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Rich Poverty; Poor Wealth

December 10th, 2008

Focus Text: Proverbs 10: 15-16 (NLT)

 15 The wealth of the rich is their fortress;
      the poverty of the poor is their destruction.

 16 The earnings of the godly enhance their lives,
      but evil people squander their money on sin.


Stop Here and Reflect Before Reading Ahead

Wealth.  What a word.  The goal of modern society.  The carrot dangling in front of us that keeps our feet moving forward in laboring drudgery.  The reason people stand in line at the gas station for ten minutes to purchase lottery tickets.  Wealth is our obsession.

Poverty.  What a word.  The scourge of modern society.  The seemingly inescapable quicksand that pulls so many under.  Also the reason people stand in line at the gas station for ten minutes to purchase lottery tickets.  Poverty is our greatest fear.

We live in a culture where money is both a necessity and a luxury.  Money really comes into perspective when you turn on the news and hear that auto executives recently flew to Washington in multi-million dollar private jets to ask for financial assistance from the federal government.  We learn that some people out there are sitting on top of billions of dollars. Conversely, others are up to their eyeballs in debt with little to no hope of climbing out.  When you break it down, money is the great equalizer– everyone must deal with it.

Realizing these things, it is always fascinating when we encounter scripture that gives us insight into financial matters.  This particular passage is multifaceted and probably easily misunderstood.  To comprehend what these verses mean, I personally think that we must delve into its historical and personal context, as well as the principles that God has given us concerning money.

“The wealth of the rich is their fortress . . . ”  Wow, now that one probably took a few people by surprise.  If we were to be honest, much of our modern, sophisticated Christianity has embraced class warfare.  We envision a Jesus who resembles Robin Hood . . . disdaining the rich and exalting the poor.  We resent those with money, even though we spend the vast majority of our energies in trying to attain the same.  We judge people and roll our eyes at the differences between the “haves” and the “have-nots.”  So to hear Solomon make such an observation, we may be inclined to scratch our heads a bit.

There are multiple interpretations of what he meant, but I think one of the most obvious is that he was simply observing what he saw in society: the rich are secure in their wealth.  Isn’t that what wealth is really all about . . . security?  No worries about bills. No annoying budget sheets to stress over.  No moment in time that you must turn someone down for lunch because it’s the end of the month and funds are limited.  Security.  

It doesn’t mean that Solomon was endorsing this idea, it simply means that it was an observable truth: people seem to find security in riches.  That being said, we must acknowledge that in his day, wealth was considered to be a blessing from God.  Hey, he would know!  One of God’s greatest blessings to Solomon was an untold fortune.  

So is it wrong to be rich?  I certainly hope not since most every person reading this thread longs to be so.  Since God looks at what fills the heart, it doesn’t really matter what fills the bank account . . . we can make wealth our “fortress” even if we don’t possess it.  Hard work is great and laziness and irresponsibility are not reflections of godliness; however, no amount of money, whether possessed or simply pursued, should ever be our sole source of security.

Therefore, the biblical answer to the question of whether or not it is wrong to be rich would be a resounding “no.”  The mistake occurs in the heart, not in the bank account. Whether dining at Ruth’s Chris every night or sucking back generic Ramen noodles, our security should be one-hundred percent vested  in the grace and provision of Jesus.  That being said, money is like any other gift: it can be useful when our hearts are in the right place.  I certainly hope that there are people out there that God can trust with extravagant riches because I know that they can do extravagant ministry.

 The flip side of the coin: ” . . . the poverty of the poor is their destruction.”  Yikes, again with the unexpected statements from the wise guy (aka, Solomon.)  This one really throws wrenches into the whole class warfare Christendom that many live in today.  In many ways, the Christian culture has almost glorified poverty as a necessity for real holiness . . . also unbiblical.

To come to the center,  we must again acknowledge the simple observation that was being made before we attempt to interpret it in twenty-first century terms.  It would seem that the statement, “the poverty of the poor” is a bit redundant.  That’s like saying “the wetness of the water.”  It’s unnecessary.  Perhaps we should distinguish between “poverty” and “poor.”  Being poor simply means that you don’t possess much money or many possessions.  A mindset or a culture of poverty, on the other hand, can mean something else altogether.  I don’t mean to split hairs, but just go with me on this one. Poverty is completely destructive.  Consider third world nations where children roam the streets and die everyday from a lack of the basic necessities of life; their poverty is literally their destruction.  They are more than just poor by Western societies standards; they exist in true poverty.  

Therefore, it may be possible for the poor to have wealth and the rich to have poverty.  The poverty of the rich can be their complete trust in riches.  One can possess millions and lose value in their own family.  The wealth of the poor can be their faith, their stories of supernatural provision, their joy, or their perspective.  Truthfully, the amount of money can go up and down for either one, but that isn’t the only thing that makes people “rich” or “poor.”  Both have the equal opportunity to have the right or the wrong heart in their respective situations.

Instead of criticizing those in poverty for their lack or judging the rich for their abundance, perhaps the answer lies somewhere in between.  If “the earnings of the godly enhance their lives,” then imagine what kind of world enhancement our dollars could bring to those shackled by the chains of poverty. 

Sure, there are many in the world who “squander their money on sin” and this verse most definitely speaks to them as well.  In fact, this passage speaks to everyone.  The blessed.  The less-fortunate.  The wise, hard worker.  The lazy squanderer.  Each of us face the same world with different amounts of change in our pockets.  Each of us can learn from God’s wisdom.  We must be good stewards of what we’ve been given.  If we live in poverty, we must place our security in the things above and pray for our needs to be met. If we live in prosperity, we mustn’t worship the things we have and put our security in them. We must use what we’ve been given to touch the lives of people in our hometown, as well as a world away.

Consider the possibility that there can be “the poverty of the rich” and “the wealth of the poor.”  Rich is nothing.  Poor is nothing.  Heart is everything.





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