The shock disk jockey, Howard Stern, is probably most well known for his vulgar and crude antics on his radio and television shows. In fact, at last count, over the years Stern has been fined about $1.5 million by the FCC for violations on his radio and television shows.
Back in 1994 Stern decided to run for governor of New York. But when he found out that running for governor would require that he issue a" public financial disclosure statement, he withdrew his candidacy. He reasoned that a public financial disclosure statement was far too much of a personal issue to be made public.
Now here's a guy who regularly describes in vulgar detail his sexual behavior to hundreds of thousands of listeners across the country, and yet he feels his personal finances is too personal an issue to discuss in public. What is wrong with this picture?
The reality is that a lot of people are not all that different from Howard Stern in their discomfort about talking about their finances. Most of us want to keep our income, spending, debt, and giving habits private. I was reminded of this a couple of weeks ago when my 10 son asked me how much money I brought home each month, and I didn't want to answer him. I think I changed the subject or something.
I've realized that privacy about our finances is simply a part of our culture today. Let's face it. It's hard to talk about money with the people you know and love and trust the most. How many conflicts between husbands and wives are about finances?
Chris and I through the years have had our fair share of conflicts about issues of spending or purchasing or saving. Most marriages have one partner who is more of a spender and one partner who is more thrifty. And when those two can't see eye to eye, sparks fly in the marriage.
If it's hard to talk about issues of finances with those closest to us, it's no wonder talking about finances is off limits in most public conversations.
A couple of years ago a sociologist named Robert Wuthnow did a study of attitudes toward money in churches. He found that 95 percent of churchgoers have never discussed their personal finances with other members of their church. It's simply a topic that's off limits for most people.
Yet the Bible does not have our about money. Look at a Bible concordance or a topical Bible to see how much the Bible addresses this issue. You'd find that the Bible talks about prayer by name about 270 times, it talks about loving other people about 370 times, but it talks about how we use our money and our possessions over 2,000 times. It doesn't have the we have. We need to wise up about money, and part of that is simply talking about it honestly and openly.
The 18th English preacher John Wesley summed up his attitude towards money with the phrase "earn all you can, save all you can, and give all you can." That's a good summary of what Proverbs says about this issue of money.
We wise up about money when we work hard to reach our earning potential.
We begin with two insights about the importance of diligence in our lives. Proverbs 10:4 says, "Lazy hands make a man poor, but diligent hands bring wealth."
This proverb is not saying laziness is the cause of all poverty in the world. It's saying laziness is one potential cause of poverty. Remember that proverbs in the Bible are generalizations about life. They're general observations about how life works most of the time. They're not absolute laws or absolute promises, but generalizations. This proverb also isn't saying every person who's wealthy got that way from hard work. Clearly some wealthy people inherited their wealth or just fell upon it or won the lotto. What this proverb is saying is in general laziness leads down the economic ladder and diligence leads up the economic ladder.
Proverbs 14:23 looks at the same insight. It says, "All hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty." Once again we find an emphasis on diligence, on labor. The Hebrew word translated "hard work" means work that's toilsome, even painful; the kind of work that makes you drip with sweat or that requires so much concentration and focus your head begins to hurt after a while. That's contrasted with mere talk, which would be things like schemes or playing the lotto for your retirement or having high and lofty business plans but never taking action.
These two proverbs about diligence provide us with our first insight about wising up about money: we wise up about money when we work hard to reach our earning potential. Many Christians mistakenly think work is a curse. The Bible does not teach that. The Bible teaches that work is an essential part of God's original plan for the human race. Before sin entered the world, God commanded the first man to work the garden. Work came before sin. Sin and its curse made our work more difficult, frustrating, and toilsome, but work in itself has always been a part of God's plan for the human race.
When we work we demonstrate we have been created in the image of God. We share in God's creative power when we use our resources to create, to organize, to produce, or to help people. Whether it's building a home or writing a loan, whether it's waiting on tables in a restaurant or selling cars or teaching kindergarten or being a pastor, we were made to labor. It's part of the image of God within us.
We've seen in these first two proverbs that the Bible consistently links hard work with financial success. Again, it's a generalization. It's not saying every person will be financially successful, but as a general principle hard work leads up the ladder financially.
John Wesley noticed this trend. Most of the people John Wesley brought to faith in Christ were among the poorest of the poor in England. They were from the slums in London and from the coalmines in the outskirts of England. Wesley noticed that after these people came to faith in Christ and began to grow and mature in their spiritual lives, they began to develop different work habits. They began to develop diligence, and that caused them to become more successful economically within their culture.
A couple of years ago the Christian author Charles Colson wrote a book called Why America Doesn't Work. In that book Colson argues it was this work ethic of diligence that many of our country's founding fathers believed in and embraced that led to the economic prosperity of our nation during its formative years. Colson writes that viewing our jobs as a calling from God and our work as something we do out of devotion to God develops a strong work ethic. Colson worries that the loss of this idea in our culture may lie at the heart of many of our problems with unemployment and poverty.
