This post is adapted from a sermon I preached from Proverbs 3:9-10. If you’re interested in hearing more, feel free to follow my sermon podcast on Apple Podcasts, Anchor, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Breaker, PocketCasts, RadioRepublic, or other podcast apps.
A 1st biblical principle about money: God owns everything. God owns everything. I talked about this last week as a foundational principle for our giving back to the Lord, but it is equally foundational to any talk about money or economics. As the creator of all things, God is also the proprietor, the owner, the master of all things. Because he holds them in existence by the very word of his power, he retains the full rights over its possession and distribution.
Several places in the bible speak to this reality. Genesis 1:1- “In the beginning, God created the heaven’s and the earth. There was nothing and is nothing that exists that was not spoken into existence by Him.”
Similarly, Psalm 24:1- “The earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein. The whole world is his, and the everything in it.” Nothing is outside of his reign, which is the bedrock of any theology of money. God owns everything.
Next, a 2nd biblical principle about money: Wealth is a gift. Wealth is a gift. If God owns everything, then for you to own anything, rather than having nothing, is really something. The fact that we have anything at all is a clear testament to his generosity. Since God is the rightful owner of everything we have, this means the money we earn actually belongs to God. Practically speaking, God calls us to manage the money we accumulate on his behalf. This is the essence of biblical stewardship.
God says in Job 41:11: “Who has first given to me, that I should repay him? Whatever is under the whole heaven is mine.”
Everything that we possess is a gift from his plentiful storehouses, which in turn demonstrates a crucial corollary to this truth: if wealth is a gift, then that means that wealth is not a vice to be avoided but a gift to be stewarded. Wealth is not a vice to be avoided but a gift to be stewarded. Throughout history there have been different groups within the church and without the church, groups with differing motivations, that try and take a prophetic stand against greed, but they do so in a way that sounds more like a war cry against wealth, as if it is an evil in an of itself. You can see these confused cries against wealth even within media and politics today, and you can see the same cries even within the church.
But the bible doesn’t say that wealth is evil. Abraham was wealthy. Jacob, Isaac, Joseph, David, Solomon, were all very wealthy. The problem is not wealth in this world, the problem is instead the love of money, which leads to my 3rd point:
A 3rd biblical principle about money: Wealth can be a great temptation. Wealth can be a great temptation. Though money is first and foremost a good gift from God, the Bible teaches that it can also be a serious temptation. [Note: the following point is largely adapted from here] Why? Because it promises to deliver everything we desire. Want comfort? Security? Fun? Fulfillment? Power? Sex? Money seems like the universal key that unlocks all the doors to happiness. But this is a lie.
The Bible constantly unmasks the false promises of money. As one pastor wrote: “Money promises security, but it can’t protect you against God’s judgment. Money promises lasting happiness, but it can disappear overnight—and you can’t take it with you when you die, anyway. Money promises freedom and ease, but it brings anxiety and worry: the more you have, the more you have to lose.”
Of course, ultimately money itself isn’t the problem; we are. The problem comes with our hearts’ sinful cravings for money at the expense of morality, ethics, and righteousness. For this reason, the Bible is filled to the brim with sharp warnings against covetousness—craving that which belongs to someone else—and greed. These warnings begin as early as the Ten Commandments—which also illustrates their importance: “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.” If left unchecked, coveting can give birth to dishonesty, theft, and other sins.
Greed is simply an insatiable, selfish desire for more of something—most often money and possessions. Scripture not only condemns greed, it also proclaims its futility: “Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income.” (Eccl. 5:10). This verse brings to mind how industrialist John D. Rockefeller famously responded when asked how much money is enough money: “Just a little bit more.”
The point is, if you love money you can never have enough of it. There’s always more out there to get. There’s always another zero to add to your paycheck; always another investment opportunity too good to pass up; always a new latest-and-greatest version of almost everything you own.
But the Apostle Paul issues a sobering warning against allowing the desire for wealth to overtake our contentment with life:
But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” (1 Tim 6:6-10).
