Wisdom for Finances, pt 1
December is now fully underway, and as the songwriter put it: “It’s the most wonderful time of the year!” … Well, maybe not. Some people enjoy the Christmas season. Others, not so much. But, do you know who especially enjoys the Christmas season (besides those who focus on Christ)?… Retailers!
One report I saw said that holiday retail sales would more-than-likely be over $1 trillion dollars this year. That’s 1 thousand billion dollars from people buying stuff either online or at a physical store.
All that shopping, though, takes a toll on the shoppers. And if the products you buy cost more than what you have in your bank account, then that only means one thing—DEBT. You’ll have to finance things and agree to pay them off later.
Another report released in January of this year said that for the 2017 Holiday season, for those who went into debt, the average debt was about $1,050. And of those surveyed, only half of them said they expected to pay off the amount in three months or less. Fifteen percent of the group said they would need 5 months or more to pay it off.
There was even a group of people who said that they only intended to make the minimum payment on their credit card.
Here’s how the math works out on that. Let’s say you incur $1,000 of credit card debt, with an interest rate of 15% (which is low). If you decide to only make the minimum monthly payment of $25, it will take 56 months to pay off that debt, and that’s assuming you don’t add more to it.
It will take over 4½ years and you will have paid almost $400 worth of interest, on top of the original $1,000 principal. That’s how it works. It costs money to borrow money from financial institutions. That’s life.
Now, the problem of holiday debt is really just a symptom of a bigger problem. And that bigger problem is the inability to handle money well.
One study, released in August of this year, said that the average revolving debt in the state of California—that means those who don’t pay their credit card balance in full every month—the average revolving debt is $10,496.
And again, that’s credit card debt. It doesn’t include car loans, student loans, or home mortgages. Almost $10,500 in unpaid credit card debt.
At that amount, and at 15% interest, you could pay $500 per month, and it would still take you 2 years to pay it off, and you will have paid over $1,500 in interest.
Now, as a Christian, the ability to handle money isn’t ultimately measured by debt or by wealth. It’s measured by stewardship.
Stewardship is the recognition that everything we have belongs to Jesus Christ, and we have been placed in charge of it as a manager. We are stewards of what we have. So YOUR stuff isn’t ultimately YOUR stuff. It belongs to Christ.
Stewardship is one of the qualities outlined in our church’s membership covenant. That’s a biblical idea. A follower of Jesus Christ is committed to being a faithful steward of all his resources including time, talent, and possessions.
In Luke 16:11, after sharing a story about being discerning with our money, Jesus asks the question: “If you have not been faithful with worldly wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches?”
Jesus draws a clear connection between stewarding our earthly resources and receiving heavenly or spiritual blessings.
And if that’s the case, then we want to be able to handle our money wisely. And we need to be working to teach our children the same.
If your kids leaves home after high school, and end up attending some college out of state, wouldn’t you want to know that they know how to think about and handle money correctly? That’s a major life skill.
And so, fittingly, it’s a topic that Proverbs addresses very much. My preference so far has been to address the topics in Proverbs in the order they come. And after the topic of discipline in Proverbs 10:1, verse 2 is about money. It’s about finances.
So that’s what we’re going to be talking about. It’s a very practical lesson, and very needed. My only regret is that FLGs are ending already, so we won’t have any formal time to talk about this in the groups. But you should find some other trusted friends and have discussions about the topic. It’s a part of life.
We talk to one another about marriage. We talk about spiritual life. We talk about parenting. We talk about work. And I think finances would be a beneficial conversation as well, with other brothers and sisters in the faith. It’s part of spurring one another to love and good deeds.
The Proverbs have so much to say about money, and what I’ve done is broken those verses up into seven categories, or seven principles. We’ve already covered chapters 1-9, so I’m limiting our study only to chapters 10-30. We’re going to take two weeks to work through the seven principles.
For today, we’ll just be looking at the first three. And you’ve got a list of the verses in your handout. I’m not going to cover all of them, but you can do that on your own if you want, or come ask me a question afterward.
