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By Rev Charles Seet

Preached at / Published Life BPC 8am service, 2003-05-04

Text: Proverbs 13:4-11

Since last month we have been doing a study of selected topics from the book of Proverbs. Our goal in doing this is to find the wisdom that we need to live by, in this world. Life in this world is not easy. This is especially true of making a living. Those who are young and beginning their career with much optimism and high ideals may soon find the working world to be a very difficult place to thrive in. If they are too hardworking, they will be hated by those who are not as hardworking and who perceive them as threats to their livelihood.

If they are too obliging they may find themselves victimised by people who will make use of them for their own advantage. I received an email a few days ago from a young Christian who just found a job as an IT technician. She came for her first day of work only to find that she had to double up as a receptionist as well. She is therefore doing two jobs for the price of one! With jobs now so scarce, she has no choice but to continue like this. I wrote back to encourage her her and told her that there is one member of our church I know who is doing the work of four people for the price of one!

Because of such difficulties to earn an income in the working world, people sometimes look for an easier alternative. Some people who are too trusting may fall prey to some 'Get rich quick' investments that promise fast substantial returns without much effort, but at the risk of losing long-term security. Those who fail to think carefully of to read the fine print at the bottom of a contract before committing themselves to some lucrative venture, have ended up living with deep regrets. With the fast changing tides of the global market today, it is all too easy to make a decision that proves later on to be unwise.

Dearly beloved, because of the many traps and pitfalls that await the unwary pilgrim on his journey through this sinful world, wisdom is needed. And one area of life that we really need wisdom in, is in the acquisition and use of money. We need to seek God's wisdom for the way to handle our finances. And one book of the Bible that provides us with some valuable insight from God on this, is the book of Proverbs. There are many proverbs scattered throughout the book of Proverbs that deal with the acquisition and use of money. And these can be categorised under at least five headings:

I. Set Financial Goals That Are Honouring to God

How much money should we seek to acquire? How much wealth should you have before you are satisfied with what you have? Dearly beloved, we need to be careful how high we set our financial goals. Let us look at some proverbs that can help us: Proverbs 23:4,5 'Labour not to be rich: cease from thine own wisdom. Wilt thou set thine eyes upon that which is not? for riches certainly make themselves wings; they fly away as an eagle toward heaven.' This proverb teaches us to take a realistic view of material wealth - we cannot keep them forever. We can only enjoy them for a while. Therefore we should not set out sights on becoming rich. 

Another proverb tells us what can happen to us if we put our trust in wealth. Proverbs 11:28 'He that trusteth in his riches shall fall: but the righteous shall flourish as a branch.' Jesus told a parable that illustrates this truth. It is known as the parable of Rich Fool. In this parable a man had such abundant harvests that he decided to build bigger barns to hoard up all the surplus for himself, thinking that he now had enough riches to keep him in the lap of luxury for many years. But God had other plans for him -- he died that very night and never had the chance to carry out his plans and enjoy his riches. Let us be warned through this, not to be like the rich fool who set his financial goals only to enjoy himself, and without any reference to God.

In contrast to this, we shall now look at Proverbs 30:8,9. This proverb gives us the best and clearest guideline for setting financial goals: 'give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient [i.e. enough] for me: Lest I be full, and deny thee, and say, Who is the LORD? or lest I be poor, and steal, and take the name of my God in vain.' Can you see the wonderful wisdom of these words? 'Give me neither poverty nor riches' Why? Because the writer sees that both of these conditions may lead him to dishonour the Lord. He knows that if he were to set his goal at being materially rich, he may become so self-sufficient that he would deny God. The temptations of wealth are so strong, that few are able to handle them successfully. And the writer also knows that if he were to set his goal on the very opposite, i.e. being materially poor, he may be tempted to steal and take God's name in vain, thus breaking both the 3rd and 8th commandments.

And so he sets his goal at being neither rich nor poor. In today's language we would say, aim at being in the middle class or middle-income group. There is much wisdom in aiming to have a simple lifestyle with all of one's basic needs met (as the proverb says, 'feed me with food convenient for me'). The problem is how to define 'basic needs'. This varies from society to society, and even from generation to generation! 

