Archives For wisdom

How a biblical proverb can help us manage modern money

COMMENTARY | Doug Morrow

Doug_Morrow_blog_calloutI’ve been working on a project since mid-November. Once a week (okay, once every two weeks), I write an extended devotional or comment based on a chapter of Proverbs and have been addressing it to my children. Proverbs represents some of the most amazing “counsel” ever written, and much is written as from a parent to a child. I’ve been trying to amplify the Proverbs into my own paternal voice for the benefit of Reed, Lauren and Claire.

It was in this process that I discovered a nugget that describes what I believe in so passionately, and the mission of the Baptist Foundation of Illinois:

“Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the first fruits of all your produce,” reads Proverbs 3:9, “then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine.”

King Solomon’s words can be difficult to translate to our time and culture. “First fruits” has a different meaning in an America so replete with cheap food that we’re far more likely to queue up at the McDonald’s drive-thru than pray for rain for the wheat crop. Few of us have barns, and ever since municipal water projects, there are even fewer with “vats bursting with wine.” So, what could the Spirit say to us through these words to those living in the wealthiest nation in our planet’s history? “Honor the Lord with our wealth?”

In truth, most of the assets we steward for the Lord aren’t in our income (technically our “first fruits”), or emergency cash. Over time, most people collect “wealth” in things like real estate (67% of Illinoisans own their home), IRA or other retirement assets (often acquired ‘pre-tax’), life insurance, or other “stuff” we collect over our lifetimes.

I think the way we honor the Lord with this wealth, along with our first fruits, is amazingly simple and can be found in the text itself. The pattern we apply to our wealth should be consistent with the pattern we establish with our “first fruits!”

Do we take care of our needs such as food, shelter and clothing with our first fruits?

Do we use those fruits to care for our children and dependents?

What about supporting the work of God’s church?

Absolutely, on all three counts. And because we do those things with our first fruits, we should do so with our wealth.

How does all of this come together in a way that accomplishes this God-honoring stewardship plan? Well, since most of our “wealth” is not accessed until our death, it’s important to put together a Christian Estate Plan now. Such a plan accomplishes the “pattern” that God has called us to live out in our lives—taking care of our own needs, caring for children and dependents, and investing in the work of God’s church.

These are the elements I commonly refer to as the “big four” parts of a Christian Estate Plan:

• A will and possibly a living trust
• A financial (durable) power of attorney (when not using a living trust)
• A health care power of attorney
• Careful attention to titling, beneficiary designations, or transfer on death devices on retirement assets, life insurance, financial accounts or other assets, since any asset designated in this way bypasses the will and the probate process

The Baptist Foundation has actually made the process simpler than you might imagine—and much less expensive than you might fear. A great place to start is with the Life Stewardship Navigator, a free download from http://www.BaptistFoundationIL.org. BFI provides complimentary and confidential help in putting together a plan that enables you to provide for your family and support Christian causes in exactly the manner you wish to support.

Over the next few months, I’ll keep working on the Proverbs chapters (my wife wants me to arrive at chapter 31 in time for Mother’s Day). In the meantime, it’s important that we begin this year with the counsel that all we are, hope to be, or ever will steward belongs to our God. May we carefully honor Him in everything.

Doug Morrow is executive director of the Baptist Foundation of Illinois.

COMMENTARY | Mark Coppenger

A number of years ago, I got a Sunday night call from a pastor who was facing backlash from a prominent deacon in his church. The critic was taking exception to his statement that Proverbs 22:6 wasn’t a guarantee – “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.”

The layman was “claiming the promise” that his wayward son, having been brought up in a seriously Christian home and church, would eventually straighten up and fly right. When the pastor ventured to suggest the verse wasn’t an ironclad warranty, the distraught, indignant dad said he was denying the truth of Scripture, and was threatening to take his complaint to others in the church.

What can one say to this?

Well, a not-so-impressive approach is to suggest that it might well be the case that the man and his wife hadn’t “trained him up in the way he should go” after all. If they had, the boy wouldn’t be on the wrong path. In other words, the proof was in the pudding.

Or, we could say, “Just wait. It’ll all work out, just as the Bible promises.” But we can all think of Christian families where all but one of the kids turned out well, and where it is hard to say how the one child was trained significantly more poorly than the others.

A much better approach is to see Proverbs as a divine book of moral generalities, of rules of thumb, rather than a book of pointed prophecies, physical laws or contractual obligations. That’s just what proverbs or aphorisms are meant to be, whether we’re talking about such secular versions as “a stitch in time saves nine” and “absence makes the heart grow fonder” or the inspired, biblical counterparts, “A gracious woman gains honor” (Proverbs 11:16) or “wealth obtained by fraud will dwindle” (Proverbs 13:11). Though we can think of exceptions to these rules, there is deep and life-important truth in them.

Proverbs 22:16, the verse in question, teaches us that sound religious and moral upbringing is a wise investment of time and energy. It’s the sort of thing that pays off in a big way. And to neglect it is to flirt with disaster.

With this view of Proverbs, you don’t lose trust in Scripture when the skeptic says, “Aha, I know a lazy man who lived like a king all his life on his inheritance” as a way to refute Proverbs 24:33-34 (“A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man.”) The problem would arise if, in general, laziness proved to be a better path to success than hard work. Which it won’t. And neither will laissez-faire parenting, where the kids are allowed to run wild and ignorant.

Mark Coppenger, former pastor of Evanston (Ill.) Baptist Church, is professor of Christian apologetics at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.

-Excerpted from Baptist Press