Navigating the Seas of Life: Finding the Treasure | Proverbs
Brian Hedges | September 29, 2019
A few years ago at Christmas my family went down to Athens, Georgia, where Holly’s parents live, and my brother-in-law and sister-in-law (Holly’s sister and her husband) put together one of the best gifts that my kids have ever experienced. They actually put together a treasure chest full of all kinds of gifts, they took it out into the woods and they buried it, and they sent our kids on a treasure hunt. They had various clues they had to follow, and it was a pretty big morning, big ordeal. They dug up this treasure chest and opened it up and there were all kinds of personalized gifts for each one of them inside.
I think all of us kind of in our child’s heart, we enjoy a treasure hunt. Maybe you were on a treasure hunt of some kind when you were a kid. Probably most of us have enjoyed treasure stories, stories about finding treasure. Some of my favorite stories are King Solomon’s Mines by H. Rider Haggard, kind of a turn-of-the-century quest kind of story, where they’re looking for the lost diamond mines of King Solomon. I’ve recently been reading Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson. I saw the movie when I was a kid and have been reading this era of literature for some of my fun time, free time. So I’ve been reading Treasure Island. We could think of great modern treasure stories, treasure hunts, as well.
So all of us are familiar with this. Of course, real life is not quite that adventuresome, but all of us in life are looking for something. We’re looking for things of value, we’re looking for a treasure of some kind. Of course, part of the way that plays out is how we think about wealth, how we think about money, how we think about riches in our lives.
Did you know that the Bible has a lot to say about money? It has a lot to say about wealth and riches, and especially in the book of Proverbs. There’s a lot of teaching in the book of Proverbs about wealth.
I think this is important for us to visit every now and then, because when you think about what Christians tend to say about wealth it can be pretty confusing. You have everything from the televangelist who says, “If you’ll send me a thousand dollars, I’ll pray for you and you’ll be healed.” You have the hucksters, you have the people who are trying to get rich out of religion.
On the other hand, you have an almost ascetic kind of mentality in some people who actually take vows of poverty, who almost seem to despise wealth of any kind and think that to have wealth, to have riches of any kind means that you’re sinful. Maybe one of the most misquoted verses of the Bible is from 1 Timothy 6, when people say, “Money is the root of all evil.” Of course, the verse actually says, “For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil.” It’s not that money itself is evil, it’s that the love of money is evil.
So there’s lots of confusion about how does the Bible speak about money. Even in the book of Proverbs, we’re going to see this morning, there’s different emphases, and we kind of have to hold these different emphases in tension and in balance to get the composite picture of what Scripture says about wisdom.
This morning, as we continue (and really we’re bringing to an end) our short little series on Proverbs, we’re talking about finding the treasure, and we’re going to look at what Proverbs has to say about wealth and riches, as well as what Proverbs has to say about what’s more important than wealth or riches.
So, here’s my approach this morning. I want us to look at:
I. Positive Teaching on Wealth
II. Warnings about Wealth
III. Value What Matters Most
Before you check out this morning...my guess is that probably 80 per cent of us think, when we hear the word wealth, “Oh, well I’m not wealthy.” That’s probably what most of us think. “I’m not wealthy.” But I want you to just listen to this before you check out. These are some stats that come from Randy Alcorn in a very good book, by the way, Money, Possessions, and Eternity, maybe the best Christian book on money that I’ve read.
Randy Alcorn (at the time of this writing these statistics were true, they maybe have changed slightly since then, but not much), he said that two thirds of all the countries of the world had a per capita income less than ten per cent of America’s. He says, “If you made only $1500 last year, that’s more than 80 per cent of the people on earth.”
Statistically, if you have sufficient food, decent clothes, live in a house or apartment, have a reasonably reliable means of transportation, you are among the top 15 per cent of the world’s most wealthy. If you have any many saved, if you have a hobby that requires some equipment or supplies, if you have a variety of clothes in your closet, two cars in any condition, and live in your own home, you are in the top five per cent of the world’s wealthy.
Okay, so when you hear the word wealth and the word riches in Proverbs, it’s about us. This is for us. Very few of any of us are actually poor. Even if some of us are on the lower end of the spectrum of earned income in the United States, we’re still wildly wealthy in comparison to the rest of the world. So we need to listen to what Scripture has to say about wealth and money, especially the warnings that it gives. So let’s look at these three things. We’ll do this quickly, okay?
