Reformed Quarterly Volume 8, Issue 1
“God wants you to be rich!”
“Wealth is yours for the claiming!”
“Why exist on a subsistence-level income when you can enjoy the benefits of wealth by just an act of faith?”
Sound familiar? Sure it does! Turn on many TV evangelists today and what you hear is a health-and-wealth gospel. Doesn’t it sound attractive? If you’re like most Americans, it sounds very enticing.
Yet, there was a time when the message you heard from pulpits was that the Christian life involved a daily denial of self and commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ. This might include the denial of wealth to yourself.
Today the message we hear from pulpits, both local and electronic, is of a different sort. We are assured that God wants us to be successful. More than that, it is His will for us to be wealthy. If we are not, there must be something wrong with our faith.
Which of these messages is right? And how do you know? Does God expect you to have none of the comforts of this world, or does He want you to enjoy all of them? As a Christian, you want to find out God’s perspective on your questions!
You need not wait any longer to find the answers, because God’s Word gives us clear guidance about financial matters.
Contrary to many people’s expectations, the Bible has an abundance of information and guidance on the use and abuse of money and wealth. In fact, there are more verses in the Bible on the subject of money than there are on prayer. Why is this? Because money plays such a large and often dominating role in our lives. God knows this, and He wants His people to have His perspective on money and wealth. Among the many things the Bible has to say concerning money, I want to share two crucial teachings from the Proverbs: the wealth of wisdom and wisdom for wealth.
THE WEALTH OF WISDOM
There is one clear teaching of the Bible on wealth: a Christian can live without wealth, but a Christian cannot live without wisdom. The Apostle Paul emphasizes the uncertainty of riches (I Tim. 6:17) while equally stressing that “godliness with contentment is great gain” (I Tim. 6:6). On many occasions the Bible warns against setting your heart on the acquisition of wealth (Prov. 23:4,5) because riches can be here today and gone tomorrow (Jer.17:11; Luke 12:13-21).
But there is one thing that a Christian cannot get too much of — wisdom. Listen to God’s word:
If you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding… then you will understand the fear of the LORD and find the knowledge of God (Prov.2:3-5).
Proverbs teaches you that God should be the first and last priority of your life–knowing Him, loving Him, serving Him! The way to live a life pleasing to God is to seek after wisdom with all your heart. That is why Proverbs emphasizes that “the fear of the LORD is the foundation of knowledge” (Prov 1:7). In order to conduct our lives in a manner pleasing to Him, we must have the wisdom that comes from above (James 1:5-8;3:17).
What does wisdom teach us about the subject of money? Wisdom dictates that no Christian should set his heart primarily on acquiring wealth. The person who does this has made wealth his God and thereby denied the one and only true God. Jesus said, “You cannot serve God and mammon” (Matt. 6:24). There is complete futility in setting your heart on wealth.
Today we find hundreds of thousands of people whose main goal in life is to acquire as much money as they can as fast as they can. A few years ago I took some business courses at a major Midwestern university. Most of the MBA students were people who would eventually end up as executives of major corporations both here and abroad. They were set to go to the top and make it big in the Fortune 500 companies. Yet, I could not help noticing the frantic and compulsive behavior of some of them; unfortunately, several were already plagued by ulcers.
It was at this time that I “happened” to come across the wisdom of Proverbs, “Don’t wear yourself out to become rich” (23:4). As I looked around me, I saw people every day who were pursuing a goal which in the end would not give them the happiness they desired. This ancient proverb read like it came from today’s headlines.
Why is it wise not to wear yourself out to become rich?
Because Proverbs 23:4 goes on to say, “because of your understanding, cease!” (NKJV). In other words, as a believer you understand something the unbeliever does not know about the acquisition of wealth and, because of this knowledge, you do not have to wear yourself out to become wealthy.
As a Christian, you understand the truth of Proverbs 10:22 “The blessing of the LORD brings wealth, and he adds no trouble to it.” God brings material blessings when and where He wishes. Our efforts may result in great prosperity if we diligently seek to please Him in our labors. He will also frustrate our efforts if we seek to gain wealth without His blessing. That is why wisdom demands that we set our heart on pleasing Him in all things. If He chooses to bring material prosperity into your life, then He will do so without the ulcers, headaches, and nervous problems that often plague people bent on success.
