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“Honor the Lord with your Wealth”

Proverbs 3:9 and others
Bob DeGray
July 13, 2003

Key Sentence

Righteousness first, generosity next, and balance the rest.


I. Righteousness comes first
II. Generosity next
III. Balance the rest


        Scientists have put a lot of effort into figuring out how color works. It’s well known that light of a certain frequency is a particular color, but on closer investigation it turns out that the one variable, frequency, is nowhere near enough to define what the human eye sees. Even if we use two variables, such as frequency and intensity, we can only define one color, not mixtures of colors such as ‘red and green make yellow.’ So scientists have had to study the human eye and human perception in order to accurately mimic on a computer screen or printer the colors we see every day. In a printer they usually do it by combining four colors: cyan, yellow, magenta and black. On a computer screen or on the display over head it’s a little easier. Computer manufacturers simply mix different intensities of red, green and blue, the basic colors the rods in your eye see. Mixing these gives a true color projection.

        Let’s play with that for a minute. Here’s a picture that has quite a bit of green and blue, and also some red. If we display only the red component, it looks like this. If we display the green it looks like this. If we display the blue, it looks like this, and if we add them all together, R, G, and B, we get the original picture. The same is true in our financial life. Today we’re going to use this RGB model as a memory hook for three principals about finance that are applicable no matter what our age, status or financial condition. Proverbs teaches first, that righteousness is more important than riches; second, that generosity is a key element in our financial life, and third that we are to be balanced in the rest of our financial thinking. Righteousness, Generosity, Balance. RGB. These three components add up to something I believe is critically important in the life of every believer, male and female, old and young, rich and poor. They teach us to honor God with our wealth, which is what Proverbs 3:9, our key verse for this morning, demands. Because financial things are so significant to our lives in a materialistic society, we Christians must learn what it means to honor God with our wealth. Proverbs gives us very practical RGB principles in this area. Righteousness first, Generosity next, Balance the rest.

I. Righteousness comes first

        Let’s begin by looking at the teaching of Proverbs that righteousness is more important than riches. The first verse for today is probably the most basic truth we need to remember Proverbs 11:4 Wealth is worthless in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivers from death. I don’t know about you, but as I struggle with the financial questions of my life, from buying a house to saving a few dollars on my air conditioning bill, they begin to loom larger and larger. The Bible teaches that financial questions and financial behavior are important, but it also says that ultimately riches and possessions have no eternal significance, that we should be more concerned about the things that are eternal than about these things that are passing away.

        The New Testament teaches that riches are useless on the day we die, that each one of us faces God’s judgment. The only thing that will enable us to escape that judgement is righteousness, being right and pure by God’s standards. The Bible also teaches that righteousness comes by faith, by believing with trust what God has done through Jesus. Listen to these familiar verses in Romans and double check to see if there’s any indication that riches or any kind of human achievement will make a difference in God’s sight. Romans 3:21_24 But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. Romans 3:27_28 Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On that of observing the law? No, but on that of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.

        So righteousness is the key to eternal life and riches make no difference. Which should be our priority? Listen to what Jesus says in Luke 12:16_20 “The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. He thought to himself, 'What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.' Then he said, 'This is what I'll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I'll say to myself, "You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry." ' "But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?'” In our culture we put it this way: “You can’t take it with you.”

        It seems there was a man who worked and saved all his life and was a real miser. Before he died, he said to his wife, "Now listen, When I die, I want you to take my money and put it in the coffin with me. I want to take it all with me.” So he got his wife to promise she would put all of the money in the casket with him. Well, he died. They finished the funeral ceremony and just before the undertakers got ready to close the coffin, the wife said, "Wait just a minute!' She had a box with her and she put it in. Then the undertakers locked the coffin down and rolled it away. A friend who was there said “I know you weren't fool enough to put all that money in there with your husband." She said, "Listen, I'm a Christian, I can't go back on my word. I promised him I was going to put that money in that coffin with him, and I did – sort of.” “What do you mean?” “Well, I wrote him a check.”
        Wealth is worthless in things eternal: only the righteousness we receive by faith counts for anything at the judgment. But the practice of righteousness also counts for something in our day to day lives. Proverbs 11:28 Whoever trusts in his riches will fall, but the righteous will thrive like a green leaf. God doesn’t use money to keep score. We do - we compare ourselves to others by our financial success. So did the Hebrews. They thought if you were rich you must have God’s special blessing.

