I recently had the opportunity to read John Wesley’s Sermon 50 on the use of money in which he expounded on Luke 16:9 “Make friends of the mammon of unrighteousness….” From what I have read of John Wesley he lived frugally and to a very exacting standard when it came to his understanding of stewardship and the use of money. His only mistake in all of this was placing his calling and standard upon other believers and calling them to a stricter account than I believe that God or His word puts upon us. With that one caution stated, the sermon contains three useful guiding principles on the use of money that I believe can be instructive for church congregations today as they struggle with the very present practicalities of budgets and congregational giving.
The first principle regarding the use of money is “Gain all you can.” John Wesley counsels us to meet the world on its own ground and, within limits, to gain all that we have the power to gain in terms of wealth. He cautions against gaining wealth that costs “too dearly”; for instance, wealth gained at the expense of our life or health, wealth gained at the exhaustion of our minds or souls, or wealth gained at the expense or damage of our neighbor. The latter includes gaining wealth by preying on the addictions of others (such as selling alcohol) and business practices such as undercutting our neighbor’s prices to drive him out of competition or stealing his customers or workforce. But where we may do so with the love of God and the love of neighbor foremost in our minds, he counsels us to use the time wisely, investing our time and talents to gain all that we can. To state it scripturally, “whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all of your power” (Ecclesiastes 9:10).
The second principle that pertains to a Christian’s wise use of money is “Save all you can.” Having exerted your wisdom and strength to gain all that you can, John Wesley counsels us to not throw away or waste any of the gain we have diligently made but to live simply and carefully. This is what I would call “living below your means,” and what John Wesley refers to as not simply gratifying the desire of our eyes or flesh, or trying to buy the admiration of the world. This includes not only exercising temperance over our own lifestyles but being careful not to enable our children in the frivolous use of money. John Wesley states that it is better to withhold a rightful inheritance to our children if we know that the money will only ensnare them and endanger their souls by underwriting their excessive lifestyle by the giving of it.
“Gain all that you can” and “Save all that you can.” Having stated the two foundational principles, John Wesley adds the third principle that explains and gives purpose to the first two. In fact, we could say that if you only did the first two principles you would have laid a strong foundation but built nothing lasting upon it. The third principle is this, “Give all that you can.” Here also John Wesley has some practical priorities to guide us in this principle. First, provide those things that are required for your own life such as food, clothing, shelter; avoid excess, and while practicing moderation provide what is necessary for health, well-being, and strength. Second, provide those same benefits to your spouse, your children, and others who are part of your household whether family or employees. Third, if there remains a surplus, John Wesley counsels using it to “do good to those that are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10b). This could find expression in providing for the needy of our congregations, assisting others in the pursuit of their own occupations and callings, or providing opportunities for others to advance and grow. And finally, if there is still more, John Wesley urges us to complete the scripture in Galatians 6:10a and “as we have opportunity, let us do good to all men…”
Upon these three principals, John Wesley faithfully lived out his life and ministry and passed them onto us in his sermon as a true pastor concerned with the health and state of our souls and all of the temptations and pulls of the world systems and styles. If we believe the other scriptural truths that all that we possess ultimately comes from God, that He alone is able to give the power to produce wealth, and that some day we must give account for the use we have made of what He has given to us, then John Wesley’s simple principals give us the vision and the framework to render back to God those things that are ultimately God’s while fully accommodating the necessity of providing for the welfare of ourselves, our household, our congregations, and our communities. The full sermon and others can be found at the website Wesley.nnu.edu/john-wesley/the-sermons-of-john-wesley-1872-edition