A few decades ago in Singapore, it was considered sufficient to live in a 3-room flat, wear clothes bought in Chinatown, and go for a holiday once in a while to Malacca or KL. Today, this would be considered by many to be insufficient, because the norm has changed. The present generation may not settle for anything less than a 5-room flat, wearing Hang Ten or Ocean Pacific outfits, and going for a holiday in Australia! Times have changed, and so have financial goals. How then can we know what is an acceptable financial goal?

The answer is found in the same, proverb: 'give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient for me: Lest I be full, and deny thee, and say, Who is the LORD? or lest I be poor, and steal, and take the name of my God in vain.' You will notice that both extremes are deemed to be undesirable only because they would dishonour God - by denying Him or by taking His name in vain. It follows therefore that what we should aim for, is a financial condition that will not cause us to dishonour God in any way in our lives.

The key consideration then, is on honouring God. And Christians in every society and in every generation then have to define for themselves what would be a reasonable financial condition to aim for, that would best enable them to honour the Lord. We should seek to acquire enough to meet our daily needs, so that all our time would not be so taken up in coping with health problems due to lack of food, water and shelter that we have no time left for God. We should also seek not to have so much wealth, that all our time is taken up in gathering and maintaining all our assets. Proverbs 15:16 says 'Better is little with the fear of the LORD than great treasure and trouble therewith.' Keep yourself within this healthy, God-honouring middle ground.

When we have set the right financial goals, the next thing we need wisdom for, is to determine the means we should use to meet those goals. In the book of Proverbs we will discover God's wisdom on this matter, telling us to:

II. Seek to Use Only Legitimate Means of Acquiring Wealth

In other words, we must seek to make an honest living. This is oftentimes not easy in the world we live in, where the prevailing trend is to make a living by any possible means, honest or not. 

A. Not By Dishonesty

Proverbs 21:6 warns us against any attempt to acquire money by deceit: 'The getting of treasures by a lying tongue is a vanity tossed to and fro of them that seek death.' A year ago there was a case in the news of a bank officer who siphoned off $12.6 million over a period of five years from the bank he worked in. By creating fictitious customers, he covered his tracks so well that his theft was not detected for five years. 

Not too long after that, there was the case of a moneychanger in Geylang who cheated 1,153 Chinese foreign workers of $8.8 million of their home-bound earnings over a period of seven months. What made this case so tragic is that his victims were all poor foreign workers from China who suffered very greatly through his dishonesty. A cancer stricken father had no money for his operation; children could no longer afford to go to school. This is the kind of sin that is mentioned in Proverbs 22:22,23 'Rob not the poor, because he is poor: neither oppress the afflicted in the gate: For the LORD will plead their cause, and spoil the soul of those that spoiled them.'

B. Not by Gambling

Another means of acquiring money that the Book of Proverbs condemns is gambling. Proverbs 13:11 'Wealth gotten by vanity shall be diminished: but he that gathereth by labour shall increase.' The phrase 'wealth gotten by vanity' refers to wealth that is gotten without labour, and literally from 'nothing.' People who gamble often dream of that chance in a million of striking it rich overnight, and making fortunes merely by risking a small amount of money. And when times are bad like the present time, and people are not able to get a job, the temptation sometimes comes to 'try your luck' so to speak. Please do not give in to such temptation.

Dear friends, if any of you have been secretly or openly playing with jackpot machines, buying Singapore sweep, Toto or 4D, or placing bets on horses or on soccer matches, listen to what the Wisdom of God says in this proverb we just read - Wealth gotten by vanity shall be diminished. The money that is won is soon lost in the next round of gambling! Many families have been tragically destroyed all because of a parent who gambles. He gets so addicted to gambling that he is unable to feel for others. He gambles late into the night instead of spending time with his family who needs him. He sells off the house and other family securities, and destroys the lives of his loved ones. 

How about those who speculate on the stock market, currency market or property market to make money? This is actually another form of gambling, because it has the same risks involved. We should not be involved in anything that makes money by guessing the future value of a commodity. That's what speculation is all about. But there is nothing wrong with investing in shares just as a means of getting dividends from a long-term investment. No speculation is involved in this.

