August 2

Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise: Living Ethically in the Light of the Bible

Reading schedule

Luke 11:14-28; 1 Timothy 1:12-20; Proverbs 1:8-19; Nehemiah 2

The message of the first of the extended poems in Proverbs is straight-forward: crime doesn’t pay. The elder appeals to the youth to take a different path. However, he is well aware of the seductive attractions on offer. Riches and wealth are available for the taking, though the blood of innocents will be spilled. To the offender, the fate of the victim doesn’t matter. Instead, the youth will find camaraderie within his new-found band of thieves. They offer honour among thieves as seen by them fairly sharing the loot.

The writer does not argue for the wrongness of stealing, mugging or murder. In keeping with the theme of Proverbs, he highlights the practical consequences of the choices we make. The thieves steal from and shed the blood of others, apparently unaware of how their own lives will be consumed. Rather than finding riches and friendship, they will find deception and violence. The writer concludes with his general aphorism: those who seek to profit at another’s expense will lose everything themselves.

Jesus regularly provided other aphorisms. The last will be first (Luke 14:7-14) and those who live by the sword will die by the sword (Matthew 26:52). Such literary devices are not intended to be taken literally, but to provide guiding principles for life. We all know of people who apparently live comfortably and peacefully on a life of crime and violence. Proverbs does not seek to articulate rigid rules of cause and effect, but wise principles that apply in general. Crime doesn’t pay. Honour does not exist among thieves.

It is one thing to hear the proverbs and know the wise sayings. The elder begins by appealing to the youth to listen to his words, and also not to forsake his mother’s teaching. Both mother and father had important roles in the moral education of Israelite children. To avoid abandoning his instruction requires action. The proverbs are extremely practical, highlighting the actions that should flow from a person’s fear of and trust in God. Jesus affirms the importance of not only hearing the word of God, but of obeying it (Luke 11:28).

In this way, the proverbs are written so they can easily come to mind when we are faced with decisions. We will hear sweet nothings whispered in our ears: the customers will never realise when we cut corners; the insurance company will never spot this exaggerated claim; the government will never know about this income. We need to have proverbs memorised and bring them to mind to influence our decisions. Those who go after ill-gotten gain find their own lives looted. Then we need to act on such pearls of wisdom so that they adorn our lives.

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