Part 1 of a 3 Week Series, “Earn, Save, Give”
Proverbs 31; Luke 16
What does a 1st Century carpenter living in Jerusalem and an 18th Century priest from England have in common? Well, they both loved God deeply and they both talked a LOT about money. I'm talking about Jesus and John Wesley. Jesus, you've probably heard of, but maybe not John Wesley. Wesley was a man who wanted to transform his church; he wanted to reach people outside of the walls of the church and give people practical heartfelt ways to follow Jesus. He wasn't very interested in propping up the institution, and because of that he annoyed a lot of his colleagues. But he also annoyed them because he dared to talk about money.
Jesus, of course, had quite a few things to say about money, including this story we read this morning. It is a strange parable in which manager cooks his books in order to gain favor of his customers so that when his boss throws him out of his job, his customers will help him out. And then the wealthy man commends the manager for his shrewdness. Now I will tell you that I’ve never met a pastor who liked this parable. It’s strange! We can get all muddled up in the dis-honesty of the manager’s actions. But the main point, is what Jesus says next— that that we who are followers of Jesus need to be just as smart about how we use our resources as those who are not followers of Jesus.
John Wesley loved this parable. He preached on this specific story at least 27 times between 1741 and 1758. And why did he love it? Because Wesley understood that money is an important part of our lives and that God calls us to be street smart with what we do with all of our resources.
Wesley lived in a time in England in which the rich were getting richer and the poor were getting poorer and he was very distraught about this. He spent a fair amount of time in debtors prison sharing the Gospel with people there, and he had empathy for how people could find themselves there. Even his father had spent time in debtors' prison, which was a fairly common experience for the poor. Wesley understood that the wealthy had a distinct interest in making more wealth and keeping the poor, poor; and he found truth and hope in this parable that Jesus tells because the parable is clear that Jesus wants us to be smart about how we use our resources, wise about how to earn and spend our money.*
In general the Bible recognizes that money is a tool, and while it acknowledges the great temp-tation we all have to see it as an end to itself, it can be a very useful tool. Money, of course, pro-vides for the things we need— a place to live; food to eat; education expenses; transportation; etc. So Wesley came up with a simple way of thinking about our money. He said, “Earn all you can; save all you can; and give all you can.”
Today I want to talk with you about earning all you can. This may seem like a strange thing to say in a church— I will confess it feels strange to say it— but Jesus never shied away from money. He wanted people to earn money honestly and use it for the Kingdom of God. And of course that’s the key— how do we continue to trust God fully, to worship God alone, while also dealing with money? And I will tell you, this is not a temptation only for the rich. This is a temptation we all have— whether we are poor or wealthy— how do we keep God at the forefront and use our money as a tool? As Douglas Hicks wrote in his article, “Making a Good Living,” The challenge of most Christians in developed economies today is ensuring that no only our own needs but the needs of others are met.” (Pages 117-132 in On Our Way, ed. by Dorothy Bass & Susan Briehl.)
So, Wesley encourages us to make all we can. Of course he does this with a few stipulations that are helpful to us and keep us centered on God.*
First, Wesley said, “Earn all you can by honest industry, using all possible diligence in your call-ing.” Wesley knew that there are plenty of ways to make a lot of money that is dishonest and takes advantage of people, and he would never encourage that. Instead, he encourages us to think about what our calling is— how is God calling us to use our gifts, skills, and talents? And then to follow that calling diligently— not wasting any of our gifts and not wasting an opportunity to make a living using those gifts. We see this in Wesley’s own life. Even though Wesley was a Priest in the Anglican church, he also taught at University, wrote books, grew herbs in his back-yard, and many more things in which his talents were used to either make money or benefit his community in some way.
Secondly, Wesley said, “Earn all you can with paying more for it than it is worth.” Let that one sink in. Earn all you can without paying more for it than it is worth. And then he goes on to say that any job that affects one's healthy, physically, mentally, or spiritually, is not worth it. Wesley notes that we should not continue in a business if it deprives us of time to sleep or eat. If we are earning all we can for God’s sake, and it is part of God’s will that we take care of ourselves and have whole and healthy lives, then the two shouldn't work against each other. Then Wesley goes on to say to earn all we can, but not at the expense of losing our soul. If what you’re doing to earn all you can is destroying who you are, then it is definitely not worth it.
