“Honor the Lord with your Wealth”
Proverbs 3:9 (and many others)
July 21, 2019
God offers practical spiritual advice for life management.
I. It all Belongs to God
For two weeks we’ve been laying the foundation for stewardship: you are not your own, you are God’s treasured possession, bought at a price. Further, you don’t own your time, your energy, your money or your skill or your stuff. You only manage them for the king. You’re called to do it with wisdom and faithfulness.
This week we turn to Proverbs to find some of that practical wisdom. The title of today’s message is “Honor the Lord with Your Wealth.” Proverbs 3:9 “Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce; 10then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine.” But the topic we’ll cover, is broader than that. It’s about ordering your life now, so you see good and God-honoring outcomes later. My original sentence was “God offers practical spiritual advice for financial management,” but as I worked it became “God offers practical spiritual advice for life management.” As my Puritan friends would say, not just your wealth but all of life is God’s.
But the first step in practical life or financial management is to keep the foundational principles in mind. King David does this so well in 1st Chronicles 29, where he thanks God for the generosity of His people in giving for the future temple. He says Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all. 12Both riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might, and in your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all. 13And now we thank you, our God, and praise your glorious name. 14“But who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able thus to offer willingly? For all things come from you, and of your own have we given you.
If you are going to be a good steward in a world that values only personal fulfillment, you need this kind of thinking as a daily discipline. First, get your eyes on God: he is great in power and majesty, exalted as head over all, everything in heaven and earth is his and he is worthy of all praise. Second, recognize that “all things come from you, and of your own we have given you.” Look at all your stuff, think about your limited yet abundant stores of time and energy, the unique skills and gifts you have, and say every day, with thanksgiving, “all of this comes from you.” Then you’ll be ready for practical stewardship. We’re going to look at four practical principles this morning, each of which can be applied to your money, but also touch on larger issues of life. The four are righteousness, diligence, planning and dependence.
First, manage wealth, and manage life, with a priority on righteousness. Proverbs 16:8 Better is a little with righteousness than great revenues with injustice. “Righteous” is a key Biblical word, no less so in Proverbs than Romans. Its central idea is to conform to a moral standard. God is righteous. He perfectly adheres to the moral standard expressed in his attributes: perfect love, perfect justice, perfect compassion, perfect wisdom, perfect grace. We are righteous as his creatures when we conform to and obey his moral law. But to accept this is to push upstream against the water we swim in, the cultural norm that says be true to yourself and don’t let anyone tell you how to live your life.
Yet conformity to God’s moral law is both good and good for us. Proverbs 11:19 Whoever is steadfast in righteousness will live, but he who pursues evil will die. Proverbs 15:6 In the house of the righteous there is much treasure, but trouble befalls the income of the wicked. Here righteousness is connected to life and death, prosperity and poverty. Before we go on, let me add a comment I make each time we study them, that proverbs are proverbs, not promises. They’re distilled nuggets of observed wisdom, reporting results of certain behaviors or attitudes, in the normal course of life. You can’t claim a Proverb and expect God to do it, the way you can more explicit promises of Scripture. But if you follow a proverb, often it will work out the way the proverb claims.
In the case of righteousness and life, though, there is an explicit connection between the two that comes through the death and resurrection of Jesus. In him we are declared righteous and receive life. But there’s also a proverbial connection: if you live morally things go better and if you violate God’s standards things don’t. Take drug abuse: a cycle of abuse, with its heal impacts, illegalites, costs and health effects usually leads to a mess. While you may survive the experience, you’ll have at least a financial quagmire. If you never get in that cycle none of those bad things happens. That’s the way God’s world works.