I. Positive Teaching on Wealth
Number one, let’s just see some of the positive teaching that Proverbs gives us about wealth. Now, there are a lot of things that could be said; I’m going to limit myself to about four things.
(1) The first is this, that Proverbs commends working hard in order to obtain wealth. Proverbs actually commends that. Here’s Proverbs 10:4: “A slack hand causes poverty, but the hand of the diligent makes rich.” Now, this is one of those contrasts. We noticed a number of these last week, a contrast between slothfulness on one hand and hard work, diligence, on the other.
Proverbs makes this observation again and again and again, that slothfulness and slackness and the sluggard ends up in poverty, but the person who is diligent and who works hard eventually (this is the common way in which things work in the world) leads to wealth. This is right. This is the way God has intended it. So it emphasizes for us the importance and the value of hard work.
Again, Proverbs 14:23, “In all toil there is profit, but mere talk tends only to poverty.” Again, there’s a contrast here, a contrast between mere words on one hand and actually working hard on the other.
I could give other proverbs that indicate that it’s right for us to work hard in order to provide for ourselves, to provide for our families, to provide even an inheritance for children and for grandchildren. All of this seems to be spoken of positively in the book of Proverbs. So when we think about wealth, don’t automatically think that the Bible condemns all wealth. Scriptures do not condemn all wealth. Scriptures actually commend wealth in certain respects. We see that in the book of Proverbs.
(2) Now, of course, we are commanded to honor the Lord with our wealth. Look at Proverbs 3:9-10. This verse emphasizes giving back to the Lord, honoring the Lord with our wealth, and of course it presupposes that God is first. Anytime we put money in front of God, we put wealth in front of our relationship with God, it immediately is problematic. Proverbs helps us keep the right order. Proverbs 3 says, “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.”
That’s quite a verse! You look at those two verses, and if you quoted just those verses without reference to any other parts of Scripture, you might almost end up a health, wealth, and prosperity type thinking Christian. There are lots of people under the name of Christianity right now that are essentially teaching that, that if you just do the right things, if you follow the right steps, if you have enough faith, then God will make you wealthy, God will make you rich. They might quote a proverb like this in defense of it.
Certainly the proverb here seems to suggest that if you honor the Lord with your wealth he’s going to bless you. He’s going to bless you, and he’s going to bless you with plenty. What we have to understand is how proverbs work. Proverbs are not promises of God; proverbs are observations about life. They are moral maxims about life, they are wise sayings about life that observe how things generally go.
This is a truism, folks, that when you honor the Lord with your money, when you honor the Lord with your wealth, when you put God first and you keep money in its proper perspective, in its proper place in your life, it generally leads to prosperity rather than the opposite. That’s generally true. But it’s not invariably true.
Let me give you an example. You remember the story of Job. He was a man—and this is also wisdom literature! Proverbs is wisdom literature, the book of Job is wisdom literature. In Job you have a man who’s very wealthy, you have a man who honors the Lord (he’s the most righteous man on the earth at that time), you have a man who cares about the poor, who cares about justice. I mean, he’s doing everything right!
You remember what happens to him? He loses everything. He loses everything! Now, a health, wealth, prosperity person would look at Job and would say, “You must not have enough faith! You must have done something wrong!” In fact, that’s what Job’s friends do. They say, “You must have committed some secret sin for you to be undergoing this.”
This whole book of Job, 40 chapters of wisdom, is showing us that no, the world is more complex than that, God’s ways are more mysterious than that. Don’t take a simplistic view on the relationship between your devotion to God and material blessing. Don’t take a simplistic view.
It’s often true that when you follow God’s pattern for how you use wealth, it leads to plenty. That’s often true, but it’s not invariably true, and when it’s not true in any particular person’s case, whatever the reasons may be, we need to look beyond simplistic answers and listen to what all of Scripture says.
(3) Proverbs also, positively, commends to us generosity. It says a lot about generosity and how we should use wealth in order to benefit and to bless others. Look at chapter 3:27-28. “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due when it is in your power to do it. Do not say to your neighbor [or your friend], ‘Go, and come again, tomorrow I will give it,’ when you have it with you.” This is commending a generous heart, doing good when we see opportunity, using our wealth as a means to bless others.
Again, Proverbs 19:17, “Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed.” So, generosity is commanded in Proverbs, and again, there are many, many other verses we could look to.
