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Attitude and Money

April 17, 2008

The rich man’s wealth is his strong city: the destruction of the poor is their poverty.  Proverbs 10:15

Money is important.  If you don’t think so, try living without it.  Jesus Christ once met a very rich young man who, according to him, had kept the law perfectly from his youth.  Christ loved the young man, and challenged him to go sell whatever he had, give the money to the poor, take up his cross, and follow Christ.  Judging by the young man’s response, it was easier to observe the entire law than to give up his wealth.Â

God’s Word has much to say about money, though not necessarily what we might think.  For example, ‘conventional’ wisdom says that God blesses the poor and condemns the rich.  Class warfare is one of Satan’s favorite tricks.  The rich despise the poor, and the poor equally (if not greater) despise the rich.  Some rich men think that the poor deserve to be poor, in part because they have been careless with their money.  All things being equal, this is true in some cases.  But some are poor in the Providence of God.Â

Meanwhile, and probably more often than the other, the poor man thinks that the rich are greedy, or worse yet, that they cheated to get their money.  And while this certainly could be the case, it is not normally the case.  Some men are just blessed that way.  While one man is blessed with poverty, another is blessed with wealth.  And who is to say which has the greater blessing?

Are you rich?  Are you poor?Â

The rich and poor meet together: the LORD is the maker of them all.  Proverbs 22:2

In reality, “rich” and “poor” are relative terms.  Contrary to what our government tells us, there is no standard, no arbitrary line, no dollar figure that divides between rich and poor.  If a man lives in a cardboard shanty, he is likely to think that every man in a house is rich.  If a man owns a multi-million dollar mansion, he may think that the guy in the quarter million dollar house is poor.  To take a new spin on an old proverb, one man’s wealth is another man’s pittance.Â

A couple of years ago, I read the Little House on the Prairie series to my kids.  As we read The Long Winter, I explained to my family that the Ingalls family would have considered us to be fabulously wealthy.  Especially during that long winter, Laura’s family lived on wheat bread and potatoes from December to February.  In February, the potatoes ran out.  Until May, when the winter ended, Laura’s family ate nothing but wheat bread… no butter, no honey, nothing else.  And they didn’t think they were poor.

What is it to be rich?  What is to be poor?  If we have all we need, and to spare, are we not wealthy?  Wouldn’t “poor” mean that we have no spare, that we almost don’t have what we need to get by?  And who can say which is better?  The truth be told, your attitude towards the money you have is more important than the amount of money you have.  Money, contrary to popular opinion, is not the root of all evil.  The love of money is.Â

In the Proverb quoted at the beginning of this post, we are given a very important understanding of money.  First, the Proverb says that the rich man’s wealth is his strong city.  Then, the Proverb adds that the destruction of the poor is their poverty.  Whenever I read Proverbs, I find a wealth of practical wisdom and gospel preaching in them, and I hope in this post to give a little of each.  We will begin with a direct application of the meaning of this Proverb, will continue with the lesson in it, and will conclude by considering a spiritual application.

An Observation and a Warning

All Scripture is given, we are told, by inspiration.  I never quite understand why believers will dismiss the Proverbs as if they are somehow of less authority than the rest of Scripture.  “Wisdom principles” is not a convenient way of dismissing.  So, we will start our “exposition” of the Proverb with a simple observation… this Proverb is true.  The rich man’s wealth really is his strong city, and the destruction of the poor really is their poverty.Â

There is much security in wealth (which explains why the words “security” and “securities” are used so frequently in the financial realm.  On the other hand, almost all of the poor man’s troubles can be traced back to the fact that he is poor.  Poverty increases his worries.  He lacks the means to provide for his family and meet their needs the way he would like.  Dentists and optometrists are luxuries that he can hardly afford.  Because he cannot stay on top of things financially, he tends to fall behind.  Vehicles break down more often because he struggles to maintain them properly.  Clothing gets worn, teeth rot, medical checkups are set aside because he struggles to make ends meet.  On his part, good stewardship is of the “blood, sweat, and tears” variety.Â

Because he has little money, if he splurges just a little, he pays dearly for it.  He feels that he has little to contribute to his church.  He may (though he shouldn’t) feel embarrassed at family gatherings, as he scrapes together a little money, money that he really doesn’t have, in order to give proper gifts.  Certainly some of these limitations are artificial, but they are limitations nonetheless.Â