The first financial principle in Proverbs is the principle of PRIORITY. Priority. What that’s pointing to is that the priority in life is not money. Money has value, but it is not the most important thing in your life. Your life should not revolve around money. Your pursuit in life should not be money. What should it be?
In the words of Proverbs, we are to be pursuing the fear of the Lord. We are to pursue wisdom. If righteousness is what we’re after, the general pattern is that blessing will come (even possibly financial blessings).
Proverbs 10:22 says: The blessing of the Lord makes rich, and he adds no sorrow with it.
Lots of rich people are miserable. Money cannot and will not bring ultimate satisfaction and joy. Only God can do that. And so, money should not be our primary pursuit. It should not be your PRIORITY.
Look, for example at Proverbs 11:4—Riches do not profit in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivers from death.
All the money in the world will mean nothing when Christ comes in judgment. You can’t buy your way out of that. Jesus asked the question: “What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? What will a man give in exchange for his soul?”
Wisdom and righteousness can give you something that money cannot—eternal salvation.
And as Christians, we know that true righteousness doesn’t come from us. It comes from faith in Jesus Christ, who lived a perfectly righteous life, and then, through faith, grants us His Spirit to guide us in daily righteousness. No earthly possessions can outweigh that gift. And no amount of money or possessions can give the peace and security that Christ gives.
Look at Proverbs 11:28—Whoever trusts in his riches will fall, but the righteous will flourish like a green leaf.
Where is your trust? It’s easy to exaggerate the distinction between a culture that praises the almighty dollar, and a people who trust in an Almighty God. But in our daily lives, where is our trust placed?
It’s not wrong to be pleased with what God has blessed you with, but the danger is to find security in God’s gifts rather than in God. Isn’t it easier to feel confident when there’s a little extra money in your wallet or in your bank account? Or how about when you’re short on money? Do you find yourself a little worried or anxious when the bank account is lowered? You shouldn’t.
I’m not saying we should be flippant with our money, but our final confidence isn’t in the money. It’s in our God who has all the money we need. Our contentment is in God, not in what we have.
That’s why Paul wrote to the Philippians: I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
We recognize that God can bless financially, but that’s not always going to happen. And so, even when it doesn’t, we can be content because our pursuit is God Himself. Paul said to Timothy: Godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world.
True contentment comes from pursuing God, not from pursuing money. God is our priority.
Skip down to Proverbs 13, verse 21. Proverbs 13:21—Disaster pursues sinners, but the righteous are rewarded with good.
Again, blessing and reward come when your priority is the goodness of God. That’s what God blesses.
Look at the next verse. Proverbs 13:22—A good man leaves an inheritance to his children's children, but the sinner's wealth is laid up for the righteous.
That’s not just an instruction saying that giving your grandkids an inheritance is a good thing. It’s also saying that if you lead a good life, you will have blessings that spill over to the future generations. God will take care of you. He takes care of His children. The sinner forfeits that.
Skip over now look to Proverbs 15, verses 15-17. Proverbs 15:15-17—All the days of the afflicted are evil, but the cheerful of heart has a continual feast. Better is a little with the fear of the Lord than great treasure and trouble with it. Better is a dinner of herbs where love is than a fattened ox and hatred with it.
You don’t need money to find real joy. And having money doesn’t guarantee joy. Some of you have had this lesson from experience. There are so many good things in life that money can’t buy. So we need to fight against this idea that money equals happiness. It doesn’t.
First Timothy 6 tells us: The love of money is a root of all kinds of evils.
And we all have some of that within us. It doesn’t matter how much money we have. We can all face the temptation to love it—to make it our priority. There are rich people who love money and there are poor people who love money. Both are wrong. Whether you have it or not, money is not the most important thing in this world. It’s not even in the top 5.
Proverbs 16 tells us that wisdom is better than gold. Understanding is better than silver. Humility is better than riches.
Chapter 17 says a dry piece of bread eaten in quiet is better than a steak eaten with strife. A rich life isn’t always the best.
Proverbs 19 reminds us that it’s better to be poor and have integrity than it is to be a rich fool. And it’s better to be poor than be a liar.