When you look at this theme of generosity in the perspective of the New Testament, it becomes clear just how generous we ought to be. You should read 2 Corinthians 8-9, which commend to us generosity based off of the example of Jesus Christ. In that chapter, 2 Corinthians 8, what you have is a group of very, very poor Christians who are commended because even in their poverty they gave generously in order to meet the needs of others.
In the full New Testament perspective, we are to give not only to honor the Lord, not only the meet the needs of the poor, not only generosity within the body of Christ, but we are to give for the sake of the gospel, we are to give in order to see the gospel go to other places of the world.
I remember reading a story a few years ago in Dr. Stephen Olford’s book on giving. Stephen Olford was a great preacher in the 20th century, and he wrote a wonderful book on giving called The Grace of Giving. He told the story about a Christian businessman from America who was on a missions trip to Korea.
While he was in Korea he was going around these villages and farms and he was working with the Christians there. It was a very poor area, it was a very depressed economy. He noticed as they were driving down the road that there was a man who was plowing in his field, and usually people in this part of Korea were plowing with a yoke of oxen, but this was a man who was plowing without oxen; he was pushing the plow all by himself.
The businessman said to the pastors hosting him, “Man, those people must be really poor, if he can’t even have oxen to plow his field!”
The pastor said, “Well, actually, he did have oxen, and he sold them in order to give to our church building project.”
It just struck the businessman, the sacrifice that this person was willing to make, and he commented on it, and the pastor said, “Well, these people didn’t view it as sacrifice. They were just so grateful that they had something that they could give.”
Now, that’s the kind of generosity that most of us have probably never experienced in our lives, and that is the kind of generosity that you see in 2 Corinthians 8, the kind of generosity that the gospel commends to us. And you get generosity in Proverbs.
Here’s one of the most balanced biblical statements on money, a very balanced perspective. Look at Proverbs 30:7-9. This seems to be almost a prayer where the author says, “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.”
Those three verses I think represent a pretty balanced perspective that you find throughout Scripture on money. “Give me neither poverty nor riches.” The Scriptures recognize both the evils of poverty, the hardship of poverty, and how poverty is often a result of things outside of our control—the Scriptures recognize that, as well as recognizing the danger of riches and wealth. Remember how Jesus said it’s very hard for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven.
Scripture recognizes both of these things, and this prayer is a good prayer to pray: “Give me neither poverty nor riches.” Not poverty, lest I not trust in the Lord; not riches, lest I ask, “Who is the Lord?” I’m so full, I’m so prosperous that I’m actually denying the need I have for the Lord in my life. Both of those perspectives are helpful for us.
This is just a sampling of the positive kinds of teaching that you see in Proverbs on wealth and riches; we could spend the entire sermon on that, but I think we need to strike the note of warning as well.
II. Warnings about Wealth
So let’s consider for a few minutes what are some of the warnings that Proverbs gives about wealth. Again, the material is vast. There are so many warnings in Proverbs. There are warnings about the material cost of laziness, there are warnings about the evils of unjust gain, there are warnings about the burden and the bondage of debt, there are warnings about consumerism and luxury. All of those things are warned about in Proverbs, and I’m not going to talk about any of them! What I am going to do is just show you four warnings that Proverbs gives us that I think we need to hold in tension with the other things that we’ve already seen.
(1) Here’s the first. Proverbs warns us not to toil for wealth. This is interesting, Proverbs 23:4-5, “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.”
Now, isn’t that interesting, because it seems to be almost directly contradictory to a proverb we looked at earlier, Proverbs 14:23, that says, “In all toil there is profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty.” On one hand, Proverbs seems to commend hard work as a means of obtaining wealth, and on the other hand it says, “Do not toil in order to acquire wealth.” Which is it?
Well, this is how wisdom literature works. You have to put the two things together to get the balance. Hard work is the right way to get wealth (as opposed to, as we’ll see, other means that are not good), but it shouldn’t be our ultimate aim in our work, and we shouldn’t work ourselves, toiling to the point of exhaustion and neglect of other priorities in order to get wealth.
Notice that the reason it gives here is actually just a pretty pragmatic reason. Okay, look at it again. “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.”
Anyone had personal experience of that happening? You get a raise, and as soon as you do your insurance goes up! Right? Or maybe you saved money on some other bill and then all of a sudden you have a new medical expense. I mean, this is the way money works. There’s always going to be somebody else, something else that needs your money.
