The Bible says a lot about money and possessions. There are a lot of verses about wealth and poverty. With some topics, we can get off track because the Bible says so little. What should we think of tanning? Well, we don’t have a lot of specific instructions, so there’s not much to be dogmatic about.

But when it comes to money and possessions there’s an opposite problem. Because the Bible says so much about money it is tempting to develop an imbalanced theology of money.

On the one hand, it’s easy to see where Prosperity Theology comes from. Take a few promises of the Mosaic covenant out of their national context, take the promise in Malachi 3 about throwing open the storehouses of heaven, mix in some of Jesus’ statements about receiving whatever you ask for in faith, and you can bake up a little health and wealth gospel.

On the other hand, it’s possible to come up with an imbalanced Austerity Theology. Point out that Jesus had nowhere to lay his head, turn to the story of the rich young ruler, stir in the parable of the rich fool, and you’ll have a theology that says money is bad and so are those who have it.

You could make a biblical argument that God loves rich guys. Just look at Abraham, Job, and Zacchaeus. Look at the way he blesses obedient kings. Look at the vision of cosmic delight in the garden and in the age to come.

You can just as easily make a biblical argument that God hates rich guys. Just look at the rich man and Lazarus. Look at the book of James. Look at Luke’s version of the Sermon on the Mount.

So how should we think of money and possessions? What biblical principles should we keep in mind as we see wealth and poverty, as we handle our own wealth or poverty? There are few things the Bible talks about more often. Which is good, because there are few things as relevant to all people everywhere as getting a good theology of money.

A Place to Start

Proverbs is a good place to start in developing a biblical theology of material possessions. For starters, there are a lot of verses on the subject. More important, there are several diverse strands of teaching on the subject. If you started with Genesis, you might conclude God always prospers his people. If you started with Amos, you might think all rich people are oppressors. But Proverbs looks at wealth and poverty from several angles. And because Proverbs is a book of general maxims, the principles in proverbs are more easily transferable to God’s people at different times and places.

Last Sunday evening I gave my congregation ten principles from Proverbs on money and material possessions. I won’t give you the whole sermon here, but I thought it might be worth at least listing the main points. Maybe I can go into more detail next week on specific points.

I’ll give the points roughly in order of how much Proverbs says about a particular principle. That way we’ll end with the most important themes.

Ten Principles on Money and Possessions from Proverbs

1. There are extremes of wealth and poverty that provide unique temptations to those who live in them (Prov. 30:7-9).

2. Don’t worry about keeping up with the Jones’ (Prov. 12:9; 13:7).

3. The rich and poor are more alike than they think (Prov. 22:2; 29:13).

4. You can’t out give God (Prov. 3:9-10; 11:24; 22:9).

5. Poverty is not pretty (Prov. 10:15; 14:20; 19:4).

6. Money cannot give you ultimate security (Prov. 11:7; 11:28; 13:8).

7. The Lord hates those who get rich by injustice (Prov. 21:6; 22:16, 22-23).

8. The Lord loves those who are generous to the poor (Prov. 14:21, 31; 19:7; 28:21)

9. Hard work and good decision-making usually lead to increased prosperity (Prov. 6:6-11; 10:4; 13:11; 14:24;  21:17, 20; 22:4, 13; 27:23-27; 28:20

10. Money isn’t everything. It does not satisfy (Prov. 23:4-5). It is inferior to wisdom (Prov. 8:10-11, 18-19; 24:3-4). It is inferior to righteousness (10:2; 11:4; 13:25; 16:8; 19:22; 20:17; 28:6). It is inferior to the fear of the Lord (Prov. 15:16). It is inferior to humility (Prov. 16:19). It is inferior to good relationships (Prov. 15:17; 17:1).

Reaching Delicate Conclusions and Finding Christ

You can’t understand the biblical view of money unless you are prepared to accept a number of truths held in tension.

