He who trusts in his riches will fall but the righteous will flourish like a green leaf.
The biggest money mistake is trusting money too much.
Riches provide a sense of security, not genuine security. Riches are not evil, but they are powerful and potentially dangerous. We err whenever we trust in our wealth for well-being and security.
It’s easy but deadly. I like the way motivational speaker Mitch Anthony puts it, "When money becomes our main focus, darkness is not far behind."4
Stocks, bonds, mutual funds, and many other types of investments are called “securities,” yet they provide deceptive security. Think about it. Wealth is just an inanimate thing with no intelligence, personality, or even energy in itself. Trusting in riches leads to certain trouble since the text says will fall, not “may” or “might” fall. The collapse of those who put their confidence in wealth is inevitable. Fortunately, there are better sources of security.
Translation: green leaf
The King James Version (KJV) translates the Hebrew word, עלה (ʽā•lěh, pronounced “ah-leh”), as “branch,” whereas most other translations use the word green leaf or foliage. Regardless of the translation the message is clear: This is a vibrant living organism attached to a much larger life-giving source. Leaves get nourishment from the sun, rain, soil, and carbon dioxide. Leaves grow. During storms even leaves and branches fall from trees, especially if they are not firmly connected to the trunk, but foliage deeply embedded in the life-giving tree survives even strong winds. Brown leaves fall; green leaves flourish.
Just as a leaf draws nourishment from the stem and the sun, the righteous will flourish, that is, extract their life energy from external sources. The text does not specify whence the righteous get nourishment but it’s definitely not from their riches. Thus the righteous are thriving but the lovers of money are cruising for a bruising. Trusting in riches is dangerous. Wealth, in and of itself, does not give life. It cannot give what it does not have. Whether they have little or much the righteous understand that riches don’t warrant their confidence, yet not everyone thinks this way. Many people do not believe in any “higher-power,” let alone in God as an “invisible means of support.” Many atheists are also very rich.
Rich atheists, agnostics, and deists are taking an enormous risk. By choosing to deny, ignore, or effectively snub the God who has blessed them with much wealth they are naively ignorant of what’s ahead. They are like prisoners on death row enjoying a steak and lobster dinner thinking that the warden is their friend when it’s really the day before execution. This sumptuous meal will be their final meal. The Bible is loud and clear that the enjoyment of riches by those who hate God will be very brief. Flash-in-the pan wealth is not lasting prosperity. Loving money is a form of idolatry, and leads to a fall precisely because of misplaced trust. Read all about it in Psalm 49:16-20.
Misplaced trust causes the trouble. A person will fall even if he has little wealth, but he puts his confidence in it. Our attitude toward wealth is more important than our amount of wealth. Wealth gives us a sense of power—an emotional high, but problems arise when we start to trust in our wealth. Someone once told me that wealth in the hand is fine, but wealth in the heart is fatal. This was likely one of the reasons for the downfall of men like Doeg (Psalm 52:6,7) and Haman (Esther 3:9), whose wealth made them feel overconfident, independent of God Himself, and hostile toward those who worship God. Imagine a green plant thinking that it didn’t need light to live.
A Friend Downtown
Many years ago I met a fellow believer in downtown Calgary in a midweek Bible study. His name was Ralph. Ralph was in his early sixties and lived in a downtown apartment on a fixed, but meager, income. He was alone with no family. He couldn’t handle the stress of office work anymore so he took early retirement. His company and government pensions covered his rent and incidentals, but he saved nothing.
He was honest, humble and had a keen mind. I loved him, because he loved Jesus yet he suffered from some serious financial confusion. We lost touch over the years, but I’ll never forget our times together. One day we had lunch together in the old Eaton’s cafeteria. He told me how he felt good now, because it was the beginning of the month and his bank account was up. Looking me in the eye he said, “My courage all depends upon the amount in my bank account.” He insisted on paying for his own meal and we met again, this time for a steak lunch. There he told me how he would enjoy steak at the beginning of the month and then live off bread and water for the last few days at month’s end. I told him if you have $300 per month for food, why don’t you just get 30 envelopes and put $10 each envelope so that you have enough for each day. “No,” he said, “that wouldn’t work for me.” I wondered why, and silently thanked God for parents who taught me the importance of saving and keeping a simple budget.
Courage Needs Money?
Why be courageous in the beginning of the month and cowardly at the end? Why not have some courage for the full thirty days? More importantly, why does our courage need to be tied to our financial resources? One way to test the degree of our trust in riches is to watch our reaction when they are taken away. How depressed or elated are we as our financial resources decrease or increase? It’s a bad sign when we get all excited just because we have more money in the bank, or all worried because we have little in the bank. The Bible’s account of Job is an excellent example of confidence untainted by the love of money. Job trusted in God, not in money (Job 1:21-22).
Competition For Our Trust and Affection
We experience a constant competition for our trust and affection. Money has a powerful pull, and we can easily give it too much time and attention such that we neglect our most important relationships—with God and those in our immediate surroundings. The following one minute video warns us about trading higher value items for lower value items. Usually this comes happens when we put stuff ahead of people. Visit www.biblefinance.org for many practical tools on wise asset management and watch this one minute video by Tom Copland.
