It is nice to go to the grocery store and be able to pay for food. It is annoying when you set your hopes on something and the money isn’t there. It is a tremendous challenge when you have lots of money because people are jealous and expect you to donate to everything. We need money, but a lot of wisdom is required to handle it well.
The physical relationship between husband and wife is a great blessing, but this powerful drive can also make all kinds of problems for us. Sex is good, but a lot of wisdom is needed to handle it well.
Tim Taylor always talked about “more power.” All of us have power which we can use to bring about good things. But each week we also hear stories of the abuse of power - whether it is the violence of a street gang, a government official giving contracts to friends or a husband beating his wife or children. A lot of wisdom is required for us to use our power well.
A number of years ago, Richard Foster wrote a book with the title, “The Challenge of the Disciplined Life: Christian Reflections on Money, Sex and Power.” He recognized the problem we have with these three areas.
Jack Popjes who works for Wycliffe Bible Translators writes, “Money, Sex and Power have always been the major problem areas for Christians. The monks in the Middle Ages took vows of Poverty, Chastity, and Obedience to handle these issues.” How do we handle them today? Proverbs give wisdom for all of life including these three key areas. Last week when we began to look at Proverbs as a book of wisdom, we learned that wisdom is living well in the world God has created. What wisdom does Proverbs offer in regards to the areas of money, sex and power? How can we live well in these major areas of concern.
I wonder if there is anyone here who has not fantasized about what they would do if they won or inherited a large amount of money? If you have little money, life is hard. If you have a lot of money, it is a challenge to manage it. Money provides a significant area of struggle in our lives. What wisdom does Proverbs give us? As you will recall, last week, we noted that Proverbs does not give us a simple answer. It invites us to interact with different ideas. I invite you to read Proverbs and take note of those which speak about money, wealth and poverty. Let me share with you some perspectives that I have found as I have studied Proverbs.
For the first year and a half of our marriage, Carla and I were both in school. During the summer, we had jobs, but they just paid for tuition, rent and food. When we went grocery shopping, we had to be very careful and there certainly was no extra. It wasn’t fun.
Proverbs 10:15 recognizes this when it says, “The wealth of the rich is their fortified city, but poverty is the ruin of the poor.” In other words, God’s Word recognizes that poverty is no fun. It is even worse than this. When we are poor, not only is it difficult to live, but often we are looked down upon. Proverbs 14:20 says, “The poor are shunned even by their neighbors, but the rich have many friends.” Proverbs 22:7 deepens this lousy situation when it says, “The rich rule over the poor...”
The young people would say, “poverty sucks” and they would be right. All of our life experience suggests that it is no fun to be poor. It is uncomfortable from many angles. Because that is true, we determine that we don’t want that and we determine to do whatever we can about it. We seek to get as much money as possible in order to be as wealthy as we can be. We have discovered that it is easier that way. Money motivates us in a powerful way.
Wisdom affirms this reality, but is it the only reality? Wisdom has other perspectives as well.
When we determine that wealth is better than poverty, we subject our selves to many temptations. Proverbs warns about all the risks and pitfalls of wanting to get rich at all cost. Fundamentally, God is against the temptations we get into if the desire for wealth gets the better of us. Proverbs 11:1 says, “The LORD abhors dishonest scales…” Since we are living in God’s world, Proverbs indicates that the consequences of money which we get quickly, or in a wrong way, will not last. “ Proverbs 13:11 says, “Dishonest money dwindles away…” Proverbs 20:17 indicates “Food gained by fraud tastes sweet to a man, but he ends up with a mouth full of gravel.” Further in Proverbs 20:21 we also learn that “An inheritance quickly gained at the beginning will not be blessed at the end.” And in 21:6 that “A fortune made by a lying tongue is a fleeting vapor and a deadly snare.”
Part of the problem is that when we want to get, our hearts become so self focused that greed gets the better of us and that is not a pretty picture. Proverbs warns in 15:27, “A greedy man brings trouble to his family…” The stinginess that is associated with greed is ugly. Proverbs 23:6-8 is very colorful in its description when it says, “Do not eat the food of a stingy man, do not crave his delicacies; for he is the kind of man who is always thinking about the cost. “Eat and drink,” he says to you, but his heart is not with you. You will vomit up the little you have eaten and will have wasted your compliments.”
Because we don’t want poverty, sometimes our whole life becomes a pursuit of wealth. When that becomes an all consuming goal, life is not much better. Proverbs 23:4 warns, “Do not wear yourself out to get rich; have the wisdom to show restraint.” Why does Proverbs warn against making it our all consuming passion? Well, Proverbs 23:5 reminds us that it is a never ending pursuit because as it says, “Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone, for they will surely sprout wings and fly off to the sky like an eagle.” Furthermore, if you do succeed in keeping wealth, you have to maintain it. Proverbs 13:8 says, “A man’s riches may ransom his life, but a poor man hears no threat.” I understand that Proverb to mean that if we have a lot of things, we will have to protect them. Poor people do not need a security system in their house whereas people with many things have to buy locks and insurance and do all kinds of things to protect them.
