated from his friend (19:4).

Many will entreat the favor of a generous man, And every man is a friend to him who gives gifts (19:6).

When I was a young lad my parents moved to a rustic but delightful home on a lake. That is where I spent most of my growing-up years. After a number of years of observation, I concluded that while we had many wonderful friends, there was a particular type of “friend” that only visited us in the summer, when the fishing was good, or when the weather was hot--just right for swimming. Wealth adds many of these “friends,” but difficult times will always cause these folks to seek friendship elsewhere.

2. MONEY TENDS TO GIVE THE RICH A FALSE SENSE OF SECURITY.

In a passage which we have already noted, we are told that the rich tend to find a false sense of well-being in their wealth.

A rich man’s wealth is his strong city, And like a high wall in his own imagination (18:11).

3. MONEY CAN PRODUCE PRIDE, AND APATHY TOWARD SPIRITUAL THINGS.

The reality of life is that the poor man who wonders where his next meal is coming from is more attuned to spiritual things than is the rich, who seemingly has no worry about such things.

The rich man is wise in his own eyes, But the poor who has understanding sees through him (28:11).

Agur, the godly man of chapter 30, refused to ask God to make him rich, fearing that it might cause his heart to turn from the Lord. He dared not request to become rich, lest, in his words, I be full and deny Thee and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’” (30:9).

Conclusions

There are a number of principles in the Book of Proverbs which should shape our attitude toward money. Some of these principles are:

1. NEITHER THE POSSESSION OF MONEY NOR THE LACK OF IT ARE PROOF OF ONE’S SPIRITUAL STATE.

The Judaism of Jesus’ day tended toward the error that prosperity was proof of piety. The rich, they supposed, were wealthy because they were more worthy. Spirituality could be quickly determined by looking at a man’s bank account, at the kind of clothes he wore, by the trappings of affluence. The asceticism of other religious groups caused them to conclude just the opposite. They believed that the godly must shun all material possessions, so that poverty became proof of piety.

Both of these views are wrong for several reasons. First, one may be rich for the wrong reasons. Crime, for example, may be the means by which a man prospers. Furthermore, one may be poor for reasons other than sinfulness or slothfulness. Some are poor due to injustice, not a lack of initiative (13:23). If it is better to be poor than to be a liar (19:22), one may have chosen poverty in order to remain honest and pure in heart. Most importantly, the Bible teaches that we should never judge others on the basis of outward appearances.

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (I Sam. 16:7).

In the Sermon on the Mount our Lord warned of the danger of externalism (of. Matt. 6:1-18), the performance of outward acts in order to appear to be righteous, yet without actually serving God from the heart. We dare not judge the spirituality of others by any standard which considers only outward appearances, rather than the attitude of the heart.

Perhaps this proverb sums it up as well as it can be said:

There is one who pretends to be rich, but has nothing; Another pretends to be poor, but has great wealth (13:7).

True riches cannot be measured in terms of money.

2. GOD HAS NOT PROMISED TO MAKE EVERY GODLY CHRISTIAN RICH.

The question which must first be asked is, “Did God promise to financially prosper the Israelites, to whom and for whom Proverbs was written?” Frankly I think the answer is “Yes.” God had promised to bless Abraham (Gen. 12:1-3), a commitment reiterated to his offspring, Isaac (26:24), Jacob (35:9-12); and the sons of Jacob (cf. 49:3-27). In the Book of Deuteronomy prosperity and security are promised all who will live in accordance with the laws which God has laid down in the Mosaic covenant. The blessings of obedience and the consequences of disobedience are summarized in chapter 28. If the people of Israel disregard the law of God, they are warned that they will be driven from the land and taken into captivity (vv. 64-68).In the light of the promises of God to Israel, take note of this passage in Proverbs:

For the upright will live in the land, And the blameless will remain in it; But the wicked will be cut off from the land, And the treacherous will be uprooted from it (2:21-22).

The blessings on the righteous of which the Book of Proverbs speaks are those promised Israel by God, if they would obey His laws. I believe that prosperity was the standard, the ideal, and that the goal for Israel was to have no poor among the people of God. I understand this to be the point of Deuteronomy 15:4-5.