Third, Wesley said, “Earn all you can, but not at the expense of your neighbor.” What we do to earn money should give all people life-- not death; not ill health; not make them poorer; not take away their livelihood. In other words, the golden rule of loving your neighbor as yourself is true with how we earn and spend our money too.
Be clever, we are told in the Gospel of Luke. Use the same wit and skill and determination as those who cheat others, but do so instead to glorify God and to bring about God’s Kingdom in this world. Be wise as God is wise.
Our passage from Proverbs is a great model of what Wesley is talking about. You know, if you read commentaries on this passage of Proverbs, there’s some speculation that the woman they are writing about didn’t actually exist— that this is an ideal. But I’ve known women like this! The writer of Proverbs tells us about this amazing woman who works with wool and flax to make fab-ric; buys land and creates a fruitful vineyard; she provides for her household; she is cunning when it comes to what people will buy in the marketplace; and she also opens her hands to the needy; reaches out to the poor; a teaching of kindness is on her tongue and she doesn’t worry about the future.
This is what Wesley is talking about— to be industrious for God; to use the gifts we have but not in a winner takes all kind of way that the world tempts us into; not into a competitive dog eat dog situation in which if you win another loses. God invites us to use our gifts to be as smart as those who think they’re going to be satisfied when they climb their way to the top, but to do so while knowing who we are serving— to be freed up to serve God, not our money.
So while Wesley is giving us a similar message that the world tells us-- Wesley says to earn all we can while the world tells us to get as much money as possible; they do so for very different reasons. Wesley encouraged people to earn all the money they could so they could save all the money they could so they could give all the money they could. He saw that in order to be freed up to do what God is calling us to do, we needed to focus on trusting God while also using our skills, gifts, and talents, to share with the world— all to God's glory.
The world tells us to earn more money for a very different reason. We are told to earn more money so we can spend more money to make other people rich. We are told to earn more money so we can buy more things and be in debt up to our eyeballs. Dave Ramsey says, "Debt is normal. Be weird." And he's right. Debt is considered normal in our day. One of the messages that's always coming at us is just to borrow the money we need. We are told that student debt is good debt; that a mortgage is necessary; that we have to spend money on our credit cards in order to build up our credit. But God has a different way of looking at it. The Bible is very clear that debt is never good. As Mike Slaughter puts it in his book Upside Living in a Downside Economy, having debt means we are a slave to the past— to what we already own. And that makes it difficult to serve God. When we put God first and serve God with our money, than our money serves us (pages 16-17). Not being in debt is the simplest way to earn money. We have to use the tools around us— including the Financial Peace class— and create a budget to live below our means so we don't have to borrow money for things we actually need. And on a regular basis, we need to focus on spend money out of our need rather than out of our appetite because our appetite will always grow.
A simple rule of thumb that most financial planners agree on is the 10-10-80 rule. Give 10%; Save 10%; spend 80%. That may seem like a stretch to you today. But once you’ve got that down, then you can begin to increase the first two 10’s to do the things you really want to do to make a difference in this world.
One of the reasons I admire Wesley and his simple rules for money so much, is because Wesley didn’t just talk the talk, he walked the walk. When Wesley started out in life he was making 30 British pounds a month and he figured out that he could live off of 28 of those pounds. That’s not yet using the 10-10-80 rule, right? So he started out, as we all do, not living into the ideal. But as he began to write books and teach at University and do all of the other things he did which earned him money, Wesley never increased what he lived off of. At the height of his career he was making 1400 pounds a year, and he was still only spending 28 pounds on himself. He started with doing less than the 10-10-80 rule and he grew his earning and his giving until he was only living on 2% of his income and giving the rest away.
Jesus calls us to be wise with all of our lives, and that includes our money. Our God is a gener-ous God, and as people created in God’s image, we have been created for generosity! It’s why it feels so good to give! God desires for us to have enough— to have more than enough— so that we can be faithful in our resources and care for others who do not have enough. What would it look like in your life to earn all you can, save all you can, and give all you can all for the glory of God?
*The information on Wesley was gotten from a sermon by Wesley called, “On the Use of Money” from John Wesley’s Sermons; and from the book, Earn.Save.Give by James A Harnish.