Parents realize the need to teach their children how to handle their finances. And Christian parents recognize the wealth of material available to them inside the pages of the Bible. And because we love our kids so much we naturally want to give them practical wisdom on how to organize their lives around wise financial principles. For many of us with young children at home, the lessons can’t start soon enough. Recently Forbes Magazine pointed to a report done by the University of Cambridge that revealed that money habits are already formed in children by the age of seven.
I took some time this week in the Old Testament book of Proverbs as I read through the entire book in less than three hours. Proverbs is a collection of short and pithy sayings on wisdom that vary widely and cover a wide range of subjects. Wherever I observed a wise saying in the book related to a financial concept such as avoiding laziness, embracing a strong work ethic, or giving to the poor, I wrote each of the verses down in a separate document. And when I was finished reading all thirty-one chapters, I discovered a wealth of material that spanned some fifteen pages in my notes and covered more than 210 verses in total.
The wisdom I discovered has less to do with Wall Street and more to do with Main Street. While some of the sayings I found were hard to live by, none were overly difficult to understand – anyone with a basic education could grab the basic gist of what Proverbs was saying. By the end of the week I narrowed the lessons down to four traits to raising money-smart kids.
1. Work Matters
Teach your children to embrace work, even hard work. Consistently scattered throughout the pages of the Bible, you’ll find a strong emphasis on the goodness of manual labor.
“Do you see a man skillful in his work? He will stand before kings; he will not stand before obscure men” (Proverbs 12:14).
“From the fruit of his mouth a man is satisfied with good, and the work of a man’s hand comes back to him” (Proverbs 12:14).
You may not really value how much God loves work until you contrast the biblical views with some of the other religious texts of ancient times. Pastor Tim Keller of Redeemer Church in Manhattan recently contrasted the Bible’s view on work with that of Greek mythology. No doubt you’ve heard about the Greek legend of Pandora’s box? The first human beings were living in absolute bliss when Pandora gets a box, and the gods say, “Don’t open that box.” But she opens the box only to allow all of the human miseries that afflict us today come out. What was in the box? Death and decay and disease and aging and sickness and work. Note carefully the last thing to come out the box — work. Work comes out of Pandora’s box in that legend. Work is seen as a problem in the Greek legend.
Yet, work isn’t seen as a problem in the Bible. Indeed, when we discover the original couple in the Garden of Eden, we see them working before anything goes tragically wrong with the fall. Work is consistently seen as a positive thing to be embraced even in the perfect Garden of Eden. Work gives dignity to life and a sense of accomplishment. Parents, teach the next generation to work diligently for their work matters to God.
2. Get Money Honestly
The majority of crimes in the United States are motivated by money. Whether it be public corruption, drug trafficking, money laundering, or tax evasion, the desire for more and more money is at the root of all that’s evil (1 Timothy 6:10). The U. S. Secret Service came into existence during the Civil War because more than one-third of our currency in circulation was thought to be counterfeit. In contrast, my time in reading through Proverbs taught me again and again the value of getting money honestly.
“Bread gained by deceit is sweet to a man, but afterward his mouth will be full of gravel” (Proverbs 20:17).
“A just balance and scales are the Lord’s; all the weights in the bag are his work” (Proverbs 15:11).
“The getting of treasures by a lying tongue is a fleeting vapor and a snare of death” (Proverbs 21:6).
Parents, teach the next generation to get money honestly.
3. Give Generously
One of most important lessons we teach our children is that our possessions really aren’t our possessions. As a family of faith, we believe God owns everything and He allows us to manage His resources.
Early on in Proverbs, we see these words:
“Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce; then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine” (Proverbs 3:9-10).
Traci and I will be married for nineteen years in a few weeks and her experience was pivotal in our early decision to tithe. From the beginning, we’ve enjoyed giving at least ten percent of our income to the church we’ve attended. It’s been a huge blessing to our home.
