There’s a Proverb for That: “We Are the 99 Percent”
Wealthy people are generalized as greedy. The poor are generalized as lazy. Both can be looked down on for their respective status. Help, Proverbs!
For thousands of years, there has been tension between those who have lots of money and those who have very little of it. Some view all of history as a fight between “the haves” and “the have nots”—the rich and the poor. The book of Proverbs possesses relevant information and advice for the 99 percent (the majority who aren’t wealthy).
Class warfare: a cauldron of stereotypes and generalizations
As we have already said, there is criticism on both sides of the divide. Those criticizing the 99 percent seem to only focus on the individuals caught gaming the public welfare system or those whose lack of wealth is the result of poor life choices. But the fact is that millions of 99 percenters work very hard, but unfortunately their wages have not kept up with inflation and the cost of living. On the other hand, the 99 percent often criticize the 1 percent for being privileged and not having to work hard for their wealth.
Consider the insight from Leviticus 19:15: “You shall do no injustice in judgment. You shall not be partial to the poor, nor honor the person of the mighty. In righteousness you shall judge your neighbor.” The gist is that we should not judge people based solely on their financial status. We have to look deeper than that.
Let’s see what the Proverbs have to say.
Proverbs and implications
1. Proverbs 11:4: “Riches do not profit in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivers from death.”
This proverb shows that God has one standard of judgment for both the rich and the poor. Millionaires and recipients of government assistance will both be judged on their moral character—not the size of their bank accounts. If a rich person has gained wealth by greed and corruption or if a poor person is cheating the welfare system by lying—both will be judged by the same standard and will be held accountable.
Implications: Money is a physical thing we use to buy things—nothing more, nothing less. Righteousness, not wealth, is the enduring spiritual quality God is looking for in human beings. Just as God judges by this standard, so should we. We shouldn’t oppose, hate or criticize either side of the spectrum just based on their income level.
2. Proverbs 10:4: “He who has a slack hand becomes poor, but the hand of the diligent makes rich.”
Money is a physical thing we use to buy things—nothing more, nothing less. Though the generalization that “all poor people are lazy” is a lie, the wisdom that hard work results in rewards is not. Whether we are in the 99 percent or the 1 percent, we should be diligently working hard at whatever we do. Vanishing manufacturing jobs, globalization, inflation, insurance, etc. are all real issues that have an impact. But, despite those factors, we should always try to apply the biblical principle of working diligently.
Implications: Hard work should never be mocked as selfish, and laziness should never be accepted as the norm for human behavior. When we value hard work and avoid laziness in our own lives, God is no doubt pleased, and in the long run financial stability will be the result.
To learn more about this principle, read our article on “Hard Work.”
3. Proverbs 24:3-4: “Through wisdom a house is built, and by understanding it is established; by knowledge the rooms are filled with all precious and pleasant riches.”
Putting aside the more important blessings that wisdom can bestow upon us (friends, strong families, integrity, etc.), there is something to be said about wisdom and our wages. Other proverbs mention how the wise foresee trouble coming and prepare for it (22:3) and how fools repeat their mistakes (26:11). Despite the inequities and challenges that exist in modern financial systems, wisdom can go miles in finding ways to make ends meet.
Implications: Becoming wiser in the financial realm is a choice. There are many wise things we can do that can help us financially: reading books, getting vocational training or education, learning from the mistakes of others, studying God’s Word about money, etc. These are much more beneficial than doing nothing because you believe the system is rigged against you.
And the list goes on
There are at least 40 proverbs that deal specifically with wealth and poverty. For the 99 percent, the message of these Proverbs can be summarized like this: “God is always more interested in our character than how much money we have, so work hard with diligence and wisdom and trust in Him to help provide your needs.”
When it seems like the deck is stacked against you, remember there is a Proverb for that.
For more insight into this topic, read the articles in our section on “Foundational Principles for Managing Family Finances.”
Read the next blog post in this series: There’s a Proverb for That: “We Are the 1 Percent”