“Money, get away, Get a good job with more pay and you're O.K.
Money, it's a gas, Grab that cash with both hands and make a stash
New car, caviar, four star daydream, Think I'll buy me a football team”
—“Money” by Pink Floyd
“Greed… is idolatry”—Colossians 3:5
“There is great gain in godliness with contentment”—1 Timothy 6:6
Money has, without a doubt, a peculiar and particular hold upon the human heart. The well-known adage— “How much money is enough? Just a little bit more”—is, unfortunately, all too true.
Now, of course, money is not inherently evil. It is the idolatrous desire for money and what it represents that Paul tells us is evil in 1 Timothy 6:10: “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils…” Not money itself, but the love of money.
Unfortunately for us the love of money is a common, perhaps universal, problem. Our hearts become so easily fixated on and entangled by the malevolent allure of money and all that it represents. This is why the Bible has plenty to say about money and possessions.
This is good and helpful in one sense, because we can know God’s mind on this important issue. But in another sense it can be harmful and unhelpful because it is tempting, as we scale the breadth of the Bible’s teaching on money, to land on an extreme. In other words, it is not overly difficult (or uncommon, sadly) to rip a few verses out of context and develop for yourself a theology of prosperity (Money is great! God wants you to be rich!), or austerity (Money is evil! God wants you to be poor!). But such an approach is imbalanced, and far too reductionistic.
We need to be wise when it comes to wealth. We need to take into account the contours of a biblical theology of wealth, lest we fall into the extreme pits of brazen greed or pietistic severity.
So, how should we think of money and possessions? What biblical principles should we keep in mind as we handle our own wealth or poverty?
Fortunately, Proverbs helps us. And Proverbs is a great place to start in order to develop a biblical theology of wealth. As Kevin DeYoung explains, “For starters, there are a lot of verses on the subject. More important, there are several diverse strands of teaching on the subject. If you started with Genesis, you might conclude God always prospers his people. If you started with Amos, you might think all rich people are oppressors. But Proverbs looks at wealth and poverty from several angles.”
In particular, Proverbs teaches us:
1—What is better than money
2—What money cannot do for us
3—How we should use money
What is Better Than MONEY
The book of Proverbs, in a number of places, unequivocally informs us of the fact that there are more important and more desirable things in this world than money.
Shocking, I know, but true.
For instance, in Proverbs we are told it is more important to be truthful than to be rich.
What is desired in a man is steadfast love, and a poor man is better than a liar
The getting of treasures by a lying tongue is a fleeting vapour and a snare of death
Wealth has the deceptive power to make us feel superior. It can give us the deluded feeling that just because we have money we can treat the truth how we like, as if it were simply a means to our ends. But Proverbs debunks this myth. Proverbs says it is better to be poor and truthful, than to be rich and deceptive.
Proverbs also tells us that justice—that is, treating others fairly and reasonably—is more important than wealth. Indeed, God hates it when money is sought or gained at the cost of other people.
Whoever oppresses the poor to increase his own wealth, or gives to the rich, will only come to poverty—Proverbs 22:16
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—Proverbs 22:22-23
This is why God loves it when money is used as a tool in service of others, especially the poor and needy.
Whoever despises his neighbour is a sinner, but blessed is he who is generous to the poor
Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honours him—Proverbs 14:31
Proverbs makes abundantly clear that to gain godly character is far more desirable than to gain more money. It is an unfortunate truth, of course, that many lives and reputations have been shipwrecked on the rocks of greed. But Proverbs tells those of us who will listen, if there is ever a choice between integrity and income, the choice should be clear.
A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favour is better than silver or gold—Proverbs 19:1
Better is a little with righteousness than great revenues with injustice—Proverbs 16:8
A good name is to be more desired than great riches, Favour is better than silver and gold
The righteous has enough to satisfy his appetite, but the belly of the wicked suffers want
— Proverbs 13:25
Better is a poor man who walks in his integrity than a rich man who is crooked in his ways—Proverbs 28:6
Treasures gained by wickedness do not profit, but righteousness delivers from death
Innumerable homes have been sacrificed upon the altar of money, often under the guise of providing for the family. Proverbs tells us, however, that it is a poor home that only has money and not love and harmony.
Better is a dinner of herbs where love is than a fattened ox and hatred with it
Better is a dry morsel with quiet than a house full of feasting with strife—Proverbs 17:1
He who profits illicitly troubles his own house, But he who hates bribes will live
It is an obvious truth of Proverbs that wisdom is far superior to wealth. Despite the profile of those we enshrine as celebrities in our culture, the rich person is not always to be listened to or emulated. They may be rich, but they may also be a fool. It all depends on their attitude towards the wisdom of God. This is the true marker of a truly rich person.
