Let me just say a word of thanks and appreciation to Brister and Marian for the offertory tonight. They mean a lot to me, they mean a lot to this church, and they make a good team; a wonderful example of faithfulness in God’s ministry and they’re not too bad on the piano and the harmonica either!
We’re looking at Proverbs chapter 30 tonight. That can be found on page 551 in our pew Bibles. And the proverb that we turn to study tonight is the only prayer in the book of Proverbs. It’s a proverb and a prayer. And our topic or our theme for tonight is money, and the book of Proverbs has a lot to say about money. In fact, one writer says that the Proverbs “is the Biblical book that devotes the largest proportion of its teaching to the explicit instruction about poverty and wealth.” And money is certainly a topic for which we need wisdom. But we’re not going to study all of the proverbs. We’re not going to look at a broad survey of the proverbs on money. We’re going to focus on one proverb in particular tonight and see what we can learn from it.
Let me just say a couple of comments, general comments before we read the passage. One of the marks of wisdom is to be teachable and to continue learning. And the Bible should challenge us. It should challenge us to change; it should challenge us to change in the area of money. And that goes for everybody at every age. Even though it may be difficult, there’s a lot at stake. God’s glory is at stake and our enjoyment of God’s blessing is at stake. The second thing I’ll say is that as I studied this passage, I realized that it deals a lot with speech. And that’s a bit of a problem because David Felker has the theme of speech next week. And well, it looks like you’re going to get a sermon and a half on speech as it turns out! So sorry about that, but the Proverbs also say a lot about speech so that’s important as well. And I’ll say sorry to David Felker for stepping into his territory ahead of time. But with that in mind, let’s go to the Lord in prayer and then we’ll read our verses.
Father, we give You thanks that You have given us wisdom, that You have sent wisdom incarnate in the person of Jesus Christ to live and to die and to be raised again for our salvation, to give us a relationship with You, to give us freedom from all of our folly, freedom to pursue wisdom and to live for Your glory. We thank You for Your Spirit, a Spirit that reveals and enlightens and shows us Your way, shows us Your path. Help us to walk in it and to enjoy it. And we pray You would do it for Your glory and our good. We pray it in Jesus’ name, amen.
Proverbs chapter 30. I’ll read verses 7 to 9:
“Two things I ask of you; deny them not to me before I die: Remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God.”
The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the Word of our God endures forever.
What We Say When We Say “Whatever”
So we have two requests in this prayer so we have two requests, we’ll have two points tonight. The first is, “What we say when we say, ‘whatever’” and the second is, “What we say when we say nothing at all.” So the first is, “What we say when we say, ‘whatever.’” The first part of this prayer, it comes out of a concern for the truth. “Two things I ask of you; deny them not to me before I die: Remove far from me falsehood and lying.” Now verse 1 of this chapter of Proverbs teaches that these are the words of Agur; this is the prayer of Agur. Well, who was Agur? Well, Agur was the son of Jakeh. Okay. What else do we know about Agur? Nothing. We don’t know anything else about Agur except for what’s recorded for us here in this chapter of the Proverbs.
But one of the things that we see from Agur, one of the things Agur seems to be saying to us in this chapter, is that we do not know very much. We really don’t know very much. In fact, that’s one of the characteristics of wisdom is to have a sense of restraint, is to have humility, is to recognize that our understanding is limited. We find that in the Proverbs, but we also find it in Job and Ecclesiastes, the Bible’s other two wisdom books. Job, in one chapter, talks about how man’s ability to mine and to explore and to discover is almost without limit. But then they ask the question, “Where can wisdom be found?” and “Where is the place of understanding?” And the writer of Ecclesiastes, his whole aim is to search out relentlessly for wisdom and understanding, everywhere under the sun. But he recognizes his understanding, his answers are limited. What’s the refrain of the writer of Ecclesiastes? “All is vanity.” And he says at the end, “Of making many books there is no end and much study is wearisome of the flesh.”
