August 26, 2007

The Wise Person’s Money:
Obtaining and Spending Money
Proverbs 1:10-19; 3:9-10; Luke 3:10-14

From all indications, Montecore was tame. He had been born in captivity and raised by well-trained humans. But something annoyed him on Friday night, October 3, 2003. Something annoyed Montecore enough to disobey his trainer and attack him before a live audience at the Mirage Theatre in Las Vegas. When instructed to lie down, Montecore instead leapt at his long-time handler, Roy Horn, bit him and drug him off of the stage. Horn somehow survived the attack, but he is permanently disabled. He was no match for Montecore, an apparently tame but overwhelmingly powerful white tiger.

Money is a lot like Montecore. It looks innocent enough, doesn’t it—helpful and harmless? Yet, as I mentioned last Sunday, money has caused more trouble for more people than anyone or anything else in history. Money ruins marriages, destroys careers, sends nations to war, and pushes countless people of all ages to compromise their deepest values. Money, if not tamed and controlled, rises up like Montecore and destroys even its long-time handlers.

The writers of the book of Proverbs understood money’s tendency to turn and attack, so they taught about it frequently. They discussed money’s limitations and value, topics we looked at last week. But they also provided their listeners with carefully thought-out principles for both obtaining and spending money. I want to share some of those principles with you this morning.

The book of Proverbs, to begin with, invites us to prayerfully consider the ways through which we obtain money. We obtain money, first of all, by living righteously. Nothing, with the possible exception of our sexual urges, entices us to abandon our fundamental convictions more persuasively than money. People will do all sorts of things to get it: pad their time cards at work; provide deceptive descriptions of the commodities that they sell, whether in person or on e-bay; invest funds in companies and adventures that exploit the poor and put their own families at risk; and, even abandon their God-given sense of calling for higher-paying jobs. People will often do most anything to get money.

I was speaking just a short time ago with someone who had planned on signing up for a wireless internet plan for his home. Before doing so, however, he played around with his computer and soon discovered that he could access the internet through the signals from one of his neighbors. Now I know that Verizon and Comcast are massive companies that hardly need your money or mine, but piggy-backing on your neighbor without paying for the services that you enjoy is, frankly, illegal. If you want the internet, you pay for it, and the perceived shortcomings of these various companies must not be used to justify our own ungodly instincts. We obtain our money by living righteously. Proverbs phrases it this way:
In the house of the righteous there is much treasure, but trouble befalls the income of the wicked. (15:6)
Bread gained by deceit is sweet, but afterwards the mouth will be full of gravel. (20:17)
Oppressing the poor in order to enrich oneself, and giving to the rich, will lead only to loss. (22:16a)
Pleasing God, Proverbs makes clear, is infinitely more important than obtaining money.

We obtain money, secondly, by working diligently. Proverbs extols the virtues of industry and hard work, as does the Apostle Paul. Laziness, on the other hand, is a sign of sheer foolishness. Note Proverbs 20:13:
Do not love sleep, or else you will come to poverty; open your eyes, and you will have plenty of bread.
Or Proverbs 27:23-27, which adds a bit of a twist to the same idea:
Know well the condition of your flocks, and give attention to your herds; for riches do not last forever, nor a crown for all generations. When the grass is gone, and new growth appears, and the herbage of the mountains is gathered, the lambs will provide your clothing, and the goats the price of a field; there will be enough goats’ milk for your food, for the food of your household and nourishment for your servant-girls.
In this case, we are encouraged, not only to work hard, but to guard our sources of income. To be negligent on the job, for example, or to put our employment at risk through irresponsible work habits, is in conflict with the wisdom of Proverbs.

Thirdly, we obtain money, as odd as it may sound, by sharing generously. In God’s upside-down kingdom, we receive, not by clinging, but by releasing. Look again at Proverbs 11:24-26, which we talked about last Sunday:
Some give freely, yet grow all the richer; others withhold what is due, and only suffer want. A generous person will be enriched, and one who gives water will get water. The people curse those who hold back grain, but a blessing is on the head of those who sell it.

And finally, we obtain money by saving purposefully. We avoid putting our future in quick fixes and gimmicks that promise riches overnight. And we must resist a certain sense of entitlement that seems to be increasingly present in our culture as the standard of living has risen so dramatically in recent years. That sense of entitlement has often led parents to give their children more than they need and to give it too quickly, and it has likewise led young people—I see it all the time—to want today what it took their parents years to gain. The book of Proverbs recommends thoughtful planning and a commitment to a purposeful plan. Proverbs 13:11 states it this way:
Wealth hastily gained will dwindle, but those who gather little by little will increase it.
I emphasize the word purposeful, by the way, to distinguish proverbial saving from indiscriminant or unbridled saving. In the same way that we can squander our financial resources when we don’t plan, so too can we hold on to our money and save far more than we might ever need. Purposeful planning, by way of contrast, involves discerning our God-given calling and using our money to enact it. Deb and I long ago established a few fundamental financial goals that have guided us along the way. Our goals included (1) adopting a lifestyle that did not require both of us to work outside the home, (2) establishing a fund that would enable us to serve overseas at our own expense, (3) getting our children through college debt-free, so long as they worked hard and did their part, and (4) giving more and more generously as our income increased. Those who do not plan inevitably get far less for their buck in the long run than those who do. A careful and prayerful plan of saving reflects a godly approach to money.

In addition to providing sound principles for obtaining money, the book of Proverbs offers simple but helpful guidelines for spending money. Proverbial wisdom, it seems to me, teaches us to prioritize our spending in the following order:
To God.
To creditors (meeting such obligations as the rent, food bills, etc.).
To the needy.
For improvements.
For saving.
For cravings.
Blurring or even reversing this order leads people into financial trouble. Credit cards, as you might guess, often do precisely that—they reverse the order—if not used wisely.

Money, like Montecore, can be tamed. But money, like Montecore, can rise up and destroy you. The book of Proverbs, not to mention the Bible in general, offers sound advice for those of us who want to live in accordance with God’s rhythm in the world. How we obtain our money and how we spend it will go a long way in determining whether our money will serve us or attack us.