This week's Bible Study - June 7, 2015
Earn Money Honestly
Proverbs 6:1-11; 30-31
Quotes of the Week:
The usual complaint is, 'I have no other way of earning a living.' The harsh reply can be, 'Do you have to live?'
This next series of lessons is on money, which is an issue to which all of us can relate. While this lesson is primarily about earning money honestly, there will be additional lessons on saving, wise spending, generosity, how we use our money and on giving thanks. We learn about money at an early age. We may not have a concept of what it means to have a lot or a little, but even as small children, we see how our parents and others make transactions at stores or restaurants. When I grew up, our family primarily used cash, but today debit cards, credit cards and even smart phones are used to pay for goods. If you read this in the future, who knows what it will be?
Regardless of how one pays for goods and services, there must be some way to earn the money that backs up the payment. Some 'lucky' people win the lottery and believe that everything that they need is covered from that point on. Sadly, this is not true in most cases, as their lives often change dramatically for the worse. One lottery winner said that they were bombarded by the media for interviews, and family members - many they've never heard of - have hit them up for loans and financial favors. "There are days I wish we were back to just getting paid every two weeks," This and even worse is a common occurrence for those who have won the lottery. Do you really want to the win the lottery?
There are professional athletes, who over the course of a few short years amass great wealth, even in the millions and millions of dollars. There are many stories of those who are bankrupt now, as they spent their money as fast (or faster) than they made it. In fact, some of them have led others in their families into financial ruin, as well. There are some in our society who find it easier to not work, but to allow for the government to cover for all of their needs. Certainly, help is needed in many cases, but this can be and is also widely abused. And, then there are those who work almost every day, earning a paycheck every week, every two weeks or perhaps at the end of a job.
There are many people who work for their entire lives. Most of us started working early - perhaps even by earning allowance in our homes. At the time, we may have thought that to be unfair (having to clean rooms or pick up after ourselves), but over time, we realize that we learn a lot in these types of tasks. As teenagers, many of us got jobs so that we could pay for entertainment and gas (once we started driving). We may wish that we had a wealthy family that provided all of that, but there were certainly life lessons to be learned by working for what we have. Some went to college, while others started working right away. The notion of work is something that we all understand. We may not enjoy the concept, but we know that work (and money) is necessary to be able to function in life.
Some people get themselves into trouble by paying no mind to what they make as opposed to what they spend and they end up chasing themselves to pay for something that they have already used or no longer have. This would be a valuable lesson for each of us. When you pay with cash, you know what you have available and what you can spend. If you don't have it, you can't spend it. If you use checks (which seem outdated now), and you balance your checkbook, you at least have some notion of what is available. Remember, just because you have a check does not mean that you have money! If you use credit cards or debit cards, it can get much trickier, as some charges do not show up immediately, so you can easily get confused. I know more than one person that has paid for a small item (such as a soda) with a debit card, only to be charged a rather exorbitant overdraft fee (greater than $30). As you live and learn, hopefully you have learned from your own similar mistakes. Another typical problem that happens is the presumption that a person will make the money in the months to come, so some people will take out high interest loans to get what they want now, expecting to pay it back soon. I suspect that many have done something similar to this and have lived to regret it - paying for something that they no longer have in their possession.
I've heard of many analogies regarding money and water formations. Depending on how the water flows says a lot about how people use money. However, in any water analogy with money, there must be some source feeding a lake, a creek or a river. In our own financial situation, we must understand that we need money to fuel the things that we do. We need to provide for our own needs and also be able to help others when they are in need. It is important for us to understand how we earn money, so that we do it in accordance with how God has called us to do it. And, truly, this is applicable for both believers and anyone else who chooses to read.
The book of Proverbs was written by Solomon and is full of wisdom. In it, Solomon addresses his son, but the wisdom of this book is timeless and applicable for all people. Many people read a chapter from Proverbs each day of the month, as they find its wisdom to be quite applicable to today's world.
When young people start to graduate from high school, they often become inundated with credit card offers. This can be a trap when anyone begins to sign up for these cards, without understanding what they are doing. It can lead to the thought that they have free money and that they can buy anything and that they will have access to lots of cash without actually having anything to back it up. If this continues for even a short period of time, the amount of debt that can be amassed can be overwhelming.
In the first couple of verses, Solomon addresses the problem associated with making yourself responsible for another person's debt and pledging to pay it off if they default. The language used expresses putting up security or shaking hands in pledge, but if we wanted to modernize this, we could talk about signing on the dotted line. We would have to agree that by far and away, most people never read what is above the dotted line, anymore that what is above what they 'accept' online when loading an application on their phone or computer.
The implication of making yourself responsible for another in financial matters may be thought of cosigning for a loan. The advice for cosigning a loan for a family member or friend is always virtually the same: Don't do it, and if you do, understand the consequences if something goes wrong. Some parents will do this for their children, when they are still at home and are able to control finances. However, this is up to individual families to decide, as there can be considerable risk. When a child becomes an adult, cosigning on a loan is very seldom good advice. If you choose to cosign, you are expressing that you will cover repayment, in the event that the other person defaults. Certainly the person for whom you cosign will never say that they plan to default, but this often happens. All you need to do is "google" information about cosigning loans and you will understand that it is very risky and can lead to financial ruin for all parties.
