Better is the Upright Poor
1. This verse is the last of 20 “better than” verses in Proverbs.
2. In this proverb contrasts two men: a poor upright man and a rich perverse man.
3. Solomon makes a value judgment: The poor upright man is better.
1. Solomon is NOT saying that it is better to be poor than to be rich.
a. There are so many warnings about wealth in the Bible, that some have concluded that it is wrong to have wealth.
b. In fact, the wording in our proverb implies the opposite. The proverb implies that it is worse to be poor than to be rich.
c. All things being equal, who would ever choose poverty over wealth? Who would ever choose to not have enough money to feed your family over having plenty of money to feed your family? Who would choose to lose their house to foreclosure over having enough money to pay cash for their home?
d. While Solomon gives many warnings about wealth in the book of Proverbs, he never states that it is wrong to be rich. He speaks of physical wealth as one way in which God blesses His people.
• Prov. 15:6 – “In the house of the righteous is much treasure.”
• Prov. 28:20 – “A faithful man shall abound with blessings.”
e. God told Moses to remember “the LORD thy God: for it is he that giveth thee power to get wealth.” (Deut. 8:18)
f. “Both riches and honour come of thee, and thou reignest over all.” (I Chron. 29:12) Riches are gifts from above.
g. Many godly saints have been very wealthy: Adam and Eve; Abram; Lot; the patriarchs; David; the godly kings; Job; etc.
2. The first man in this contrast is physically poor, but upright in his walk with God.
a. Upright: Integrity; pure; innocent; moral goodness; guiltless; blameless.
b. II Sam. 15:11- “And with Absalom went two hundred men out of Jerusalem, that were called; and they went in their simplicity, and they knew not any thing.” They were innocent; pure in motives; unblameable.
c. Gen. 20:5-6 – Abimelech acted in integrity after Abraham stated that Sarah was his sister. – “Said he not unto me, She is my sister? and she, even she herself said, He is my brother: in the integrity of my heart and innocency of my hands have I done this. 6And God said unto him in a dream, Yea, I know that thou didst this in the integrity of thy heart; for I also withheld thee from sinning against me: therefore suffered I thee not to touch her.”
d. Uprightness (integrity) is the quality that Solomon is highlighting in this proverb.
3. The combination of poverty and uprightness.
a. His point is that even with this strong negative (poverty) uprightness is still better.
b. It would be like saying, it is better to by physically sick and walk in integrity than… (something else).
c. No one would choose to be sick or poor. But even those negative things cannot hold back the surpassing value of uprightness – integrity!
1. The second man in this contrast is rich.
a. This would normally be something valued and highly prized.
b. Almost everyone would prefer to be rich over being poor—all things being equal.
c. There are many warnings in the Bible about the dangers of wealth. (That’s a good study for another day.)
d. But there are also some warnings in the Bible about the dangers of poverty.
e. Prov. 30:8 – “Give me neither poverty nor riches!”
• Riches have a tendency to cause us to forget the Lord and to feel self-sufficient.
• Poverty can lead to a bitter spirit that curses God and steals from others.
• Every situation in life has its good points and bad.
• But all things being equal—having enough money to survive is preferred over not having enough money to survive.
• III John 2 – John wished his readers would be healthy and would prosper both physically and in their souls. That is a good wish/prayer.
f. The second man in this contrast is wealthy physically. He has a lot of money and/or valuable property. He is rich in the things of the world.
2. But this man has a serious character flaw: he is “perverse in his ways.”
a. Perverse: The basic meaning of the term is “crooked”—morally and religiously. It is warped; distorted; corrupt.
b. This kind of “crookedness” is found in many areas of life.
c. Prov. 17:20 – “He that hath a froward heart findeth no good…”
d. Prov. 11:20–“They that are of a froward heart are abomination to the LORD: but such as are upright in their way are his delight.” Here we see our two words in the same proverb. God hates a forward (perverse) heart.
e. Prov. 19:1 – “Better is the poor that walketh in his integrity, than he that is perverse in his lips, and is a fool.”
• Here is a nearly identical proverb, only the contrast is between the poor man of integrity and a man who is perverse in his lips.
• Perversity is often found in the language men use.
• Believers should be careful and go the extra mile NOT to use language that is anywhere near tainted or perverse.
• In a culture in decline that means exerting extra care.
• We want our language to be pure—not just “not as bad as the average Joe.”
f. Prov. 8:8 – “All the words of my mouth are in righteousness; there is nothing froward or perverse (same word) in them.” Note that nothing perverse or crooked comes out of his mouth.
3. The concept of being “perverse” (crooked) is used in our proverb in a very general sense: perverse in his ways.
a. We often associate perversity with sexual perverts. Certainly that would be included in the concept.
b. But this term is much broader than that. Already we have seen proverbs that associate perversity with the heart and the tongue.
c. Solomon also describes this rich man as also being perverse in his WAYS.
• Ways: A road or a path that is travelled; his daily walk; his lifestyle; one’s general pattern of life.
• The perversity or crookedness has permeated deep into the life and lifestyle of this man.
• It has affected his mind, heart, tongue, and in general, the whole path of life he is on!
• If a person is crooked, they will be crooked in their business dealings; in their everyday conversations; in the way they treat others; in their home; in school; etc.
d. This is the opposite of an upright man – the opposite of a man of integrity.
e. Character affects all of one’s ways – every aspect of his life.
• If a person is upright, then they will be upright in their mind, heart, thoughts, speech, and actions.
• If a person is perverse or corrupt, then they will be perverse and corrupt in their mind, heart, thoughts, speech, and actions.
4. The contrast between the two men: it is better to be a poor man of integrity than to be a rich man who lacks integrity.
a. Most people want to be rich… or at least well off.
b. That’s pretty normal. It should not be our number one drive in life, but it is one of the benefits of hard work, hard study, etc.
c. Many people take great risks to become rich. Think of the California gold rush and all that people endured to become rich. They left everything behind; they traveled by covered wagons over dirt trails; over the Rocky Mountains; through deserts; etc—in order to make it to California to strike it rich.
d. People will put up with a lot of sacrifice in order to become rich.
e. People will endure years of study in school in order to have a better chance at getting a good job and being well off.
f. People will pay a lot of money for school and will completely devote years out of their lives to prepare themselves educationally for a job that pays well and has a good chance of prosperity.
g. Think of what so many immigrants do in order to make it to America—where they think the roads are paved in gold… only to discover that they are paved in potholes! Some hide in boxes and ship themselves from Laos to America. Some hop on rickety boats to escape Cuba in order to make it in America.
h. People are willing to sacrifice, suffer, leave everything behind; to cross oceans, exert themselves, study; pay high tuitions; etc.—do almost anything to have the chance to make it in this life—to strike it rich.
i. This proverb states that although a man may be willing to go without many things in order to be rich, a wise and godly man should NEVER be willing to give up his integrity in order to be rich.
j. Even though poverty can be a real trial and includes suffering and grief, it is still better to be poor and walk in integrity, than to be rich and not have integrity.
k. A man might obtain many earthly treasures that are valuable beyond description; but they are not as valuable as integrity.
l. Ideally, everyone would prefer to be both rich and honest – like Solomon.
m. But this proverb makes a bold statement in a proverbial and thought provoking way: integrity is better than riches.