Wesley on Money, pt. 1

One of John Wesley’s most famous sermons is about money. At this time of the church year, it famous. Because this is the time of the church year when we start talking about money. I read the whole thing (I promise!). It’s amazing how current some of this is. I began to think, “What if I were to preach this sermon, paraphrased of course, to my congregation?” First of all, it’s long. Even with the paraphrasing, it might be “little dry.” Drier than I like to be, anyway.

Wesley bases the sermon on Luke 16:1-9, “The Parable of the Dishonest Steward.” Right there, you’ve got to give the man some props for that! Tough passage. I think I usually skip it when it appears in the lectionary. What follows is my paraphrase of the sermon. I’ve broken it up into three parts; so, keep coming back.

The Use of Money; John Wesley Sermon 50 (paraphrased by Earl Freeman)

Luke 16:1-9 (CEB)

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.’[a] 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.’[b] 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.

There are three points to make in this sermon:

  1. We should earn all we can, but not at the expense of life or health.
  2. We should not waste the money we do earn, in order to save all we can.
  3. Having earned all we can, and saved all we can, then we should give all we can.

In Luke 15, Jesus tells the Parable of the Prodigal Son, because people had complained about his relationship with sinners. Now he talks to his disciples. It’s almost as if he wanted to add another layer of responsibility and relationship for them to murmur about.

The master commended the dishonest manager,” and “People who belong to this world are more clever in dealing with their peers than are people who belong to the light.” These are two of the weightiest statements in all of scripture. Certainly two that we struggle with a great deal.

Let me attempt an explanation: Those who live only for this world are wiser than the “Children of light.” Not absolutely wiser, for in some ways they are completely foolish; but, in their own way, they are more consistent, truer to their principles, and more focused on their goals than most Christians. And Jesus – the one to whom we will be called to give an account –  says “use worldly wealth to make friends” (It was called “worldly wealth” because of the way it was earned and generally used). Use it to do good, in other words, so that when your life is done, you will be welcomed into your “eternal home.”

It has long been noted that Jesus spoke more about money than any other subject, yet the church mostly ignores it (except for about one month per year!). The world talks about money and teaches about money much more than the church does! We in the church do not give the use of money the importance it deserves. We do not know how to use money to our advantage (which can be an example of God’s providence).

Money has been considered “the grand corrupter of the world,” (like when we misquote Paul and say “Money is the root of all evil,” instead of “love of money is the root of all evil”). Is there any reason to think so? Is money to blame for all the corruption of the world? Or does the fault, the corruption, lie in the heart of those who use the money? Money can be used for evil, but what in this world can’t be used for evil?

Money can also be used for the best of purposes: it serves all nations; carries out daily business; and – if we use it right, according to Christian wisdom – it can do all manner of good things!

In a perfect world, or at least a perfectly Christian world, we wouldn’t need money, I guess. We’d all live like the early church – “The community of believers was one in heart and mind. None of them would say, “This is mine!” about any of their possessions, but held everything in common.” (Acts 4:32) That’ll never happen in this world, only in heaven! As we exist now, money is an excellent gift of God. In the hands of his children, it is food for the hungry, drink for the thirsty, home for the homeless. By properly using money, we can defend the oppressed, make the sick well, and ease pain. All of that good can be done, only if money is used as Christ intended.

It is of utmost importance that all who claim to be Christian know how to use money so that it can be used to serve others. Take all Jesus’ instructions about money, reduce them to these three rules, by which we can “make friends with worldly wealth,” and be faithful stewards – earn all you can; save all you can; and, give all you can.

Next week – “Earn all you can.”

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