        But that’s not what this Scripture says. It says that riches without trust in God are a dead end. But it also says that prosperity can be a natural consequence of living by Scriptural principles. Someone who follows God’s precepts of right living at home, in the family and at work will often see financial benefit as a natural result. Consider divorce. Studies have shown that neither the husband or the wife in a divorced couple ends up better off financially than when married, and that children bear the brunt of this drift toward poverty. But if you follow God’s principles and work to strengthen your marriage, it has a positive economic consequences.

        This relationship between righteousness and financial success is reinforced in Proverbs 13:22 A good man leaves an inheritance for his children's children, but a sinner's wealth is stored up for the righteous. The ‘good’ person, that is, the righteous person, who lives according to God’s principles, is likely to see financial success. The sinner will usually give in to greed and over-extend himself until his prosperity falls apart like a house of cards. But as I’ve said before this is not necessarily so. Proverbs teaches principles for right living, and focuses on natural consequences, but that doesn’t mean the wicked won’t occasionally prosper and the righteous remain poor. At times God chooses to withhold prosperity for his own purposes in the lives of his followers, because from his point of view their righteousness is much more significant than their prosperity.

        Proverbs has the same point of view. Consider Proverbs 28:6 Better a poor man whose walk is blameless than a rich man whose ways are perverse. Scripture often teaches that it is better to be poor and righteous than rich and wicked. Remember the story of Esther? Mordecai, Ester’s uncle was poor but righteous, and remained that way for many years. Haman, on the other hand, became increasingly rich, powerful and unrighteous. But in the end Mordecai was given honor, while Haman was hung from his own gallows. Not every poor person will be exalted in this life, but Jesus teaches that the righteous poor are blessed, ‘for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

        The thing to remember - and it sounds simple but you know it’s not - is that righteousness is better than riches, and deserves first place in our attention, our energy, our use of time, our priorities. Have you made righteousness a priority? Are you radically sold out, committed to serving Jesus and to becoming like Jesus? The first principle of financial management is to put righteousness first. And it’s not just Proverbs that teaches this: Jesus teaches it. Matthew 6:24 No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money. Matthew 6:33 Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

II. Generosity next

        The priority of righteousness is the foundation for a right attitude toward money. Onto that foundation we can place other principles, and the one that stands out in Proverbs is the principle of generosity, toward God and toward those in need. Our theme verse this morning is Proverbs 3:9-10 Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops; 10then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine. We’re to be generous toward the Lord, offering back some of what he’s given us. The Hebrews were expected to tithe, to give a tenth of their crops and herds to the temple of the Lord. Actually, the giving was more than a tenth, because they’d also give a tenth to the local Levites, and every third year an extra tenth to the needy. But expected or compelled giving doesn’t make a person generous: that comes from the heart. The author of Proverbs uses the phrase ‘honor the Lord with your wealth.’ He doesn’t want giving that is merely rote or compelled behavior. He wants us to consciously honor the Lord.

        God honors that kind of giving: you harvest the crop and give God the very first fruits of the field, and God responds by giving you a bumper crop that fills your barns, a crop of grapes for wine or olives for oil that overflows your vats. Jesus said the same thing, Luke 6:38 “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you." God wants us to be generous in supporting his work. Here at Trinity we don’t make a big deal about giving. I only preach about it when it comes up in the text, and we do not teach that you have to tithe to the church. Nonetheless, there are three things that most of you know that all of you need to know. First, that giving generously is God’s plan for you as a believer. Second, that we have carefully and prayerfully considered what God has in mind for Trinity, and third, that what we plan to do relies on your generosity. The addition of a second staff person later this year and making these buildings the Lord has given us more user friendly are conditional on your generosity.

        But generosity isn’t limited to the church. Other worthwhile ministries deserve your gifts, and Biblically you are expected to give to help those in need. Proverbs constantly affirms this. Proverbs 19:17 He who is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward him for what he has done. That’s a pretty cool thought. By being kind to the poor we are really lending to the Lord. Not that God needs our loans, but that by giving to others we are giving back to God what he has already given us: we are imitating his character and his care. God looks highly on those who do this. You remember the parable of the sheep and the goats? It was the people who had helped the hungry, the thirsty, the prisoner, the needy, and the sick who were welcomed into the kingdom of God. Why? Because they had displayed the character of Jesus?