  • You’ll probably acquire more money if you work hard and are full of wisdom. But if all you care about is getting more money, you are the biggest fool.
  • Money is a blessing from God, but you’ll be more blessed if you give it away.
  • God gives you money because he is generous, but he is generous with you so that you can be generous with others. And if you are generous with your money, God will likely be more generous with you.
  • It is wise to save money, but don’t ever think money gives you real security.
  • Wealth is more desirable than poverty, but wealth is not as good as righteousness, humility, wisdom, good relationships, and the fear of the Lord.

1 Corinthians 1:30-31 says that Christ is for us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” Money can’t give you any of the things you ultimately need. It can’t make you holy. It can’t make you righteous. It can’t save you from your sins. Wealth is a sign of blessing, but it’s also one of your biggest temptations because it entices you to boast in yourself. It promises to be your self-worth and promises to make you self-sufficient. It invites you to boast in something or someone other than the Lord.

So through and through money is an issue of faith. Believe that doing things God’s way is the best way for you. Believe that if you give your money away, he can give it back. Believe that money can be good. But don’t you dare believe it is everything. Money is a gift from God, but the gifts you really need can only be found in God.

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Comments:


27 thoughts on “Money and Possessions in Proverbs”

  1. John E. says:

    The reason why the Bible has different views of wealth is because the Bible has many different authors and books, and we make the mistake of trying to view it as just one big book. The author of Matthew 19 clearly does not have the same view of wealth as the author who wrote Job. When we try to reconcile the authors’ views to make them agree, we create our own account and leave behind the original authors’ views.

  2. John E., can you say “inerrancy?” Your comment seems to betray it. But, no worries — this here is a Coalition, not church.

  3. David says:

    Christ summed it up nicely: “Give us this day our daily bread.” Agur prayed the same prayer in a different way in Proverbs 30:

    “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.”

    I agree. But when we say that “wealth is a blessing” the logical implication is that “poverty is a curse”, which is not necessarily true. Poverty can certainly be brought on by our laziness, but for the Christian it is often just the result of being a hard worker who is unwilling to sacrifice the things that truly matter to get the wealth and status that matters to the world. “My Father does not bless as the world blesses.” I think we do ourselves a disservice when on this side of Christ, when we are called to “lose our lives for His sake”, we refer to wealth as a ‘sign of blessing’.

    I may be splitting hairs, but with so much abuse in the Christian circles regarding wealth and poverty, I think it’s fair to take the pains to make such a distinction. Yes, wealth IS a blessing as the world defines it . . . but I have seen it destroy Christian families. We need the James 1:9 mentality, while refraining from promoting a Poverty Gospel; “Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, and the rich in his humiliation.” It’s essentially the old adage, “Careful what you wish for because you might just get it.”

    Any material success that is not birthed out of loving people through self-denial is meaningless. Godly ambition is never detached from a primary concern for His people. And this is where many well-meaning Christians go wayward: the wrong ambition puts the cart before the horse and seeks success and wealth for the blessing of the Church. Godly ambition seeks the success of others for the glory of God while accepting the personal outcome—good or bad—with joy.

    We can faithfully work hard but, as we all know, God is the one Who gives the increase. We can force the increase by forfeiting our duties as Pastors of our home and it is “through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs”. I believe it is Tim Keller who reminds us that it’s, “His fruit, His time, His amount and His kind.” Keeping this in mind, with a good theology of work and keeping the prayer of Agur near to our hearts is the “sign of blessing”.

  4. J. Dean says:

    I’m going to have to give the sermon an ear. Looks good.

    Wealth is not sinful; putting wealth in the place of God is sinful.

  5. David says:

    Good summation J. Dean . . . Most Christians from many sorts of theological backgrounds will agree with you there; the disagreements arise when we make a statement like, “It is sinful to even pursue wealth.” (In 1 Tim. 6, Paul does not condemn the rich but, those who desire to be rich. ) This does not go over well in a culture who’s creed includes an “unalienable right, endowed by our Creator, to pursue happiness.” Our culture is one in which wealth is equivalent to happiness. Add Westernized Church ecclesiology that models a business hierarchy and sweeps Biblical Elder qualifications under the rug, the respectable sin of pursuing wealth for the good of others is essentially baptized.

