Money Matters (Prov 22:1-16)

We handle money in one form or another pretty well every day of our lives but have you ever stopped to think what the Bible says about it? Where is God amidst all of this earning and spending?

Well in chapter 3 of the Book of Proverbs, verses 13 and 14, it says —

Blessed are those who find wisdom,
those who gain understanding,
for she is more profitable than silver
and yields better returns than gold.

Think about that for a second: according to God’s word wisdom is more profitable than silver and yields better returns than gold. This suggests that it’s not particularly how much money you have or your overall wealth that matters but how you choose to use it. Now let’s keep that in mind as we explore the topic further.

I realise that our reading this morning was also taken from the Book of Proverbs but I would like to start with a verse from 1 Timothy. It’s a proverb that all of you will have heard or used, perhaps even thinking you were quoting Shakespeare without really realising its true source. However, where you would probably say, “Money is the root of all evil” in 1 Timothy 6:10 it says, not money, but —

“The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.”

and it goes on to say —

“Some people, eager for money,
have wandered from the faith and
pierced themselves with many griefs.”

So it would appear that money of itself is not the problem: we can do all sorts of good things with it: we can buy food for the poor, or provide shelter for the homeless, or purchase much needed medicines for the good of others. But when we allow the love of money enter our hearts it becomes like a poison or an addictive drug: we want and then we need more and more of the stuff until, eventually, possessions become more important than people … and even more important than God. Money may start as a blessing but for many it can quickly turn into their downfall!

To gain the extra cash that our hearts desire the rules at first become blurred, then they are bent a little, and finally they are discarded altogether. Life without God’s Law becomes a free for all, a total anarchy which quickly descends into a spiral of crime which knows no bounds! First it’s just money but that soon leads to threats … and fists … and knives … and guns … and … death.

We’ve all probably heard of people who have lost their way and crossed the line and we’ve all been exposed to them in one way or another. There are telephone and social media scams whose principal aim is not to assist you as promised but rather to gain access to your bank account so that it can be emptied. Then there are the pay day money lenders who are more than willing to help those with cash flow issues through their difficult times before, once they have been hooked, they are bled dry to enable the lender’s wealth to increase. And of course we cannot overlook the drugs barons and people traffickers who are more than happy to destroy lives so that they can generate vast amounts of cash which can then be spent on frivolities like massive houses, fast cars, jewel encrusted watches and luxuries which extend beyond any of our wildest imaginations.

But none of these or similar practices have gone unnoticed by God’s people. The Book of Proverbs is full of examples and it offers wise words: written in the days of King Solomon, it says in its first few verses that the book offers wisdom which provides instruction, for understanding and words of insight for doing what is right and just and fair (1:2-3). So when I first read this morning’s passage one verse (22:7) seared its way into my thoughts and into my heart:

“The rich rule over the poor,
and the borrower is slave to the lender.”

Those words are as true today as when they were first written down but for much of the time we don’t see what is right there in front of our noses: we have become immune to our environment and the consequences of historic or current malpractice often go unnoticed. It’s only when we look out at the world through God’s eyes that we see the inconsistencies and the wrongs which need to be addressed.

I’m a member of the National Trust and I love visiting those splendid houses, those national treasures from a bygone age, properties which are sited all around the UK full of art and history and character. I want them to be preserved for my grandchildren and my great grandchildren to visit but whenever I walk around those places, I am fully aware that the wealth of the man that built it (because it usually was a man), would have depended on the lives of thousands of people who were on, or sometimes well below, the breadline.

“The rich rule over the poor,
and the borrower is slave to the lender.”

There were those who had to break their backs (and their lungs) in order to earn enough for a crust of bread for their families to share — so that the owners of many of our coal mines could live comfortably and dine on pheasant.

There were the owners of cotton mills who forced young children to work twelve hour days in dangerous environments for a pittance, using raw materials sourced through slavery, that infernal triangle where innocent people of Africa were dragged from their homes, placed in chains and transported across the Atlantic Ocean. Those who survived the crossing were forced to work on the sugar or cotton plantations in the West Indies and Southern sates of America to create wealth for the merchants back here in Britain: wealth which funded grand buildings and lavish lifestyles … and the capture and enslavement of even more African people.

How can it be right for people to be treated as possessions or mere objects which could be used or abused as the captor saw fit? Are we not all equal in God’s eyes? Does it not say in verse 2 of this morning’s reading:

“Both rich and poor have this in common:
the Lord is the Maker of them all.”

But before we point an accusing finger at those secular figures of history who had clearly “wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs” in their quest for riches, let’s look a bit closer to home and think about the actions of the church at that time.

The Afro-American slave trade was abolished in the early 1830s and the Slavery Abolition Act, which passed through parliament in 1833, set about offering compensation, not for the slaves but for the plantation owners to off-set their loss of earnings. The sums of money paid out were not insignificant and the number of slaves claimed for was staggering. The interesting thing is that among the list of those who were compensated are the names of 96 Anglican priests who, between them, received the equivalent of £46 million in today’s money. Even the then Bishop of Exeter claimed compensation for three plantations in Jamaica which were worked and maintained by 665 slaves.* These were men of God who simply forgot to love their neighbours as themselves and turned towards mammon, along with a church which closed one eye to the deep suffering of others because it was profitable to do so. You see, if we don’t remain focussed on the one true God, we are all susceptible to distractions and it becomes so easy to stray. I can’t help but think that each of us need to ask forgiveness for our own sins before we point an accusing finger the misdemeanours of others.

But, “that was then,” we say, as we don our cheap, discardable clothing, manufactured in an eastern sweat shop, “not now,” as we sip our fine teas plucked by hand by a peasant on the slopes of an Himalayan mountain. “The world is a much fairer place,” we hear, “there is no need for mass migration” … to escape wars … and famine … and extreme poverty as we watch people scrambling for for and safety on the evening news. “I’m alright Jack, let them sort themselves out!”

But in the last verse of today’s reading it says —

“One who oppresses the poor to increase his wealth
and one who gives gifts to the rich – both come to poverty.”

How true that is! Wealth in this world will not be translated to riches in the next, so how will we be judged when that day comes?

There are still so many examples of the poor being oppressed in our world, so many examples of the rich being given expensive gifts just because “they are worth it” … but that counts for nothing in God’s eyes. That same God who sent his Son, not to laud it over his royal subjects but who came as a servant king, to bless the poor … and those who mourn … and the meek … and those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. God’s Son, who was rich beyond your wildest imaginings but had no material wealth.

So I implore you to be generous. Let’s remember to support our food banks in the coming months as more and more people become unemployed and destitute. Let’s continue our support of the Lamb project in Bangladesh and the people of Africa, or other charities which support those who so urgently need our help especially during the Coronavirus pandemic. And let’s not forget that the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil — so use it wisely. Don’t rule over the poor but help to lift them out of poverty so that they may have a chance for life. After all remember:

“Both rich and poor have this in common:
the Lord is the Maker of them all (Prov 22:2).”

* Church Times 26 June 2020