The desire to be rich can be quite the trap. The idea of being wealthy seems so enticing. Money seems to offer such freedom and fulfillment, such comfort and security. But sometimes all wealth leads to is misery and ruin. Why? Because—as with so many things in life—as one’s love for, desire for, and pursuit of money increase, so does one’s willingness to do whatever it takes to get it.
This is why Paul says that the love of money is a root of evils. Again, it’s not money itself that’s the problem—as we’ve already seen, money is a good gift from God. It’s the love of money that is an issue here. The eager pursuit of money can lead anyone down a destructive path. If our hearts become invested in earthly rewards over eternal ones, we have strayed far from the path of righteousness.
How do you know if you have succumbed to the temptations of wealth? Let me give you 8 quick indicators, adapted from something Alistair Begg preached, 8 quick indicators that you’ve been snagged by the temptations of wealth and money:
1. When thoughts of money consume my day. When my mind goes into neutral I start thinking about money.
2. When the financial success of others makes me jealous.
3. When I’m tempted to determine success in terms of what I have rather than what I am in Christ. My identity is being grounded in my possessions, rather than in who possesses me.
4. When my family is neglected in my pursuit of money.
5. When I close my eyes to the genuine needs of others. Because I don’t want to spend any of it I just want to keep it all.
6. When I live in the paralyzing fear of losing my money.
7. I love money when I’m prepared to borrow myself into bondage. When you’re prepared to borrow yourself into unnecessary bondage for the sake of more unnecessary stuff, you’re in trouble.
8. It is a safe indication that I love money when God receives my leftovers rather than my first fruits.
And I want to point out to you that these temptations are not new; they’re not the result of modernity and technology and American capitalism. The temptations of wealth and greed are actually quite ancient. Adam felt the temptations in the Garden, when Satan promised him all sorts of security and power, if he would just disobey God’s clear command. And Adam was drawn by the offer. He coveted in his heart what was not his to take, and his desire led him to disobey God, and plunge the world into a greedy, covetous mess.
Maybe you have felt this temptation. Maybe you’ve felt the pull of something offered to you that you know you shouldn’t have. Maybe you have even succumbed to the temptation. You believed the lie of Satan that something other than God could bring you happiness. Some purchase, some house, some car, some dress, some phone, some material blessing or sign of wealth was what you needed to be really happy. So, you coveted it in your heart. You began to set that item up on a pedestal, and maybe you even let it led you into more sins. Maybe you stole to get what you wanted. Maybe you lied to get what you wanted. Maybe you neglected other duties you had to get what you wanted.
Do you know who else was tempted with wealth? Jesus was tempted by Satan himself in the desert. The bible tells us that Jesus was in the desert for 40 days, he was hungry and physically weak, and Satan didn’t merely offer him a piece of forbidden fruit. Satan took Jesus to the top of a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory and he said, “All these I will give to you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Satan offered him everything this world had to offer. Could you imagine the pressure that Jesus felt, starving, thirsty, probably lonely, and to be offered everything this world had to offer? But Jesus didn’t bend.
And that’s the good news for us. Jesus didn’t bow to Satan. He remained faithful, even in the midst of terrible outward temptations. He didn’t covet in his heart. He didn’t let his desires and passions lead him into other sin. He didn’t cave like Adam and Eve, and like me and you. He wasn’t driven by the love of this world or material wealth, but was filled with faithful trust and contentment with the lot that his Father had given him.
But what’s even more, Jesus didn’t just stop there in the desert. He kept going on his mission. He went all the way to the cross of Calvary, where he died in the place of sinners like me and you. He took our place on the cross, bearing the full guilt of the sins of his people. That’s the good news of the gospel. That Jesus was so generous of heart that he willingly died in the place of stingy, covetous people, so that those covetous people might be saved from eternal death, placed on the path of eternal life, and renewed by the Holy Spirit to become increasingly generous people, just like Jesus was.