The advice that is given in the next few verses is to essentially get off the note. When we have allowed others to control our resources, we are potentially putting ourselves in an intolerable situation that we find to be totally out of our control. As Solomon writes, it is more than just guidance, but he implies that one should go today and beg to be taken off of the note, or risk the potential to end up in poverty or slavery yourself. Wouldn't it have been better to not allow yourself and your finances to be put in that situation in the first place? If the situation has merit and you are agreeable, it is often better to give the money to someone else rather than cosigning. Even in those cases, consider the amount of risk you are willing to accept. In these words, Solomon is giving wisdom for successful business lives and allowing us to prosper.
There is a shift in the thought, beginning in verse 6, focused more on our own actions that we can control. Solomon writes that we should caution ourselves against becoming lazy. This isn't to say that we should be always on the go, as we all do need a break from the normal aspects of work life. Each of us needs to be able to take a vacation from time to time and enjoy some time off of work. The problem occurs, however, when the day here or there becomes a lifestyle. A sluggard, as referenced in verse 6, implies one who has begun to see work as something that 'others' do.
While we can learn lessons from other people, Solomon asks us to consider the ant. The ant has no commander, no overseer or ruler. Yet, they continue to do the task at hand. When you think of people in the workplace, have you ever noticed how much busier people tend to get when the boss in nearby? I've been to fast food restaurants where things are orderly when the manager is in, but on off hours, the employees are anything but organized and orderly when the boss is away.
If you've ever watched ants (which might be the job of a sluggard!), you will find that they are always busy. It is as if they all have something to do and someplace to go. I've never seen an ant relaxing against a blade of grass or lying out to get some sun. The ant seems to know what they need to do. They prepare ahead and are never short of food. They don't have to be driven to work, but they work because there is something that needs to be done. Certainly, it would be a stretch to compare our work lives to that of an ant, but are we doing what we need to do or are we assuming that someone else will come in and take care of it?
Beginning in verse 9, Solomon states that the sluggard likes to sleep. Granted, we all like to sleep, but the notion he gives is of one who would rather sleep late than go to work. When you associate with a sluggard, you begin to make excuses such as "I don't have time to work right now" or "I just need to sleep a little more". Certainly, we all may need some more rest at times, but there is a danger when it becomes the norm. While it will not happen overnight, poverty will come upon the one who chooses to not work. Money needs to be earned by the sweat of the brow and with busy hands. For some, money comes by using their mind to come up with new ideas on how to do things or to make things work. When anyone chooses to not use their God given talents, they can easily find themselves in poverty. Solomon writes that just as a victim is overcome by a robber, so a lazy person who chooses not to work is overcome by poverty.
It doesn't take too long for a lifestyle of ease to take over and have a negative impact on your life. Are you continuing to learn from the ant? It may not mean that you work outside of the home, but are you industrious with your time?
Often, when people choose to not work, they end up resorting to theft. Rather than work for what they need in life, it may seem that they can just take it from others who have 'more than they need'. Certainly this passage is not condoning stealing. When a person and/or his family has become so hungry that they feel they have no other option than to steal food to feed themselves, we may have some level of sympathy on the situation. However, this is not saying that it is what God has intended. In fact, the passage says that prosecution may very well be avoided, but there is repayment of much more than what was stolen that is required.
This lesson may be very difficult for some people. With our economic ups and downs, many people have lost jobs at different points in their lives and may have had severe financial hardships, not based on their own inaction. There are others who have worked entire careers at companies, trusting in pensions and other moneys that should be set aside for the future. In some cases, these companies have folded, leaving people with little to show for their work. There will be times where friends and families, including churches, may need to help those who have these needs. But, even in those cases, it is wise to continue to seek employment, if one is able.
The passage studied speaks against cosigning, or if you choose to do so, you need to understand the serious risks you are taking. I was reading through some other articles on this subject and there has been the trend in the past where adult children are asking their parents and other family members to cosign for them. However, there is becoming more and more the reverse scenario, as more people have reached retirement and seem unable to provide for their own needs. The key here is to be wise with what you have and to ensure that you can take care of your own situation. There will be times where that is not simply possible, but it is not fair to yourself or others to put yourself in a financial hole and expect others to pull you out.
We are to learn from the ant. The ant knows what to do and does it. In your own life, at work or at home, you likely know the things that you need to do. Certainly, rest is required and breaks are required, but are you industrious in getting things done? I know in my own life, there have been times where I got halfway through a task and moved onto something else. It can be a problem if I don't return to a task that needed to get done. Unless you are a workaholic, which is the other extreme, I believe that each of us can do more, or that we need to do more. What can you learn from the ant?
Let us all beware the warning of folding our hands and resting, making that the priority of our lives. When we do so, we are inviting poverty to head our way. Use your time well and do the things that you can do while you can do them. We are not guaranteed to have any certain number of years that we will be able to work and we are not guaranteed that someone else will take care of us. Use your time, while you are able to work, to earn money to provide for your own financial needs and to provide some benefit to others in need.