Blog author: rjmoeller
Friday, November 8, 2013
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King Solomon. Georgian MSSWhen given the choice to possess whatever he asked for, the young King Solomon asked God for wisdom. Not “the ability to ask for more things,” or “x-ray vision,” but wisdom. An overview of the wisdom Solomon accrued in his memorable life was, for our sake, recorded in the book of Proverbs.

Proverbs has some definitive things to say about matters related to how we might, as Christians, organize our lives (and communities) economically. The concept of wealth is a tough one for Christians to wrestle with. We cannot serve both God and money, but the discussion about economics is more complex than the “money = wealth and therefore wealth = bad” mantra reiterated by progressives. Wealth cannot be reduced to purely monetary terms.

In their 2009 book, Calvin and Commerce, David W. Hall and Matthew D. Burton identify a number of general teachings about wealth found in Proverbs (among other books of the Old Testament) that supply modern Christians with principles that can be directly applied to our worldview regarding economics, business, and personal finances. Below are two of the general teachings the authors flesh out.

1) Wealth itself—defined here as all property (including “intellectual property”) or material possessions that have economic utility or value—is not condemned.

In Proverbs 10:4 we read, “A slack hand causes poverty, but the hand of the diligent makes rich.” The term “diligent” refers to one who is wise and righteous. In the context of the larger paragraph that contains this verse, the diligence that God imparts to the wise, righteous man is his means to provide for himself (and his family).

Proverbs 10:16 states, “The wage of the righteous leads to life …”, or, said a different way, a wage earned by the righteous brings positive benefits because it leads to life (and more potential blessings, both for the righteous man or woman, and for those around him).

In 10:22 Solomon claims, “The blessing of the LORD makes rich, and he adds no sorrow with it.” In dissecting both the source and nature of one’s wealth, we see that if it is the blessing of the Lord that brings wealth, then how an individual seeks wealth must be governed by certain considerations. First, he or she must pursue excellence in all that he or she does, but pursue it clothed in righteousness. Second, he or she must be wholly reliant upon a hope that rests not in material gains or possessions, but in the God who provides them.

Moving forward to chapter 14, verses 23 and 24 are yet further evidence supporting the author’s claim that wealth itself is not condemned in Proverbs.

“In all toil there is profit, but mere talk tends only to poverty. The crown of the wise is their wealth, but the folly of fools brings folly.”

Man is meant to work, and there are profits to be gained from it. Again, this profit is not always (or only) material profit. “Work” is both a practical duty and theological concept. When one works, there is compensation and perhaps even profit to be made. That profit is part of a person’s “wealth.” It is not wicked or evil or dirty. The rebuke in verse 23 is against those who talk a lot instead of either producing something or helping others to produce something.

Wealth-creation isn’t the problem. Wealth-worship is. Christ said to cut off your hand if it is causing you to sin. Guilt-ridden religious Americans have somehow become convinced that they must chop their (and each other’s) legs off too. 

2) Wealth dishonestly or immorally gained is of no value to God, and therefore worthless and sinful.

This one’s a no-brainer for any believer, but let’s take a look at a few quick examples. The reason I believe this to be an important exercise is simple: critics of free enterprise—inside or out of the Church—point to examples of fraud, embezzlement, or exploitation as reasons why no God-fearing human could ever, in good conscience, support capitalism.

But if I’m right in saying that wealth itself is not condemned, and wealth obtained immorally is condemned, then we can all agree the Bernie Madoffs of the world are wrong and, in turn, begin to thoughtfully consider what economic practices work better than others while meeting the criteria of being both wealth-producing and morally grounded.

Proverbs 10:2: “Treasures gained by wickedness do not profit, but righteousness delivers from death.”

Proverbs 13:11: “Wealth gained hastily will dwindle, but whoever gathers little by little will increase it.”

Proverbs 22:16: “Whoever oppresses the poor to increase his own wealth, or gives to the rich, will only come to poverty.”

Wealth gained dishonestly is worthy of contempt and rebuke. It’s easy to equate this to scandals like Enron or Bernie Madoff, but what about able-bodied people who are told they don’t have to work and will receive checks that contain the fruits of other peoples’ labor?

What about politicians who promise the fruits of other peoples’ labor to constituents in return for their votes, all while campaigning from an “It’s all about the children” platform?

What about a system—even one ostensibly created to help the poor—that cannot share the gospel with its recipients because the secular government (and not the local church or private organizations) runs it?


  • Bill Hickman

    “We cannot serve both God and money, but the discussion about economics is more complex than the “money = wealth and therefore wealth = bad” mantra reiterated by progressives.”

    “[C]ritics of free enterprise—inside or out of the Church—point to examples of fraud, embezzlement, or exploitation as reasons why no God-fearing human could ever, in good conscience, support capitalism.”

    Statements like these make me wonder 1) whether you ever engage with progressives and 2) why you insist on putting so many words in their mouths.