Proverbs 20 and 21 tells us that wisdom and a good reputation are worth more than gold and silver.
As we wrap up this principle, go with me to Proverbs 24, verses 3 and 4. Proverbs 24:3-4—By wisdom a house is built, and by understanding it is established; by knowledge the rooms are filled with all precious and pleasant riches.
What makes your house beautiful is not how many bedrooms and bathrooms it has. It’s not how beautifully decorated it is. What makes your house attractive, what makes it useful in God’s hands is when it’s filled with wisdom and understanding and knowledge and holiness.
Parents, there are much more important things that you can give your children than toys and stuff and money. Give your children the wisdom of God. That is what will make your home inviting and beautiful and lavish. The rest of the stuff can be fun, but it’s extra.
Our priority, our pursuit, is not the money. It never should be. Our priority is faithfulness to God. If you go chasing after money, life will not go well.
So, check your priorities. And if you’re not sure what your priorities are in life, look at where your money is going, and ask your spouse, or ask your parents, or ask your kids. They’ll help you figure out what your priorities really are. Do whatever needs to be done to make sure you have your priorities straight. The goal of life is not to have as much money as you possibly can or to have more money than the other guy. The goal is to live for the glory of God. That’s our priority.
The second Proverbs-principle concerning our finances I have labelled as the principle of Responsibility. Responsibility. This is an outflow of the first principle, but it’s more on the side of a warning. A lack of responsibility in your daily life puts you in financial danger. If you fail to lead a disciplined life, it will hurt you financially. What you need is self-control.
Look at Proverbs 13:18—Poverty and disgrace come to him who ignores instruction, but whoever heeds reproof is honored.
Stray from God’s discipline, and you are in danger of poverty. Why? Spiritually, you forfeit God’s blessing, and practically, you’ll waste your money on cheap thrills, on lesser pursuits.
Go to Proverbs 21. Here are some good verses for the holiday season. Proverbs 21:17—Whoever loves pleasure will be a poor man; he who loves wine and oil will not be rich.
Verse 20 says: Precious treasure and oil are in a wise man's dwelling, but a foolish man devours it.
Wine and oil come from grapes and olives. But producing that means you have to work and wait. Seeds need to be planted. Crops need to be grown and protected. And the harvest needs to be processed.
Well, if you consume it all for yourself and your friends faster than you can sell it or produce it, eventually, you’ve got nothing left. You become poor because you didn’t have any self-control.
This isn’t the only reason for poverty, but it’s a factor. Some of you probably have a story of someone who wasn’t responsible in life, either with food, or gambling, or alcohol, or drugs, and it cost them everything. It ended in poverty.
And even if it’s not some extreme case, we all might have money that could go to something productive but ends up being basically spent frivolously.
One well-known company that seeks to help people with their personal finances is called Bankrate. And on their website this past September they released an article saying that the average American, in one week, will eat takeout or restaurant food 2.4 times, will buy a prepared beverage (like a smoothie or a coffee) 2.5 times, and spend a total of $17 on lottery tickets. That’s the average. Some people spend far more.
The Bankrate article referred to these things as “financial vices.” They cost money. And it didn’t even include things like going to the movies or paying for cable or Netflix or Hulu or whatever.
The article stated that the households who make less than $30,000 a year spend 13% of their income on these “financial vices,” while households who earn more than $75,000 per year spend just 2.6% on them. So they recognize some connection between a lack of discipline and a lower income.
Just think about this difference—you can spend all week watching Netflix, or you can spend all week doing something productive. Those will head in two different directions. One wastes you resources, and the other can multiply them.
Speaking of those “financial vices,” Greg McBride, the chief financial analyst for Bankrate says: “If you’re not saving, if you’re struggling to pay bills on time every month, if you’re incurring debt and if you regularly run out of money before you run out of month, then the daily latte is the first place to start in terms of creating some breathing room for yourself financially.”
By the way, for alcohol and for the lottery, it is primarily a small percentage of consumers who are responsible for a large percentage of the sales. And that desire for more and more, can ruin a household.
