Whenever we want to know what is really going on in any sphere, one of our proverbial exhortations urges us to “follow the money.” There is a great deal of wisdom in this, as we shall see when we turn to the Scriptures.
23Be thou diligent to know the state of thy flocks, and look well to thy herds. 24For riches are not for ever: and doth the crown endure to every generation? 25The hay appeareth, and the tender grass sheweth itself, and herbs of the mountains are gathered. 26The lambs are for thy clothing, and the goats are the price of the field. 27And thou shalt have goats’ milk enough for thy food, for the food of thy household, and for the maintenance for thy maidens (Prov. 27:23-27).
Our passage begins with an exhortation to diligence. In particular, this diligence is to be exerted in the direction of knowing the state of your business. The effect of the command is not to “have money” but rather to know what money you have. Diligence in this respect does not exclude “seeking first the kingdom” (Matt. 6:33) because the next verse tells us that the reason we are to be diligent is precisely because riches are not forever. Crops come and go, harvests come and go, and in the meantime the flocks will supply your needs for both clothing and food. This echoes the wisdom of Ecclesiasties—you should be on top of your finances because it is all vanity. Avoid the idolatry of covetousness which tracks money in the foolish belief that it is ultimately important. Avoid the idolatry of ease which refuses to track it in the foolish belief that laziness is ultimately important.
GUARD THE HEART
It is easy to say that God does not mind His people having money; He minds money having His people. This is quite true, but saying the correct thing is not the same thing as being free of covetousness. A covetous man is an idolater (Eph. 5:5). It is easier for a camel to get through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 19:24-25). We (a nation of rich people) wonder what He could possibly have meant by that. The love of money is the root cause of all kinds of evil (1 Tim. 6:10). And Paul goes on to tell Timothy what to teach the rich people in his congregations (1 Tim. 6:17-19). These are words for all of us. Those who are rich are not to be snobs, are not to trust in their wealth, are to enjoy their wealth, and there should be parity between their monetary riches and their rich good works. They are to be generous and willing to share. They are to do all this with a dedicated view of eternal life.
APPLICATIONS OF THE GUARDED HEART
Questions surrounding our use of money are many, and it must be confessed that some of them are not easy. When we come to the applications of “being diligent to know the state of our herds,” we have to confess that in some of these areas, the Bible is plain and we are muddled. In others, the question itself is not so easy—but Scripture requires us to give ourselves to such a question in such a way as to gain wisdom. Some of what follows is a first step in that process.
The tithe—the tithe existed before the law (Heb. 7:2), during the time of the law (Mal. 3:10), and during the time of the new covenant (1 Cor. 9:13-14). The requirement is a tenth of the increase given to the work of the kingdom of God, with particular emphasis placed on supporting the ministry of the Word and sacrament, that is, the local church (Gal. 6:6). Other lawful recipients of the tithe would include the poor (Dt. 14:29) and religious festivals (Dt. 14:22-29). A religious festival, incidentally, does not include birthdays and weddings. The principle is sow sparingly, reap sparingly (2 Cor. 9:6).
Pay your bills—this means that all your debts are to be fully consistent with the debt of love (Rom. 13:8). This does not exclude fully collateralized debts, but it does exclude extending your arm farther than you can draw it back. You might say that it is a “big company” and they routinely accept the reality of late payments, etc. But they do the same thing for shoplifting. So pay your bills on time. If you cannot, do what you can to make all appropriate arrangements with the creditor. Remember, the creditor is in charge of the arrangements, not the debtor (Prov. 22:7).
Pay your taxes—the saints in the New Testament were confronted with life under an unbelieving empire, one worse than ours. They were told this: “For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God’s ministers, attending continually upon this very thing. Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour” (Rom. 13:6-7). At the same time, balance this with the example of Gideon (Judg. 6:11).
Insurance—given the hard realities of our modern economy, we should consider the provision of insurance as a part of providing for a household (1 Tim. 5:8). But we also must distinguish lack of provision through honest poverty and lack of provision through negligence.
Savings—setting aside a certain portion against the future is wise on two counts (5-10%). First, the Scriptures commend this kind of wisdom (Prov. 20:4). A pattern of saving is a hedge against future contingencies, whether expected or unexpected. Secondly, the pattern of saving establishes the possibility of loving your children and grandchildren through the inheritance you provide (Prov. 13:22).
Returning to our text, we need to understand that information is golden. In most cases, what is needed is information, not money. Many people have three times more money than you do, and are in the same kind of trouble. They just have a bigger sinking boat. “Be diligent to know the state . . .” Most financial blunders are made in the dark, and whether the darkness was innocent or culpable does not alter the result.