One of the reasons Proverbs warns us not to set our hearts on this, not to labor to acquire this, is because it’s so uncertain, it is so fleeting, and it’s not where we should place our security, much less our love. So there’s a warning here: do not toil for wealth. In other words, there’s a kind of hard work that is good, but there’s also a degree of working in order to acquire wealth that is excessive and that can lead to distortion and even to destructive consequences in our homes, our families, and in our lives.
(2) Here’s another warning: Beware of wealth gained hastily (Proverbs 13:11). “Wealth gained hastily will dwindle, but whoever gathers little by little will increase it.” Here you have a contrast, a contrast between hastily-gotten wealth and wealth that is gathered a little bit at a time over a long period of time.
Tim Keller has written a really great little devotional on Proverbs. It would be well worth your reading, a daily devotional, it goes through the entire year. It takes you through the various proverbs, giving insight on all these different things we’re talking about.
I want you to hear this comment on this verse. This is interesting. He says here that the word “dishonest”—“wealth gained hastily,” in some translations it says “dishonestly.” He says, “The word here translates a Hebrew phrase that literally means ‘money out of the air.’” It’s the idea of money that just kind of comes to you. You might think of a windfall, some kind of a windfall. Keller’s comment is this: “It means money that comes suddenly rather than gradually. The warning is this: if you don’t grow wealth over years through diligence, vigilance, and skillfulness, you may not have grown the character and habits necessary to manage money well.”
This is readily apparent if you ever do any kind of study on people who’ve won the lottery. You read the statistics; people who get this sudden windfall of money, they win the lottery, and a lot of those people end up in worse financial condition than they were at the beginning, because they don’t have the character, they haven’t developed the wisdom, they haven’t developed the skills to manage that wealth wisely through years of hard work and saving and accumulation over a period of time.
Here’s another warning, Proverbs 28:19-20, also against haste. “Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread, but he who follows worthless pursuits will have plenty of poverty.” We looked at that last week, the contrast between deep, hard work and worthless pursuits. Then look at verse 20. “A faithful man will abound with blessings, but whoever hastens to be rich will not go unpunished.”
There’s this warning against wealth gotten hastily and especially against the impulse to try to get rich quickly. Brothers and sisters, this is a warning that we need to heed against every kind of “get rich quick” scheme. This would include things like gambling or playing the lottery, or maybe buying into a pyramid kind of business program with the promise that within three months you’re going to be making $20,000 a month or whatever. It’s a warning against that mentality that tries to get rich quickly.
This is a problem. It’s an increasing problem in our own culture. Again, Randy Alcorn gives a series of startling statistics. He says that “Americans gamble more money each year than they spend on groceries. Five to eight per cent of American adolescents are already addicted to gambling. Seventy-five per cent of pathological gamblers admit to having committed a felony to support their habit. Eighteen per cent of people housed in inner-city missions are homeless as a result of gambling. Police chiefs across the country warn that wherever gambling is introduced, even in small towns, crime always follows. State-sponsored lotteries make gambling more accessible than ever, but in so doing they exploit the poor. As a bumper sticker says, ‘The lottery is a tax on people who are bad at math.’”
Really, when you just look at the stats, you look at the odds of winning the lottery, it’s a foolish way to spend money, and it goes directly against the counsel of Proverbs, that says don’t be hasty to get wealthy. That’s a warning.
(3) Here’s another warning, a warning against oppressing the poor. Proverbs 22:16, “Whoever oppresses the poor to increase his own wealth or gives to the rich will only come to poverty.” Proverbs 14:31, “Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors him.”
Now, I mention these two—and again, there are lots of verses, there are probably a dozen or so verses like this in Proverbs, and I mention these two for a simple reason. I think it’s easy for us when we think about poverty to have a pretty simplistic view about the reasons for poverty and the way that God considers poverty. In our culture, within especially certain demographics, within certain aspects of our society, you look at a certain socioeconomic demographic, it’s pretty common to just make the assumption that if people are poor, the reason they are poor is because they are lazy, because they won’t work. That tends to be a mentality that many people have.
Now, Proverbs would say sometimes that’s true, but it’s not invariably true. It’s not always the case. There’s this warning against oppressing the poor. Another proverb warns against mocking the poor. There’s a warning against treating the poor with a kind of contempt that actually becomes an insult to God himself, because God takes up the cause of the poor often in Scripture, even while there’s a warning against laziness, which can lead to poverty.
