Faithful and Fruitful

Money and Methodism - A Devotional Paraphrase

Sermon 50 in the Standard Sermons of John Wesley
By: Michael Roberts

Use of Money

Luke 16:1-9

Having just finished the beautiful parable of the prodigal son, addressed directly to those who were upset that Jesus was eating with tax collectors and sinners, Jesus now addresses his disciples with another parable. Here, a dishonest steward is charged with squandering the resources and property of the one who had entrusted him with oversight. The owner of the property calls upon the steward to give an account of his stewardship. (Luke 16:1-2). This scares the steward to death, for he does not want to lose his job, and, as it says, “is not strong enough to dig, and too ashamed to beg.” So, he devises a scheme to collect at least a portion of what people owe to the owner. In the end, the owner commends this dishonest manager for being “shrewd” and for taking action.

It is shocking. Jesus concludes that, in many ways, “the children of the world are wiser in dealing with their own responsibilities than the children of light.” This is odd, for the works of these children of the world are unjust, and will not stand under heaven. In this sense they are “mad” rather than “wise,” but at least they are true to their own principles. They have the guts, or integrity, to act consistently towards the desires of their heart. This is what Jesus commends. We are to be like that. Jesus calls upon the “children of light” to “make friends” with “dishonest wealth” or “unrighteous mammon.” Make friends with it. Turn it into something good. This is the way to move towards being welcomed into our eternal home.

At the most practical level, Jesus here is commending us to the right use of our money. This is something that Jesus talks a lot about. It is so important, especially to the well-being of our own souls.

Many, from poets to philosophers, have blamed money as the great corrupter of the world. The Apostle Paul makes it clear that it is the “love of money” that is at the “root of all evil.” The fault does not lie in the money itself, but in the use of it. In the hands of God’s children, money can be an “excellent gift,” answering the “noblest ends.” It can be food for the hungry and clothing for the naked. It can give shelter to the stranger, and a means of health to the sick. Through the church, it can lift souls from the “gates of death” and set us on the course of life.

This is a matter of great concern for us. How can we use our money to these glorious ends? Perhaps we can answer this question with three basic rules. The first rule is to “Gain all you can.”

Some translate it as “earn,” but that can connote the gaining of wealth only. The rule suggests that we gain much more -- knowledge, relationships, fulfillment in life, all gained through diligences and work and with the highest of ethical standards, remembering that we cannot afford to lose our own soul. Don’t sell anything that tends to harm. Short-term profits can be tempting, but beware. The curse of God may loom in the midst of the sumptuous meals, or eye-catching luxuries. God’s kingdom cannot hold sin. For some concrete examples, we might include those who produce, what is called, “liquid fire,” or physicians who play with the lives of others to enlarge their own gain.

At the same time, be careful about judging what might be right for another. I could not ever study mathematics, for example, without becoming a Deist, or even an Atheist. And yet, others study this subject without hurting either body, mind, or soul. That is amazing to me! We cannot judge for another. Each of us must abstain from the particular things we find to be harmful to our souls. Each of us are called to gain all we can in the unique pursuits that God has given to us. Do so by honest labor. Lose no time, for you have none to spare. While unprofitable diversions abound, the wise know that there is always something better to do. Thus, the wise do not leave anything to tomorrow that can be done today, and do it as well as possible.

The second rule is “Save all your can.” Here we are not talking about accumulating and keeping goods in reserve, as in a bank account. We are talking about not wasting anything, living more simply, and avoiding elaborate expenses. Do not throw away precious resources in “idle expenses,” to gratify the desires of the flesh or the eye. The more we indulge in extravagant foods, expensive apparel, needless ornaments, the more our appetite for such things will increase. Vanity is so costly, even to our very souls. It creates more stress, not less.

And do not throw away resources on your children, either by showering them with more than needed, and thus cultivating sin in their lives, or by leaving it to them to waste. Do not cultivate this sin in them. Prayerfully consider what you need to leave to them. May it be more than resources for foolish and harmful desires, for pride, lust, gluttony, and vanity -- temperaments that can carry them to hell. Perhaps less is more. If you believe they know the true value of money and will use it to the glory of God, then by all means, leave some to them. If not, only leave what will keep them above want. Beyond this, consider how it might be used to the glory of God.

We can follow this first and second rule, but if we go no further, then we gain or save nothing. “Unrighteous mammon” remains “unrighteousness.” It does not grow into kingdom blessings. All that we have gained and saved might as well be thrown into the sea. So, having gained all we can, and saved all we can, then add this third rule that truly redeems the other two: “Give all you can.”

This rule is grounded in the truth that we are created to be “stewards,” not “owners.” A steward is one who is “entrusted” with particular resources and responsibilities. We don’t own it. Even our bodies are not our own, but God’s. We are to employ all that we are given to the glory of God. The first two rules lead to this third one, where we are able to give all we can, thus making room in our hearts for God to come in and give to us “the immeasurable riches of grace.”

Putting these three rules together, we see that all of life is holy. We don’t just give to God through the offering plate. In our daily walk, we can dedicate all uses of money to God. With every purchase, expense, and act of giving we can ask: does this glorify God? Am I being a good steward of all that God has given me? Providing for ourselves does glorify God, but only as we do so to grow in grace. It can also create a burden on our souls rather than a blessing.

By these three rules we are able to “make friends of mammon.” We are able to redeem money to the Lord. First, “gain all you can.” Then, “save all you can.” Finally, “give all you can,” or, to be more precise, “give all you have to God.” Do not confine yourself to this or that proportion. “Render unto God,” not a tenth, or a third, or any other legalistic standard; instead, use all your money to the glory of God, what you spend on yourself, your household, your church. Be a good steward of it all. Be wise and faithful stewards, and “lay up for yourself a good foundation against the time to come, that you may have eternal life!” Amen.