  6. Kevin:

    Your sermon was just awesome. I have been thinking on this particular subject as of late, as my pastor recently gave a sermon on this topic. I wish I could say it was as well thought out as yours, but that would not be an honest statement. It came dangerously close to the prosperity gospel, and he is Reformed.

    I may suggest your sermon to him and a few others, but do it very gently.

    God bless you for this wonderful sermon,
    Mary

  7. J. Dean says:

    David,

    Funny that you should mention that. My better half, before we married, babysat for two very wealthy people. Ironically, they were the least happy people that I had ever met. Now, they were Lutherans, and I realize that Christians are not immune to sin; but it was pretty sad how much they seemed to depend on their money. Often, they bought things that they never even used, and went on many vacations. Yet I never got the sense that their wealth made them happy.

  8. John Thomson says:

    Another excellent blog.

  9. John says:

    I think this topic highlights a major misconception in Christianity. It is not about external constraints that will curb, eliminate, or counteract sin. Our sin comes from within, and the issue is about a new heart. With an evil heart, wealth and poverty are equally evil – we as evil people will turn them to evil. There are biblical guidelines for wealth, but without a regenerate heart that is always coming to terms with God’s values, all is in vain.

  10. James says:

    Can money also be a curse from God?

  11. James says:

    I agree with everything and that we need a delicate balance. However, I don’t know if I would say money is a blessing. It can be a curse for some, and for others it may be a blessing to have less and just live on their daily bread.

    So, if we’re to say money is a blessing. If we’re to say intelligence, marriage, physical strength are blessings from God, I think we should also say but for others, having less of these and even being single can also be a blessing from God. It’s just a matter of God’s sovereign will for each individual and church e.g the Macedonia church and Apostle Paul who were in poverty for the sake of the gospel.

  12. James says:

    The reason why I also say this is if we say money is a blessing and a gift from God, then that means that thousands of Christians who are poor and being persecuted due to their circumstances are not as blessed? OR what if God has entrusted and blessed some to suffer with less money?

    Is health a blessing? Then those with health are blessed, but then what do we say to those who are suffering from a debilitating condition?

  13. David Frost says:

    Proverbs 10:22 tells us that wealth is clearly a blessing of the Lord. Any sorrow we have with it would be our fault since the Lord adds no sorrow to it. I don’t have all the answers to your questions but we can say that God intends wealth to be a blessing as a general principle.

  14. if we say money is a blessing and a gift from God, then that means that thousands of Christians who are poor and being persecuted due to their circumstances are not as blessed?

    James, that is a non-sequitur. Lacking one or more blessings does not mean one lacks all blessings. Every Christian has infinite blessing in Christ.

  15. *Correction*

    James, I overlooked the word “as” in part I quoted you as saying.

    Yes, that’s right: not every Christian is equally blessed. You know: vessels for common uses / vessels for honorable uses.

  16. David says:

    Enjoyed the Sermon and blog! – Well done.

    I have been thinking recently about the pursuit of money and particularly in relation to the gain of extra income in the money markets. We live in a capitalist society. Is it right biblically for a Christian to be involved in the money markets. Does this represent hard work in the traditional biblical sense 1 Thes 4:11. Trading stock or currencies has been described as being similar to gambling and as a ‘zero sum’ game. If this is the case should we even be giving our money to banks that do exactly that with our money.

    Does anyone know of any good thoughtful articles or books on the subject? Googling has not yielded helpful results. Thanks

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Kevin DeYoung


Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor of University Reformed Church (RCA) in East Lansing, Michigan, near Michigan State University. He and his wife Trisha have six young children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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