In Christ, we’re no longer bound by our old nature to be greedy and covetous. In Christ we’ve been given the promise of new life and the presence of the Holy spirit to help us grow in our generosity and kindness. We don’t have to submit again to a yoke of idolatry that says that our stuff will save us and make us whole. Christ has saved us and made us whole.
Wealth can be a big temptation, but take heart, Christ has withstood that temptation, died in the place of his people’s failure, and earned our freedom from materialistic slavery in this life.
And if you have not come to Christ, then hear the warning that comes along with wealth. The bible says that the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil, that it will drive you down the path of foolishness, which leads to death. Be warned that Jesus taught that you cannot serve both God and money. It is not possible. And if you choose to serve the false God of money, then you will end up separated from the true God in a place called hell, where you will serve your everlasting punishment.
Don’t bow down to the idol of money. Come to Christ this day and see him as the generous savior that redeems greedy people from their sin. He waits ready to receive you, if you would but come to him and believe.
4th biblical principle regarding money: Wealth is a reward to the diligent. Wealth is a reward for the diligent. I plan to address diligence and laziness in a later sermon, but it is worth mentioning as we talk about money that, ordinarily, a diligent hand will reap many rewards, one of which is wealth.
Proverbs 10:4 tells us that “A slack hand causes poverty, but the hand of the diligent makes rich.” Ordinarily, a hard worker will reap the reward of wealth, while a lazy worker will reap the reward of poverty.”
I say ordinarily because we have to remember the rest of scripture. We’re reading a proverb, which is a description of the way that the world usually works and not a promise explaining causation. We all probably know of hard-working people that are in poverty, or of lazy people that have great wealth. But neither of these examples undermine the normal pattern that wealth is a reward for the faithful worker.
And that means that one of the legitimate motivations we can have for diligence in our work is to be rewarded with wealth and to avoid poverty. It is not necessarily evil for us to work hard in order to earn a paycheck; indeed, that is the natural order of things.
Proverbs 10:22 says that the “blessing of the Lord makes rich,” which the context indicates material blessing. Wealth is not the ultimate goal of wisdom, but is often the reward for wisdom. We work hard and earn our bread, and those that work hardest, often have the best bread. Wealth is a reward for the diligent.
Next, a 5th principle that the bible teaches about money is that: Wealth has wings. Wealth has wings. Not only does it take diligence to earn wealth, but it takes diligence to keep it, because, as Proverbs says, wealth is fleeting.
Proverbs 23:4-5 says, “Do not weary yourself to gain wealth, Cease from your consideration of it.5 When you set your eyes on it, it is gone. For wealth certainly makes itself wings, Like an eagle that flies toward the heavens.” Or, as one paraphrase helpfully puts it:
“Don’t wear yourself out trying to get rich;
Riches disappear in the blink of an eye;
wealth sprouts wings
and flies off into the wild blue yonder.” (MSG)
I like that, riches fly off into the wild blue yonder. If we don’t pay attention, our riches seem to sprout wings and fly away. Perhaps you’ve felt this in your life. You think you’re doing fine, you take your attention off of things, and all of a sudden, a check bounces, or a big bill shows up and rocks you. You didn’t keep your eye on the ball, and now you’re down in the count and playing catch up. We have to pay attention.
Proverbs says in chapter 27:23, “Know well the condition of your flocks, and give attention to your herds, for riches do not last forever”
If, like we said earlier, we are to be stewards of what we have been given, then in order for us to be faithful stewards, we have to give attention to what we have been entrusted. It is poor stewardship for us to end up broke and needy because of our own inattentiveness. We need to keep tabs on our budget, on our bank accounts, on our funds, not because we idolize them, but because we want to be found to be faithful stewards and we want to be able to be a blessing to others with our wealth, rather than a drain on others because of our foolishness. Wealth has wings, and we need to keep an eye on it or else it will fly off into the wild blue yonder.