C. Not By Habitual Borrowing

Another means that we should not use to acquire money is habitual borrowing. Proverbs 22:7 'The rich ruleth over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender.' In this proverb, the rich refers to the lender and the poor refers to the borrower. And what it teaches us is that borrowing puts the borrower at the mercy of the lender. If the borrower is unable to pay back what he owes to the lender, the lender can really make life very difficult for him.

Now, there are some people who keep borrowing only from those who would not be harsh with them when they are unable to pay off the loan. They may even go around the church, sharing their financial woes with others and asking for loans from member after member. This is not a good Christian testimony at all, and we do not want to encourage this. When such a fellow church member comes to you, and you feel that he really needs help, please advise him to approach the welfare committee of our church. You may like to give to the church welfare fund to help him, as the committee will then make all the necessary enquiries, study his case thoroughly and come up with a comprehensive plan of action to help him. The point that must be emphasised is that habitual borrowing is not good at all, and we should refrain from doing it.

There are times however when we find it necessary to take loans, e.g. a housing loan. There is nothing wrong with that, provided we can afford the loan, and we have the means to pay off the loan. And please, do not assume that since your business is doing well at the moment, you have the means to pay off the loan. Some brethren have had to face financial difficulties because they committed themselves to servicing housing loans that they could well afford about five years ago when times were good. But when the economy declined, they suddenly found themselves bearing a heavy financial burden they could not carry. 

D. But By Diligent Employment

Having seen what means we should not use to to acquire money, let us now look at the means that we should use. This is stated in the following proverbs: Proverbs 12:24 'The hand of the diligent shall bear rule: but the slothful shall be under tribute.' Proverbs 13:4 'The soul of the sluggard desireth, and hath nothing: but the soul of the diligent shall be made fat.' These verses provide a stark comparison between the loafer or sluggard who refuses to work even though he can, and the diligent worker. The loafer will end up having nothing, while the diligent worker will prosper. We are not talking here about those who are unable to find employment, but those who are not making any effort at all to seek for gainful employment.

Some people refuse to work, because to them work is only a necessary evil. We believe that work is not a necessary evil, because man was made to work and to find fulfilment in his work. When God made the first man and placed him in the Garden of Eden, man began to work by taking care of the garden. Therefore work existed before the Fall, and the Fall only made man's work more difficult. Those who refuse to work when they are able to do so must not be allowed to live off the earnings of others. When the apostle Paul discovered that this problem existed among the Christians in Thessalonica, he wrote to them, 'if any would not work, neither should he eat.'(2 Thessalonians 3:10). The exception of course are those who want to work but are unable to, because of illness or a home quarantine order. But even those who have been blessed with a huge windfall, should not think to themselves that they can now retire early and do nothing. They should be gainfully employed and not idling around. 'Idle hands are the devil's worskhop' (This is not from the book of Proverbs).

Now lately, someone asked me about multi-level marketing, also known as network marketing which promises greater returns than other forms of business. I told him that I do not think that there is anything morally or ethically wrong with it. It is a legitimate and 'democratic' system of doing business and the returns are still proportional to the amount of effort that is put into training and marketing. It will work well, provided everyone in the network is motivated enough to keep up, and secure enough demand for the product.

But I can see that those in the middle of the network will receive constant pressure to perform up to the expectations of all the levels above him, and he in turn will be trying to put pressure on all the levels below him to perform up to his own expectations. Only the one at the very top has no expectations of his performance, but his own. Hence, although the returns may be very promising, I think that getting into the network will be like getting oneself into a fast-track team race, from which it will be very hard to get out. And because 'the sky is the limit' in this kind of business, the temptation to push oneself onward to achieve musch more can be hard to resist!

A person who is not spiritually strong enough to withstand the demands imposed on him by the expectations of others and of himself, and to know where he should draw the line, may find himself so caught up in the network that it takes over his whole life. His relationship with God would then suffer and he may soon find himself in a backslidden condition. Hence it is important to think carefully before committing oneself to any involvement in network marketing.