Once again, let me quote Tim Keller, this time from his book Ministries of Mercy. Keller says that there are three basic reasons for poverty. These are three basic reasons you find in Scripture, and they’re certainly three reasons that you find in any case of poverty in the world today.
There is, first of all, oppression. People sometimes are poor because they are oppressed. Keller says, “Any social condition or unfair treatment that brings or keeps a person in poverty, that can be considered oppression. Examples of this would be things like delayed wages, unjustly low wages, court or government systems weighted in favor of the great and the wealthy, high-interest loans. All of these are biblical examples of oppression.”
Here’s the second reason for poverty: calamity. These are things like natural disasters or calamity, things that happen to people outside of their control that impoverish them. These would be things like crop failures, disabling injuries, victimization by criminals, natural disasters (floods and storms and fires, famines, things like this). Especially in the biblical world, when there wasn’t such a thing as insurance, people didn’t have insurance against these kinds of things like we have today.
But there are some people in the world today who can’t afford insurance. They’re not able to have insurance, so one major medical expense in this culture can set someone back for decades. It can actually ruin somebody financially. Sometimes poverty is a result of those kinds of experiences.
Then, of course, personal sin can also lead to poverty. We don’t want to deny that, and Scripture certainly does not deny that. A life of laziness, problems with self-discipline, expensive tastes and luxury-seeking; all of those things can lead to poverty.
When you consider those three things (oppression, calamity, personal sin), here’s the upshot (this is what Keller says). “These distinctions are essential if we are to avoid uncritically adopting either the liberal or the conservative ideology towards the poor. The liberal tends to see all the poor as oppressed, and thus does not see the importance of conditions in mercy ministry; but the conservative tends to see all the poor as irresponsible, and thus overemphasizes conditions in mercy. Both sides oversimplify the complex causes of poverty.”
I just want us to see here how nuanced Scripture is, okay? One of the things I think we need is pushing against whatever our natural ideology is when it comes to money, because all of us kind of have a natural mindset based on the culture in which we were raised, the homes in which we were raised, our own experiences with money, and so on. Scripture cuts across the grain in critiquing all of our natural impulses with money and correcting those.
(4) Here’s the fourth warning about wealth: don’t trust in it. Don’t trust in riches. Let me give you two proverbs.
Proverbs 11:27, “Whoever trusts in his riches will fall, but the righteous will flourish like a green leaf.”
It was interesting, a few days ago I was sitting in Starbucks. I went there to read. When you go to Starbucks, there’s actually kind of a community of people that show up there pretty often, and I’ve gotten to know some of these people, because I study often in Starbucks. There’s a guy that I’ve gotten to know over the last couple of years who’s a financial advisor, so every once in awhile we will talk, and it’s usually fairly shallow conversation, but occasionally we’ll talk about something more serious.
We ended up talking for 45 minutes the other morning, and I just was asking him questions, just trying to get his take on financial kinds of things. One of the things I asked him was, “How much do you recommend that people have in savings, just kind of your average middle-class person? How much should they have in savings?”
He said, “You should have an entire year’s worth of salary in savings,” which I thought, “That’d be nice, but I don’t know too many people that have that,” an entire year’s worth of salary in savings!
But then he said this. He said, “Because if you don’t have that, you don’t have any peace of mind. You get that and it gives you so much peace of mind.” He kept emphasizing peace of mind.
Well, I understand what he’s saying, and probably any financial advisor’s going to say something similar, but Proverbs, I think, would warn us, don’t trust in your savings account. Don’t find your peace of mind in wealth, however you’ve much accumulated. Now, of course Proverbs commends saving. “Remember the ant!” Remember, we talked about the ant last week? Look to the ant. The sluggard is to look to the ant, who works in the summer and stores up for the wintertime. Certainly saving is wise, but don’t trust in it. Don’t trust in riches. We’re rather to trust in the Lord.
So Proverbs 11:4 gives us another reason why we should not trust in riches: remember that they can’t save you. “Riches do not profit in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivers from death.”
Now, in the original context, this phrase “day of wrath” may not have connoted to the original readers a day of judgment. It may have just meant a day of calamity and have simply been saying that, listen, there are troubles that can come into your life that riches cannot help you get through, and that’s certainly true. Anyone who’s lived very long knows that there’s a limit to what your wealth can do, to what financial resources can do.