Next, a 6th biblical principle about money: Be mindful of debt. Be mindful of debt. [Note: this point adapted from here]
There’s a good chance you have financial debt. How can I make such a bold statement? Simple. According to research, total household debt in the United States was $13.15 trillion at the end of 2017. So, there’s a good chance you have some debt.
Since debt is so common in the United States, and a leading cause of financial stress, it’s essential to get God’s perspective on debt so that you can best manage your finances.
So what does the Bible say about debt? I won’t go into all the details and examine every text relevant to debt, but here is a summary:
God does not forbid debt. Go doesn’t anywhere explicitly forbid debt. I know that Romans 13:8 says that we shouldn’t owe anyone anything, but I believe the context there is specifically speaking about Christians withholding from the state the taxes that are due to the state, rather than addressing debt in general. Shawn preached through Romans 13 a year or two ago, so you can go back and listen to his sermon if you want a fuller explanation. So, I conclude that nowhere does God explicitly forbid debt.
But, even though debt is not explicitly forbidden, God does highly caution against debt. In fact, the bible often speaks of debt in terms of slavery. Proverbs 22:7 “The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is the slave of the lender.” Debt means that our actions will be in some way dictated by some other master. I can’t do what I want to do because I am still under the slavery of another. I can’t spend how I want to spend, until I have paid off my debt. The Atlanta highway is full of the payday lenders and car title loan places that offer the promise of freedom if you just sign on the dotted line. But what often happens is these people get enslaved to a system of unjust compounding interest, which buries them in a financial hole they can never escape.
Even though God doesn’t forbid debt, you still want to be cautious when you consider taking on debt. It’s also a good idea to seek the advice of godly counsel to speak into your financial situation; be humble enough to ask for advice and help if you are stuck in debt. If you are in debt, prayerfully consider the steps you can take to get out of debt as soon as possible—especially when it comes to paying off high interest accounts, like credit cards.
The bible is clear that we should be very mindful about debt, and avoid it when we can.
Next, a 7th biblical principle: greed brings death, but contentment brings life. greed brings death, but contentment brings life. I spoke earlier about how greed brings death. It brought death to Adam, but it also brings death in our lives. But we’re called to live a life of contentment, rather than a life of greed-driven love of money.
Hebrews 13:5 says, “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’” Contentment is the biblical virtue of being satisfied with what God has given you. I’ll say that again: Contentment is the biblical virtue of being satisfied with what God has given you.
The Puritan Jeremiah Burroughs put it this way: “… a heart that has no grace and is not instructed in this mystery of contentment knows of no way to get contentment but to have his possessions raised up to his desires. But the Christian has another way to contentment, that is, he can bring his desires down to his possessions; and so he attains his contentment.”
What does this mean, exactly? It means that we don’t base our contentment on something as conditional as our desires. Rather, we adjust our desires to fit what we’ve already been given and root our contentment in the steadfast love of God. In this way, we will always be satisfied, always fulfilled, always content.
If you’re satisfied with whatever God gives you, you’ll hold it with an open hand. You won’t feel the need to clench your fist and hold it close against your body—metaphorically or literally. You won’t be so invested in what you have that you’re afraid to let go. You won’t feel the need to hoard money, because you know it comes from God and you can trust him to provide all you need. If you’re content, you’ll use your money for good instead of letting it use you for evil.
That’s the offensive move. The defensive move is guarding yourself against greed and covetousness. Pay attention to how your heart responds to what others’ have. If something is bigger, better, or nicer than yours, do you instinctively want it? Do you find yourself collecting possessions more out of pride in having them than out of necessity?
Be careful about what you let influence your heart. In many countries, advertising is an ever-present, multi-billion-dollar industry built on creating a desire you didn’t have for something you don’t need. So read, watch, and listen carefully. Notice what tugs at your heart and be honest with yourself about why it does. Fight for contentment by meditating on What God has given to you, what you deserve, and what Christ has done to earn it for you. Then, when we’ve truly dug deep in the well of Christ’s grace, we will begin to see contentment grow. Contentment grows best in the garden of gratitude, being watered daily by prayers of thankfulness. Fight for contentment, for with it comes life.