Desire of Certainty
See, for all of our technology and our research and our exploration and for all of man's amazing accomplishments and the ability to learn and to find out, we still know very little. I was reminded of a Donald Rumsfeld quote recently. You remember Donald Rumsfeld was the Secretary of Defense and he had a number of famous or maybe infamous sayings. One of the things he said in a press conference was this. He said, "As we know, there are known knowns. There are things we know we know. We also know that there are known unknowns. That is to say, we know there are some things we do not know. But, there are also unknown unknowns." He says, "They are the ones that we don't know we don't know." That's clear, right? You got that? Known knowns, known unknowns, and unknown unknowns. Here's the point. Between the known, unknown, and the unknown unknowns, there's a lot that we don't know! We don't act that way, do we? We crave and we long for certainty. We want certainty.
Maybe you've seen some of the commercials running on TV lately about a wireless network and a patient asks the nurse about the doctor, the surgeon that's about to do the surgery and they say, "Have you worked with this surgeon before?" And the nurse says, "Oh yeah, he's okay." And they look at each other and say, "Just okay?" And of course, the tagline is, "Just okay is not okay." Well we're like that, aren't we? Whether it's with doctors or wireless networks or whoever it may be, we love certainty. We want people to be certain. We want to answer with certainty. That's why maybe three of the hardest words in the English language are, "I don't know."
I’ve told this story before, but I have to tell it again. There was a time when our children were younger and young children ask lots of questions. And on one question Molly responded with, “You know, I just don’t know everything,” to which the response was, “But this is only one thing!” It’s hard to say, “I don’t know,” and sometimes, “I don’t know isn’t good enough.” And so what do we usually do? We speak with a certainty without substance. We talk about other people’s business when we really know nothing about it. And we make promises we can’t keep, we make claims we cannot support, and we make accusations that we cannot prove. In other words, let’s call it what it is, we speak falsehood and lies.
And so much of our days are filled with words and communication, many of those have very little significance, we give them very little thought, and they can be about things which we may or may not know to be true. And that’s why Agur is praying with a sense of urgency, that God would keep him far from falsehood and lying because he knows there is much he does not know, and because of that there’s a susceptibility in him to mislead or to misspeak or, as Roger Clemens once said to “misremember” and to speak falsehood and lies. We all need God’s help to speak with truth and integrity, that our word would mean something, that we would not be careless or thoughtless with our words, with our speech. That’s a good preachers prayer, isn’t it? It’s a good prayer for all of us.
Speaking with Restraint
In fact, if you look at the word for “falsehood” in this verse it actually means something like “emptiness” or “vanity.” I’m convinced that one of the biggest problems in marriage, one of the biggest problems really in all of our relationships are empty and meaningless words. It’s so often that we can let loose those little, seemingly harmless comments. Maybe there’s a note of sarcasm in them, maybe there’s a hint of nagging, and yet those empty words, those meaningless words, they pile up and they pile up and they do damage to our relationships. Take those things far from us and help us not to be careless with our words. Help us not to just say, “whatever,” whatever is on the tip of our tongues, on the front of our minds. Wisdom means speaking with restraint, it means speaking with some caution because we don’t know as much as we think we know.
Now along those same lines, doesn't that then make it easy to deceive someone else? Because if there are a lot of things that I don't know and there are a lot of things that other people don't know, then within that unknown there is a lot of room for deception. And of course we're familiar with this, aren't we? On the news and in the media; we see it in politics and sports and business and law. There are contradictory stories and it's one person's word against the other. We weren't there; we didn't see it. We have no proof. Who do we believe? We are confused by the things we see and we hear. We don't know what to believe oftentimes. But those same things happen close at home and they happen in our own lives and in our own homes, in our close relationships. We cover up a mistake before anyone else notices. We choose our words and we sort of give ourselves some wiggle room so that we can shape the truth to our own advantage. Have you ever said to anybody, "I'm going to do that! I'm on it! I'm going to do it ASAP, as soon as possible!" Well, "possible" maybe next week, but that's another point.
We use words and we kind of give ourselves room to wiggle and to move and to deceive. We hide what we do in private because we would be ashamed for other people to find out. I read a story recently about the 1925 US Open and golfer, Bobby Jones, he was preparing to hit one of his shots and as he was preparing to hit his shot, he accidentally moved the ball slightly. That's a one-stroke penalty. But here's the thing – nobody saw it. Nobody would have ever found out. And yet Bobby Jones called the penalty on himself and it cost him the win. He ended up losing the US Open in a playoff. And he was praised for his honesty. People marveled that he would have told on himself, reported himself, and they wanted to write about his penalty. And he asked them not to write about that. He said, "You might as well praise me for not robbing banks as praise me for not lying."
