Proverbs 23:4-5

Labor Not to be Rich


1. Verses 4-5 constitute the seventh of thirty wise sayings in this section.

2. The theme of this proverb is money, and in particular, a warning against a desire to “make it rich in the world.”

3. It is a warning against making materialism our driving force in life.

4. This is a problem not only for the rich, but for poor and rich alike.

5. This is a problem not only for Americans and Saudi Arabians, but for Americans, Saudis as well as people in Somalia and Mongolia.

6. It is a universal message.

Labor not to be rich… (vs.4a)

1. Labor: The term means: To toil; labor; grow weary; be weary; worn out.

a. The author commands his readers NOT to wear themselves out trying to become rich.

b. The proverb speaks of the man who is so determined to become rich, that he wears himself out in the process. This man is a workaholic.

c. He is focused only on obtaining wealth, and therefore, he works himself to the bone. It is his priority in life. Everything is put on hold… on the back burner.

d. Very often, this kind of greedy ambition leads to a ruined home life; a failed marriage or two, and health issues.

2. This command is not a contradiction to other proverbs that deal with the importance and the good consequences of diligence:

a. Prov. 10:4 – “He becometh poor that dealeth with a slack hand: but the hand of the diligent maketh rich.”

b. Prov. 13:4 – “The soul of the sluggard desireth, and hath nothing: but the soul of the diligent shall be made fat.”

c. These passages indicate that diligence and hard work lead to prosperity.

d. Prosperity and obtaining riches are seen in a GOOD light in these passages.

3. However, in our present proverb, it appears that laboring to be rich is something to avoid. It appears in a BAD light.

a. This is not a contradiction to the proverbs just mentioned.

b. The difference is one of MOTIVE.

c. In the above passages, the emphasis is on DILIGENCE.
• Diligence is a good quality. It is a quality God would have for each one of His children.
• Diligence is a matter of good stewardship with our time, talents, energy, and priorities.
• In the above proverbs, the emphasis is on being diligent, not on being rich.
• Obtaining wealth and riches is a byproduct of diligence, but it is not the goal.
• It is the natural consequence of obeying God and using our time and talents wisely, but it is not our motivation.
• Our motivation for being diligent in our work ought to be that we please, honor, and glorify God, by being a good steward of His gifts.

4. The point of Proverbs 23:4 is NOT that laboring is bad; or that obtaining riches is bad. They are not. But laboring in order to BECOME rich and hoard stockpiles of goods for “me, myself, and I” is wrong.

a. I Tim. 6:9-10 – Paul speaks of the same motive: “they that WILL be rich.”
• The WILL to become rich is the wrong desire that Paul exposes here.
• It is not money, but the love of money; the insane desire to pursue money at the sacrifice of all else; to put obtaining money above all else.

b. Motive and intention of heart are the subject matters here.

c. Good old fashioned hard work and diligence are commendable; but greedy ambition is not.

d. The two should not be confused.

e. And of course, when we are dealing with motives, we are not to judge others. This is recorded for each of us as individuals to look at our OWN lives.

f. We should not automatically assume that because a brother works hard and is rich that he is laboring TO BE rich and is in violation of this proverb.

g. How do you know what his motives and intentions are?

h. Today, there is a whole sector of Christendom that abuses certain portions of Scripture and teaches that God WANTS us all to be rich.
• They abuse the promises made to Israel in the Old Testament about “blessings for obedience” which to Israel were primarily earthly, physical blessings—including riches. (A good course on dispensational theology would cure that!)
• They also abuse the proverbs that speak of riches as the reward for hard labor… and wrongly assume that we should work hard IN ORDER TO BECOME rich.
• They err on the issue of motive.

5. Prov. 23:4 warns us against the wrong motive in our labors.

a. The term “labor” used here means not just to work, but to toil and thus wear oneself out.

b. It speaks of work that is all consuming.

c. It speaks of a greedy ambition to be rich… even if it “wears out” and causes harm to the individual… and his family.

d. Becoming rich ought not to be our motive in work.

e. Good motives in our labors include:
• First and foremost, glorifying God.
• That is accomplished by being a good steward.
• Being a good testimony by paying our bills on time and paying our taxes.
• Also, providing for our family needs.
• And having enough to give to others and support the Lord’s work.

f. Becoming rich for the sake of becoming rich is not on the list of good motives in our labors.

Cease from thine own wisdom… (vs.4b)

1. Cease is defined as: To stop; cease; desist; forego; refrain; refuse; give up.

2. Thine own wisdom:

a. This is a very common term for wisdom in the book of Proverbs.

b. Normally, the book of Proverbs challenges its readers to seek wisdom, employ wisdom in everyday life, and to obtain wisdom with all your heart.

c. However, here, the author calls upon his readers to CEASE wisdom.

d. The key to understanding this command are the words, “thine own.”

e. He is obviously not calling for his readers to abandon wisdom in general. He is calling for his readers to put aside their OWN wisdom.