        Many verses in Proverbs call us to generosity, specifically toward the poor. Proverbs 22:9 A generous man will himself be blessed, for he shares his food with the poor. Could the principle of handling your finances with generosity to the poor and needy be any more clear. I wonder how many of you feel, as I do, that this is an area of personal weakness. Maybe I’ve become cynical, but I don’t think I take opportunities as well as I used to to care for people in need.

        Yet this is the clear teaching of Scripture. In fact Proverbs warns people who have wealth very specifically that they must not use it in an abusive way. Proverbs 22:16 He who oppresses the poor to increase his wealth and he who gives gifts to the rich--both come to poverty. Here is a person who refuses to help the poor. Rather, he takes advantage of the poor to increase his wealth, and uses that wealth to buy influence with those even wealthier - through bribes, deals, friendships made for gain. The whole history of the Enron scandal is a picture of this verse, as those already rich who controlled the company manipulated it to take investment money from their low level employees and from pension funds all across America, while liberally distributing corporate favors to keep the right people and accounting firms quiet so the scam could continue. Not all the culprits are in poverty yet, but Proverbs teaches us that that’s the right and just outcome for such behavior.

III. Balance the rest

        So the outline for honoring God with our finances is righteousness first, generosity next, and finally we have to balance the rest of our financial interests. There are many kinds of financial choices discussed in Proverbs that we haven’t touched on. We can’t address all these areas but one principle we see in them is that of balance and restraint. This is explicit in Proverbs 23:4-5 Do not wear yourself out to get rich; have the wisdom to show restraint. 5Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone, for they will surely sprout wings and fly off to the sky like an eagle. Here is restraint in how hard you work for riches. We saw in a previous message that Proverbs encourages diligence. But we need to recognize that our unchecked diligence is workaholism. The verse contends that if we are overly zealous in the pursuit of prosperity we are not wise. This is followed by a humorous but often accurate picture of what happens as a result of all that work - your money, your investments, your riches grow wings and fly off. The problem is that even well-to-do people have no trouble spending more than they earn. That’s like pinning wings on your riches and kissing them goodby at the gate. Off they fly never to be seen again.

        Balance. Proverbs also strongly encourages us to expect to have to work for what we gain. Proverbs 13:11 Dishonest money dwindles away, but he who gathers money little by little makes it grow. We have a common saying with which Solomon would agree: ‘If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.’ Get rich quick schemes are almost always fiction, and at worst a total scam. Have you ever heard of a Ponzi scheme? This kind of fraud was perpetrated by Charles Ponzi in the 1920's. His devious insight was that he could pay tremendous rates of return to his early investors by using the money given to him by later investors. As long as he kept getting more investors the scheme worked - but inevitably the income lagged, the payments stopped, and thousands of people lost their shirts. It was dishonest money. Proverbs teaches that we need to avoid the pitfalls of ‘get rich quick’ schemes or investments and continue on with money invested conservatively and especially earned little by little through hard work - balanced of course by the previous verse which said not to work too hard for riches.

        Another area where Solomon counsels restraint is in lending and borrowing. He tells us in Proverbs 11:15 and other places that we are to be very careful about co-signing loans, making our assets hostage to another’s integrity. He who puts up security for another will surely suffer, but whoever refuses to strike hands in pledge is safe. But Solomon also speaks out against taking loans that put your own assets at risk. Proverbs 22:7 The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender. We should avoid debt. I personally think secured debt, like a house loan, where we own the collateral and can always repay is different. But unsecured debt, whether credit cards, consumer loans or even car financing, makes us slaves to the lender. It’s devastating and should be avoided. Yet society promotes debt.

        I got a call the other day from the company that manages my Discover card, which I use to separate church purchases from personal ones. They told me I could transfer money from my other accounts and pay zero interest for six months on Discover. They sounded genuinely disappointed that I didn’t have any balance on my other credit card either, because I pay it off every month. They know that most people, including many Christians are in debt. A newspaper article this week said the average credit card debt for American households is now $9000. That’s the average. If Solomon was alive he’d roll over in his grave. Fortunately there is help if you are in debt. Secular credit counseling services and advisors like Dave Ramsey or the late Larry Burkett offer proven strategies that make sense Biblically and financially. It may take awhile - but you don’t have to be in debt.