See, it’s easy to think, “It’s just a little thing. No one will notice. No one will really get hurt and I can avoid some really painful consequences.” But God sees. And God knows. And God is a God of truth. Even when someone else doesn’t know exactly what happened, we have a burden of truth before God. And that same dishonesty, which contradicts our relationship with God, that same dishonesty also disrupts our relationship with others. Because a pattern of dishonesty in the past will prevent people from trusting us in the future. And that pattern of dishonesty in our own hearts and in our own speech, doesn’t that also cause us to view others with a sense of suspicion?
“They may also be dishonest with me!” And so we put up walls, we put up barriers; we wear masks, we keep people at a distance. That dishonest speech, falsehood and lies, it disrupts our relationships. Falsehood and lies are folly. They display a lack of trust in God. They disregard God’s righteousness and His holiness and His knowledge and they do harm to our relationships but with God and with other people. Loving God and loving others requires truth, it requires trust. And that truth and trust starts in the heart but it flows out of the mouth. That truth flows out of our mouths. That’s a good reason for us to pray this prayer that Agur prays – that we would be careful with what we say; that we would not just say, “whatever.” Be careful with our speech.
What We Say When We Say Nothing
Now some people would also say, many people would advise, to be careful when you talk about money. So let's talk about money. It's a sensitive topic. But what do we say, let's think about what we say when we say nothing at all. Agur is well aware that we also say a lot about our hearts, we say a lot about who and what we worship by our lifestyle. We don't have to say anything at all to show where our hope and our confidence lies. And we say something about God by the way that we live. So Agur makes his second request to God – "Give me neither poverty nor riches." What's he praying for there? He's praying for a modest lifestyle, that God would provide what he needs, that God would sustain him and yes, even bless him, but that God would spare him from the extremes of poverty or riches. He asks God, "Feed me with the food that is needful for me." He asks God for daily bread.
Struggle for Contentment
And can’t you hear an echo of Agur’s prayer in the prayer that Jesus teaches to His disciples in Matthew chapter 6, the Lord’s Prayer? “Give us this day, our daily bread.” Jesus also teaches, like Agur, that we would look to God to provide for our needs, that we would be grateful with what He gives, and that we would be generous to the needs of others. The problem is, oftentimes the way we think and the way we live is in many times opposite of the Lord’s Prayer. Can’t you see it in your own hearts and your own minds that we would pray, “Honored be my name. My kingdom come, my will be done. I’ll take my daily bread and whatever else I can get while I’m at it.” Our lifestyles exhibit that oftentimes and that attitude can take different forms. It can take the form of being stingy or overspending. It can take the form of worry or wastefulness. It can look like cheating or discontentment. And oftentimes we struggle. We struggle to be content with what we have, to be satisfied with what we have right now, and to trust God with what we need in the future.
No Things In Moderation
I think a fair motto for our time, for our culture, for our circles is, “No things in moderation.” Do you find that to be true? Do nothing in moderation – whether it’s school or work or youth sports or activities, weddings and social events. Maybe it’s our homes or our hobbies or our vacations. Almost everything is pushed to the limit. There’s a desire to have it all and it’s exhausting. Of course it is. Because how can there be any space in a busy and overstretched lifestyle to make room for spiritual matters, to make room for spiritual concerns? And where’s the evidence that we’re living for the promises of God instead of living for ourselves and for the here and now when we live that way? It’s hard. It’s hard with full bellies and full bank accounts and full schedules to pay attention to God. With so many options at our fingertips, at our fingertips, there’s a temptation to think, “I’m in control and I can eliminate risks and I can order and organize my life to bring about success.”
And Jesus told us about the folly of that sort of lifestyle, that sort of mentality. You remember the parable in Luke chapter 12 where there was a rich man. His fields produced abundantly. His fields produced so much that he did not have any room in his barn to keep all that he had produced. And what does he say? He says, “I’ll tear down my barns and I’ll build bigger ones and I’ll store all my grain and my goods and I’ll say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years. Relax. Eat, drink and be merry.’” But what does Jesus say? God said to that man, “Tonight, this night your soul is required of you.” And all those things, everything you’ve stored up for years to come, whose will they be then? And we could think about the rich young ruler who came to Jesus asking what he must do to be saved and he went away sad. Why did he go away sad? Because he had many possessions, he had much possessions.
