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Fake it Till you Make it

Wisdom in living within your means

Proverbs 13:7

7 There is one who makes himself rich, yet has nothing;
And one who makes himself poor, yet has great riches.


An old shrimp boat captain once imparted some financial wisdom to me. I spent many years in a financial career working for local and regional banks as a lender. He had come to me for a commercial loan, but for whatever reason he did not qualify. And so I drove out to the islands to personally give him the news. 

As we stood on the dock looking down the creek and out across the seemingly endless South Carolina salt marsh, he simply laughed and shook his head. 

“Banks,” he said, “if you need the money, they won’t give it to you, but if you don’t need the money they won’t leave you alone.”

At least he was philosophical about it. I am happy to say that even though my bank was unable to extend financing to him, I was able to refer him to another lender who could–one who specialized in agriculture and fishing-related loans and who had access to a pool of state funds designated for that purpose.

You cannot work in finance for years and not learn such nuggets of wisdom. If you do not figure them out on your own, there will always be someone like that sun-scorched and salt-toughened fisherman to provide them for you.

There are a couple more “banking proverbs” that can apply to daily life. One is, “if you owe the bank one hundred thousand dollars, but cannot pay it back, then you have a problem. However, if you owe the bank one million dollars, but cannot pay it back–then the bank has a problem.”

Most of us can attest to the nationwide drama that took place about fifteen years ago because of that one.

Here is another: When the tide goes out, you find out who has been swimming naked.

This one was told to me and a group of fellow banking officers by the CEO of the bank where I worked at the time. A year later, the aforementioned “Great Recession of 2008” occurred, and there were indeed many people–and banks–revealed to be skinny-dipping in the surf of fiscal solvency.

Perhaps this happened to you as well during that time. If so, you were not alone–for most of western culture could feel the sea breeze where its swim trunks should have been.

Solomon returns again and again to certain themes in the book of Proverbs. Righteousness, life, love, wisdom, and wealth. Here in chapter 13, he once more turns to the subject of finance. He teaches his young pupils of the blessings of wealth that wisdom can bring, as well as the financial–and spiritual– poverty that follows in the wake of foolishness:

7 There is one who makes himself rich, yet has nothing;
And one who makes himself poor, yet has great riches.–Proverbs 13:7

This is a great proverb that captures a time-honored rule of thumb: “fake it, till you make it.” Such a phrase is descriptive of someone who may lack knowledge or ability, but is willing to adopt an attitude or persona that plays the part of success–at least until it is finally achieved. Or perceived to have been achieved.

It can be found in several pop culture sources, including a song by Simon and Garfunkel, appropriately titled “Fakin’ It:”

"And I know I'm fakin' it, I'm not really makin' it.”

Verse 7 is a somewhat ambiguous verse that essentially puts a finger on the tendency in us to act like we know more than we do, or put on an appearance of success before others, even when we are not.

Do you ever feel the social pressure to do this? You live in neighborhood, surrounded by others who may have more than you–nicer homes, nicer cars, a boat in the driveway. You may not be able to have these, or choose not to send your money on such toys, but you are certainly tempted at times to let others know that you can afford them if you wished. 

Or perhaps you cannot, but you simply act like you can.

Robert Ruark, a columnist for “Field and Stream” once wrote about taking your time to learn and earn your knowledge and success:

Knowledge is accumulation. You’re supposed to fill your skull with lots of things, against the day you might need one of them. And remember this: you can’t pour a gallon of Knowledge into a one quart brain. The idea is to make the brain big enough and flexible enough to handle what it has to handle.-Robert Ruark, “The Old Man and the Boy” 

Are you trying to “pour a gallon of knowledge into a one quart brain” by living beyond your means or pretending skills and knowledge you do not have? 

You can fake success in your job by “talking a good game” to your boss or your clients to make them think you know a winning strategy. You boast a little too loudly to your neighbor about your great business connections, or spend a little too much on vacations or parties, just to show them that you can keep up–but in the end you can only find yourself in deeper debt, and still lagging behind. 

Commentator Bruce Waltke says it best:

The impoverished fool pretends to be rich both to give the appearance of wisdom’s success and to command social respect, while the rich fool pretends to be poor to avoid helping the needy. Both are frauds.–Bruce Waltke, “Proverbs” 

This fraud is a normal, natural instinct of survival in a culture that prizes material wealth and financial success. This phenomenon is spoken of in the previous chapter: 

9 Better is the one who is slighted but has a servant,
Than he who honors himself but lacks bread.–Proverbs 12:9

This verse means that modest, humble, people will endure society’s slights or discomforts in order to live within their means. Nowadays, average people do not have “servants,” but labor-saving appliances, cars, and other things exist and often are things by which a person is judged. 

