Wesleyan Roots: “The Use of Money”

 

Wesleyan Roots: “The Use of Money”

A Message on Luke 16:1-13

For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Oct. 21, 2018
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

Luke 16:1-13 (NRSV)

 

Then Jesus said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. 2 So he summoned him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.’ 3 Then the manager said to himself, ‘What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. 4 I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.’ 5 So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6 He answered, ‘A hundred jugs of olive oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.’ 7 Then he asked another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He replied, ‘A hundred containers of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill and make it eighty.’ 8 And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. 9 And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.

10 “Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. 11 If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? 12 And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? 13 No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”

 

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In the scripture today from the Gospel of Luke we hear Jesus telling the parable of the “Unjust Steward,” also known as the parable of the “Shrewd Manager.”

 

It’s an unusual parable in that it almost seems that Jesus is justifying bad behavior. The unjust steward gets fired for being crooked, and then he goes around and gives cut-rate prices to those that owe his boss money just so he can suck up to them to give a job later.

 

But then Jesus gets to the gist of the matter: “If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own?” (Luke 16:10-12)

 

Here’s The Message paraphrase: “If you’re honest in small things, you’ll be honest in big things; If you’re a crook in small things, you’ll be a crook in big things. If you’re not honest in small jobs, who will put you in charge of the store?”

 

Jesus sums up the the parable with a bold statement: “No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”

 

Money. You can’t serve God and money. You have to choose, one or the other. You can’t do 50/50 or even 80/20, it is all or nothing.

 

Today we are continuing our sermon series “Wesleyan Roots” by looking at John Wesley’s sermon #50, “The Use of Money.”

 

One of the things Wesley does in his sermon is to dispel a myth, one that is still around today. Some people think the scripture in 1 Timothy 6:10 says that money is the root of all evil. But that’s not what that scripture says. What it actually says is that the love of money is a root of all evil.

 

As I have said before,money itself is not evil. Money can be used to do a lot of great things. Money isn’t evil, but the love of money is the root of all evil.

 

Here’s how Wesley phrases it: “The fault does not lie in the money, but in them that use it. It may be used ill: and what may not? But it may likewise be used well: It is full as applicable to the best, as to the worst uses. It is of unspeakable service to all civilized nations, in all the common affairs of life: It is a most compendious instrument of transacting all manner of business, and (if we use it according to Christian wisdom) of doing all manner of good.”

 

He then goes on to give some examples of how money can be used for good: “In the hands of his children, it is food for the hungry, drink for the thirsty, raiment [clothing] for the naked: It gives to the traveller and the stranger where to lay his head. By it we may supply the place of an husband to the widow, and of a father to the fatherless. We maybe a defence for the oppressed, a means of health to the sick, of ease to them that are in pain; it may be as eyes to the blind, as feet to the lame; yea, a lifter up from the gates of death!”

 

So you see, money itself is not evil. It is a person’s attitude about money that makes a difference.

 

Wesley, being a methodical man (and thus maybe why the nickname “Methodist” stuck) proposes three points of advice in his sermon on money.

 

He starts off with this: “The first of these is (he that heareth, let him understand!) ‘Gain all you can.’”

 

Yep, you heard correctly. Gain all you can. Earn all the money you can.

 

Now that might sound a little strange, but hear me out. What Wesley is NOT saying is, to quote the character Gordon Gekko in the movie “Wall Street,” “Greed…is good.”

 

No, not at all.  What he was talking about is to earn all you can but with some caveats. Wesley was very adamant that the money one earned should come from legal and ethical means. He had very specific points about the types of ways to earn money.

 

The first is that people should only work jobs that don’t cost them their physical health. This was especially poignant in Wesley’s time. There were no workplace safety laws, no English equivalent of OSHA or even the EPA. As a result some jobs were deadly.

 

Wesley mentions a few of them: “Some employments are absolutely and totally unhealthy; as those which imply the dealing much with arsenic, or other equally hurtful minerals, or the breathing an air tainted with steams of melting lead, which must at length destroy the firmest constitution.”

 

In the book, “Alice in Wonderland” we are introduced to the “Mad Hatter,” but the term actually came from a description of those that worked in the hat industry that really and truly did lose their minds. Part of the process of manufacturing hats at the time included the use of mercurous nitrate. Prolonged breathing of the mercury fumes resulted in hatters “going mad,” or suffering greatly from mental illness due to the physical damage to the brain.

 

So Wesley believed that a person’s job should cause them mental or physical harm.

 

Point two that Wesley makes about occupations is that one’s work should be be legal and moral. “Therefore we may not engage or continue in any sinful trade, any that is contrary to the law of God, or of our country.”

 

Now you would think that would be a given but then as now there are ways to make money that are… well… illegal and/or immoral. Wesley believed that was not an appropriate way to make money. I agree with him.

 

Point three Wesley makes is that our occupations should not cause harm to others. He was very passionate about this point. One of the things he points out, which still exist today, which he calls “pawn-broking.” Today we call them Pawn Shops. (I hope we don’t have any pawn shop owners here today. If so, sorry!)

 

I was curious so I got online and looked up the maximum annual percentage rate (APR) allowed in Texas for Pawn Shops. I found out that rates vary by the amount of the loan all the way down to 12 percent for borrowing $2,100.01 to $17,500. The rate goes up for smaller amounts, though, with the rate for loans up to $210 for one month being 240 percent. [https://occc.texas.gov/sites/default/files/uploads/interest/pawn-rate-chart-july_1_2017-to-june_30_2018.pdf]

 

Wesley cautioned against hurting others monetarily but also causing harm to their bodies. The first example of this, which should come as no surprise if you know just a little bit about John Wesley, is liquor. “Such is, eminently, all that liquid fire, commonly called drams or spirituous liquors.”