Danger in Riches
There’s a danger in riches, and Agur prays here, “Feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny You and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’” Who needs God when you have everything? There’s so many options; there’s little time for God. That’s the danger of riches, and Agur is well aware of that and that’s informing his prayer and that’s welling up in his heart. The danger in riches.
Danger in Porverty
But there's also danger in poverty. There's the danger of being poor and stealing and profaning the name of God. And Agur prays against that too. There are many causes of poverty and it is a reality and it is a problem which is complex and it calls for sensitivity and sympathy and compassion and generosity and wisdom. But I think the poverty that Agur is talking about here and the poverty that we find mentioned throughout the book of Proverbs is poverty as a lifestyle. Poverty as a lifestyle. And over and over throughout the Proverbs, we read verses like this from Proverbs 23, "Be not among drunkards or among gluttonous eaters of meat, for the drunkard and the glutton will come to poverty and slumber will clothe them with rags." A little bit later, we read this. "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." We think about the prodigal son in Jesus' story. He was in extreme poverty and it was as a result of utter folly. Folly and waste and laziness opens one up to the temptation to steal and to profane the name of God.
I heard a story this past week about the North Lake Hermit. He was a man in Maine who lived in the woods, basically unnoticed for twenty-seven years, by himself, without a house in the woods, in a sort of little campsite. And he would hunt and gather his food and provide for himself but the problem came in winter time and the snow came and he couldn’t hunt and he couldn’t gather food and so he was forced to steal. And he would go into the cabins around the lake and he would stockpile food for the winter. But he made himself some rules, some rules to follow as he stole. And his rules were that he would only steal from second homes, and he would not break a pane of glass, and when he picked a lock he would make sure that he locked the house back when he left so that no one else could break in and take the person’s stuff. He had lots of rules! It’s sort of ridiculous, isn’t it? Lots of rules but it was not a lawful life. He was ashamed about it. His poverty and his stealing, it ignored God. It ignored God who is righteous and who is lawful and it ignored God who provides. He left and abandoned everything he had which God had provided for him to pursue that sort of poverty and folly.
There’s folly in riches, there’s folly in poverty, and so Agur prays, “Give me neither poverty nor riches,” and he asks rather for a modest and plain and content lifestyle. A life of trusting God to provide, not leaning on his own resources, leaning on his own ways. He’s asking for a life of restraint and humility and reasonable expectations. A life of seeking first the kingdom of God and all these things will be added to you.” There’s a song, a Getty song, that’s actually been sung here in this sanctuary before and I think it captures this prayer of the Proverbs, Agur’s prayer here. And the chorus of the song is a prayer as well. Here is how it goes. It says, “O teach me, Lord, to walk this road, the road of simple living. To be content with what I own and generous in giving. And when I cling to what I have, please wrest it quickly from my grasp; I’d rather lose the things of earth to gain the things of heaven.” That’s a good prayer. That’s a prayer like Agur prays.
And there are lots of things that we could talk about pursuing and cultivating and enjoying this sort of a lifestyle, but let me just give us two things tonight. Two practical, tangible things to observe that come from God’s Word, that come from the Bible. Maybe you already know what they are. They are the Sabbath and the tithe. There is a beauty and a genius in the Sabbath in that God would ordain from the beginning six days of work and one day of rest. There is work, there is diligent stewardship of God’s talents and His resources that He’s given to us to meet our needs. And then there’s rest. There is rest, a day to be refreshed and to express dependence and gratitude and contentment to God. A day to worship. You see, the Sabbath rest, it guards us against overwork and from seeking to get all that we can in all the time that we have to fulfill all of our desires.
So we have to ask ourselves, “Do we work to meet our needs and to glorify God?” or “Do we work to gain riches and honor?” The Sabbath forces us to ask, “Do we rest and worship one day out of every seven to orient our lives around God?” or “Is Sunday a catch-all day? The day that we can do the things that we didn’t get done in the other six days of the week?” And we live in a time in which two-income households are the norm. We have to ask ourselves, “Do we have two incomes in order to meet our needs or to give us options – options of food and drink, options of vacation and club?” And what about our kids needs? Not just their physical needs but their emotional needs and their spiritual needs as well. Surely, much of our stress and our discontentment in our day comes from a neglect of the Lord’s Day.
