Realizing the presence, promise, and power of the Kingdom of God.
The DEEP

A Heart Set Free

A mark of wisdom in a generous heart

 

Proverbs 3:9-10

Honor the Lord with your possessions,
And with the firstfruits of all your increase;

10 So your barns will be filled with plenty,
And your vats will overflow with new wine.

 

What would you do if you suddenly received one billion dollars? For the moment, let not get bogged down in circumstances–just know that it is here, it is real and it is YOURS.

What to do? First, I bet some bills would be paid, or home, car and all debt would be paid off. Then the college funds for the kids–no more night classes at the community college for junior, he’s going to Harvard! Of course, the house needs sprucing up, so perhaps it’s time for new furniture–or even a new house. 

Wait, what about the Lord? Do you need to consider Him? 

Well, of course! What I meant was that I would buy a the new house, the upgrades and all that other stuff after I gave back to God. Well, and after taxes, I suppose–since Uncle Sam will want his piece of my new pie, and with whipped cream on it. 

I am sure this is a scenario that you and I have run through our minds at least a million times during our lives. We love the idea of winning the lottery, finding buried treasure or simply finally reaching that new tax bracket that we have set our sights on as the mark of success. There is a darkly humorous, yet charming movie entitled "Waking Ned Devine" that portrays the conniving citizens of a small Irish village who find themselves with an opportunity to do just that–with hilarious results.

Here, in the third chapter of Proverbs, Solomon paints a picture of wealth and abundance and the blessings of God. Verses 9-10 are part of the “marks of wisdom” that Tim Keller shares with us. These marks include “trusting in the Lord,” “submitting to God,” and having a “teachable” heart. As Solomon instructs his son–and the sons and daughters of Israel, he is imparting to them instruction on how to live out the wisdom that they are being taught.

In the brief, descriptive manner of Hebrew poetry, Solomon lays out a colorful image of how you are to handle or manage that one aspect of this world that seems to be the cause of–and solution to–most of life’s problems: how we see wealth and prosperity. This leads to the fourth mark: “a generous heart.”

This is not really a message about tithing or even how to spend your money. You have learned now in Proverbs, that wisdom is a matter of the heart–and your actions are directly reflected by what goes on inside you.

Think for a moment about that windfall of cash. How do people around you usually respond when large blessings come to them? Are they grateful? Do they feel that “their ship has come in” and let the party begin? This is human nature, and often when unexpected riches come upon you, you quickly discover that you have long-lost relatives, new best friends, and a desire for expensive things.

Before you know it, the funds are gone. A recent study of winners of the Florida lottery reveals that 70% of lottery winners go “broke” within five years. Even worse, I have known ministry situations where a needy family is suddenly provided with thousands of dollars in gifted funds–only to be destroyed by substance abuse or other excesses as they struggled to deal with the consequences. 

A sudden influx of cash does not guaranty that poverty will be forever avoided–or even that the need or concern for money goes away. Douglas Adams, in his quirky, satirical novel “Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy,” makes a reference to the worry and concern caused by love of money on the (recently destroyed) planet Earth:

This planet has - or rather had - a problem, which was this: most of the people living on it were unhappy for pretty much of the time. Many solutions were suggested for this problem, but most of these were largely concerned with the movement of small green pieces of paper, which was odd because on the whole it wasn't the small green pieces of paper that were unhappy.–Douglas Adams, “Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy”

This is one of the things that Solomon is getting at: to be wise, is to have a healthy view of wealth and how it is to be obtained in this life–and the blessings that may come from God as a result:

Honor the Lord with your possessions,
And with the firstfruits of all your increase;–Proverbs 3:9-10

Notice here that Solomon does not mention “money.” Commentator Bruce Waltke reveals that when Proverbs speaks of “riches,” or a “rich man,” it is providing a negative connotation. When Solomon speaks of “wealth,” he describes something positive, or good.

You recall the story of the “rich young ruler” who came to Jesus and asked about salvation.  The young man is from a good family and a comfortable background. He recounts the good works and obedience he can show to the Law and his good jewish instruction. If being good is a lock for being saved, this man is in the front of the line. But Jesus knows his heart: 

21 Jesus said to him, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”–Matthew 19:21

The man knows that this seemingly drastic move is not what he expected. It goes beyond his level of comfort and commitment. His lifestyle will suffer–not to mention what his parents might think–and so he goes away brokenhearted.

Jesus’s disciples have witnessed this exchange. Most of them come from a working class that does not know the privilege of the educated or religious elite in their society. Most of their theological training has been in the field and on-the-job following their rabbi through the hills for the past two years. For them, if anyone could be saved it was this young man. 