Finally, an 8th biblical principle about money: a wise person will be generous with his wealth. A wise person will be generous with his wealth.
What does God want you to do with your money beyond providing for your own needs? The answer is simple: serve others and, through this, glorify him. Proverbs 3:9 teaches, “Honor the Lord with your wealth.” How can we do this? Start by embracing a mind-set of generosity.
Over and over again the Bible commends generosity: “The wicked borrow and do not repay, but the righteous give generously” (Ps 37:21). “One person gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty. A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed,” (Proverbs 11:24-25). That one reminds me of John Bunyan’s old children’s rhyme: “There was a man, people though him mad, the more he gave the more he had.”
Paul speaks to this reality when he writes: “Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously” (2 Cor. 9:6). A wise person is generous, and will reap the fruit of that generosity. New Testament Christians are directly instructed to be generous. Paul gives Timothy a clear message to pass on to other believers: “Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life, (1 Tim 6:18-19).
A biblical attitude toward money is not “How much can I get?” but “How much can I give?”
But, you might ask, what if I see that I’m not really generous? I don’t loosely hold to my possessions. In fact, I like my time and my money and my stuff, and I don’t really like it when I have to give them up. Well, the starting point for you is not merely to try harder. I could stand up here all day and tell you about how the bible commands your generosity, but guilt and fear are terrible motivators in the long run.
No. If we want to grow in generosity, we need to think about Jesus. We need to hear about how Christ was generous. Paul writes about this in 2 Corinthians 8 “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” Christ was moved by love to give up riches in order to save those who had tried to rob him. We had robbed Christ of the worship that was due to him, just like Adam had robbed God of the fruit that didn’t belong to him. We were dead in our sin of greed and theft. But Christ willingly gave up his riches, put on rags, and lived a life of poverty so that we might, through is poverty, become rich. And our riches are principally spiritual riches. We receive the gold and silver of forgiveness and acceptance. We put on the royal robes of Christ’s righteousness and take off our rags of self-justification. We wash our soiled souls in the fountain of his forgiveness, and we will put on the crown of glory that he gives to those that come to him.
And when we see the glorious and multifaceted ways that Christ has been generous to us, when we consider the depths to which he stooped and the heights to which we have been taken, then our hearts will glow with gratitude, and will overflow with love towards others, which will look like generosity. If Christ can give up so much for so lowly of a person as me, then I can give up a few of my earthly possessions for someone else in need.
I don’t need to cling to my stuff, since Christ has met my every satisfaction and desire. In Christ I am free to be generous, rather than greedy and covetous, and that means that in Christ, I am actually able to be wise with my money, rather than a fool.
So, to wrap up this whole message we can say: Treat money like a gift, not a god. Remember that God owns it all, and he expects you to make good use of his property. Thank God for being a loving and generous Father who provides for his children’s needs. Find comfort and reassurance in Jesus’ words:
I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
In sum, the Bible gives us a simple message: Don’t let your life be ruled by money. Seek God first and foremost—even in your financial dealings—and all else will fall into place.
I’ll conclude by reading an old hymn that explains what it is that God really wants from us:
The wise may bring their learning, the rich may bring their wealth;
And some may bring their greatness, and some bring strength and health;
We, too, would bring our treasures To offer to the king;
[but] We have no wealth or learning; what shall we children bring?
We’ll bring him hearts that love him; we’ll bring him thankful praise,
And young souls meekly striving to walk in holy ways;
And these shall be the treasures We offer to the king,
And these are gifts that even The poorest child may bring.
We’ll bring the little duties We have to do each day;
We’ll try our best to please him, at home, at school, at play;
And better are these treasures To offer to the king,
Than richest gifts without them; [because] these a child may bring.