And then there’s the tithe. From early in the Bible we see God’s people bringing to God a tenth of their first fruits as a starting point for honoring God with their possessions. Giving was from the first and the best, not from what was leftover. And ten percent was more of a starting point, a place to begin, and not something to work toward. You see, the tithe is a way of expressing that everything, that all that we have, belongs to God. It’s God’s and it’s our gift. He’s given it to us as a gift and as a stewardship.
God doesn’t need our money, but we need to give it. And Paul says that very thing in the book of Philippians. He said, “I don’t seek the gift but I seek the fruit that increases to your benefit, to your blessing.” And so giving to God, it builds trust, it builds gratitude, it builds generosity, it builds a delight in the things of God’s kingdom. And as we loosen our grip on money, we will find that money loosens its grip on us and we worry less about it. We have a less of a desire to control it and to use it to control others. I’m not talking about a legalistic practice to earn or to merit salvation. I’m talking about a practice that comes out of a relationship with God, out of knowing the love of God and the forgiveness of sins in Christ Jesus; a practice that comes out of having seen and tasted that the Lord is good.
I was reading a book this week about possessions and this is one quote that struck me. It says that "When the American Christians average of total giving per family is below 3% of per capita income" – I think it's maybe around 2.5% – "surely we can do considerably better. I am convinced that a substantial majority of American Christians and probably most in other parts of the first world could at least tithe if they made it a priority. And I am confident that many could do better than that." That's a challenge. And I've heard Thom Rainer, the former president of Lifeway Resources say, you know, money is one of those of the table topics. In talking about spiritual maturity, discipleship issues, we can say, "How's your quiet time? How are you doing with your quiet time?" but we can't say, "How are you doing with your giving?" And yet our giving is a major indication and mark of our spiritual maturity.
Prayer with Urgency
The Sabbath and the tithe, they will change our lifestyle and they are tangible, they are practical, they are doable. We could start today, start tomorrow, to implement those things in seeking a lifestyle that’s neither poverty nor riches but trusting God with contentment and joy in what He’s given to us. It may not be easy. It may even bring opposition to you. But our lifestyle, along with our speech, says a lot. And so Agur prays, he prays with urgency. He prays that his speech and his lifestyle would be with truth and contentment. Why such urgency? Why is there urgency in his prayer? It’s because our speech and our lifestyle reveals our hearts – about whether our hearts look to God through faith in Christ. Do our hearts enjoy God? Are our hearts right with God, in a relationship with Him? Do we want more and more to honor Him and enjoy Him more? That’s what our speech and our lifestyle reveals about our hearts.
Maybe you’ve heard this story before about our friend, Will Terry. Will Terry is a man with Down Syndrome and years ago Will was having surgery, was having heart surgery, and as he was in the pre-op room and he was surrounded by the nurses he said to one of the nurses, he says, “Look for Jesus. He’s in my heart.” I love that, because there’s a simple, childlike faith there – a trust and a love for Jesus and wanting other people to see it. You see? How can we show others that we’ve trusted in Jesus for salvation? How will others see that He’s paid for our sins on the cross, He’s set us free from deception and falsehood and lying, He’s set us free from idolatry? He’s given us a new life by His resurrection. He’s given us a new heart. “If anyone is in Christ he is a new creation. The old is gone, behold, the new has come!” When we express our hearts, our being made new through our speech and through our lifestyle, by truth and contentment. That’s the urgency. It’s that important. And that takes wisdom. And so let’s pray.
Dear heavenly Father, two things we ask of You, that You would not deny them to us before we die: Would You remove from us falsehood and lying, would You give us neither poverty nor riches, that You would feed us with the food that is needful for us so that we would not be full and deny You and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ or that we would not be poor and steal and profane Your name. You tell us in the book of James that if any of us lacks wisdom to ask and You give wisdom without reproach. We ask for wisdom. Would You give us wisdom in all these areas that we’ve studied over the last few weeks with our relationships and towards life and death and in the fear of You and a life of wisdom. We ask that You would give us wisdom and that we would mold and shape everything we do for Your glory because You have loved us with a love that will never let us go, which has blessed us with every blessing in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. And we pray this in Jesus’ name, amen.