10 Essential Lessons about Money from the Book of Proverbs
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Money. We all deal with it, but few know what to think about it. Our culture and even our friends and family can give us conflicting messages: money is power; money is a curse; money corrupts; money means you’ve made it.
Unfortunately, many Christians feel just as conflicted. Some fear wealth, feeling that the way to godliness is cutting oneself off from worldly concerns, especially financial ones. Some fear wealth is only an illusion; only the immaterial matters. Others, taking a cue from prosperity preachers, feel that riches much be a sign of favor and blessing from God. And if they aren’t rich, either they don’t have enough faith or God is cruelly withholding what is good. Many find themselves caught between these two extremes.
How are Christians to view money? Does God care how we use our financial resources, and if so, what should we do?
The book of Proverbs gives us a treasure trove of insights into how Christians should view and use wealth. Here are ten essential lessons:
1. Money has some value.
A rich man’s wealth is his strong city; the poverty of the poor is their ruin. (Prov. 10:15)
Proverbs takes an incredibly practical, realistic view of wealth. It hardly needs to be said that money is a powerful tool. Wealth is a “strong city” (10:15) that protects the rich. Money gives favor and “many friends” (14:20, 19:4). While money used well can be a blessing, it can also be used corruptly. The rich abuse wealth to rule over the poor (22:7) and pervert justice through bribery (17:8, 17:23). Although wealth is valuable, it is limited. While the rich may perceive it to be “a high wall” (18:11), some may not realize that “those who trust in riches will fall” (11:28).
2. If you want money, you must work for it.
A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come on you like a robber and want like an armed man. (Prov. 6:10-11, see also Prov. 24:33-34)
Money doesn’t come easily. While many dream of winning the lottery or receiving a large inheritance, that is the exception, not the rule. Economics teaches us the principle of scarcity: there are limited resources, and so everything comes at a cost. Growing money requires faithful, diligent, patient work. Proverbs teaches that “the hand of the diligent makes rich” (10:4) and “in all toil there is profit” (14:23). It requires patience to gather wealth slowly, “little by little” (13:11). On the other hand, those who are lazy (6:10-11, 12:24) and eager to get rich (28:20) cheat themselves. The one who procrastinates “is a brother to him who destroys” (18:9), with his own desires killing him (21:25).
3. Don’t fall for a “get-rich-quick” scheme; ill-gotten gain always comes back to bite.
Such are the ways of everyone who is greedy for unjust gain; it takes away the life of its possessors. (Prov. 1:19)
Bribery, theft, dishonest business practices, fraud, lies—the media provides example after example of dishonest means to get ahead. And it isn’t just “out there”; most of us face the danger of being defrauded or temptation to cut corners at work. And yet, wealth gained in such a way will become a curse. It does “not profit” (10:2), “will dwindle” (13:11), “brings troubles” (15:27), is a “fleeting vapor and a snare of death” (21:6) and leads to poverty (28:22). Our righteous God “will by no means clear the guilty” (Exod. 34:7), including those guilty of financial crimes.
4. Plan ahead, plan ahead, plan ahead.
Ponder the path of your feet; then all your ways will be sure. (Prov. 4:26)
Planning ahead for your finances cannot be overstated. The wise save to take care of needs down the road (21:20). Diligent, thoughtful planning leads to “abundance” (21:5). Planning involves being realistic about your financial situation. Idle talk (14:23) and wishful thinking (28:19) lead only to poverty and want. The wise plan ahead to avoid dangers into which the simple keep going (22:3). Since “riches do not last forever,” careful thought and attention are required to provide for yourself and your family (27:23-27).
5. Never scorn wise advice.
Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed. (Prov. 15:22)
You don’t know everything, but neither does anyone else. We are all limited, and sometimes we don’t even know what we don’t know. But no matter how hard that can be to admit, it is even harder to recover from a costly mistake. We all have blind spots and may not realize it: “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes” (12:15), and “those who trust in themselves are fools” (28:26). As a result, a wise person seeks advice. For some, this means talking to friends, relatives, or pastors about finances for advice and accountability. Others may need professional assistance. Either way, it is crucial to understand your own shortcomings and be willing to get help, even with as sensitive an issue as money.