Take my instruction instead of silver, and knowledge rather than choice gold, for wisdom is better than jewels, and all that you may desire cannot compare with her
Riches and honour are with me, enduring wealth and righteousness. My fruit is better than gold, even fine gold, and my yield than choice silver—Proverbs 8:18–19
How much better to get wisdom than gold! To get understanding is to be chosen rather than silver—Proverbs 16:16
By wisdom a house is built, and by understanding it is established; by knowledge the rooms are filled with all precious and pleasant riches—Proverbs 24:3–4
What Money Cannot Do For Us
You may have heard the saying: “Money makes the world go ‘round!” This well-known maxim is, quite frankly, insightful into the power that money wields over the human heart. In essence, the saying highlights the unfortunate truth that money controls so much human motivation and action in the world. But Proverbs militates against such a philosophy by pointing out to us that money is a useful tool and a good gift, but it is a terrible god. In other words, money can do some good things, of course, but it cannot do many of the best things.
So, what are the things that money cannot do for us?
Money Cannot Provide Security
Despite the warm, fuzzy feeling we may have when there is money in the bank, money fails to provide us with any real degree of security. Money can buy provisions, comfort, and insurance, to be sure, but money cannot stop divorce, disease, or any number of things. Not to mention, the sovereign hand of God. Money is pitifully transient and to put your hope in it is tragically short-sighted.
When the wicked dies, his hope will perish, and the expectation of wealth perishes too
Whoever trusts in his riches will fall, but the righteous will flourish like a green leaf
The ransom of a man's life is his wealth, but a poor man hears no threat—Proverbs 13:8
A rich man’s wealth is his strong city, And like a high wall in his own imagination
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
Money Cannot Buy Wisdom
Wisdom, put simply, is the proper use of knowledge. More specifically, it is the proper application of God’s truth to life. No amount of money in the world can buy this treasure. It takes a lifelong posture of humility before God to obtain this rare jewel.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction
Better is a little with the fear of the Lord than great treasure and trouble with it
Why should a fool have money in his hand to buy wisdom when he has no sense?
By wisdom a house is built, and by understanding it is established; by knowledge the rooms are filled with all precious and pleasant riches—Proverbs 24:3-4
Money Cannot Buy Real Relationships
Money cannot buy real relationships. Money might attract a certain kind of ‘friend,’ but when the money runs out or the going gets tough that ‘friend’ will get going.
Wealth brings many new friends, but a poor man is deserted by his friend—Proverbs 19:4
Many seek the favour of a generous man, and everyone is a friend to a man who gives gifts. He pursues them with words, but does not have them.. All a poor man's brothers hate him; how much more do his friends go far from him! He pursues them with words, but does not have them—Proverbs 19:6–7
Likewise, a good wife cannot be purchased, but is a gift of God’s grace.
He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favour from the Lord—Proverbs 18:22
House and wealth are an inheritance from fathers, But a prudent wife is from the Lord
Money Cannot Buy Salvation
The gift of salvation through Jesus Christ is just that—a gift (Eph. 2:8). It is freely given by God to undeserving humanity. This means, and I suppose it is rather obvious (I mean, what amount of money could possibly impress the Owner of everything?), that money in no way contributes to our salvation.
Riches do not profit in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivers from death
The righteousness of the upright will deliver them, But the treacherous will be caught by their own greed—Proverbs 11:6
In fact, money often has a detrimental effect when it comes to our salvation. Money fosters pride and numbs us to our need for salvation. The reality of life is that in times of hardship and trial we are far more sensitive to our need for God, whereas in times of abundance we quickly slip into pride and self-sufficiency.
The rich man is wise in his own eyes, But the poor who has understanding sees through him—Proverbs 28:11
We would do well to follow the example of Agur, the godly man in Proverbs chapter 30, who feared riches, knowing it had the potential to cause his heart to turn away from God.
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—Proverbs 30:8–9
HOW WE SHOULD USE MONEY
Proverbs has much to teach us about how to use money. Certainly, in light of the above principles, this much is clear—money is a tool to be used by us, not a god to rule over us.
So, how should we use money?
Below is a list of financial obligations given in Proverbs, and though we may want to change the order of priority, we should all agree these are the priorities that should direct our use of money.