You and I probably know people who don't think twice about God but who work hard, people who even sacrifice their families in order to get ahead in their business, people who neglect their relationships, whose work is their life. That is not what these proverbs are talking about. These proverbs are talking about viewing our job as a spiritual discipline. Just like we have other spiritual disciplines in our lifelike praying hard and worshiping with God's people consistently and studying the Bible with energy and depth and serving in ministry wholeheartedlyour job is also a spiritual discipline. When we're on the job, we are to give our all to it. To labor diligently is to wise up about money by working hard to reach our earning potential.
We wise up about money when we avoid incurring foolish debt.
Proverbs 22:7: "The borrower is servant to the lender." Proverbs 22:7 provides us with our second insight: we wise up about money when we avoid incurring foolish debt.
Some people take this proverb as telling us to never borrow money for anything. Some within the Christian community believe, based on this verse and others in the Bible, it is always sinful for a Christian to buy anything on credit, whether it's using a credit card or financing a car or even buying a house.
I don't think that's what this verse is saying, and here's why. Throughout the Old Testamentand Proverbs is part of the Old Testamentbeing in a financial position of being able to loan another person money was linked with being blessed by God. In fact, in Deuteronomy 15 God promises that if the people of Israel walk in God's blessings they would be in a position to lend other people money and would not need to borrow from anyone. I find it unlikely that if the ability to loan is a position of being blessed by God, God would want us to use his blessings to lure other Christians into sinning, if borrowing is always wrong.
Clearly borrowing is not always the best idea. In fact, in most cases maybe it's not the best idea. Much of what the Bible says about borrowing is negative, but the Bible stops short of saying we should never buy anything on credit. The Bible does say we should always repay what we borrowed. Psalm 37:21 says, "The wicked borrow and do not repay." Romans 13:7 says, "Give to everyone what you owe him." This proverb in chapter 22 is saying when we borrow money we place ourselves in a position of servitude under the person who loans us the money.
In ancient Israel, when this was written, this was literally true. If you borrowed money and could not meet the terms of repayment, you or a member of your family literally became the slave of the lender, and you had to work as a slave to pay off that person. You were only released from your slavery when you paid off your debt. Borrowing was risky, especially when it was based on nothing more than a promise to repay.
We get in trouble today when we overextend ourselves with credit. The average household in America carries about $8,000 in credit card debt. Compare that with 10 years ago, when the average was about $3,000. Today's undergraduate college student carries about $2,000 in credit card debt. Last year Americans charged $1.3 trillion on their credit cards. In most cases, making the minimum payment would take at least 20 years to pay off the balance.
As a general rule, if you're spending more than 10 percent of your monthly income on consumer debt like credit cards and car payments, you've overextended yourself. You need to think about rearranging your priorities. It's better yet to pay off the credit card bill every month, allowing you to invest money into your future and into God's work around the world.
We wise up when we avoid incurring foolish debt.
We wise up about money when we seek moderation in our lifestyle.
That brings us to the next couple of proverbs. Proverbs 23:45: "Do not wear yourself out to get rich; have the wisdom to show restraint. Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone, for they will surely sprout wings and fly off to the sky like an eagle."
This proverb is picturing a person whose sole mission in life is to get as much money as possible. This is like the 20 employee of a web hosting company in Atlanta who, when asked what his philosophy of life was, said, "It's all about the money."
We're to avoid as God's children exhausting ourselves to get rich, because riches come and go. Jesus warned that when we invest ourselves in treasures on this earth, moth and rust destroy, and thieves break in and steal.
A guy named Buddy Post in 1988 won $16.2 million in the Pennsylvania lottery. Since becoming a millionaire, Buddy Post's life has changed dramatically. He's been convicted of assault once. He's been divorced from his sixth wife. His brother's been convicted of trying to kill him. His landlady sued him for of his lottery winnings. Now he's trying to auction off future installments of his lottery winnings to pay off overdue taxes, legal fees, and a number of failed business ventures. His winnings sprouted wings and flew away.
Instead of exhausting ourselves to get rich, we're urged to show restraint. The Hebrew word in this verse means to know when to stop
We see this same idea in Proverbs 30:89. It says, "Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, 'Who is the Lord?' Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God." This is one of my favorite sections in Proverbs. It's a prayer prayed by a guy named Agur. We don't know anything else about him other than what we have in this chapter. Agur in his prayer asks God to protect him from two extremesfrom wealth and poverty.
He knows being wealthy is filled with temptations. When a person becomes wealthy, they have a tendency to build around them an illusion of . They have a tendency to fail to acknowledge God's hand in their lives. This is why Jesus said it's hard for a wealthy person to respond to Jesus' teaching; it's like trying to string a live camel through the eye of a needle. Agur knows being wealthy is filled with temptations. Even though Agur was a godly person who loved God as much as you and I do, he knew if his income level reached a certain level he would forget God.