6. Pay it forward; giving to the poor is an investment in God’s economy.
Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors him. (Prov. 14:31)
It’s official—helping others helps you, too. Research has found that being generous makes you happier and improves your outlook on life. What this research misses is why this is true. Our kind and generous God, who freely gives all things we enjoy, calls us to give to those in need. Moreover, these commands come with amazing promises.
Whoever is kind to the poor “lends to the Lord,” and he will reward them (19:17). The Lord himself will take up the case of the poor (22:22-23), blessing the generous (14:21, 22:9) and cursing those who close their hearts (28:27). Our generosity should spring from trusting God. Since the Lord is the one who makes men rich or poor (22:2), we know that he will take care of us when we obey him by taking care of our neighbors.
7. Wisdom is worth more than money.
Blessed is the one who finds wisdom, and the one who gets understanding, for the gain from her is better than gain from silver and her profit better than gold. She is more precious than jewels, and nothing you desire can compare with her. (Prov. 3:13-15)
While money is valuable, wisdom is far more precious. Proverbs exhorts us to seek wisdom “as for hidden treasures” (2:4). It is worth more than “silver,” “choice gold,” and “rubies” (8:10-11, 16:16). Why is this? True wisdom leads us to value what is truly important. This world, along with all its wealth, is “passing away” (1 John 2:17). No matter how much we have, it can’t help us on the Day of Judgment (11:4). True, godly wisdom leads us to pursue the reward that lasts—namely, eternal life—no matter the cost (Matt. 16:25-26).
8. Righteousness is worth more than money.
Riches do not profit in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivers from death. (Prov. 11:4)
Wealth is a miserable thing in which to place your trust. While money has value in this life, righteousness has value both in this life and in the one to come. Those who trust money or anything else other than the one true God will reap destruction and utter ruin (10:24, 11:28). In fact, it is better to be poor and righteous than enjoy “great revenues with injustice” (16:8). And yet, it often seems to be the opposite: there are many wicked people who prosper, while those who trust in God may live from paycheck to paycheck (see Eccl. 7:15, 8:14).
After the fall of Adam, our world was subject to the futility of the curse, and so there are many injustices. And yet, this isn’t the end of the story. Our righteous Lord will bring justice. It doesn’t matter how much you make or what your balance sheet looks like; all riches will melt away, and only those declared righteous through faith in Christ will have eternal life (John 6:40, Rom. 3:22).
9. Our success rests solely with the Lord.
Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established. (Prov.16:3)
Our culture is obsessed with independence and freedom. Young children are instructed to follow their hearts, teens to pursue their “dream jobs,” and adults to abandon friendships or even marriages that have grown stale. And yet, Proverbs paints a very different picture. While we may plan and dream, ultimately the Lord’s purposes and plans will prevail (16:9, 16:33, 19:21, 20:24).
Our success rests solely with the Lord (21:31). And he is such a good and kind master to serve: He “does not let the righteous go hungry” (10:3) and will prosper all those who trust in him (28:25). On the other hand, those who resist are ultimately fighting a losing battle against an all-powerful, all-wise Sovereign.
10. Fear God and keep his commandments.
The reward for humility and fear of the Lord is riches and honor and life. (Prov. 22:4)
Instead of pursuing money, pursue God. As we have seen, money is a valuable resource and there are principles in Proverbs that help us steward what God has given. Yet, knowing and fearing God is far more precious than great riches (15:16). While money can benefit us during our lives on earth, there is so much more to live for. Our duty is to “fear God and keep his commandments” because our sovereign, righteous Lord will surely “bring every deed into judgement” (Eccl. 12:13-14).
Once we have come to know God through his gospel of salvation in Christ alone through faith alone, we trust him to take care of us. We no longer need to live in fear; we can trust fully in his wise provision. As the writer to the Hebrews declares,
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.” So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” (Heb. 13:5-6)
Hannah Barnes delights in learning as much as she can about theology and living to glorify God. She is a CFP® professional and works as a financial planner in San Diego.