Poverty can cause a man trouble in another way, which is why the poor man is tempted to live beyond his means.  James reminds us that men really do despise the poor.  While this is not so pronounced in our day as it was in hers, Jane Austen gives some revealing pictures of this kind of wealth snobbery in her very Christian novels.Â

And what of tragedy, trial, and affliction?  If the wealthy have a health crisis, they will spare no expense to find a cure.  But what of the poor man?  What if the poor man finds himself in need of an attorney?  What if he loses his job?  Anxiety and worry, if not given over to the Lord, will deteriorate his health, and eventually his wealth.  Do we not see then that the destruction of the poor is their poverty?

On the other hand, we also know it to be true that the rich man’s wealth is his strong city.  Money, though a bad master, is a good servant.  When you have much money and to spare, you have many “servants” to guard your security.  There is a natural security in having the means to provide and have to spare.  And while it is true that the rich may have worries, they don’t have the poor man’s worries.  Picture the wealthy man in his stone house, surrounded by a stone wall, guarded by the bars of a wrought iron gate, with a security code for entrance.  He is the picture of safety and security.

There is, in all of this, a warning for both the rich and the poor.  The warning applies equally to each.Â

Labour not to be rich: cease from thine own wisdom.  Proverbs 23:4

Someone once compared income to a pair of shoes.  Poverty is like shoes that are too small.  They pinch and cramp your foot, and in general make it very difficult to walk with comfort.  But excessive wealth is like shoes that are too large.  They stumble and trip us.  Aristotle once said that the type of character produced by wealth is that of a prosperous fool.  Henry Ward Beecher said, “some of God’s noblest sons, I think, will be selected from those that know how to take wealth, with all its temptations, and maintain godliness therewith.  It is hard to be a saint standing in a golden niche.”Â

The Bible warns against the deceitfulness of riches, which enter in and choke out the word.  If riches increase, set not your heart upon it.  The rich are tempted to trust in their riches.  Some trust in chariots, and some in horses…  The rich are tempted to insolence and arrogance, as if they can have anything they want because they have money.  The rich are tempted to display, and to excess.  They are tempted to think that because they are rich, they should also be powerful.  More than a few rich men have destroyed a Bible-believing church by their efforts to buy influence.  Nor is this a new problem, for Paul had some particular warnings for the wealthy:

Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy;
That they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate;Â
Laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life.

Consider this quote about money…

Money talks, we have been told since childhood. Listen to this dollar speak: “You hold me in your hand and call me yours. Yet may I not as well call you mine. See how easily I rule you? To gain me, you would all but die. I am invaluable as rain, essential as water. Without me, men and institutions would die. Yet I do not hold the power of life for them; I am futile without the stamp of your desire. I go nowhere unless you send me. I keep strange company. For me, men mock, love, and scorn character. Yet, I am appointed to the service of saints, to give education to the growing mind and food to the starving bodies of the poor. My power is terrific. Handle me carefully and wisely, lest you become my servant, rather than I yours.”(1)

If money is a danger to the rich, it is an even greater danger to the poor.  Wealth comes with many unique temptations, and yet I find that poverty causes more covetousness than wealth does.  Money causes the poor man to grow discontent.  He can very easily become greedy, and often tends to be more greedy than his wealthy counterpart.  Poor men often love money more than rich men do.  Poverty causes a smallness of spirit, a miserly meanness of spirit.  As we are fond of quoting, the poor man needs to be reminded that it is only money.

Those who are poor in material things often attach too much weight to material prosperity.  They tend to think that they would be happy if only… Poverty can make a man envious and bitter towards the rich, or (worse yet, I think) bring him to expect a handout.

Blessing and Cursing

Wealth, and the lack thereof, brings with it both a blessing and a curse.  First, we have demonstrated already the blessing in wealth, and the curse in poverty.  Among the blessings of wealth are the ability to have to give to him that needeth (Ephesians 4:28), the ability to give abundantly to God through the tithe (I Corinthians 16:2; 2 Corinthians 9:7), the ability to pass on an inheritance to his children’s children (Proverbs 13:22), and the ability to live comfortably.  But for the poor, besides being cramped and pinched by his purse, he faces many temptations unique to his financial status.  He is tempted to steal or defraud, to abuse the generosity of others, to lust, or to discontent.  Because of this, while Christians must not labor to be rich (Proverbs 23:4), they must exercise diligent stewardship over their money.