Yet he also prays, "Protect me from poverty." He knows poverty has its own set of temptations. He sees that people in desperate straits are willing to do desperate things. When your stomach is growling and your children are shivering cold, you find yourself thinking about doing things you would never consider doing otherwise. So he says: Give me my daily bread. Give me what you know I can handle, God.
From these proverbs we find our third insight: we wise up about money when we seek moderation in our lifestyle, a life of balance.
An interesting book came out in 1999 called The Overspent American. It's written by a Harvard University sociologist named Juliet Schor. She researches the spending habits of today's American consumer. Schor says back in the 1950s and '60s American consumers measured their standard of living by that of their neighbors. We called that keeping up with the Joneses. But according to Schor we don't do that anymore. We don't know our neighbors well enough in most cases to know what to keep up with, so instead today most consumers compare their standard of living with the people they see on TV, people whose incomes are double, triple, even five times more than what they make. According to Schor, the majority of Americans are trying to emulate the lifestyle and spending habits of the richest of the rich. If she's right, it's no wonder credit card and consumer debt keeps creeping up.
If there's ever a time to rediscover the balance of moderation, it's now. We do that by deciding ahead of time what level of income would meet our needs. If we don't decide ahead of time, we're likely to keep climbing for more and more for no other reason than to get more. There comes a time to say no. There comes a time to pass over a promotion. There comes a time to say no to a business opportunity that would lead to a 40 percent increase in salary, to know where that line is.
A couple of years ago a guy in our church named Mike Cloud retired from a company he had spent his whole career with. Many people in Mike's position might get another career and begin building a cushion, maybe buy an RV or a beach house and begin traveling. But Mike didn't do that. He knew where his line was, so he came to the elder board and said, "I want to come on staff here at the church for free. Just pick up my medical insurance." So he came on staff as our minister of care and visitation, doing funerals, doing hospital visits, walking with people as they go through grief and times of struggle. He embraced this principle of moderation.
Have you defined what that line is in your lifewhen enough is enough? If you don't decide ahead of time, you'll keep climbing for more and more.
We wise up about money when we share generously with those in need.
This brings us to our last couple of proverbs we're going to look at. Proverbs 3:9 says, "Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops." Bible scholars say this proverb is referring to the Hebrew tithe. In the nation of Israel every Jewish family gave of their harvest back to God as an act of worship and as a way of reminding themselves that God was the source of all their income. When a person within Israel withheld that tithe, they were viewed as robbing God of what rightfully belonged to God. This proverb gets even more specific: this tithe was to come from their first gathering of harvest; they were not to give leftovers but the first harvest.
Whether the tithe law is binding on Christians today is an issue of debate among Christians. I do not believe in a compulsory tithe on Christians. But I do think there is a tithe principle in the Bible, a principle that came long before God gave his Law to the people of Israel, a principle we see in the very first book of the Bible in the life of Abraham, a principle Jesus alluded to when he commended the religious leaders of his day for their practice of tithing. We would be wise to live our lives in harmony with that principle rather than against the grain of it.
Proverbs 11:2425 says, "One man gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty. A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed." This is an observation that God blesses givers.
That blessing is sometimes financial. Other times it comes in other forms. This is not saying if you give your money away you'll get more. It's saying God likes to bless people who give of themselves. In contrast, stingy people tend to lose even what they already have. People hold on to what they have so tightly it slips through their fingers.
From these last proverbs we find our final insight: we wise up about money when we share our resources generously with those in need.
We apply this insight a couple of different ways. One way is through consistent giving to Jesus' church. There is no way around the teaching of the Bible that following Jesus means giving portions of our income to Jesus' church to further his work in the world. That's a clear teaching of the New Testament about what it means to follow Jesus.
We also apply this by learning to share what we have with the people we come in contact with, by developing a responsiveness to God's leading and God's guidance as we interact with people as God might prompt us to share what we have to meet needs. It could be giving a neighbor a ride to work when their car is broken down. It could be supporting the daughter of someone we know who's going on a summer mission's trip. We need to be on the lookout for how God might lead us to use what we have to meet the needs of other people.
The Bible emphasizes this virtue of generosity because God is a generous God. God is a giver, not a taker. He didn't offer to sell us the sacrifice of Jesus; he gave us the sacrifice of Jesus. He challenges those who are called by his name to live as givers in the world instead of takers. When we live as giving, generous people we best reflect our family resemblance to the one we call our Father.
Our culture is hung up about money. We don't like to talk about it. We argue about it with our spouse. We change the subject when our 10 ask us how much money we make. We're embarrassed by our spending habits, our debts, our savings, our giving. And we need to wise up about money. We need to face it honestly and openly, to embrace hard work, to avoid foolish debt, to seek moderation in our lifestyle, and to share generously.
The longer I live the more I'm convinced John Wesley had it right: "earn all you can, save all you can, and give all you can."
Timothy Peck is teaching pastor at Life Bible Fellowship Church in Upland, California, and adjunct instructor at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University, in La Mirada, California.