Money: Work, Generosity, and Justice - Proverbs (Sermon)
Welcome, I am pastor Rob, and it is great to worship with you this morning!
CHILDREN’S MESSAGE OBJECT LESSON
Could I have children come up here for a children’s message? I have several objects I need to identify. What are they? (Baseball, Football, an American Flag, Money). Great! Thank you. What do they all have in common? They are things we value in America.
Today, we will be talking about money, some things that run deep in the heart of most Americans and some that don’t. We are going to talk about work, sharing, and doing the right thing. God wants us to honor him with all that we have and do. In some cases, the Bible and our world are similar; in other cases, they are not. God cares about what we do with our time, and energy, and talent. Why? It is not because he is needy. God owns everything. He is perfect and powerful. Then, why does he care about money, work, sharing, and doing the right thing? Jesus taught: “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). Our treasure is our time, energy, and talent. God cares what we do with that because he wants our hearts. That is why. So, listen up to hear more.
Dear, God. Thank you for your Word. Thank you for giving us so much. Thank you for caring about us and wanting a relationship with us that runs deep in our hearts. Help us trust in you more than our stuff. Help us use our time, energy, and talent for your honor. In Jesus’s name, AMEN.
You can go sit down with your families.
It was overwhelming for me to look through Proverbs and narrow down what to focus on for this morning. Proverbs 22 gave me a starting point. If you have your Bibles, open to Proverbs 22. There we will begin to see how Proverbs deals with money. Overall, when we look at the theme of money in proverbs, it calls us to trust God with our time, energy, and talent by work, generosity, and justice. Let me say that again. Proverbs calls us to trust God with our time, energy, and talent by work, generosity, and justice.
Before we dive in, let’s go over some background. The book of Proverbs was written primarily by Solomon, the third King of Israel, 3,000 years ago. It contains about 800 sayings, with chapters 1 through 9 forming lectures from a father to a son. The point of all of it was to inform about the path of wisdom versus foolishness. They offer a moral framework to navigate life’s decisions, including the topic of money.
FEAR THE LORD
The key to following the path of wisdom is the fear of the Lord. Wisdom is not about being smart, winning jeopardy, or getting a full-ride scholarship. Wisdom is about knowing God and his ways and acting accordingly. The Creator gave us the blueprint for this: the Bible. Yet, if we are honest, we need reminders of what it says to stay on the path of wisdom. That is why we are here today.
So, turn to Proverbs 22 verse 2. What does it say? “The rich and the poor meet together; the LORD is the Maker of them all.” This statement concerning wealth is about God. It anchors the topic of finances to God. He is the King of all, Ruler and Creator of everyone: rich and poor alike. What unites us is not currency, tax bracket, or pay grade. What unites us is being made in the image of God. God made us, and we will all stand before him with no insurance or safety net protecting us from his judgment. Our work, bank accounts, and online giving won’t undo, erase, or outweigh the wrongs done. We still have a debt we owe God. The Bible tells us our obligation: “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). This death is not physical but spiritual. We deserve it because of sin. We have strayed like a ship without a steering column on a stormy sea.
The verse goes on to offer the only escape. “The wages of sin is death but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). The Maker has given us eternal life through Jesus’s death on the cross.
Turn to chapter 11 of Proverbs. What does verse 4 say? “Riches do not profit in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivers from death” (11:4). When talking about money in the Bible, we are talking about priorities and eternity. Too often, success in life equals having financial security and independence. However, that perspective neglects what happens on the day we die and eternity after. What is the day of wrath? It is judgment day.
A Biblical perspective on time means, most of our existence is not the seventy to eighty years we have here on Earth but those that follow. We are finite, with a beginning, a starting point. But we all will have an eternal existence after this, either an eternal conscience life or conscious eternal death. God wants us to find eternal life. Riches can’t buy a ticket there. The hope we need is righteousness. Where do we get that? Jesus. He was and is perfect. And his righteousness can deliver us from spiritual death by grace through faith in him. It is a gift, not a purchase. Solomon knew there was an afterlife, and people needed righteousness to stand before the holy God. Each year, Solomon offered sacrifices to be right before God. He looked to God’s mercy and grace enshrined in the Old Testament, pointing to the future Messiah.
Solomon goes on in chapter 11, verse 7. “When the wicked dies, his hope will perish, and the expectation of wealth perishes too.” He was teaching that hope in wealth is vain if it is one’s only hope. He was not saying money is evil. The Bible teaches that it is the love of money that is evil. It is great to be forward-thinking, a planner, and have money saved up for a rainy day. We don’t want to be a burden. We want to live like no one else, so that we can live like no one else, so that we can give like no one else. Yet, Solomon was adjusting his son’s perspectives on wealth. We want to invest our time, energy, and talent in the right things, at the right time, and in the right amount. It is God’s way and good for us. Jesus said,
Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19–21)
Jesus later told a story about a farmer who sowed some seeds. The seed was the Word of God. Some fell on all types of soil. Jesus explained that the ground was people. The fertile soil grew up and bore 30, 60, 100 times the fruit. It was a good return. We want to be good soil. We want a good return on our investments. We want to lay up treasure in heaven. We want to align ourselves with God’s priorities.