And yet Jesus has made an object lesson of him. Christ is not condemning wealth, but the love of it. Safety, security and financial blessing are a goal of a man’s life–but the love of these by those who lack or whom have attained it, is a stumbling block to saving faith.  

Do you seek safety and security in this world? Of course you do. The more you gain, the more difficult it may become to live the sacrificial life is demanded of the believer who truly follows Christ.

This image of the sacrificial life is built in to verse 9 of Proverbs 3. The possessions you have are a direct result of the Providence of God. Thus, He is to be seen as the owner of all you have. So how do you “honor the Lord” with these things” 

You are to give if your “firstfruits.” This hearkens back to Cain and Abel in the early days of tilling the soil after the fall and the Garden of Eden. In Genesis 4, Cain, a farmer, offers a sacrifice of “fruit of the ground” to God, while his brother Abel, a shepherd, offers the firstborn of his flock–a fattened lamb. 

You know that Abel’s offering was accepted, but Cain’s was not. God knew that Abel honored Him with the best–with the first–while Cain’s offering was simply what he could part with.

So what are your “firstfruits?” Before you think about tax rates and reporting on your 1040, remember that I mentioned that this was not directly about tithing.  What God is seeking from you is what R.C. Sproul calls “your whole-hearted trust.” 

When you give of your “firstfruits” you are giving to God what would (if you were a farmer) be the first yield of your crop. For non-farmer types like you and me, the firstfruits of a believer can amount to nearly anything you hold dear in this life. 

For you it may be money–but it can be your house, your career, or just your need to accumulate “stuff.” Or perhaps it is your sense of security, your personal talents…or even your children. The parents of children who become foreign missionaries may well know the true pain-and joy–of this “firstfruit” sacrifice.

You do this, because Jesus has done this for you. As Paul tells you in second Corinthians:

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich.–II Corinthians 8:9

Solomon is saying that when you have a truly generous heart, it is when you give to God first, and trust in Him that He will bless you ever after. This is a trust like that a farmer giving of his first harvest to God and the poor, even though, as Tim Keller says, “it wasn’t certain how big the harvest would actually be.” Or if the harvest would ultimately fail.

This possibility is addressed in the second part of this passage. Verse 10 shows that God is the God of outcomes as well as the gifts and labor that produce the wealth:

10 So your barns will be filled with plenty,
And your vats will overflow with new wine.–Proverbs 3:10

God will honor the bounty of the child who honors Him with the firstfruits of life. The “new wine” here is what Bruce Waltke reveals to be the first drippings of the first harvest of grapes–before they are trod upon in the press. A picture of true abundance.

This passage appears to be offering a sort of “prosperity gospel” where God will create health and wealth in direct proportion of giving of your tithe or the earnestness of your prayers. We know that God does provide health and wealth–but these are not guarantees. 

It is easy to look at this passage upside down, to see it like a formula to grow your 401K. The thing is, like Christ forsaking the azure halls of heaven for a lowly cattle stall, even the most faithful christians are often no strangers to poverty. The Apostle Paul tells of his struggles–and joys–in this regard:

12 I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. 13 I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.- Philippians 4:12-13

Paul, a learned Jew on the fast track to stardom in his brutal campaign against the early church, nevertheless gave it all up to walk the dusty roads of the ancient world proclaiming the name and message of the One who called to him from the light: “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

Like Paul, we honor God by giving but also honor him by not complaining or getting depressed when He takes away.

How generous is your heart? You may tithe and give to missions and do many other things, but are you willing to part with the firstfruits of your life to follow Him? 

Michael Card has a wonderful song entitled “The Things we Leave Behind” that captures this in the lives of the disciples who left all behind to follow Jesus:

 
Every heart needs to be set free,
from possessions
that hold it so tight
'Cause freedom's not found in the things that we own,
It's the power
to do what is right
Jesus, our only possession,
giving becomes our delight
We can't imagine the freedom we find
from the things we leave behind

When you pursue Godly wisdom–when you show Christ through a generous heart–and give to God the firstfruits of life, then the full barns, the new wine, and even the stock portfolio fade in value. 

You can call upon God to give you wealth and abundance and you can seek to be wise in order to be blessed–but it is only when, like Paul, you realize that when you give up that which you think is wealth, you see the eternal value of the treasure in heaven that you cannot lose (Matthew 19:21). 

 

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The Monday—Friday DEEPs are written by Mike Slay and this Saturday Deep is written by Matt Richardson. To subscribe to all the DEEPs click here:

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The weekly study guides, which include the Monday–Friday devotionals plus related questions for discussion or meditation, are available for download here:

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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. ESV stands for the English Standard Version. © Copyright 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved. NIV stands for The Holy Bible, New International Version®. © Copyright 1973 by International Bible Society. Used by permission. All rights reserved. KJV stands for the King James Version.

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