On the use of money

If you want to find God, the first step is to listen to God with the “ear of your heart.” It’s hard work, but it’s essential work if we are to grow into the abundant life Jesus offers (John 10:10). As Christians, the first teacher we learn to listen to is Jesus as we find him in the gospels. Yet few things can close the ear of our heart to him as quickly as what he said about money.

“None of you can become my disciple,” he said, “if you don’t give up all your possessions” (Luke 14:33). “Do not store up for yourself treasures on earth,” he said (Matt. 6:19). “You cannot serve God and wealth,” he said (Luke 16:13); you’ve got to choose what you’re going to invest yourself in. Who really opens the ear of their heart to that? So we close our ears and turn away.

But there are some things about money we need to hear, because it’s such a big part of our lives and so often represents a real struggle for us. So I’m going to dive in and mention two of several principles we find in the gospels about money and its use. I’m going to suggest some basic guidelines for the use of money. And finally, I’m going to encourage you to make the distressing choices about how to use your resources in an authentically faithful way.

The first principle is that wealth is both a blessing and a responsibility. We’re accountable for how we use the resources entrusted to us. When Jesus told of the dishonest manager who was fired for squandering his employer’s wealth, he praised the manager for the shrewdness he used in handling his situation (Luke 16:1-13). The manager stopped using money to increase someone else’s wealth and started using it to build mutually supportive relationships. How do you use the wealth you have? To increase your wealth, or to build sustaining relationships?

The second principle is that wealth – along with other kinds of power and privilege – is fleeting. One day, the manager is at the peak of his career; the next day, he’s deep in disaster. None of us is more than a day away from financial ruin. Are we going to be wise and build our lives on rock, or foolish and build our lives on sand (Matt. 7:24-27)? We cannot do both; we cannot serve God and money.

So how can we use our stewardship of money to serve God’s will? How can we use it to build relationships instead of more wealth? How can we use money to build our house on rock instead of on sand, to store up treasure not on earth, where moth and rust consume and thieves break in and steal, but in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consume and where thieves do not break in and steal (Matt. 6:19-21)?

Search Google for “how to use money,” and you’ll get more than 4.8 billion hits. My favorite, since long before Google, is John Wesley’s sermon, “The Use of Money,” in which he sets out three simple, radical, and very practical rules for the faithful use of money.

The first rule is: Gain all you can. We must use the gifts we have from God to earn as much as possible through honest work, as much as our situation allows. But there are limits to this rule. We should not gain money at the expense of our life or health. No amount of money, however large, should tempt us to work at any employment that harms our bodies.

And we should not work at any job that might injure our minds or souls. This includes any work contrary to the law of God or the law of the land, anything that runs against your conscience, or anything that would compromise your integrity. The same applies to our neighbor. We ought not earn money in any way that causes injury to our neighbor’s body, mind, or soul. And we ought not do anything that harms the environment, all of God’s natural creation. Within these limits, make the most of every gift and resource you have.

Wesley’s second rule is: Save all you can. Money is precious; don’t waste it on trivial things. Be content with simple things that your body needs. Don’t spend money on luxury food or clothing or needless ornaments for yourself or your home. Don’t buy an expensive car when one at half the price would suffice. Don’t buy a second home when your neighbor is homeless. Live simply, dress modestly, travel inexpensively, save all you can.

And his third rule is: Give all you can. It’s not enough to earn and save all you can unless you also give all you can. Storing away money without using it is the same as throwing it away. You don’t own the wealth you have. It has been entrusted to you for a short time by the God who created it. Everything belongs to God, and everything is created to glorify God and serve God’s will.

If you want to be a good steward of what God has entrusted to you, it’s simple enough to do. Use for yourself and your family enough to provide a simple, basic life: adequate food, clothing, and shelter; basic health care; a practical education; and savings enough to continue that life in retirement so your money runs out when your life does. If there’s any income left after that, use whatever remains for the good of your Christian brothers and sisters. And if there is still anything left, then use it to do good to all people as you have opportunity.

If you ever wonder if your use of money is faithful, ask yourself these four questions: 1) In spending this, am I acting according to my character not as the owner of this wealth but as a steward of God’s resources? 2) Am I doing this in conformity to what I understand of God’s will? 3) Can I offer this expense, this action, as a sacrifice to God through Jesus Christ? 4) Do I have reason to believe that for this action God will say to me, “Well done, good and faithful servant; enter into the joy of your master”?

These are the simple rules for the Christian use of money. Gain all you can, without bringing harm to yourself, your neighbor, or the environment. Save all you can by avoiding waste and unnecessary luxuries. Give all you can to serve God’s will. Don’t limit yourself to a proportion – a tenth or even half of what God already owns, but give all that is God’s by using your wealth to preserve yourself and family, the community of faith, and the rest of humanity. In this way you will be able to give a good account of your stewardship in the presence of all the saints. So be energetic in your new life in Christ, reverent and sensitive to God, trusting that God is at work in you, creating both the will and the action that will please God (Phil. 2:12-13).

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