Monday 31 October 2011

Just Enough

[I contributed today’s ‘Word for the Week’, a weekly email service provided by the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity; it’s probably the final contribution to what has been a fairly unsystematic series on Proverbs.]

Two things I ask of you, LORD;

do not refuse me before I die:

Keep falsehood and lies far from me;

give me neither poverty nor riches,

but give me only my daily bread.

Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you

and say, ‘Who is the LORD?’

Or I may become poor and steal,

and so dishonour the name of my God.

Proverbs 30:7-9

Apart from what we glean from the sayings in Proverbs 30, we know nothing of their author, Agur son of Jakeh. But he bequeathes to us the only prayer in the book – a two-fold request describing how he wants to live his life before he dies.

First of all, having declared that God’s own word is ‘flawless’ (30:5), he expresses a desire to be a man of truth and integrity – ‘keep falsehood and lies far from me’.

His second request also begins with a negative petition – ‘give me neither poverty nor riches’ – which is then stated positively – ‘but give me only my daily bread’. The prayer goes on to muse that life at either extreme of the socioeconomic spectrum might lead to faithlessness. The self-sufficiency that results from wealth might lead to a denial of the Lord. The insufficiency that results from poverty might lead to crime, profaning God’s name in the process.

It’s easy to see why the Bible has been claimed to be on the side of both the rich and the poor. The sheer breadth of its teaching on riches means a wealthy Abraham or Job over there can be set against the warnings of an Amos or the letter of James over here. The book of Proverbs itself recognises that money brings undeniable advantages even while it also carries inevitable drawbacks. Proverbs encourages neither prosperity nor austerity; it allows us neither to idolise a life of luxury nor to idealise a ‘simple life’.

Agur’s ‘just enough’ principle is reiterated in different ways throughout Scripture. His request calls to mind God’s provision of manna in the wilderness, sufficient for the needs of the day, and it reaches forward to the petition for ‘daily bread’ in the Lord’s prayer. Raising financial help for those suffering a famine, Paul calls churches to give generously of their ‘plenty’ so that others who are hard pressed might be relieved (2 Corinthians 8:13-15).

Agur’s prayer also provides a model for disciples today. Alongside an awareness of his own weakness is a recognition of God’s power to make poor or rich, a concern about the consequences of sin, and a desire to stay faithful above all else. This much, at least, we know about this ancient follower of the Lord God.

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