For households in the lowest income bracket, almost 30% of them play the lottery at least once a week. That comes out to an average of $34 per month. That might not sound like a lot to some of you, but, McBride says “That could be the difference between a bill being past due or paid on time, the difference between incurring debt or paying cash for a necessity or the difference between saving or not saving.”
Another way to say it would be: self-control pays off. There’s a value to being responsible. And you can even see it in the commercials for alcohol, or for the lottery. They say, “Enjoy responsibly,” or “Play responsibly.” That’s a veiled warning. Even if the world doesn’t recognize sin, they recognize that this stuff can ruin you.
Go to Proverbs 23, verses 20 and 21. Proverbs 23:20-21—Be not among drunkards or among gluttonous eaters of meat, for the drunkard and the glutton will come to poverty, and slumber will clothe them with rags.
The wisdom of Proverbs, calls not only for discipline in daily life, but discipline in who your closest friends are.
Proverbs 29:3 says: A companion of prostitutes squanders his wealth.
A lack of responsibility places you in financial danger. So our priority is not the pleasures of this world. It’s not money. Our priority is God and His wisdom. And rather than give in to every immediate pleasure, we should be responsible, showing self-control, and exhibiting contentment.
Let’s move on now to principle number 3. This is a big one too in Proverbs, and you can see all the references there in the handout. Principle number 3 is the principle of generosity. Generosity.
Generosity doesn’t simply mean you give stuff away and buy things for other people. In the context of Proverbs, it’s a specific reference to helping meet the needs of those within the family or within the covenant community. And again, we’re talking about legitimate needs, not the enablement of someone’s lack of personal responsibility.
The Proverbs continually call us not to be stingy, but tohelp those who are in real need. Buying Christmas presents for all the kids in church, is not wrong, but it probably doesn’t qualify for meeting a need.
And the path to God’s blessing, even in our finances, doesn’t mean you hoard all your money. It means you help others in need. Go with me to Proverbs 11. And we’ll be looking at verse 24-26. Proverbs 11:24-26.
One gives freely, yet grows all the richer; another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want. Whoever brings blessing will be enriched, and one who waters will himself be watered. The people curse him who holds back grain, but a blessing is on the head of him who sells it.
The contrast here, if I can put it like this, is between the hoarder and the helper. One man loves money or possessions so much, he doesn’t want to get rid of anything, and contrary to what he’s hoping, he ends up poor. The other man, faithfully seeking to help others s blessed.
You know, in Old Testament times, when your crops and your fields were a source us sustenance and income, God explicitly told the people, don’t pick every last grape on the vine. Don’t go all the way to the edges. And don’t pick up what falls to the ground. Why not? Because that was for the poor person.
The poor man could maintain his dignity by working to sustain himself. That system provided for the poor, while still preserving their dignity. It wasn’t a handout of free food, but it provided for them in a dignified way.
There were even Israelite feasts that helped provide for the poor. You were to call them in and have a meal with them, so everyone could celebrate God’s goodness together.
But a stingy man, would have hated it. “This is my stuff! That’s my grain! Those are my grapes! That’s my sacrifice!” Or, as Scrooge puts it in the Mickey Mouse version of A Christmas Carol, “You work all your life to get money. And then, people ask you to give it away!” That’s a stingy heart!
God has a unique heart for the poor, but especially for those who have no means of providing for themselves—the widows and the orphans. To care for them is to express the loving compassion of God.
So, generosity could mean giving something away. It could mean selling something at a fair price. It could mean giving them a loan with no interest. Those are all responsible ways to show generosity, and to show that your love for a brother or a sister in need is greater than your love for money and stuff.
Proverbs 14:31 says oppressing the poor is an insult to God who made them, but being generous to them honors the Lord.
Let’s follow the principle of generosity. Skip down to Proverbs 19:17. I like this Proverb—Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed.
What an amazing metaphor! The poor man can’t pay you back, but God will. And trust me, that’s a much better return.