Give to God
It is clear in the Old Testament how God carefully prescribed the tithes and sacrifices that were to be given by His people. Proverbs succinctly but powerfully mandates the need for believers to give to the work of God in the world out of the abundance He has provided:
Honour the Lord from your wealth, And from the first of all your produce; So your barns will be filled with plenty, And your vats will overflow with new wine—Proverbs 3:9–10
As Bob Deffinbaugh explains, “For the Israelite, it was an act of faith to give from the first of his crops. After all, one might reason, who knows how great the harvest will be? But giving the first to God acknowledged that it was from Him that the harvest had come, and that the remainder of the harvest would come also. Proverbs reinforces this thoroughly biblical principle.”
Provide for Your Household
This priority, explicitly stated in the New Testament (1 Tim. 5:8), seems to be assumed in the book of Proverbs. In Proverbs 31, for instance, we see part of what makes the godly woman so admirable is that she takes care of the needs of her family. She works hard to provide food, clothing, and the like for her family.
She is not afraid of snow for her household, for all her household are clothed in scarlet. She makes bed coverings for herself; her clothing is fine linen and purple
It is, of course, entirely possible (though not common) for someone to be so generous with others, that their own family suffers. We must concede that this is not wise. But we must also concede that generally this is not our problem. More often, our problem is unwillingness to lower our own standard of living so that we can more readily and regularly give to God’s kingdom work and to help those in need.
Provide for the Poor
As we have already seen, God loves it when we use money to help those in need. This is an urgent and consistent financial obligation of the godly and wise person in Proverbs.
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. The people curse him who holds back grain, but a blessing is on the head of him who sells it—Proverbs 11:24-26
Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed
Whoever has a bountiful eye will be blessed, for he shares his bread with the poor
Whoever gives to the poor will not want, but he who hides his eyes will get many a curse
She opens her hand to the poor and reaches out her hands to the needy—Proverbs 31:20
Pay Your Debts, Without Delay
Proverbs makes the oft-overlooked point that we should, whenever possible, pay the debts we owe, without delay.
Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it. Do not say to your neighbour, “Go, and come again, tomorrow I will give it”—when you have it with you—Proverbs 3:27-28
The phrase “those to whom it is due” literally means “its owners.” In other words, anything we owe—whether to the government (Rom. 13:1-7) or otherwise—we must not withhold because it is not ours to withhold. We do not own it (cf. Deut. 24:15; James 5:4).
Plan for the Future
Proverbs also lays upon us the obligation to make plans and provision for future needs. The type of planning commanded by Proverbs is not an idolatrous hoarding of wealth, but wise planning in order to meet future needs.
Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise. Without having any chief, officer, or ruler, she prepares her bread in summer and gathers her food in harvest. How long will you lie there, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man—Proverbs 6:6–8
Precious treasure and oil are in a wise man's dwelling, but a foolish man devours it
Related to this notion is the repeated refrain of Proverbs that hard-work and good decision-making usually leads to increased prosperity. Of course, both of these things—saving money and hard work—can become idolatrous desires if we allow our faith to migrate to them, but this should not preclude the fact that the Lord honours hard-work and wise planning.
A slack hand causes poverty, but the hand of the diligent makes rich—Proverbs 10:4
Wealth gained hastily will dwindle, but whoever gathers little by little will increase it
The crown of the wise is their wealth, but the folly of fools brings folly—Proverbs 14:24
The reward for humility and fear of the Lord is riches and honour and life
A faithful man will abound with blessings, but whoever hastens to be rich will not go unpunished—Proverbs 28:20
Provide an Inheritance
It is far more desirous to leave your children a legacy of godliness and wisdom than that of stocks and investments. But still, Proverbs tells us:
A good man leaves an inheritance to his children's children, but the sinner's wealth is laid up for the righteous—Proverbs 13:22
Proverbs does warn us, however, if an inheritance is left one should be careful not to distribute too much too quickly.
An inheritance gained hastily in the beginning will not be blessed in the end
Let us give the final word on wisdom for wealth to the book of Proverbs itself, and let us all diligently resolve to humbly walk with our God, seeking the true riches that come from His hand.
The reward for humility and fear of the Lord is riches and honour and life—Proverbs 22:4
Managing God’s Money: A Biblical Guide by Randy Alcorn
The Treasure Principle: Unlocking the Secret of Joyful Giving by Randy Alcorn
Beyond Greed by Brian Rosner
The Total Money Makeover: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness by Dave Ramsey
Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope that Matters by Timothy Keller
Neither Poverty nor Riches: A Biblical Theology of Possessions by Craig Blomberg
Money and Possessions in Proverbs by Kevin DeYoung ()
The categorisation of the Proverbs was based upon articles written by Bob Deffinbaugh—“Wisdom and Wealth (Part I)” and “Wisdom and Wealth (Part II)” at