Wisdom of Wesley: The Use of Money

Luke 16:1-13

Faithfulness with money

16 Jesus also said to the disciples, “A certain rich man heard that his household manager was wasting his estate. 2 He called the manager in and said to him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give me a report of your administration because you can no longer serve as my manager.’

3 “The household manager said to himself, What will I do now that my master is firing me as his manager? I’m not strong enough to dig and too proud to beg. 4 I know what I’ll do so that, when I am removed from my management position, people will welcome me into their houses.

5 “One by one, the manager sent for each person who owed his master money. He said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6 He said, ‘Nine hundred gallons of olive oil.’ The manager said to him, ‘Take your contract, sit down quickly, and write four hundred fifty gallons.’ 7 Then the manager said to another, ‘How much do you owe?’ He said, ‘One thousand bushels of wheat.’ He said, ‘Take your contract and write eight hundred.’

8 “The master commended the dishonest manager because he acted cleverly. People who belong to this world are more clever in dealing with their peers than are people who belong to the light. 9 I tell you, use worldly wealth to make friends for yourselves so that when it’s gone, you will be welcomed into the eternal homes.

10 “Whoever is faithful with little is also faithful with much, and the one who is dishonest with little is also dishonest with much. 11  If you haven’t been faithful with worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? 12  If you haven’t been faithful with someone else’s property, who will give you your own? 13  No household servant can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be loyal to the one and have contempt for the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”

 

Thoughts on the passage:

One of the largest and most uncomfortable topics in the Bible is money. It is something that is mentioned frequently by Jesus in his sermons and teachings. It is also something that can make many of us uncomfortable. Notions of sin, greed, and guilt all come to mind when we start to talk about money in the church. That being said it seems foolish to ignore this topic. After all, not only did Jesus spend a lot of time on it, but in our capitalist society, money is unavoidable. To not talk about this topic would be a disservice to all of us.

John Wesley was not afraid to take on the topic of money. He addressed it in a number of sermons and teachings. He saw it as a central part of his ministry. He understood that to help people who were living in poverty, to not address money would be to ignore one of the critical challenges in their lives. One of his most famous sermons about money is appropriately titled, “The Use of Money.” We will be looking at this sermon today.

One of the reasons that talking about money in the church makes us feel uncomfortable is that we have some preconceived notions about how the church views money. Greed is considered one of the seven deadly sins in the Catholic church and vows of poverty can be seen as signs of great devotion. Jesus, too, had some harsh words for those with money, even going so far as to talk about how hard it would be for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.

With all of this baggage about money, it might be surprising to you to know that Wesley was a big fan of money. “Earn all you can,” was one of the main points of his sermon on money. In his own life, he did a lot to earn money, amassing a lifetime earning of over 30,000 pounds, which is the equivalent today of over $3,000,000. Wesley was not afraid to make money.

When it comes to earning money, Wesley felt that this was a part of our Christian responsibility. Making money was a way of being productive with the gifts that God had given us. He saw some clear limits on earning money. We should never do so in ways that causes harm to ourselves or to others. He extends this in several ways, from working in professions that might be considered sinful to working in dangerous and unsafe conditions to profiting by the sale of things that might be harmful to others. Hard alcohol is a big issue for John Wesley but a modern interpretation might extend this to things like cigarettes.

Wesley’s next suggestion, or maybe command, is to save all you can. Wesley believed that we were not meant to be wasteful and included in that was to be wasteful of money. This is not to say that we should not spend money on things we need, but that we should not be frivolous in our spending. Even as Wesley’s income increased as his publishing took off, he continued to live on the same amount each year. He figured out what he needed to spend and he spent that and only that. As I alluded to earlier, one of Wesley’s big issues was the use of hard alcohol. With our modern understanding of the dangers of addiction and the negative effects that heavy drinking can have on the body, we can think of lots of reasons that a person might be opposed to liquor. The reason we would likely be forgetting would be the cost. Over and over, Wesley saw the negative effects of people who would waste their wages on alcohol impoverishing themselves and their families because of it. Saving all you can means not wasting money on things that you do not need.

I will be the first to tell you that knowing what you need is hard. Let’s start with my own love of desserts. It is hard to know how much dessert you really need. Some might argue that you don’t need anything. Others would counter that in moderation, something sweet can be an enjoyable part of the meal and thus has some positive benefit in terms of overall happiness. Still, setting that limit of how much is enough is hard. One scoop of ice cream becomes two and soon two becomes three. Setting limits for ourselves on what is enough and what we really need is difficult.

Finally, having earned and saved all we can, Wesley gives us one final command, to give all we can. Wesley explains the reasoning by this as follows:

In order to see the ground and reason of this, consider, when the Possessor of heaven and earth brought you into being, and placed you in this world, he placed you here not as a proprietor, but a steward: As such he entrusted you, for a season, with goods of various kinds; but the sole property of these still rests in him, nor can be alienated from him. As you yourself are not your own, but his, such is, likewise, all that you enjoy. Such is your soul and your body, not your own, but God's. And so is your substance in particular. And he has told you, in the most clear and express terms, how you are to employ it for him, in such a manner, that it may be all an holy sacrifice, acceptable through Christ Jesus. And this light, easy service, he has promised to reward with an eternal weight of glory.

The purpose of earning and saving all we can is not that money is an end in itself, rather than money is a means to an end. The end is in service to God. We earn and save so that we can do God’s work in the world. Whether that work is done through the church, the local food shelf, scholarships to college, or any number of other good causes, it is through money that we are able to make this possible.

Where we go wrong so often in money is that we turn it into an end or use it as a means to the wrong end, our own gratification in pleasure. Instead, as Christians we need to remember our place is not to serve ourselves but to serve God. We have willingly and hopefully joyfully given ourselves to God. Money is just one of many ways that we enter into that service.

When we fail to talk about money in the church we disconnect it from what it means to be a Christian. How we earn, save, and use our money speaks volumes about our faith. If we earn money without a thought to how it is gained, we are doing harm. If we spend money, without a thought to what we are spending it on, we are doing harm. If we fail to give money we are doing a harm as well, because we are not using this great resource we have been given to do God’s work in the world.

In our scripture text today, Jesus reminds us of the use of money. It is a tool, and like any other tool can be used for good or for evil. Our challenge as Christians is to use our money for good. It was a challenge in Jesus’ time. It was a challenge in Wesley’s time. It is a challenge today.

Questions to Ponder:

Who taught you about the use and value of money?

When is a time you have struggled with the temptation to misuse money?

What would you do if you suddenly had money to give away?

Prayer:

Generous and loving God, you have entrusted us with so much in our daily lives. We look around us and see your blessings, in our daily lives, in our communities, and in the natural world. Help us to remember that all we have has been provided by you. Give us the wisdom to take what we have been given and use it for good in the world.  Amen