Wisdom: The ability to see around the bend

It’s that time of year again.

Tomorrow morning I’m going to spend a couple hours doing my best to teach a room full of High School Seniors the “Biblical Principles of Personal Finance.” This will be my fourth year.

We’ll have a lot to discuss: A cursory view of what the Bible teaches, some notes on saving, avoiding debt, tithing to your church, planning for your retirement, budgeting, and living generously. But, one of the main things I want the students to learn is this: Wisdom is the ability to see around the bend.

Wisdom (with money and in other areas of life) is the ability to see around the bend. Imagine that you are standing at a fork in the road. Down each path you can see about twenty yards before the path turns. You can’t see what’s beyond the bend. All you have to make your decision is what’s in front of you. Sometimes that’s what life feels like. We can’t see the long term consequences of our actions so we just pick the one that looks the best the earliest.

Unless we could see around the bend.

Biblical wisdom gives us what we need to see around the bend, the ability to see the long term consequences of our actions.

The fool sees the short term gains of debt, but doesn’t see that slavery waits (Prov 22:7)

The fool tries to make money dishonestly, and fails to realize that whatever he makes won’t last (Prov 10:2)

The fool thinks doing nothing is preferable to hard work, but doesn’t see poverty approaching (Prov 10:4)

In contrast, the wise person is willing to work diligently for a time in order to build wealth (Prov 10:4)

This is also why generosity is ultimately an act of wisdom. The biggest “bend” we face in life is the one we face at the end: death. This is the toughest bend to see around, but by God’s grace we can.

What made the rich man a fool in Luke 12? It wasn’t his inability to plan for the future – he had a good retirement plan (12:18-19). It was his inability to see how his life on earth affected his eternal destiny. God declares of him, “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded of you. Then who will get what you prepared for yourself?”(12: 20) Wealth won’t help you at the judgment (Prov 11:4).

In contrast, Jesus tells his disciples to act wisely, to look around the bend.

32 “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.33 Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Luke 12:32-34)

This is the same instruction that Paul gives to Timothy:

17 Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. 18 Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. 19 In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life. (1 Timothy 6:17-19)

I hope the kids learn to look around the bend, both as they plan for their futures in this life, and as they look to the next. I hope they learn to put their trust in the giver of all things, to be rich in good deeds, and to put their money toward things that matter for eternity.