Signs of Misplaced Trust
Money has three basic functions:
- A tool to make exchange of goods and services easy (instead of bartering)
- A unit of record to track changes in value (like score-keeping in sports)
- A store of value and economic power (to retain purchasing power)
It’s the third function of money, its ability to store value and economic power, that causes us the most problems. Money has power and influence and we’re tempted to love that power instead of loving God and people. Whenever we succumb to this temptation many problems follow (1 Timothy 6:10). When we misdirect our affection we destabilize our lives. Riches do not cause trouble until we begin to give them that which properly belongs to God—our trust. Here are some signs of misplaced trust and affection.
- Worry and anxiety
- Fear of financial loss
- Unwillingness to take risks with wealth
- Excessive frugality
- Godless financial practices (not thanking God for what we have, and not asking God for what we want)
- Grumbling about lack of money but not taking steps to change it
Note that keeping accurate accounts is not a sign of loving money; it’s merely good management. Simple record keeping and tracking of cash flow is a sign of responsible care. All the experts in the area of personal finances such as Dave Ramsey, Michel Bell, Mike Bell, and Mary Hunt stress the importance of knowing where your money is going before you can make any lasting improvements. In her book, Debt Proof Your Marriage, Mary Hunt tells her readers how to exit their “financial fog” by establishing a “Spending Record” before making a “Spending Plan.”1 In other words, accurate accounting of actual spending is more important than a budget. For most people this is a new habit which takes time to develop. It does not show a love of money but a desire to control money. I like the way American author Ron Blue expressed it, “Master your money before it masters you.”2 It’s simple, but not easy, especially in our modern age.
Today’s money takes on multiple forms many of which are very intangible. We use cash, debit cards, cheques, credit cards, pre-authorized payments, and Paypal, not to mention loyalty points such as Air Miles. It’s more difficult but also more important than ever for the average person to track their money. It’s one of the first steps toward improved financial literacy. Again, I’m not talking about a love affair with money, but about clarity. Knowing where our money is going will help us take control over our emotions, exit the financial fog, and redirect our trust.
Redirecting Our Trust
Here are some ways to avoid trusting in wealth:
- Use an app, a software program or a small notebook to track your money.
- Set a predetermined plan on how to deal with all incoming money. Earmark funds even before they arrive. Don’t let desires drift but take firm control. Treat money like your D-O-G not your G-O-D. We keep the dog healthy, take it for a walk, feed it, pet it, play with it, but there’s never a question who’s boss.
- Pray to God for both needs and wants. Then thank Him for whatever He gives, but also for what He withhold. Imagine that if we got all we ever wished for, then our lives would be very cluttered.
- Acknowledge the LORD with the first (best) of our income (Proverbs 3:9-10).
- Learn to trust the invisible, but all-powerful God. It is a learned skill as Corrie Ten Boom, survivor of the Ravensbruk Nazi concentration camp and author of the book, The Hiding Place, said, “Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.”3 Therefore, get to know God.
Righteousness by Faith, not Sight
There’s a big difference between knowing God and knowing about Him. Knowing God comes through personal experiences and intimate contact with God as the supreme Spirit Being. It’s subjective but real. God leads those who willingly submit to His leadership—like a nurse leads a blind patient by the hand. It takes sensitivity to discern the Holy Spirit's promptings. The Psalmist describes this phenomenon in Psalm 73:23-24. Often those promptings don’t “look right.” They require faith, not sight. Abraham, called the friend of God, left his home country, not knowing where he was going, but trusting God to take care of him (Hebrews 11:8). Faith, confidence in God, is like a muscle. It grows with cycles of nutrition (reading God’s word and praying to Him), exercise (obeying God’s word), and rest. Faith is the key to righteousness. “Without faith it’s impossible to please God, for he who comes to God must believe that He is [that God exists] and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him,” (Hebrews 11:6). When our confidence shifts from the provision to the Provider, we won't fall. We'll flourish!
Our Maker, Saviour, and Friend
Jesus warned us that “not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions,” (Luke 12:15). In other words, no amount of riches can generate life energy.
God alone is the life giver and we are life receivers. We flourish only as we are embedded in Him, and receive nourishment from Him on a moment by moment basis.
Jesus, the last Adam, is a life giving spirit (1 Corinthians 15:45). He told his disciples, “I am the vine, you are the branches... abide in me... apart from me you can do nothing,” (John 15:5).
- Memorize the text in your favourite Bible translation and think about it often.
- Examine your emotions to see if you are trusting in wealth for protection. What would you do if your money disappeared?
- Surrender your treasures to God. Hold them with an open hand. Whatever is not surrendered is not safe.
- Are you over-insured or using insurance as a form of protection that only God can give? Prayerfully review your reasons for purchasing insurance.
- Study Psalm 49. Note that it is addressed to all people at all income levels in all the earth (Psalm 49:1-2).
Which of these steps, if any, does Jesus want you to take now? Ask Him.
1Mary Hunt, Debt-Proof Your Marriage: How to Achieve Financial Harmony (Grand Michigan: Penguin 2003), 142-147.
2Ron Blue, Master Your Money: A Step-By-Step Plan for Financial Freedom (New York: Thomas Nelson 1986).
3Corrie Ten Boom, The Hiding Place (Chosen Books 1971).
4Mitch Anthony, Newsletter/Blog, God, Man, & Mammon Volume 1 Issue 1 Mitch Anothy writes further ..."God wants to be our sole source for fulfilment. When we look elsewhere, espeically to the material, the results are empty and disenchanting." Isaiah 55:1-3