3. This command is virtually the same as is found in Proverbs 3:5-6:

a. “Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. 6In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.”

b. It is not a call to abandon wisdom in general.

c. Nor is it a call to abandon our own earthly wisdom.

d. But it IS a call to cease from TRUSTING in our own wisdom or from LEANING ON our own wisdom.

4. Our OWN understanding sees nothing but good in riches.

a. Our own understanding sees seeking earthly riches to be a good means of providing security for the future.

b. Our own understanding thinks it’s worth it to wear ourselves out as a workaholic in order to obtain riches.

c. Our own understanding assumes that having the big house on the hill would make us happy; or having a summer home and a winter chalet would make us happy; that having just a little more would make us happy.

d. But our OWN understanding easily forgets about the dangers of being rich.
• Forgetting the Lord; pride; (Deut. 8:10-14)
• Seeing no need for God – (Proverbs 30:8-9)

5. Ceasing from our own understanding is quite the challenge and is often a big TEST of our faith.

a. It is a reminder that SOMETIMES that which seems best for us financially, as citizens of the earth, is not always the best thing for us spiritually, as citizens of heaven.

b. It has almost become the NORM for believers to move around the country on the basis of where they can get the best job, the best pay, and experience the greatest standard of living rather than on what is best for them spiritually.

c. It is a matter of priorities.

d. If spiritual and heavenly things are really our priority, then we will be willing to make choices that seem to run contrary to our OWN understanding… but are truly wise in God’s sight.
• We may be led to pass up a well paying job offer because there is no good church that area.
• Abraham, who was the elder and had the right to choose the land first, chose to allow Lot choose the lush valley around Sodom and Abraham took what was left.
• That decision may have run contrary to his own earthly wisdom (me first). But it proved to be a truly wise move in the end.

e. Too often today, believers choose house, job, and income over the local church.

f. Earthly wisdom might tell them to relocate and revolve their new life around that house, job, and income… rather than making the local church the focal point and seeking a way to earn a living secondarily.

g. These kinds of decisions may seem wise, but are upside down. The earthly and the physical is on top and the spiritual and heavenly is on the bottom.

h. Earthly wisdom says that that is the right priority, but spiritual and godly wisdom says the opposite.

i. Solomon warns: Labor not to be rich (don’t make that your priority); and CEASE from leaning on your own wisdom… which is very often out of sync with the wisdom that is from above.

j. This can prove to be a real TEST of our faith.

k. Faith and motives are invisible, but sometimes they can be “seen” by the choices we make in life.

l. John 6:27 – The Lord Jesus taught the same principle when He said, “labor not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life.”

6. Another form this TEST takes also has to do with our motives.

a. It is easy to convince ourselves that we are laboring to be rich for a good END.
• We want to provide well for our family.
• We want our kids to go to the best schools.
• I want my wife and kids to have good things in life and not to have to go without like I did growing up.
• I want to have security in retirement.
• We want to be able to support the local church and missions.
• There is nothing wrong with these goals.

b. But there IS something wrong with becoming a workaholic in order to obtain them!
• That’s the warning here. Don’t wear yourself out trying to become rich.
• When a man (or a woman) wears themselves out in the pursuit of wealth, they are not much good in the service of Jesus Christ.
• They are not much good to their family. They will be too tired to spend time with their family.
• There is no such thing as being “so heavenly minded that you are no earthly good.” If you are truly heavenly minded, then you will be walking with God and serving Him in practical ways on earth.
• However, there is such a thing as being so “earthly minded that you are no heavenly good!”
• A life dedicated to the pursuit of wealth and material things is a wasted life. It is a life spent storing up treasures on earth… and storing precious little in heaven.
• Our proverb is warning about misguided priorities.
• We can easily convince ourselves (by leaning on our OWN understanding) that our motives are good… when in reality, they are not.

7. Ceasing from our own wisdom is incredibly difficult.

a. The world tells us that we are fools for forsaking earthly things for a “pie in the sky by and by.”

b. Friends and family—and sometimes even worldly believers—tell us that we are crazy for making such decisions.

c. But God says CEASE from your own wisdom… and from the wisdom of the world.

d. Make wise decisions and TRUST in the Lord to work out all the details… He is the One who leads and provides.

e. God can provide food for Elijah at a brook that was drying up.

f. God led the Jews into a wilderness. They wondered if He could furnish a table in the wilderness.

g. Faith follows the leading of the Lord and trusts God every step along the way.

h. It doesn’t always make sense to our own wisdom to remain by a brook that is drying up or to march into a dry, wilderness area.

i. It may seem safer and wiser to march into a lush, green valley as Lot did in Sodom.

j. God says, “Cease from thine own wisdom.” The wisdom from above is always superior.