Underlying all of these problems of the pursuit of and possession of wealth is the danger that we begin to trust in what we have. Proverbs 11:28 says, “Whoever trusts in his riches will fall, but the righteous will thrive like a green leaf.”
Ultimately, of course, as someone has said, “there are no U-Hauls behind hearses.” Proverbs 11:4 says, “Wealth is worthless in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivers from death.”
So although being poor is no fun at all, giving our life to the pursuit of things brings its own set of problems.
So the question we then need to ask as we consider all these different perspectives is, “how do we live well in regards to money?” The writer of the proverbs got tired of the conundrum and prayed in Proverbs 30:8,9, “…give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, 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.” His perspective is God oriented and so must ours be if we want to walk in wisdom.
One helpful perspective is to remember that there are values that are better than possessions. Wisdom, the fear of the Lord, love, righteousness, peace, truth, being blameless are all better than money and its pursuit. In fact, some of these things suggest that they are so much better than wealth that if you have them and are poor that is even better. For example, Proverbs 17:1 says, “Better a dry crust with peace and quiet than a house full of feasting, with strife.”
Although we should not “wear ourselves out to get rich” many Proverbs encourage us to work hard. Even though we may be tempted to gain riches through means such as lotteries or dishonesty, Proverbs suggests that we ought to be diligent and faithful in our work. Proverbs like 13:4 encourages this perspective when it says, “The sluggard craves and gets nothing, but the desires of the diligent are fully satisfied.” In this community we have a good work ethic and we should maintain that. It is a good thing to be hard workers. However, we should not work to the point of wearing ourselves out or for the purpose of keeping up with the Joneses. Faithful diligent work will provide us with what we need like nothing else and there will be satisfaction in the work itself.
So diligent work that is enjoyed for its own sake will provide a satisfaction that the pursuit of wealth for its own sake never will.
In our pursuit of and acquisition of things, one of the things that the Bible is very hard on is our attitude towards and treatment of the poor. We are reminded in 22:2, “Rich and poor have this in common: The LORD is the Maker of them all.” Because that is so, we are warned, “Do not exploit the poor because they are poor and do not crush the needy in court, for the LORD will take up their case and will plunder those who plunder them.” We could spend a lot of time on what this means for us. It begins with attitudes but also includes actions. We will need to ask ourselves, “How do I view those who are poor in our community? What about my support of the poor in the international community? May God give us wisdom to recognize that God has made us all.
One of the most powerful lessons on money, is the invitation to generosity. Instead of greed, injustice or oppression of the poor we are encouraged to a life of generosity. The interesting thing about generosity is that it accomplishes the opposite of what appears. When we do the math we know that if you give away $1000, you do not have that money any more. But we need to remember that we live in God’s world. Although we need to be wise in our giving, a strict accountants math does not pertain. In fact, because we live in God’s world, blessing is promised to those who are generous. Listen to the words of 11:24- 26, “One man gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty. A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed. People curse the man who hoards grain, but blessing crowns him who is willing to sell.” When we have traveled we have sometimes stopped at places which have a sign, “Washrooms for use of customers only.” The thoughts that go through my mind when I see that sign is, this business is stingy. It may have been driven to that because business was not good, but I am fully convinced that such a stingy attitude will not draw more customers, it will drive them away. What will it mean for us to do God’s math instead of accountants math? Can we learn a life of generosity?
Wisdom is living well in the world God has made and this is true in the area of money. May we be blessed as we follow the wisdom of God in this area.
Another difficult challenge is that of sexual temptation. The wisdom of Proverbs speaks to this as well.
Proverbs warns us that sexual temptation is powerful. We sometimes think that TV, internet and so on has made the area of sexual temptation worse, but when we look at the Bible, especially the Old Testament, we see that this is not a new temptation. It has always been there and has always been a problem.
Sexual temptations are seductive and powerful. In Proverbs 5:3 we read, “For the lips of an adulteress drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil…” This warns us that it is no easy thing, that sexual temptations are powerful and enticing.
But Proverbs is equally clear that although appealing it is also terribly destructive. Proverbs 5:4 indicates that the same temptation that is sweet and smooth “…in the end she is bitter as gall, sharp as a double-edged sword. Her feet go down to death; her steps lead straight to the grave. She gives no thought to the way of life; her paths are crooked, but she knows it not.”