However, there shall be no poor among you, since the Lord will surely bless you in the land which the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, if only you listen obediently to the voice of the Lord your God, to observe carefully all this commandment which I am commanding you today.

While prosperity was the ideal, it was never viewed as something which would take place, for in the next verses of the same chapter in Deuteronomy, God instructs the Israelites about their obligation to minister to the poor in their midst.

If there is a poor man with you, one of your brothers, in any of your towns in your land which the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart, nor close your hand from your poor brother; but you shall freely open your hand to him, and shall generously lend him sufficient for his need in whatever he lacks (Deut. 15:7-8).

The most striking statement, one which our Lord repeats (cf. Matt. 26:11), is that found in Deuteronomy 15:11:”For the poor will never cease to be in your land.” Even in Israel it was never assumed that everyone would be rich.

One of the contributions which dispensationalism has made to the study of the Scriptures is to differentiate between promises made to the Jews and those made to New Testament saints. If we were to conclude that Proverbs promises that all who are godly will be rich, we should be entirely consistent and say that we will dwell in the land of Israel (Prov. 2:21).I do not find any promise in the New Testament that godliness will be rewarded with great wealth. Even our Lord laid aside His wealth and became poor for our sake (2 Cor. 8:9).

3. PROVERBS NEVER ENCOURAGES US TO DESIRE TO BE WEALTHY, BUT TO MAKE EVERY SACRIFICE TO BE WISE.

Proverbs does not encourage materialism; it forbids it.

Do not weary yourself to gain wealth, Cease from your consideration of it. When you set your eyes on it, it is gone. For wealth certainly makes itself wings, Like an eagle that flies toward the heavens (23:4-5).

A man with an evil eye hastens after wealth, And does not know that want will come upon him (28:22).

The greatest treasure in life is wisdom, which begins with the fear of the Lord and is a life-long search for divine insight into life. Just as we are not taught to seek after happiness, but holiness, so we are encouraged to search for wisdom, not wealth. If wealth is to come, it should come like happiness, as a fringe benefit, not a goal itself. This was the desire of Agur, who realized that both poverty and prosperity had their dangers. The earnest petition which Agur made was that he be righteous, not rich. Let his petition serve as a model for us as well:

Two things I asked of Thee, Do not refuse me before I die: Keep deception and lies far from me, Give me neither poverty nor riches; Feed me with the food that is my portion, Lest I be full and deny Thee and say, “Who is the Lord?” Or lest I be in want and steal, And profane the name of my God (30:7-9).

Oh that you and I might hunger more for wisdom than wealth, and that we would be willing to discipline our lives to obtain it. May we not make prosperity the priority of our life, and yet may we also not falsely condemn wealth as though it were a sin. The real issue is our attitude toward money. Many who are poor are more materialistic than the rich because they value wealth too highly. The way we look at wealth, and the way we use it, is what matters to God. In our next lesson we will consider the acquisition and use of money.

One final word is in order here: it is possible that you have not yet come to know Jesus Christ as your personal Savior. You are a debtor to God and no amount of money will ever be able to repay it. The debt is that of sin. The Bible teaches us that the consequence of sin is death (Romans 6:23).There is no way that you will ever be able to repay this debt. In His mercy, God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to die on the cross of Calvary. He bore the penalty of your sins. He alone can offer you the forgiveness of your sins and the assurance of spending eternity in heaven. The price was beyond measure--the shed blood of the sinless Son of God. You may be freed of your debt and become an heir of God’s riches only by a personal relationship to Jesus Christ. I urge you to confess your sins and to trust in Him for eternal life.


29 I see no contradiction between Proverbs 17:16 and 23:23, which says, “By truth and do not sell it.” In 17:16 the reference is to the fool. He could not acquire wisdom at any price. In 23:23 the wise man is exhorted to seek truth. Truth cannot be bought, but this is a figure of speech which teaches us that, like the pearl of great price (Matt. 13:46), truth is worth great sacrifice in order to obtain it.

Related Topics: Finance