Actually the same thing is true of any kind of employment as well. Any employment can take over our whole life if we are not careful and cause our relationship with God to suffer. While the Bible tells us to be diligent workers to make an honest living, this does not mean that we should then be workaholics. Let us remind ourselves that work is only a means to an end, and not an end in itself. God should always come first in our lives before anything else. We should work with God's help, and seek to please Him in our work. Therefore we must never allow our work to damage our spiritual health or to make us neglect our responsibilities to our family. Those who allow their work to take up all the time they should be spending at home with their loved ones to build a good Christian home, will have to answer to God for failing in their parental and marital duties.

Now that we have learned that the means of acquiring our income is through diligent work, let us look again at the Book of Proverbs as we now seek to know what it teaches us on the use of money. And there are three things we should do: Spend wisely, not wastefully, Save Sufficiently, and Serve God and others Generously.

III. Spend Wisely, not Wastefully

Firstly we should be careful to spend our money wisely. We should regard our money not as our own to spend, but rather as a stewardship entrusted to us by God. And God wants us to be faithful stewards, not wasteful stewards. Listen to what God's Words says in Proverbs 18:9 'He also that is slothful in his work is brother to him that is a great waster.' We had seen earlier on the condemnation of those who refuse to work. Here we can see that those who waste what they have deserve the same condemnation.

Another proverb that condemns wasteful spending is Proverbs 21:20 'There is treasure to be desired and oil in the dwelling of the wise; but a foolish man spendeth it up.' In order not to be considered as foolish, we should learn to spend our money wisely. Do not buy things implusively, without thinking, but take time to consider whether the need is proportional to the cost. 

When in doubt on whether you should spend money on something, always compare prices and consult others. We should try to be as conservative as we can in our spending, without stinging on necessities. This is a good policy for us to follow especially in our present economic crisis. And besides that, this is also good to:

IV. Save Sufficiently For Anticipated Needs

It is a good policy to set aside some funds for a rainy day. When Joseph was the prime minister of Egypt, God gave him the wisdom to save all the excess produce of the land during the 7 years of plenty, so that there would be enough provisions during the 7 years of famine. In the book of Proverbs the wisdom of God instructs us to learn from the ant - Proverbs 6:6 'Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise: Which having no guide, overseer, or ruler, Provideth her meat in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest' Proverbs 30:25 'The ants are a people not strong, yet they prepare their meat in the summer' Like many other creatures, ants are able to save and store up enough food during the productive months to tide them over the unproductive months of winter. It is therefore a wise thing for God's people to save and make sufficient (but not excessive) provisions for the future for themselves and their loved ones. Besides spending wisely and saving sufficiently, there is one more thing that the Book of Proverbs tells us about the use of our money:

V. Serve God and Others Generously

Proverbs 3:9,10 speaks about giving to the Lord 'Honour the LORD with thy substance, and with the firstfruits of all thine increase: So shall thy barns be filled with plenty, and thy presses shall burst out with new wine.' Are you honouring the Lord with your substance, and with the firstfruits of all your increase? I know of Lifers who when they start work, the very first paycheck they receive is totally given to the Lord. This is honouring to the Lord!

How about giving to help those who are in need? Proverbs 28:27 'He that giveth unto the poor shall not lack: but he that hideth his eyes shall have many a curse.' Proverbs 19:17 - 'He that hath pity upon the poor lendeth unto the LORD; and that which he hath given will He pay him again.' I have found this to be true on more than one occasion - that when I gave funds for some need in the Lord's work, somehow I would unexpectedly receive back the same amount not long after that from another source! The Lord is no debtor.

May the Lord help us to use whatever money we have wisely, for His glory. Dearly beloved, his morning we have learned what God's wisdom teaches in the Acquisition and Use of money. Let us seek to apply this wisdom now in managing our own finances, and especially these five principles from the Book of Proverbs: I. Set Financial Goals That Are Honouring to God, II. Seek to Use Only Legitimate Means of Acquiring Wealth, III. Spend Wisely, not Wastefully, IV. Save Sufficiently For Anticipated Needs and V. Serve God and Others Generously.

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

December 3 & 10 - Holy Living

Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, 2 Peter 3:11