Better is a little with the fear of the Lord than great treasure and trouble with it. (Proverbs 15:16 ESV)
This verse, more than any other verse in the Bible, has caused me a lot of confusion in my business pursuits.
It’s easy to read this verse and associate being a Christian or fearing the Lord with poverty. It’s also easy to assume that it’s wrong to be wealthy, and that wealthy people have strife and don’t fear the Lord.
These ideas can attack and discourage a desire to be in business for personal profit, and can introduce a feeling of guilt when the cash comes in.
What I’ve missed is that this was written to the son of Solomon, the wealthiest heir in the ancient world. Solomon is warning his son against abusing his position and power, and pleading with him to worship God first, not money.
It’s not saying money is bad. It’s saying that wisdom/fear of the Lord is much more valuable than wealth alone.
Here’s the take-away for me: Wealth in the hands of a man who fears the Lord is a very good thing. It’s something we should not be jealous of or strive against, and it’s a good thing to aspire to. But the most important thing is the fear of the Lord, not wealth, in whatever life circumstance we find ourselves.
Proverbs is sometimes called wisdom literature, with good reason. Practically the entire book is a comparison between the wise man and the fool, the righteous and the wicked.
The opening passages are written as if Wisdom has a voice, pleading for the reader to heed the call to be wise.
One part that caught my attention is this section, which talks about the value of wisdom.
Riches and honor are with me, enduring wealth and righteousness. My fruit is better than gold, even fine gold, and my yield than choice silver. I walk in the way of righteousness, in the paths of justice, granting an inheritance to those who love me, and filling their treasuries. (Proverbs 8:18-21 ESV)
In our pursuit of happiness, according to Proverbs, life is not a mad race to accumulate cash. Wisdom endures far beyond wealth. There is an inheritance coming for the wise that outweighs your bank account, no matter if you have $0.01 or $1,000,000.
I’ve lived my life with the hope that there’s a reward for my hard work. It’s so easy to turn that desire into a tunnel-visioned, grasping desire for money. For some reason it seems like it disappears faster than it comes in. My wife can usually tell how our bank account is doing by my mood when I get home. But is that what I’m trusting in for my future? Or am I paying attention, learning from my mistakes, trusting in God, listening to my advisors, and in that way building up a lifetime of wisdom that can’t be lost, stolen, or taxed, and will be readily available in any life circumstance?
Proverbs says value wisdom over fine gold. Do we believe and live that way?