Righteousness, the pursuit of God’s moral standard, is a common call in Proverbs. But what is this righteousness? Listen to Proverbs 15:16-17 Better is a little with the fear of the Lord than great treasure and trouble with it. 17Better is a dinner of herbs where love is than a fattened ox and hatred with it. Proverbs 16:8 starts with “Better is a little with righteousness.” This one says “Better is a little with the fear of the Lord.” Righteousness and the fear of the Lord are parallel attitudes. We’ve learned before that to fear the Lord is to be in awe of him, of his works, of the power that created and sustains the universe. To fear the Lord is also to dread him, to dread his judgment, knowing that his wrath over sin is both just and real. Finally, to fear the Lord is to respect him, respect that shows up in obedience. So one way we pursue practical righteousness is to pursue the fear of the Lord in awe, worship and obedience.
But this verse also says that treasure brings trouble. In the first verse righteousness was the opposite of injustice, but here the fear of the Lord is the opposite of great treasure. I don’t think this means that treasure is necessarily evil. Scripture doesn’t say that, but it warns against making prosperity, treasure, stuff the center of our lives, because it leads to trouble. Trevin Wax has a chapter called “Shopping for Happiness” in his latest book. He tells the story of his brother-in-law, Brannon. An up and coming affluent young doctor, he built a house on a hill, celebrated it, and days later mourned as it burned to the ground. “Brannon acknowledges that, before the fire, he charted his life story according to the American Dream. ‘I used to think of life as an upward line from A to B,’ he says. ‘My B was the house, a car, a good job, money for retirement. B is always better and more. But after the fire I realized that B is not more money. B is Christlikeness. It’s holiness. The top of the ladder is not a house or money or job security but God doing everything he can to make me more like Jesus. He cares more about my heart than he dos my house.”
Proverbs 15:17 applies the same truth to relationships. “Better is a dinner of herbs where love is than a fattened ox and hatred with it.” We might paraphrase this “better a loving family that lives on rice and beans than a family consumed with strife even if they’re consuming the best steak.” If you can’t have a meal or get through a meal without harsh words and fighting, the steak will be sour in your stomach. But with love any meal is a feast. Just as the fear of the Lord is an aspect of righteousness, loving relationships are another aspect, and these are practical priorities for God’s steward. It’s no coincidence these are what Jesus calls the greatest commandments, the priority for the life of a disciple.
One of the hardest and most important moments in the Apollo program was the Apollo 1 fire, in which Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee lost their lives. Until then NASA had a perfect safety record in space capsules, but the fire revealed that the program’s preoccupation with achieving a moon mission at the earliest moment, beating the Russians, and keeping Kennedy’s promise, had taken a high toll in quality assurance, safe engineering and management. After the fire NASA had a new priority: doing everything right, what we might call righteousness. As Jim Donovan says in Shoot for the Moon, “Everyone in the organization and every contractor associated with the spacecraft was more committed than ever to that goal. The fire had made it personal.” Tragic though it was, the fire clearly saved the program from losing lives in space.
So, the first practical application of stewardship is a priority. As a steward I’m more concerned about righteousness, the fear of the Lord and loving relationships, than personal success and personal fulfillment. How are you doing relative to that priority? And what might need to change to give it the place it deserves?
The second thing we can glean from Proverbs is even more practical. Diligence. It’s not enough to have the right priorities. You actually have to work on them, to pursue a long obedience in the same direction. Proverbs famously illustrates this with ants. Proverbs 30:25 The ants are a people not strong, yet they provide their food in the summer. The author of Proverbs had clearly watched ants carrying huge burdens of food back to the ant mound and lauded this diligence. The first time I went to Nepal, we went to a little park and I got preoccupied with filming a diligent ant colony apparently making a move, most of them carrying some burden. Proverbs 6:6 says Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise. 7Without having any chief, officer, or ruler, 8she prepares her bread in summer and gathers her food in harvest.
Of course, in several places Proverbs drops the image and just comes straight out in favor of diligence. Proverbs 10:4 A slack hand causes poverty, but the hand of the diligent makes rich. Again, it’s a Proverb, not a promise. Diligence does not inevitably make you rich. But I think in normal life the correlation between diligence and prosperity would be stronger than the correlation prosperity preachers try to sell, that giving to their ministry will lead to riches.