Young people are enticed in many ways by this temptation. If as youth they yield, they can develop habits which remain a problem for life. They can develop thought patterns and habits that prevent healthy relationships with people of the opposite sex. As married people, yielding to these temptations is devastatingly destructive. When Jesus said in Matthew 5:28, “…anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart,” He was simply recognizing how destructive even what happens in our mind is to a marriage relationship.
Knowing this great danger, we need wisdom to avoid being drawn into this temptation.
Such wisdom is provided in numerous places in Proverbs.
The first thing we need to know is that God sees our way. In 5:21 we are warned, “For a man’s ways are in full view of the LORD, and he examines all his paths.” God knows every action and even every thought. He knows when we have surfed the net to inappropriate places. He knows when we have looked the wrong way at a person of the opposite sex. He knows our heart and is saddened when we fall in these ways because He knows how seriously we are destroying ourselves when we do these things. The awareness of God’s knowledge can help us keep ourselves pure.
The wisdom of Proverbs also helps us understand the path of temptation so that we can recognize its deceptive twists and turns and how to avoid pitfalls. Proverbs 2:16 reminds us that wisdom will “save you from the adulteress.” So what is the wisdom that will help us take a better path?
Proverbs 5:12 teaches us that it is because of a lack of discipline that we wander these paths. You sometimes hear people say when they have committed adultery, “we fell in love.” That is not the problem. The problem is a lack of personal discipline by which they have allowed themselves to wander where they should not have gone. Wisdom says that we need to discipline ourselves in these matters.
We all know, however, how difficult it is to exercise self discipline. One time when I was on a canoe trip with a camp group, someone got careless with a match and started a forest fire. If that person had properly put out the match, there would have been no forest fire. Once the fire had started, it was much more difficult to stop. What are the small fires of lust we can put out so that we will not have to deal with raging lust?
Proverbs helps us to recognize in 6:25, “Do not lust in your heart after her beauty or let her captivate you with her eyes…” the problem begins in the heart and therefore that must be the first line of defense.
I would recommend a study of Proverbs 7:6-27 to see just how it works. The first step is the desire in the heart, the second step is walking in the direction of the temptation, the third is yielding when it is presented to you. Knowing this path helps us stop it in the early stages.
Proverbs also encourages us that the best defense is a good offence. In 5:18 we are advised, “…may you rejoice in the wife of your youth.” What that teaches us is celibacy before marriage and faithfulness after.
It is amazing the depth of understanding and helpful material we find to provide wisdom in living well with this gift of God that gets so seriously abused in our hands. May we learn to discover that wisdom and live it.
The third area of temptation we want to look at today is the problem of power. I once heard about a zoning problem in the building of a church. In that church there were some men with political power who used that power to get a zoning variance. Is that how we should operate in the church?
We all have some power and it can be used positively or negatively. Proverbs has some things to say about this temptation.
The misuse of power arises in pride and wisdom has nothing good to say about pride. It is because of pride that we want things our way, that we won’t admit that we are wrong or that we push beyond what is appropriate to get our way. So wisdom warns us in Proverbs 11:2, that “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.” It also tells us in 13:10, “Pride only breeds quarrels, but wisdom is found in those who take advice.”
The abuse of power manifests itself in many ways. It appears when we use the power of our strength, position or our words to force issues. Power uses violence, manipulation, backstabbing, nagging and even blackmail.
The abuse of power is seen in various Proverbs. It is seen in Proverbs 16:29, “A violent man entices his neighbor and leads him down a path that is not good.” There are also many other verses which speak about this. For example, we read in Proverbs 28:12, “When the righteous triumph, there is great elation; but when the wicked rise to power, men go into hiding.”
So how can we make sure that we use power well? Proverbs offers many ideas.
Wisdom suggests that in all our life we need to remember that we are in the hands of God. Proverbs 15:25 says, “The LORD tears down the proud man’s house but he keeps the widow’s boundaries intact.” Proverbs 16:9 says, “In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps.” We are living in God’s world and He is the Lord of it. So to have a humble attitude of dependence on God will go a long way towards helping us avoid the abuse of power. It will help us to avoid forcing issues and it will also help us to remember that someone is watching.
The humility of being willing to receive council will also help us avoid the abuse of power. Proverbs 11:14 says, “…many advisers make victory sure.”
Power temptations will also be overcome when our heart is kind and just. Proverbs 11:16,17 says, “A kindhearted woman gains respect, but ruthless men gain only wealth. A kind man benefits himself, but a cruel man brings trouble on himself.”
The temptation to power is subtle and often we don’t even realize that we have engaged in it. May wisdom help us use power to bless and not to abuse.
This world throws many challenges our way. How will we live in them in a way that will be life giving instead of life destroying? Wisdom is one of the great ways God has given us to live well in His world.
This morning we have briefly examined some of the wisdom which speaks to money, sex and power. As we interact with God’s word and seek to follow it, we will find life. May wisdom guide each of us on our way!