Chapter 11 goes on to help us do that. Look at verse 28 of chapter 11. “Whoever trusts in his riches will fall, but the righteous will flourish like a green leaf.” We want to flourish. We don’t want to fall. If that is the case, what are we trusting in? This verse points us back to our trust. Don’t trust in riches. Don’t overprioritize it and love it. Trust in God. Proverbs 3:5 says, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding” (3:5). Do this, and live.
Trust sets the stage for us to explore God’s perspective on money. I see three themes in Proverbs concerning money: work, generosity, and justice, if you are taking notes. Those are again: Work, Generosity, and Justice.
Let’s talk about work. Proverbs calls us to trust God with our time, energy, and talent by work, generosity, and justice. Turn to chapter 10 verse 5: “He who gathers in summer is a prudent son, but he who sleeps in harvest is a son who brings shame” (10:5). To be wise is to work; to be lazy is an embarrassment. Look at chapter 12, verse 11. “Whoever works the land will have plenty of bread, but he who follows worthless pursuits lacks sense.”
Remember, as we read, Proverbs are not promises; instead, they are principles. Therefore, if you work, in general, you will have food. We know that is not always the case. There are exceptions like health problems, war, and economic downturns. There are circumstances we have no control over. Yet, overall, this teaches that work is prudent and fruitful and good while laziness is bad.
This Proverb speaks of worthless pursuits. What are those in our day? Gambling, playing Powerball or quitting your job to live stream a video game addiction hoping to become the next Tyler ‘Ninja’ Blevins on Twitch. You can try your hand at something on Etsy or create a blog. Some exploits succeed, but don’t throw lots of effort into these pursuits. Get counsel and work hard. If your side business takes off, excellent, but in the meantime, be prudent and work.
LAZINESS DESTROYS YOUR NEIGHBOR
A final Proverb that speaks about work states, “Whoever is slack in his work is a brother to him who destroys” (18:9). What does that mean? That means if you are lazy, it not only hurts you but also those around you. Don’t be that guy.
What if you don’t have a job or can’t work? What if you are retired or stay at home or a student? What can you learn from these Proverbs? Be industrious. Don’t be lazy. Use your time, energy, and talents in good pursuits. Pull your weight. Don’t shirk your responsibilities. Be a craftsman. Trust God’s financial advice. Don’t take a shortcut. Don’t lean on your own understanding. Use what God has given you well.
The second thing the Proverbs teaches us about money concerns generosity. Proverbs calls us to trust God with our time, energy, and talent by work, generosity, and justice. Let us look at chapter 11, verse 24.
One gives freely, yet grows all the richer;
another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want.
Whoever brings blessing will be enriched,
and one who waters will himself be watered. (11:24–25)
Look also at chapter 19 verse 17. “Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed” (19:17).
What do these teach? They are not teaching a “prosperity gospel.” These are not promises that if you give ten dollars to church, it turns into twenty. Some people twist the Bible to teach just that. That is not what it is teaching. So, what is it saying? We benefit, are enriched, and rewarded by generosity. Maybe you know this experientially. Have you felt the satisfaction and joy of giving gifts? Some of you are naturally gift-givers. You know how great it is to watch someone open a present and smile with excitement and gratitude.
Another way people benefit from generosity is the freedom from the things that have a psychological hold over us. You know the things you buy that you think, wow, this will be great, and they end us taking more of our focus and money to maintain. They can control us. Giving things like that away, or borrowing them, frees us and blesses others.
Another benefit of generosity is what we heard Jesus say about laying up treasure in heaven. You are in some way investing in eternity. John Wesely, in 1786, wrote,
If those who 'gain all they can,' and 'save all they can,' will likewise 'give all they can;' then, the more they gain, the more they will grow in grace, and the more treasure they will lay up in heaven. (Thoughts upon Methodism)
Being generous in some way can be an investment in eternity. Now, some have nothing or are up to their eyeballs in debt. How does a person give with nothing? If that is you, do you have time? Do you have energy? Do you have talent? Give that. Let us be generous with those around us, no matter how much is in our wallets. No matter our age. No matter our ability.
We live in a prosperous nation among prosperous people. I think we do well in the realm of generosity. I only bring this up because the text does. (Our church has never been better off financially. We are giving away more money than ever to the poor, ministry, and missions. Tonight, you can join us at 7:00 PM to hear how we are stewarding money to spread the news of God’s love in Jesus to the world.)
Verse 17 also teaches, “Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord.” Another reason to be generous is to worship. It is an act of trust and faith in God, the giver of wealth. We can proclaim our beliefs with our pocketbooks.
Where might God challenge you in the area of generosity? Ask God today. Be generous and work.