Certainly, the flip side, the bad effects of laziness, is often true. I preached nearly a whole sermon on this last year called “Hard Work Never Killed Anybody.” One of the things I noted was the huge decrease in employment among men of typical working age, 25-54. One study tried to find out what these men were doing. “These non-workforce men gain an additional 2150 hours of free time each year. What is striking, however, is how little of this enormous dividend of extra free time is devoted to activities that would be of help to others in the family or the community. These men spend no more time on household duties or child-care than employed men. They spend less time in religious and volunteer activities than any of the three other groups. They spend more time on personal care. And “socializing, relaxing and leisure” are akin to a full-time job for the un-working American male. They commit more time to “attending gambling establishments,” and “tobacco and drug use,” than either working men and women or unemployed men. And their media consumption more than fills up the hours each day freed by their lack of employment.
“To a distressing degree,” the report concludes “these men appear to have relinquished what we ordinarily think of as adult responsibilities: not only as breadwinners, but as parents, family members, community members, and citizens. Having freed themselves of such obligations, they fill their days instead with the full-bore pursuit of more immediate sources of gratification.”
That sounds remarkably like Proverbs 24:30-34 I passed by the field of a sluggard, by the vineyard of a man lacking sense, 31and behold, it was all overgrown with thorns; the ground was covered with nettles, and its stone wall was broken down. 32Then I saw and considered it; I looked and received instruction. 33A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, 34and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man.
The second practical principle of stewardship, of life management is work hard. Be diligent. How are you doing? Are you someone who might be characterized by “a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest,” when you could be pursuing God’s mission for your life? Are you one who lives your days in full-bore pursuit of gratification. We need to examine ourselves.
The Apollo program, of course, is a huge example of diligence. 400,000 people all working on one mission larger than any of them. The astronauts were not the only component of course, but their training is representative of the diligence it required. As Jim Donovan says in Shoot for the Moon “the three crewmen of Apollo 11 trained fourteen hours a day six days a week and often seven, and spent much of any time they had left reading reports, procedures, and mission rules—and the mission rules alone made a thick book.”
Next, the practical life management of a steward has to include planning. Don’t give me that face. Most of us hate planning, but the book of Proverbs makes it clear that things like plans and budgets make a difference in life. If we are to be stewards, especially in the area of our finances, but also time and energy, we need to make plans and stick to them. If we want to be cheerfully generous, as we’ll see next week, we need life plans that give us the freedom to give.
So, a few quick verses and recommendations. Proverbs 21:5 The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty. People who plan the spending of their money generally do better than those who wing it. Impulse buying, bad-habit buying and no-research buying will get you in trouble. It was Amazon Prime day last week. How many people in America made an impulse purchase they couldn’t afford? Actually, I made an impulse purchase, but it was OK. If you stop every day for a five-dollar cup of coffee rather than brew at home for fifty cents, if you immediately replace everything that gets a glitch, from cars to air-conditioners to iPhones, you’ve got bad buying habits. If you buy things with no research and end up with buyer’s remorse to the tune of thousands of dollars a year you need to consider planning your purchases and sticking to a budget. Proverbs 27:23-24 Know well the condition of your flocks, and give attention to your herds, 24for riches do not last forever; and does a crown endure to all generations?
Even Jesus says this. Luke 14:28 For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Jesus is talking specifically about the cost of discipleship here, or the cost of 24/7/365 stewardship, but he uses common financial wisdom to illustrate it. If you’re going to build something, you make a budget, you count the cost, so you’re not embarrassed later by failing to have enough to complete the project.
Life as God’s steward is a project, and we do better at it when we count the costs in time, energy and money to do the things we commit to doing. One of the ways I say this in pre-marital counseling is “Know how much money you have and where it is. This sounds trivial but it makes for great peace of mind, especially if money is tight. A budget is helpful for this, but simple record-keeping also goes a long way.” Life goes better when you keep track of money, and time and energy. This may sound a little boring and routine. Get over it. God never promised that being a wise and faithful steward would always be exciting.