        Part of this, of course, depends on restraint in what you spend. Proverbs 21:17 He who loves pleasure will become poor; whoever loves wine and oil will never be rich. You can always spend more than you make. I don’t think many of us are deeply into luxury spending, but I recognize the temptation to spend to excess, and if you’re anything like me you have to fight it. Whether you are a college student working a few hours a week or a senior process engineer, there are luxuries that will break the bank if you indulge them. And at every level there is a great benefit to spending less than you make. In fact that’s the simple key to financial security.

        Proverbs teaches that if we practice restraint and diligence in financial matters we will be better off. Listen to the advice of Proverbs 27:23-27 Be sure you know the condition of your flocks, give careful attention to your herds; 24for riches do not endure forever, and a crown is not secure for all generations. 25When the hay is removed and new growth appears and the grass from the hills is gathered in, 26the lambs will provide you with clothing, and the goats with the price of a field. 27You will have plenty of goats' milk to feed you and your family and to nourish your servant girls. He’s saying that carefully run businesses and households will support you in the long haul. There is a work ethic here: you pay attention to business, pay attention to household matters, and you’ll have more success than the person who just lets things go along. These verses probably also imply having a budget and a plan.

        But remember that we balance this diligence with our first priority which is righteousness in the service of God. We’re not to give finances all of our energy, we’re simply to be good stewards of what God has given us, so that financial matters have a very real but secondary priority for us. This balance is beautifully seen in our last section for today. These are among my favorite verses in Proverbs, and in terms of today’s discussion they show how balance in financial matters can promote righteous living. Proverbs 30:7-9 "Two things I ask of you, O Lord; do not refuse me before I die: 8Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. 9Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, 'Who is the Lord?' Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God. Like the author of Proverbs I think we should wish and even pray for neither great riches nor great poverty. Both distract us from the pure service of God. One can lead to a false feeling of self-sufficiency - so much security that I don’t feel I need God as first priority in my life. The other can lead to desperation, so that I set aside righteousness in order to survive, which dishonors God.

        No matter where I am, as long as I am between these two extremes, I can honor God with my wealth. I need to hold fast to these RGB principles. That righteousness is my first priority - living to serve the Christ who has declared me righteous. That generosity is next - giving that honors God and cares for others. And finally, that balance is a key to right living in all financial areas.

        Let me close with one more story. I think it illustrates how we begin to recognize the priority of righteousness, the beauty of generosity and the value of balance in a life. This story was published by pastor C. L. Paddock in 1951. “A young man who had grown up on a farm decided to be a doctor in order to do good and be of help to his fellow men. The years in medical school were strenuous. There were sacrifices on his part, and plenty of work and study. His father and mother sacrificed too. They went without many things so the boy could stay in school. Finally he graduated and served an internship, then went into a large city and began his chosen work.”

        “Things did not go too well. He didn't have many patients, and his income was not all he had expected. Evidence of his discouragement must have crept into his letters to his parents, for his father decided to go to the city to see his son. His visit was a pleasant surprise. "Well, son," he asked, "how are you getting along? How is your courage?" "I'm not getting along at all, dad. I am not doing a thing. Maybe I made a mistake." The father began to look for something which would encourage the young doctor. Later in the day he went with his son to a free clinic, where the young man spent several hours each week without any remuneration. Twenty_five suffering patients were cared for as carefully as if the doctor were to receive a large check from each one. He spoke words of cheer, and left each one feeling better.


        When they were alone again, the old gentleman said, "I thought you told me you were not doing anything. If I had given as much help to as many persons in a month as you have in a few hours this morning, I would thank God I was good for something." "But there isn't any money in it, dad," the boy replied "Money!" the old man said, with a tone of scorn in his voice. "What is money in comparison with being a help and a blessing to your fellow men? Forget the money. Don't let it worry you. I will go back to the farm and work the rest of my life to help support you, for in that way I shall be a blessing, too. I shall be happy by day and sleep soundly at night in the thought that I have helped you to help your fellow men."

        Righteousness. Generosity. Balance. Keys to honoring the Lord with our wealth.