Certainly, in a wider biblical perspective, the day of wrath is a coming day; it’s the day of judgment. It’s the eschatological day of the Lord. It’s the day when Christ will return and when he will judge the living and the dead, where every single person will give an account to the Lord for the deeds done in the body, and in that day riches will not profit. Riches won’t help you, riches won’t save you. The only thing that will save you in that day is righteousness. Riches do not profit in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivers from death.
You know what that verse does? It just reminds us immediately that there’s something more important than wealth. There’s something more valuable than riches. In fact, there are many things more valuable than riches, and one of the things that Proverbs wants us to do is get our value system right, to recognize here are appropriate ways to use wealth, here are warnings against wealth, and here are the values you should have.
III. Value What Matters Most
That leads us to this final point, value what matters most. Have you ever noticed when you’re reading through Proverbs the “better than” statements? There are a lot of these, these “better than” statements.
Craig Blomberg, in his wonderful book on wealth, kind of a biblical theology of possessions, called Neither Poverty Nor Riches (the title’s taken from Proverbs 30)—in his book on this he comments that the majority of the “better than” proverbs “deal with issues of wealth and poverty and commend poverty with righteousness rather than riches with injustice.” There are some things that are better than wealth. There are some cases in which poverty is even better than wealth. Let’s look at a few of these contrasts.
(1) Number one, Proverbs 19:1 tells us that integrity is more important than wealth. “Better is the poor person who walks in his integrity than one who is crooked in speech and is a fool.”
So integrity, and again, there’s a whole set of proverbs about the importance of integrity and righteousness and warnings against wickedness and injustice and unjust means of getting gain and being greedy for unjust gain and using deceit to get gain. Proverbs would say in every one of those cases it’s better to hold onto your integrity, to live a righteous life, and be poor than it is to in any way compromise ethics in order to be rich. Integrity with poverty is better than wealth with injustice.
(2) Here’s the second contrast, Proverbs 17:1. “Better is a dry morsel with quiet than a house full of feasting with strife.”
Do you get the contrast? Better is a very simple diet, a dry morsel, a dry piece of bread, sustenance diet—that’s better with peace in your relationships than a house full of feasting but full of strife.
A number of years ago (this was kind of in between pastorates) I laid tile for a living, for awhile. In some ways it was a fun job. I wouldn’t want to do it now; it was really hard on your knees, hard work! But it was kind of fun, and one of the interesting things was just being in so many cool houses. I was really amazed at some of the houses where we were laying tile.
I remember laying tile in this one house—if I remember right, this house was something like 4,000 square feet. It was huge! It was really big. It might even have been bigger than that. We were laying these tiles that were, I don’t know, I think they were three-foot tiles; they were huge tiles. It was just beautiful. There was marble, and murals on the walls, and these huge bedrooms and living areas; just one of the most beautiful houses that I’ve ever seen. Yet, when I got to know just a little bit the owner of the house and found out the turmoil in his personal life, the contrast was striking.
You know, that’s not always the case. Certainly God sometimes blesses people with some degree of wealth and they maintain really healthy relationships; but often it’s the case that people who amass great amounts of wealth also, sometimes almost in direct proportion to the pursuit of wealth and riches and luxury, they also find conflict and turmoil and destruction and brokenness in their personal relationships; in their marriages, in their families, and so on. Proverbs tells us that a peaceful, quiet life, peaceful relationships, is better, even if it’s with poverty, than to have the strife and the turmoil of broken relationships with great wealth.
(3) Here’s another one, Proverbs 22:1, “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver and gold.” An honorable reputation. This is similar to integrity. It’s better to keep your good name and to have a good reputation, to preserve that, than to lose it in the pursuit of wealth.
Let me give you two more. Proverbs 23:23 says, “Buy truth and do not sell it; buy wisdom, instruction, and understanding.” Buy the truth, and do not sell it! Or the old King James says, “Buy the truth and sell it not.” Don’t sell truth. Place a premium on truth. This is telling us that truth is more valuable than riches.
J.I. Packer, in his book, in his book on the Puritans, A Quest for Godliness (I found this a few weeks ago as I was re-reading), tells a story, a Puritan story of a Puritan preacher named Mr. Rogers, who was preaching to a group of people. If it’s the Rogers I think it is, it’s Richard Rogers, who was right around the turn of the 15th century, so this would have been the early 1600s. You just have to keep in mind, this is right after the Protestant Reformation. People have had Bibles printed in English and in their homes and actually in their churches for only, you know, less than a hundred years, maybe 60, 70 years.