God also wants us to pursue justice. Proverbs calls us to trust God with our time, energy, and talent by work, generosity, and justice. What do I mean? Proverbs chapter 1 began,
1 The proverbs of Solomon, son of David, king of Israel:
2 To know wisdom and instruction,
to understand words of insight,
3 to receive instruction in wise dealing,
in righteousness, justice, and equity. (Proverbs 1:1–3)
I told the kids that God wants us to do the right thing. I think another word for that is justice. It is doing the right thing. How do we know the right things? We go back to the Bible. Turn to Proverbs chapter 10. Look at verse 13 to see the wisdom of God. That is chapter 10 verse 13. “Treasures gained by wickedness do not profit, but righteousness delivers from death” (10:13). Getting rich by doing evil is not okay by God. Ends do not justify means. Maybe you think, “What about the corrupt capitalists, evil rich people, and horrible organizations that profit off the masses? Is this verse accurate? Treasures gained by wickedness do not profit, but righteousness delivers from death.” What was Solomon saying? I think he was saying; God will judge the greedy swindler and bring ultimate justice on the day of judgment. It will not work out well for those who don’t fall in line with God’s Word. It will work out for those who trust in Jesus’s righteousness. He exchanged his track record for ours on the cross.
Anti-corruption laws, litigators, and judges help curb corruption in society; however, they can’t eliminate it all. That can be disappointing, frustrating, and scary. But we can take heart that God sees all. Justice will come. Proverbs 22:16, 22, and 23 echo this: “Whoever oppresses the poor to increase his wealth or gives to the rich, will only come to poverty” (22:16). Verses 22 and 23, “Do not rob the poor, because he is poor, or crush the afflicted at the gate, for the LORD will plead their cause and rob of life those who rob them” (22:22–23). God will judge the wicked and greedy. He wants us to treat the poor kindly and not oppress them. Likely, you are not tempted to oppress the poor today or this week. Awesome.
So what do we take away from this teaching about justice? How do these principles apply? First, let them inspire you to worship. We have a God who cares about the poor and will bring justice. Chapter 11 verse 1 corroborates this. Look over to chapter 11, verse 1. “A false balance is an abomination to the LORD, but a just weight is his delight” (11:1). God sees all. He cares what we do with our time, energy, and talent. He delights in the truth. He hates evil. Worship our good king.
A second response to these verses is to dig deeper to see if we subtly practice injustice in our life. Look at chapter 20 verse 14. What does it say? “‘Bad, bad,’ says the buyer, but when he goes away, then he boasts.” What does that mean? It reminds me of used car sales. I am tempted in such circumstances of looking at all the bad things about a car to negotiate down the price and then brag about my ability to get a good deal. Deception is bad. Bragging about ourselves is bad. God wants us to be fair, honest, faithful, not lying, prideful, and self-absorbed. Let us honor God with all our time, energy, and talent. Let us be just, generous, and work unto him. He is our good king. He will care for us. Trust in him.
Justice, generosity, and work can be a strength in our culture. However, Proverbs ends with a prayer about money that we would be hard-pressed to value in America. It relates to the overall big picture of Proverbs on money. Look at chapter 30, verses 7 and 9.
Two things I ask of you;
deny them not to me before I die:
Remove far from me falsehood and lying;
give me neither poverty nor riches;
feed me with the food that is needful for me,
lest I be full and deny you
and say, “Who is the Lord?”
or lest I be poor and steal
and profane the name of my God. (30:7–9)
Do you hear how counter-cultural that prayer is? Have you prayed a prayer like this? Could you pray God doesn’t make me rich? That can be scary? Why would anyone in their right mind pray that? The author of this prayer said so he would not be full and deny God. You may know of people like that. They have stuff and security and happiness; life is great, and they don’t feel the need for God. The author is praying, don’t let that happen to me. This brings us back full circle to trust. People who are more concerned about God than building a kingdom here on Earth can pray this prayer. The person who believes God is greater than his gifts can pray this prayer. Do you believe that? Where is your trust? Where is your hope? Let us make God our greatest treasure and thank him for our time, energy, and talents.
God is worthy to be worshipped and obeyed. Will you worship him? Will you trust him? Will you honor him? Will you hope in him? Let us be just, generous, and work.
Perhaps you need to turn from laziness and a lack of hard work.
Perhaps you need to turn from greed and a lack of generosity.
Perhaps you need to turn from dishonesty, cheating, pride, and self-sufficiency.
Turn from sin to God today. Receive forgiveness found in Jesus’s blood freely given as a gift. He is our only hope in this life and the one to come.
I will pray: If you agree in your heart, hear my words and repeat them to God in your head.
Dear God, forgive us for our laziness, selfishness, and pride. You know the depths of our failure and sin. We need you. Thank you for giving us your Son to die in our place and pay the penalty for it all. Thank you for your love. Thank you for your correction. Thank you for your direction. God, we don't want to be in poverty and feel forced to compromise. God, we don't want to be so rich that we deny you. Help us use our time, energy, and talent for your honor. Help us be generous and just for your great name. AMEN.
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