 

Now he thought that liquor for medicinal purposes was okay, but was very, very much against liquor for recreational purposes. “But all who sell them in the common way, to any that will buy, are poisoners general. They murder His Majesty’s subjects by wholesale, neither does their eye pity or spare. They drive them to hell like sheep. And what is their gain? Is it not the blood of these men?”

 

Wow, easy John.

 

In addition to those who sell liquor, he speaks out against “Surgeons, Apothecaries, or Physicians, who play with the lives or health of men, to enlarge their own gain? Who purposely lengthen the pain or disease which they are able to remove speedily? who protract the cure of their patient’s body in order to plunder his substance?”

 

Back in Wesley’s day there was no FDA or AMA or any regulation of the medical industry. Some doctors, pharmacists and surgeons would, unethically and in my opinion, immorally, try to make money off their patients by prolonging their condition or illness rather than curing them in the quickest way possible.

 

As a matter of fact, Wesley was so concerned about this that he wrote a book titled, “Primitive Physic” which contained home remedies for various ailments. It was one of his best sellers and even though he sold the copies at low prices he still made a lot of money off of the book… which he promptly gave away, by the way.

 

So point number one of Wesley’s three point plan with regard to money is to make all you can, honestly, morally, and without causing harm to others.

 

He says, “the second rule of Christian prudence is,’Save all you can.’”

 

Ahhhhh. Saving. John Wesley had some real strong opinions on this subject. “Do not throw the precious talent into the sea: Leave that folly to heathen philosophers. Do not throw it away in idle expenses, which is just the same as throwing it into the sea. Expend no part of it merely to gratify the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eye, or the pride of life.”

 

In his sermon he lists several ways that people “throw away” money, including fancy food. He also cautions against spending money on fancy clothes and accessories (later in his life he lamented not setting up a dress code for Methodists because of members wearing fancy clothes), on “superfluous or expensive furniture” (See, Pam, that’s why I don’t want to buy a new couch. I’m just trying to be Wesleyan…) , on things that feed our vanity that we use to try to impress our neighbors.

 

He even talks about what things to buy, and not buy, for children. And kids, you’re not gonna like this. “And why should you throw away money upon your children, any more than upon yourself, in delicate food, in gay or costly apparel, in superfluities of any kind? Why should you purchase for them more pride or lust, more vanity, or foolish and hurtful desires? They do not want any more; they have enough already; nature has made ample provision for them: Why should you be at farther expense to increase their temptations and snares, and to pierce them through with more sorrows?”

 

Of course, I think it’s important to point out that Wesley himself never had any children.

 

And at the bottom of all these things NOT to buy is the desire to save the money, instead. Live simply, eat simply, dress simply, and then save the money that you would have spent on these things.

 

As modern-day Americans many of us are not good at saving money. One article pointed out that 40 percent of Americans say they don’t have enough in savings to cover a $400 expense. Others wonder if they can make the minimum payment on their VISA card with their MasterCard.

 

Dave Ramsey has made quite a nice living giving the advice that he admits our grandparents knew and practiced: If you want something, save up your money until you can pay cash for it. If you don’t have the money, then don’t buy it. The result is realizing the difference between purchasing our “wants” and our “needs.” And when we save, we are better stewards of what God has granted us and can, therefore, give to God more generously.

 

So, earn all you can and then save all you can. But Wesley doesn’t stop there. He then comes to the third point about the use of money. “Having, First, gained all you can, and, Secondly saved all you can, Then ‘give all you can.’”

 

“First, provide things needful for yourself; food to eat, raiment to put on, whatever nature moderately requires for preserving the body in health and strength. Secondly, provide these for your wife, your children, your servants, or any others who pertain to your household. If when this is done there be an overplus left, then ‘do good to them that are of the household of faith.’ If there be an overplus still, ‘as you have opportunity, do good unto all men.’ In so doing, you give all you can; nay, in a sound sense, all you have: For all that is laid out in this manner is really given to God.”

 

Now John Wesley didn’t just talk about giving as much as you can, he lived it out as well. John made quite a bit of money in his day, mainly from books he wrote and published. He would have been considered upper middle income. And yet he didn’t live like it. He basically gave everything he had away.

 

He believed in eating only 6 ounces of meat per day. Not per meal, but per day. He took cold baths, purportedly for health reasons, but I strongly suspect there was another reason. In England at that time water was heated by burning coal. If John took cold baths, then he didn’t have to spend money on coal to heat the water and therefore he would have more to give to the poor.

 

As Wesley’s income grew from year to year his standard of living did not. One year he recorded in his journal that he made 30 pounds. His living expenses were 28 pounds, so he gave away two pounds. The next year his income doubled to 60 pounds. He lived on 28 and gave away 32. The next year, he made 90 pounds, lived on 28, and gave away 62. The next year he made 120 pounds, lived on –you guessed it–28 pounds, and gave away 92 pounds! It is estimated that he gave away around 30,000 pounds during his lifetime. When he died the only money he had were a few coins in his pockets and dresser.

 

Earn all you can, save all you can, give all you can. It’s pretty simple when you think about it, and very biblical as well.

 

So my challenge to you this week is to take a look at your finances and follow John Wesley’s advice: Earn all you can, save all you can, and give all you can.”

 

Everything we have is given to us by God, anyway. And Jesus gave his life for us. We are to be good stewards, not unjust stewards. Yes, money can be used for negative purposes, but it can also be used for good. Make the choice to be like John Wesley and use it for good.

 

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

 

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