This Puritan, Mr. Rogers, is preaching to this congregation, and he’s rebuking them for their neglect of the Bible. He kind of acted something out. He began to speak as if he were God, speaking in the voice of God. He picked up his Bible, and he was rebuking the people. “You neglect my word, you neglect the Bible! I’ve given you my word, and yet you’ve neglected it. I’m going to take it. You’re not going to have the Bible anymore.”
It so affected the people—he was walking off the stage with the Bible—that people started actually crying out. They were saying, “No! No, don’t take our Bibles! Take our children, take our wealth; take anything, but please don’t take your word from us.”
He walked back to the pulpit and he said, “Okay, let’s see if you will read my word, let’s see if you will obey the word.”
It so affected the people that when he finished preaching people just broke down and they were sobbing, and one person who had witnessed this went outside to get on his horse and ride home, and he just collapsed on his saddle and he wept for 15 minutes. You know why? Because they still remembered what it was like to be without the word, to not have the truth, to not have the gospel. They said, “No, it’s more valuable to us than anything. It’s more valuable to us than our families, it’s more valuable to us than riches, it’s more valuable than anything. Take anything, Lord, but don’t take the truth from us!”
Proverbs commends that perspective. “Buy the truth and sell it not.” “With all your getting, get wisdom,” Proverbs says. We need the truth, we need the gospel. There’s something more valuable than riches, and that is God’s word.
(4) Finally, wisdom itself is more valuable. Proverbs 8:10-11, “Take my instruction instead of silver, and knowledge rather than choice gold; for wisdom is better than jewels, and all that you may desire cannot compare with her,” that is, wisdom.
Proverbs 16:16, “How much better to get wisdom than gold! To get understanding is to be chosen rather than silver.”
We’re not sure who all wrote the Proverbs; we know that Solomon probably wrote some of the Proverbs, and maybe Solomon wrote this. If so, do you remember how Solomon was an example of this himself? Do you remember how the Lord came to him and said, “Ask whatever you wish, and I’ll give it to you”? And remember what he asked for? He didn’t ask for riches, right? He didn’t ask for wealth, he didn’t ask for power. He asked for wisdom. He asked for wisdom, because wisdom is more valuable than riches.
Parents, this ought to figure into the way we raise children. So often when we’re thinking about directing our children in our culture the main thing we’re thinking about is their success. We’re thinking about education, we’re thinking about a job, we’re thinking about earning potential.
Now of course, we should care about those things to some degree. We direct our children wisely. But how much more important is it to raise children who are characterized by wisdom, who are characterized by righteousness, who have biblical values instilled in them? That should play in to the way we make education choices, the way we direct, the way we counsel, the way we guide, that our children know that there are some things that are much more valuable than a good paycheck. Wisdom is to be chosen rather than gold.
One more proverb, Proverbs 2:1-5. This one, I think, is remarkable because it uses language that usually would be used for acquiring wealth, mining for gold and for silver, but it’s used all about wisdom. Proverbs 2:1-5, “My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you, making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding; yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding; if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.”
Wisdom, the fear of the Lord, the knowledge of God, knowing God. That’s more important than riches, and we should seek it with the same intensity as someone who is digging for gold or digging for silver. We labor for it, to get wisdom and to know the Lord.
What is your perspective on wealth, your perspective on riches? Do you have this balanced perspective that Proverbs gives? Do you know how to value it rightly without misusing? Do you heed the warnings even while you recognize the appropriate place that wealth can have in your life, and do you value what matters most, truth and wisdom and righteousness and integrity and peaceful relationships? These good things that are better than wealth.
What if you’ve failed? I recognize that a sermon like this is a sermon full of at least implicit “do this and do not do this.” It’s dos and don’ts, right? Proverbs gives us lots of practical wisdom, telling us what we should do, what we shouldn’t do. It’s easy to walk away from a message like this feeling one of two things, and I want to warn us against both of these things.