Yet, we should also teach the next generation to give generously to the poor. Look at these words from the ancient book of Proverbs:
“Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors him” (Proverbs 14:31).
“Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed” (Proverbs 19:17).
“Whoever despises his neighbor is a sinner, but blessed is he who is generous to the poor” (Proverbs 14:21).
“Whoever closes his ear to the cry of the poor will himself call out and not be answered” (Proverbs 21:13).
I am amazed at how the Bible stretches the analogy in the passages above in order to communicate our need to give to those who are in need. Parents, be sure to teach the next generation to give generously to their church and to the needy.
4. Be Content
Whoever loves money never has enough. And despite our relative prosperity measured against other nations, Americans aren’t content with what we have. A recent survey by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling found that 64 percent of Americans couldn’t even cover a $ 1,000 emergency with cash on hand. Another study from Bankrate.com found that one in four Americans does not have a single penny saved.
It’s so important to stress the need to be content with what we have for we live in the most “marketed-to” culture in the history of the world. We must continually fight diligently for the hearts of our children as they are under siege from endless marketing.
Once again, we discover this wisdom from Proverbs…
“Riches do not profit in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivers from death” (Proverbs 11:4).
“Better is a little with the fear of the Lord than great treasure and trouble with it” (Proverbs 15:16).
“Better is a dinner of herbs where love is than a fattened ox and hatred with it” (Proverbs 15:17).
Here’s two experiments to try with your kids to teach contentment:
1) Take a field trip to a dump or a junkyard. One they’re there, they’ll discover piles of “treasures” that were formerly birthday and Christmas presents.
2) Your child wants a new video game system right away and doesn’t have the patience of waiting. If the system costs $399 and he wants you to buy if for him, sit down together in order to work out a payment schedule where you loan your son the money at the going interest rate of nearby bank. Be careful to tell him that he will need to pay on time and don’t forgive him the note. Show him the real cost of his loan by adding the principle and the interest together. By doing this, you are not only teaching your son the value of work but also the real cost of borrowing money.
Parents, be certain to teach the next generation to be content with what they have.
Recently, I completed a series on the Ten Commandments. In the series introduction, I offered three reasons why the Ten Commandments remain important for our day:
1. The Ten Commandments communicate the character of God;
2. They show us the need for mediator;
3. They show us God’s grace.
In case you missed any of the series, here are the links to the series.
The First Command: You Shall Have No Other gods Before Me
Quick Summary: From the hit movie, The Life of Pi, to the gods of Mount Olympus, the Bible’s rationale for why worship should be exclusive.
The Second Command: Do Not Worship Idols
Quick Summary: Idols are not simply found on the silver screen of Indiana Jones movies or inside the pages of National Geographic magazines.
The Third Command: Do Not Take the Lord’s Name in Vain
Quick Summary: More than profanity, God’s name is trademarked and copyrighted.
The Fourth Command: Remember the Sabbath
Quick Summary: Remembering our need for rest.
The Fifth Command: Honor Your Father and Mother
Quick Summary: Exploring the biblical stories of Noah and Joseph in how best to honor our parents.
The Sixth Command: You Shall Not Murder
Quick Summary: Thoughts on the practice of suicide, euthanasia, and abortion in looking at God’s rationale to protect human life.
The Seventh Command: You Shall Not Commit Adultery
Quick Summary: God designed sex as act that glues two people together. Sex is relational cement that belongs only in marriage.
The Eight Command: You Shall Not Steal
Quick Summary: Ask any mother of a preschooler and she will tell you children possess a keen sense of ownership.
The Ninth Command: You Shall Not Lie
Quick Summary: From former Notre Dame coach George O’Leary to the famous court cases of Casey Anthony and George Zimmerman, a look at the level of honesty in contemporary culture.
The Tenth Command: You Shall Not Covet
Quick Summary: The command that places handcuffs on our hearts in addition to our hands.