This is a short version of what I preached yesterday – Sunday, 9 September.
This was the sermon that nobody was waiting for… the money sermon! There are two typical categories of money sermons – #1: “we need $ for ___,” and #2: “we’re going to talk about biblical tithing.” But instead, we’re going to approach the subject of money from the perspective of biblical wisdom. Our lectionary is taking us through a tour of biblical wisdom this month; last week we looked at love, this week is money, and next week will be on power.
Today’s Old Testament reading is a collection of proverbs that pertain to wealth and money. The way the majority of the book is laid out, consecutive individual proverbs (or ‘sayings’) are not necessarily related at all, so the reading skips around to collect a few proverbs that are on the same subject.
Proverbs 22:1-2 Thematically Related
A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches,
and favor is better than silver or gold.
Another translation for “to be chosen rather than” is “more desirable than.” So wealth is fine, so long as it’s honest gain! This sets up a theme of wealth vs. reputation for verses 2-5. We’ll just look at verse 2 today.
The rich and the poor meet together;
the Lord is the maker of them all.
The poor are just as important as the rich: we must treat both with the same respect. On the flip side, the rich are just as important as the poor: no matter who you are, you need to rely upon God! This is a good reminder that being wealthy is fine – God does bless some people that way – but wealth can be a powerful distraction to lead us away from God. Rather than suggesting some sort of wealth redistribution plan, this proverb emphasizes the importance of a relationship between the rich and the poor. One idea of how this might work was written down by a 2nd century Roman Christian named Hermas, and if you like you can read about that here.
Proverbs 22:8-9 Directly Related
Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity, and the rod of his fury will fail.
Whoever has a bountiful eye will be blessed, for he shares his bread with the poor.
These two proverbs directly inform one another. Together they form a classic contrast between the righteous and the wicked. The fruit of the righteous is shared with the poor, the second verse says, suggesting that the “calamity” which injustice reaps is the oppression of the poor! In other words, you reap what you sow… and what you reap, you share. Just as “the good tree bears good fruit and the bad tree bears bad fruit,” so too are those fruits plucked and eaten by those around – our righteous deeds and our wicked deeds alike have an impact on other people in our lives.
Proverbs 22:22-23 Single Proverb
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.
An important explanatory note here: “at the gate” means “in court”, hence “the Lord will plead their cause.” This is a very significant statement, because the Law of Moses already protected the poor in many ways. One example is the law of gleaning fields – you’re only supposed to harvest your crops once per field, and leave the edges, the ones you drop, and the ones that ripen late for the poor, traveler, and stranger to glean (pick up) so they can survive. It’s a built-in welfare service. Although many other ancient religions & law codes had protections for the poor along these lines, our God is unique in his direct personal concern for the poor and needy. This gives us the somewhat jarring warning that if we oppress the poor even through “legal” means, God will oppress us through his legal means! (Again, you reap what you sow.)
In America today, these issues typically come down to political agendas: big government, small government, trickle-down economics, free market economy, state welfare, labor unions, tax breaks to encourage spending and reinvigorate the economy. Certainly there is a place for economic theory when addressing these large-scale issues, but as Christians we have something more reliable than that: the wisdom of God himself. When tackling big questions about money, wealth, and godly economics, don’t start with “I’m a Republican” or “I’m a post-war-neo-Keynesian economist;” start with “I’m a Christian.”
This is not say that the Bible’s teaching on money and wealth is simple, of course. There is a lot in the Law of Moses, in the Proverbs, in the Prophets, in Jesus’ teachings, and various other places that inform us on how God has treated, does treat, and wants us to treat these matters. And although what we have looked at just now is not a fully-developed theology of money, verses like these do work together to teach us important basics in how to treat the poor in a godly manner.
- Knowing that “we reap what we sow,” we need to first look at what we’re sowing – what are the basics of my financial lifestyle? How does it impact others?
- Taking this a step further, are there “legal” means by which we’re having a negative impact upon those in need? It’s one thing to say “I’m not breaking any rules,” but are the rules themselves just in God’s eyes?
- Finally, knowing that our socio-economic status does not elevate us in God’s eyes, how are we to treat people of a different ‘class’ than ourselves?