Ironically, as wealth blesses and poverty curses, we find the opposite to also be true.  There is a blessing in poverty, and a cursing in wealth.  Abraham Lincoln once said, “The Lord must love the common people.  He has made so many of them.”  Certainly, we find in Scripture a stated blessing on the poor (Luke 6:20).  The poor man can live simply, eat his bread in quietness, and trust God.  Godliness with contentment, as the Bible says, is great gain.  Better is a dry morsel, and quietness therewith, than an house full of sacrifices with strife.

The rich man, on the other hand, must be concerned over his money.  If he fears God, he must be concerned with the temptations that are natural to wealth.  The well-to-do often worry about their social standing and about their friends.  There is an old Latin proverb that says, The prosperous man is never sure that he is loved for himself.

The point here is that neither wealth nor poverty indicate the blessing of God, or the absence thereof.  Rather, we find that we can be blessed in whatsoever state we are in.  The poor man can be rich in the blessing of God, as can the wealthy man.  The way God blesses a man will vary.  Whichever way the blessing falls, if received with thanksgiving, it will make a man rich (Proverbs 10:22).

Carnal and Spiritual

Riches affect us spiritually.  Depending on our attitude, our wealth (whether great or small) will have a spiritual impact.  Historians Will and Ariel Durant mocked that as long as there is poverty there will be gods.  We could point out that the converse is also true.  Material wealth often brings spiritual poverty.  For some, as long as there is wealth, there will be no god.  Consider that many of the children of the affluent, having been sheltered from any sort of struggle, having been provided with anything their heart desires, do not seek the Lord.  Thus, James’ rebuke of the rich…

Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you. Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are motheaten.  Your gold and silver is cankered; and the rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as it were fire. Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days.  Behold, the hire of the labourers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of sabaoth.  Ye have lived in pleasure on the earth, and been wanton; ye have nourished your hearts, as in a day of slaughter.  Ye have condemned and killed the just; and he doth not resist you.

The point of this article is not to condemn the rich, nor to say that you cannot be both godly and rich, but only to point out the unique temptations and pitfalls that accompany wealth.  Financial and social status really do impact us spiritually, and we really must be aware of the dangers.  I certainly hope that no reader of this post will think that I only see the problems with wealth.  To the contrary, poverty often brings more spiritual battles than wealth.  Nevertheless, we must give careful consideration to the temptations of wealth.

When wealth draws a man’s heart away from the Lord, and hinder his relationship to God, we can say, Blessed be ye poor.  For the poor can trust themselves to God alone.  How often does God use poverty to make us dependent on Himself.  The poor have food, they have raiment, they learn contentment.  Is there any greater blessing than that of resting on Christ alone?  Their means may be few, but their needs are fewer.  They enjoy life, they laugh, they cry, they live without shame.  What a blessing.

On the other hand, there is a spiritual application to all of this.  The man who is spiritually rich finds that his wealth is his strong city.

Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him?

But if a man is spiritually poor, his destruction will be his poverty.

And he said unto them, Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.  And he spake a parable unto them, saying, The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully:  And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits? And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry. But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided?  So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.

For this reason, we are challenged to covet earnestly the best gifts.  The treasures laid up in heaven are of the sort that cannot be taken away from us.  The dollar might decline in value here, but heavenly dollars only increase in value.  So, get in the Word, pray, be rich in good works (I Timothy 6:18), and make this wealth your strong city.

(1)Tan, P. L. 1996, c1979. Encyclopedia of 7700 illustrations : [a treasury of illustrations, anecdotes, facts and quotations for pastors, teachers and Christian workers]. Bible Communications: Garland, TX

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  1. April 19, 2008 at 12:20 pm

    Great post. There are a lot of misconceptions about godliness and money. And there are a lot of financial principles that Christians throw out the window because they are afraid that they will be seeking to be rich instead of being a good steward of God’s money. Any clarifications about the Biblical principles of wealth, stewardship, and money is a great need among many Christians today. Thanks for the great post!

  2. April 20, 2008 at 6:17 am

    Thanks, Nicholas.

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