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.