As a believer in Christ you do not need to run around frantically trying to set yourself up financially. Your financial life, like every other part of your life, will be successful because of God’s blessing, not your efforts. Your efforts should be directed toward acquiring wisdom. The danger of the health and wealth “gospel” is that it baptizes our greed and diverts our attention away from seeking wisdom. It teaches that faith in God becomes the means to another end–acquiring wealth. It inverts the biblical priorities. The Bible teaches that our primary focus should be to know and serve God. Then, and only then, can we hope to have wealth with contentment.
But how can being wise help you financially? Let’s look at how wisdom can create wealth.
WISDOM FOR WEALTH
If you have set your heart on pleasing God and on seeking wisdom, what can you expect from Him with regard to money and wealth? The Bible makes clear two things: provision for your needs and reward for your labors.
Provision for your needs is part of God’s covenant faithfulness to you as one of His children. Jesus stressed that “your heavenly Father knows that you have need of all these things” (Matt. 6:32), and ultimately He will give them as they are needed. Your responsibility is to say with Paul, “I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am” (Phil. 4:11).
Yet the Lord also promises not only to supply your needs but to reward the labors of your hands. There is a fundamental principle which God has set in the world, “A man reaps what he sows” (Gal. 6:7). If a believer in Christ diligently seeks to honor the Lord in his financial endeavors by applying himself to his work, he can reasonably expect that God will reward his labors with productive fruit.
Enjoying the fruits of our labor is one of God’s blessings for his covenant children that comes from applying our hands and minds diligently to our callings. That is why the Proverbs stress the importance of being diligent (see Prov. 10:4;12:24) and the folly of being lazy. I love how graphic the Proverbs are:
A little sleep, A little slumber, A little folding of the hands to rest and your poverty will come on you like a bandit. (Prov.24:33,34).
Never forget! If you insist upon being lazy, upon merely doing just enough to get by, just enough to please the eye of the employer, you will get exactly what you deserve–nothing more. This applies to teachers, accountants, lawyers, physicians, and pastors. “Whatever a man sows, that is what he will reap.” If, on the other hand, you are diligent to do your work and fulfill your calling by going beyond the minimal requirements, you will find that you are rewarded by both God and man. I have seen this many times in both the academic and the business world; people who apply themselves diligently to the tasks at hand end up reaping the benefits.
No doubt you have known people who have worked hard all their adult lives only to find that they had nothing at the end of the road. Is it realistic to think that hard work alone will build wealth when creeping inflation eats away at your savings? Surely today something more is needed, isn’t it? The Proverbs suggest that two other important principles must be followed if wealth is to be gained in God’s way.
MORE THAN HARD WORK
The first principle is to grow rich slowly. Many Christian financial planners today assure us that the wisdom of Proverbs 13:11 is just as true today as when it was first penned.
Dishonest money dwindles away but he who gathers little by little makes it grow (NIV).
The secret of building wealth is to do it slowly, over a long period of time. Putting a little aside on a regular basis can produce amazing results through the “Magic of Compounding.”
The second principle is to seek professional guidance from trusted, competent counselors who share your Christian values. Proverbs 20:18 says “Prepare plans by consultation and make war by wise guidance.” Many of you will never go to war but you are battling a war against inflation. Waging the war wisely requires consulting with those who know the battlefield. A trusted and knowledgeable financial advisor can be a great asset.
However, caution is in order. “Financial Planner” is a popular title used by people with widely varying training and skills. Make sure you choose your advisor carefully. Be certain that your advisor shares the importance of your values and that he is following your agenda, not his. If you can find an advisor who is genuinely concerned to help you reach the goals you believe God wants you to achieve, you have found a gem. We can be thankful that there are many fine Christians working in the financial arena today.
It is amazing how wise and gracious God’s counsel is when we take the time to listen. Wealth will not be achieved by simply asserting our wills or claiming some promise God has never made. Wealth should not even be our primary goal. Knowing God and living wisely under His guidance is our highest goal!
The Lord promises to reward our labors if we seek to be good managers of the resources that He has put into our care. Then we can be sure that He will be glorified in the production of wealth in his rich and bountiful world.