By RJ Moeller
I’m going to pick right back up where I left off last time, and present you with the final three principal teachings regarding wealth found in the book of Proverbs.
3) Wealth has a limited (but very real and long-range) advantage, and is never to be idolized.
There is value in wealth. Seem redundant? Perhaps, but it needs saying only because we’re currently living in a blurry haze of good intentions and trite anti-capitalistic axioms emanating from well-meaning, economically illiterate Christians. I don’t have the data to prove it, but the poor Ozone may be in the purported lackluster shape it is due primarily to the Shaq-sized carbon footprint left in the wake of all the hot air liberal Christians needlessly emit in condemning free enterprise, private property, and all those who prefer their government not flush the nation’s wealth down a collectivist lavatory.
Wealth-creation is good. Wealth-idolization is not.
From Proverbs 11:26: “The people curse him who holds back grain, but a blessing is on the head of him who sells it.”
Without someone growing, producing, and bringing to market items such as grain, people go hungry. Not everyone can be a farmer (or, in our modern vernacular, “feels called to farming”). If someone works to get me the Thomas’ Bagels I cram down my sizeable gullet each morning, I say they be compensated for it. If those bagels are as good as my never-to-be-fully-trusted taste buds tell me, Ole’ Man Thomas is going to fetch a pretty penny for his produce. But is he really the only one who benefits? Does the wealth start and stop with him?
Thomas’ Bagels has a motivation to work and produce because I have the insatiable motivation to carbo-load for a Cross Country meet I’m never going to run in and a soccer game I’ll never play in. I want what he has, he sees fit to give it to me (at an agreed upon rate), and everyone wins. I’m blessed with food; Thomas’ is compensated with money to continue their business (which presumably employs more than one old codger churning out bagels).
Notice the word “sell” in this verse. Not “equally and/or equitably re-distributed by a really smart guy who majored in ‘Womens Studies’ at Cal-Berkley and now wears a dapper suit to his Stimulus-created job at an entirely un-accountable federal bureaucracy.”
From Proverbs 12:22: “A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children, but the sinner’s wealth is laid up for the righteous.”
Wealth has such a potentially long-range positive effect that it can be a blessing to those who come after you. The emphasis here is on the prudent stewardship (i.e. saving, investing) of one’s wealth.
If the accumulation of wealth becomes someone’s overriding, consuming passion and interest, they’re wrong (no matter their faith-tradition or religion). But how do all of these disgruntled twenty-something “social justice” post-evangelicals think the funds they want so badly to see strangers (with their own self-interests) redistribute show up in the Treasury’s coffers in the first place? Even the anti-capitalist has to have capital-creation and capital-accumulation to enact their plan for a utopian, communal, fair-trade-coffee-drinking existence where ‘nary a Fleet Foxes tune goes un-applauded.
Wealth isn’t the problem. We are.
Work hard and be grateful if you can obtain it. Use it, but use it with the intent to bless.
4) Wealth is fleeting and does not endure.
As recounted in my 4th favorite movie of all time, Patton, when Roman generals would return victorious from foreign conquests, and were paraded through the streets of the city amidst raucous celebration, a servant would ride in the chariot with the general and whisper in his (his? … how sexist those Italians were!) ear, “All glory is fleeting.”
I think it fair to say that—so far as it pertains to modern, materialistic living and the pressure to “Keep up with the Obamas”—we could all use a reminder like that from time to time.
Tangible things matter, but tangible things do not endure. God cares about the food you put into your body, but the food you put into your body cannot in and of itself save your soul.
Proverbs 13:7-8: “One pretends to be rich, yet has nothing; another pretends to be poor, yet has great wealth. The ransom of a man’s life is his wealth, but a poor man hears no threat.”
Not only is wealth fleeting, it can a huge pain in the tookus. We never know another man or woman’s struggles. We may think we do, because we see that they have a nicer car than your decrepit Dodge Intrepid (that smells unmistakably like wet Rottweiler), or because they happen to have flashy “ice” on their digits (as opposed to the sucrose-laden Ring Pops you’re flossin’). If wealth is fleeting, the wealthy shouldn’t take it for granted and the less fortunate should not make it their overriding obsession.
Proverbs: 23:4-5: “Do not toil to acquire wealth; be discerning enough to desist. When your eyes light on it, it is gone, for suddenly it sprouts wings, flying like an eagle toward heaven.”
This one’s fairly self-explanatory, but cuts right to the chase. The word “toil” does not mean “work” in the general sense. We’re all supposed to work, but not “work with an unquenchable hunger for wealth.” You get the idea. Consider this horse “dead” and “beaten” for point #4.
5) Godly obedience and the pursuit of righteousness, while not mutually exclusive from wealth, does however take top-billing on the list of moral priorities for the believer.
There are so many verses in Proverbs pertaining directly and indirectly to this 5th and final principal, but I’ll close things out with only one.
Proverbs 11:30: “The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and the one who is wise saves lives.”
Righteousness is the goal. Wisdom from God is the goal. Well, actually, Christ is the goal, but righteousness and God-imparted wisdom are the things we need to possess in order that we might obtain that goal.
That is what my middle-class, hard-working parents taught me. The pursuit of wealth didn’t come in the way of things like church or faithful tithing. Neither did stuff like soccer practice. Football camp in high school took a back-seat to a week at Timber-Lee Christian Camp each summer. Everyone knew what the family’s priorities were, but my parents did not tell me to practice any less harder than I normally would the rest of that summer or season simply because they thought a week of spiritual enrichment in the woods of Wisconsin was more important than three-a-day practices on a run-down field on the property of a public school that increasingly teaches its students to embrace values and lifestyles opposed to teachings of the word of God.
My parents’ belief in free markets, private property rights, and limited government were not stumbling blocks en route to a closer relationship with Christ. They were the outward and practical applications of their inward desire to see God honored in the way we organize ourselves as a nation, and their fellow man’s life improved in ways that don’t coercively punish others’ successes.
If we want to be obedient to the teachings of Proverbs, it seems to me, we would do well to out-right reject redistributive “justice” and embrace a view of wealth that recognizes it for what it is: a useful tool that we useful idiots can either shame or honor our maker with.