Now, I do want to clarify that the Bible places a higher level of responsibility to those who are closest to us. We are obligated to provide for our immediate families—parents for their little children, and grown children for their elderly parents. And then in the context of our church family, there’s a responsibility too. We are brothers and sisters.
But the more distance there is between us and the other person, the lesser the obligation. It’s not wrong to sponsor some child in some third-world country, but that’s not necessarily a command of God. But if you turn your heart away from a brother or sister in the Lord in your own local church, that’s wrong.
Remember, the money isn’t yours anyway. So stop thinking and acting like it is. It belongs to God and He calls us to be faithful and to be wise and to be generous. This is the path to true joy, and it is the path to God’s blessing.
Since we’re talking about generosity, there are two important distinctions I want to make. And I think they’re important to understand. And they fall under this idea of generosity.
Number one, the command to generosity is a personal command. It’s a direct command to you as an individual. It’s like the other commands in the Bible. We’re not supposed to hear this command and then look to see how others are obeying it. That’s not the right responses. and we’re not supposed to take this command and make ourselves the enforcers of it.
This is a personal command, which means your job, primarily, is to apply it to your own life. Don’t worry about whether other people are being generous or not, worry about how generous you are being with what God has given you. Sometimes you might be on the receiving end. Other times, you’ll be on the giving end. But don’t worry primarily with where others stand. Worry about where you are.
That also means, we don’t get to assume others can obey for us. So those of you who just got your first or second job, you don’t get to say, well my parents give offering or they help others in the church, so I don’t have to. You make your own decisions. And you lay the foundation for what your life will look like later. Learn to be generous.
Secondly, the command to generosity does not mean that it’s a sin to be rich, or to be better off than others. It’s not a sin to be rich. That may be God’s blessing on a person.
In First Timothy, chapter 6, Paul says: As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.
Paul never says it’s wrong to have a rich Christian. But he does say that those who have more should be especially diligent to continue trusting in God (not their money) and to be rich in good deeds, because the treasures of heaven are greater than the treasures of this world.
Luke 12:48—Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.
I’m going to leave it to you to read the rest of the Proverbs in this category, but you get the point. God is opposed to the proud, and He is opposed to the greedy. Shut your eye and your ear to the poor in your community, and God will shut His eyes and ears to you. That’s the message.
And the flip side is: Give to those in need. Express the compassionate love and kindness of God, and God will continue to bless you. If you’re using your finances in a way that honor Him and in ways that promote His character and His purpose, He will be faithful to keep you supplied.
That’s the message of Second Corinthians 9. God loves a cheerful giver. And His grace will abound to you so that you can continue in good deeds. He multiplies the seed, and He increases the harvest.
Not for your own selfish gain, but so that His glory and His purposes can continue in this world.
This is one of the major differences between the prosperity gospel you might read about or hear on TV or the radio, and authentic, biblical Christianity. We both agree that God blesses those who give. But one of the important distinctions is that the goal is not personal gain. It is the glory of God. God is not a means to my own personally defined success story. God does not exist for me. I exist for Him.
This is all about God and His work in Jesus Christ. If you approach the topic of finances, assuming that the goal is a better life for you, you’ve missed it. You don’t even understand the basic component of Christianity. Jesus is Lord. Jesus is the Master. And we walk in obedience and faithfulness to Him.
If you’ve never come to that realization, and if you’ve never surrendered before Him, do it today. He died to pay the price of sin. And He resurrected in victory over it. And only He can free you from your eternal debt before a Holy God.
Is Jesus after your money? I guess I could say: Yes, he is. But He’s after much more than that. He calls you to lay down your life and follow Him. Turn from your sin. Turn from your foolishness. Turn from your selfishness, and come to Jesus.
Jesus said to the crowds, in Matthew 6: “Don’t place your focus on the treasures of this world. All of that is going away. Aim for treasure in heaven. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”
You want to increase your longing for heaven? Do you want to increase your love for the brothers and sisters in then church? Then use your finances and your resources to turn your heart in that direction. And trust God to do His part.
Again in Matthew 6, Jesus told the people: “Don’t worry about the necessities of life. God knows what you need. Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all those things will be added to you.”