The proverb is suggesting something like, “it may better to drive a paid-for Toyota than to owe $100,000 on a new Tesla.” 

Do you struggle financially, and feel the need to spend money you do not have to “keep up appearances?” How about your church? It is sometimes tempting for churches to “throw money” at problems, instead of exercising patience or covering then in earnest prayer. 

Having trouble getting kids to come to the youth group? Then buy an expensive church van! Congregation attendance going down? Then build a big new sanctuary! These kinds of solutions often bring even larger problems–not to mention show poor stewardship. 

The flip side to living beyond your means to impress your friends and neighbors, is to be truly wealthy, but adopt an attitude of poverty in order to avoid generosity.

Wealth is not wrong, it is a life goal, and encouraged throughout the Bible–along with keeping it in its proper perspective. In Proverbs, remember, being “rich” is often associated with greed and evil, but “wealth” is considered a righteous pursuit. St. Augustine preached the proper attitude of godly wealth:

Let him be humble. Let him be more glad that he’s a Christian than he’s rich. Don’t let him be puffed up or become high and mighty. Let him take notice of the poor man and his brother, and not refuse to be called the poor man’s brother. After all, however rich he may be, Christ is richer, and He wanted all for whom He shed His blood to be His brethren.-St. Augustine, Sermon 36.1-2,5

Can you begin to see how all of this is considered a form of fraud? For the poor fool to live beyond his means, he defrauds society by claiming undeserved honor. He may own them, but he has not truly earned the trappings that he flaunts before others. 

Likewise, a rich fool who withholds his wealth to God or to help others, is avoiding charity, one of the forms of love to which we are all called to show. It can be easy to avoid giving, or claim that there are no truly worthy causes, but in reality it is a matter of the heart. Jonathan Edwards offers this encouragement in his book, “Charity and its Fruits:”

Do not make an excuse that you have not opportunities to do anything for the glory of God, for the interest of the Redeemer's kingdom, and for the spiritual benefit of your neighbors. If your heart is full of love, it will find vent; you will find or make ways enough to express your love in deeds. When a fountain abounds in water it will send forth streams.–Jonathan Edwards, “Charity and its Fruits”

Do you express your love of Christ through your wealth? In church, do you simply give your 10%, or do you look for even more ways to share the bounty that you have been given? Good stewardship is more than simply “everyone giving their fair share,” it is having a heart for God and His kingdom in every aspect of life–including financially. 

When Paul, Silas, and Timothy reached Philippi they met a woman there who would soon form part of the core of a new church: 

14 Now a certain woman named Lydia heard us. She was a seller of purple from the city of Thyatira, who worshiped God. The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul. 15 And when she and her household were baptized, she begged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” So she persuaded us.–Acts 16:14-15

Lydia was a wealthy woman and a prosperous merchant. It is clear from Paul’s account that she shared more than her home and encouragement, she also shared her wealth with the young church. The Lord “opened her heart” and she understood her purpose, and the purpose of her wealth in light of Christ. 

This is the second way that pretending to have wealth or pretending to be poor is dishonest: it defrauds God.

The poor fool who pretends to be rich pretends to have received the blessings of God. Like someone who “steals honor” by wearing a military uniform with false ribbons and medals in order to claim that he has been a hero in battle, so is one who lives beyond his means in order to claim success he has not earned. 

Likewise, a rich fool who hides his wealth and does not honor God appropriately, denies the gifts that he has been so obviously given by the Father. This is akin to someone who sees the struggles of his pastor, hears of needs on the mission field, or simply turns a blind eye to his neighbors because somehow their troubles are their own doing or the “result of their own bad choices.” This lack of compassion can have an actual, tangible effect on the people of God–and on your heart for withholding such gifts.

You live in a culture that seeks undeserved honor. Identity politics preaches that you deserve accolades for your skin color, and social media savvy allows you to become an “influencer.” However, Solomon is saying that there is no alternative to simple, honest work that brings honor to God and honor to you. Sharing the fruits of that work with the One who enabled you to earn it, is the only right step.

The Apostle Paul reminds you that Jesus, though heir to the throne of heaven and with all the wealth of the universe as His, nevertheless gave it all up just for you:

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

If you are poor, then let that poverty glorify God. If you are rich, then share that blessing with others, that all may know its source–the One who provides limitless eternal wealth through the completed work of Christ. 



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:

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

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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