Proverbs 11:24-26 (New Living Translation)
Give freely and become more wealthy; be stingy and lose everything. The generous will prosper; those who refresh others will themselves be refreshed. People curse those who hoard their grain, but they bless the one who sells in time of need.
Jack Benny was a comedian in the heyday of radio and in the early days of television. The character he played on his show was notoriously stingy and penny-pinching. In one of Benny’s most famous skits, he is innocently walking along the street when he’s held up at gunpoint. The robber tells Benny: “This is a stick-up. Now c’mon! Your money or your life!”
There is a long, dramatic pause, and then the robber repeats the demand: “Look, bud, I said: your money or your life!” Which causes Benny to yell back in an annoyed voice, “I’m thinking it over!!!”*
Our scripture today would sound totally counterintuitive to the Jack Bennys of the world. After all, if you give away your resources, if you are generous with your money, then you’d have nothing left for yourself, right? This is what financial guru Dave Ramsey calls “The Great Misunderstanding.” In the last session of his Financial Peace University class, Ramsey says, “The paradox is the mistaken belief that the way to have more is to hold on tightly.”
Money is a wonderful tool, no doubt about it. It enables us to purchase what we need, to assist others, and to enjoy ourselves. Other verses in Proverbs teach us about the proper usage of money, such as: “The wise man saves for the future but the foolish man spends whatever he gets” (21:20) and “Good planning and hard work lead to prosperity, but hasty shortcuts lead to poverty” (21:5). Financial resources, utilized wisely, are a good gift from God.
But our focus is out of order when we view accrual of money as the goal instead of the means. That’s when that good gift from God becomes distorted and damaged… and dangerous. Paul cautioned his young protégé Timothy about this: “For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the true faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows” (1 Timothy 6:10).
Ironically, in real life Jack Benny was very generous. He gave quietly to charities and took care of his friends. When he received a lucrative offer from a new radio station, before he accepted for himself he first used his influence to negotiate contracts for his entire cast. Totally unheard of at that time.
When you have used your resources to help someone else, how did that feel?
* To hear the Jack Benny “Your Money or Your Life” skit, click here. It’s less than a minute long.