A couple of other financial and life management principles. Proverbs 16:3 Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established. Planning is good, but believers get to make our plans in light of God’s desires for our lives. For example, and without pointing the finger at anybody here, if you have a child who is gifted in some sport and you plan to help them see how far they can go in that sport, good. But if that sport has commitments every Sunday morning, maybe those plans are not what God has in mind for you or for your child.
Proverbs also recommends getting counsel on these decisions. Proverbs 15:22 Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed. As stewards, not striving for “expressive individualism,” not always trying to do it “my way,” we can humble ourselves and take advice, counsel, in many areas. God has surrounded us with wise, experienced people, and we ought to take their counsel seriously. One of my favorite Apollo stories is about Bill Tindall, “the man who saved Apollo.” He went up to MIT when they were way behind on the guidance computer, and said, “you’ve got to double your staff, now, or this is never going to happen.” They said “we don’t have time to train new staff.” He said “you have to.” And he was right and they did and it happened.
Another financial principle Proverbs commends is “don’t do debt.” How many in our “shopping for happiness” culture have gotten into crippling credit-card debt? Proverbs 22:7 says The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is the slave of the lender. There is freedom in living debt-free. And borrowing is a temptation to sin. Psalm 37:21 The wicked borrows but does not pay back, but the righteous is generous and gives. If you want freedom to give generously and cheerfully, as we’ll talk about next week, debt is your worst enemy.
Planning, of course, was a hallmark of the Apollo program. Many have said that the management of these 400,000 employees, these 20,000 companies, this 25 billion dollar project was the greatest achievement of all, greater than the actual moon landing. But the illustration I want to use is back to this whole idea of guidance and navigation. You’ve probably heard the word rendezvous. Virtually every space mission after the Mercury flights had the need for two or more spacecraft to meet up in space in the same place in the same orbit. Without rendezvous and docking Apollo could never have happened.
But it turns out that the key to rendezvous is planning. As Charles Fishman says in his great Apollo book One Giant Leap “in fact rendezvous in space is a kind of puzzle, where you have to start at the ending and work backward. Rendezvous requires a lot of math. It requires thinking ahead. You can’t simply launch spaceships into orbit and get them to rendezvous. You have to have a plan in advance, and the plan involves where you are launching from, where you’re going to, what orbit the spaceship you’re chasing is in, what time of day it is, how fast everything is going. You have to work out the plan in advance, then you have to follow it, or you stand no chance of connecting with that spaceship.” Stewardship of God’s resources requires planning.
So we’ve gotten increasingly practical. Since our very lives and all we have belong to God, and are a gift from him, we manage what he has given by first pursing righteousness, second practicing diligence, and third embracing planning. Fourth, we prefer dependence. Dependence on God is the great secret and the great reward of stewardship. Trying to be a steward while depending on yourself is frustrating and fearful. But depending on God is fun.
Jesus teaches this in a parable. Luke 12:15-21 And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” 16And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, 17and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ 18And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”’ 20But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.” Life does not consist of the abundance of your possessions, how many riches you’ve stored up. Only God gives true meaning to life. Stewardship is a way of depending on God and being rich toward him.
Paul agrees. 1 Timothy 6:6-10 But godliness with contentment is great gain, 7for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. 8But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. 9But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. The pursuit of worldly riches and gain leads to ruin, destruction and evil, but stewardship, here called godliness with contentment that is great gain. We brought nothing into the world, we take nothing out, we only depend on God.
1 Timothy 6:17-19 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. 18They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, 19thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life. Our hopes are not set on what this world can provide, but we depend on God who richly provides everything we have and enjoy. In that dependence we can live as stewards, rich in good works, generous, ready to share.
Finally, Hebrews 13:5 reminds us to Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” We are content with what we have, we do not pursue happiness through shopping, or self-fulfillment through expressive individualism, because we already have the greatest gain of all, dependence on a God who has given us his big-idea promise “I will never leave you or forsake you.” Dependence may not sound practical. But it is the final and perhaps most important key to life management. You never could manage your life in your own strength, let alone manage it on his behalf. But in dependence on him you can become his good and faithful steward.