The book of Proverbs addresses many practical issues in the Christian life, such as marriage, family, labor, government, business, truth-telling and the like. Yet, of all the topics addressed in Proverbs, apart from wisdom itself, there are more verses about wealth and poverty than about any other topic. In fact, there are more than 100 verses in Proverbs on topics related to wealth and poverty. In surveying the passages on wealth and poverty in this book, it is interesting to observe the breadth of teaching. Let’s briefly survey some of the highlights.
Wealth and Poverty: A Blessing or a Curse?
Concerning wealth, we learn in Proverbs that wealth can sometimes be a blessing. For instance, Prov. 10:22 teaches, “The blessing of the Lord makes one rich, and He adds no sorrow with it.” Of course, few people would deny that wealth often feels like a blessing; however, Proverbs also notes that wealth can be undesirable, if not a curse. For example, in Prov. 30:8–9 the author prays,
Remove falsehood and lies far from me; Give me neither poverty nor riches. Feed me with the food allotted to 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.
Clearly, the author of this passage feared that material abundance, or material lack, might cause him to neglect his Christian growth and tarnish the name of God. In short, wealth is a blessing if it comes to believers from the hand of God; however, wealth can be a curse if it leads one away from God and toward self-sufficiency.
Just like its teachings on wealth, perhaps somewhat surprisingly, the book of Proverbs explains that poverty can sometimes be a blessing—or, at least, a desirable estate.
To elaborate, Prov. 28:6 reports, “Better is the poor who walks in his integrity than one perverse in his ways, though he be rich” (see Prov. 19:1, 17; 22:22–23; 23:10–11). In contrast, this book also teaches that poverty can be a curse. For example, Proverbs reveals that poverty can be the just result of immoral activities, such as drunkenness, gluttony, gambling, and sloth, as it teaches, “For the drunkard and the glutton will come to poverty and drowsiness will clothe a man with rags. . . . He who follows frivolity will have poverty enough!” (Prov. 23:21; 28:19; see Prov. 10:4; 12:11, 24; 14:23; 20:13). So poverty, like wealth, can be either a blessing or a curse. Poverty is a blessing if it prompts us to rely upon God; yet, poverty is a curse if it is the result of sin.
Proverbs teaches that God is not as concerned with how much or how little we possess. He is concerned with what led to our given material status and how well we steward our material resources.
To summarize the above, then, the book of Proverbs does not give preference or favor to a particular material status—either wealth or poverty. As is the case in passages elsewhere in Scripture (see 1 Cor. 4:2; 1 Pet. 4:10), so Proverbs teaches that God is not as concerned with how much or how little we possess. He is concerned with what led to our given material status and how well we steward our material resources. Rather than always favoring wealth over poverty, which is our predisposition, we must remember that wealth can be the result of thievery and dishonesty, as well as of labor and industry (see Prov. 10:4; 12:11, 24, 27; 13:4, 11; 14:23; 20:13; 21:5; 22:29; 28:19). Similarly, poverty can be the result of sloth and apathy, or of generosity and charity (see Prov. 6:6–11; 10:4; 19:15; 21:17).
Embracing Proverbs’ View of Wealth and Poverty
In conclusion, the temptation for many Christians is to commit errors related to biblical teachings on wealth and poverty, such as assuming that loving God will make us rich (i.e., the prosperity gospel), believing that poverty is always the result of sin (i.e., Job’s friends), viewing wealth as inherently evil (i.e., materialism), or equating poverty with holiness (i.e., monasticism). Yet, the book of Proverbs repeatedly exhorts us to develop a proper and balanced view of wealth and poverty.
As with everything else in the material world, so human beings are prone to distort biblical teachings, misunderstand God’s revelation and misuse God’s good gifts. However, as we grow in Christ, believers can embrace what the book of Proverbs says about wealth and poverty.