If you’re a person who manages money really, really well, your head might have swelled just a little bit in this message, and you might be patting yourself on the back and thinking, “You know, I’m doing alright on the financial stuff! I don’t idolize, I’m saving, I’m not misspending, and I’m not prone to get-rich-quick schemes, and I’m giving, and I’m generous,” and you start patting yourself on the back, and before you know it you’re like that Pharisee in Luke 18, “Lord, I thank you that I’m not like other men are, and I tithe of all I possess, and I do this and I do this and I do this…” Jesus says that he prayed with himself. He was commending himself for his righteousness. There’s a danger, when you use wealth well, of self-righteousness. But remember, wealth, even rightly used wealth, will not profit on the day of wrath. Beware of pride in the way you use wealth.
On the other hand, if you’ve made a mess of things, if you’ve made a mess of personal finances, if you’ve sinned with money, if you know that you’ve sinned with money, if you know that you’ve blown it in all kinds of ways, if you can look at your track record and you can see, you know, “I haven’t managed things wisely and now I’m paying for the consequences of my mistakes in the past,” you could start to feel overwhelmed with guilt and condemnation and despair when you hear a message like this.
Did you know that the gospel comes and it cuts against both of those things? Self-righteousness and feelings of commending ourselves, and also sin and unrighteousness and feelings of condemnation. The gospel tells us that our relationship with God is not based on our own righteousness, it’s not based on our own morality, it’s certainly not based on how well you use your money! It’s not. The relationship with God is based on grace. It’s purely by grace, and that grace humbles us, because it means there’s nothing we can contribute, no matter how well we manage things, no matter how good we are; and there’s nothing that can take away from it, no matter how far we have fallen, how much we’ve messed up.
In fact, in 2 Corinthians 8, which I mentioned earlier, the apostle Paul actually gives us the gospel, and he gives it to us in economic terms, economic language. It’s all about an exchange of wealth for poverty. Listen to what he says.
He says, “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.”
That’s the gospel in a nutshell. Jesus Christ was rich beyond measure—he had everything eternally in the presence of his Father! The Lord of glory, and in his incarnation he divested himself of that wealth, of that honor, of that riches. Without losing any of his deity, he divested himself of the glory of it. He was rich and he became poor. Why did he do it?
You know why he did it? Because he loved us! Because of his grace, not because of anything we earned, just because of our great need. As many people prayed awhile ago, he loved us “when we were yet sinners,” and in his love he divested himself of that wealth, so that we through his poverty (the poverty of the incarnation, not to mention the poverty of the cross, where Jesus poured out his lifeblood for us, died in our place on the cross), in the poverty of that experience, through that you and I can become rich.
Rich in what way? It doesn’t mean that you’re going to get rich financially in this world; it means something far better than that. It means that there is, through grace, through faith in Jesus Christ, it means that there is laid up for you an inheritance that is unfading, that is incorruptible, an inheritance that can never be taken away from you. It means that you are given all of the riches that God has to offer through Jesus Christ—the spiritual riches of relationship with him, and someday, in a new heavens and a new earth, there will be wealth and wellbeing and harmony in every possible way in our relational as well as our physical and our spiritual lives.
That’s what God offers to us through the gospel, and there’s nothing you can do to earn it, there’s not one cent you can give to get it. It all comes to us through faith in Jesus Christ, which means all ground is level at the cross. No matter how well you do with money, no matter how poorly you’ve done, how badly you’ve messed up, grace is available through Jesus Christ. If you’ve never looked to him for grace, I hope you’ll do so this morning. Let’s pray.
Gracious Father, we thank you for your mercy. We thank you that when we were yet sinners Christ died for us. We thank you that even in the poverty of our sin that Christ was not ashamed to call us brothers and that he came, that he gave everything. The old hymn says he “emptied himself of all but love / And bled for Adam’s helpless race.” We thank you for that great grace, that great mercy, and we pray this morning that we would value that, we’d value your love and value the gospel more than anything else, certainly more than material possessions.
I pray, Lord, that you by your Spirit would use the word to shape us and form us in the right ways. Lord, we all have different temptations when it comes to money, and I pray that you would use your word to speak to our specific needs and that you would guide us with wisdom and with grace.
As we come to the Lord’s table this morning, we pray that you would meet with us by your Spirit, that we would look beyond the elements to Jesus Christ himself, the living bread, who gave his life for the life of the world; and that we would see that our true wealth, our true riches, our true satisfaction is found in relationship with Jesus Christ. May that be true for each one of us this morning. We pray it in Jesus’ name and for his sake, Amen.