First in the series, “Earn, Save, Give: Wesley’s Simple Rules for Money”
Wow, can you imagine God coming to you tonight and saying to you, “Ask for whatever you wish, and I’ll give it to you?” What would you ask for? Some would ask for wealth, no doubt, others for better health. Some may ask for a relationship, others for talent, still others might ask for more wishes!
The question, however, is whether we’d know what to do if we actually got what we wished for. Lottery winners, for example, see their wishes come true when they hit the big jackpot, but most lottery winners wind up miserable because they don’t have a good plan for what to do with the money. We might ask God for good health but we may not have the ability to maintain it. We could have a special talent or ability but squander it in the wrong place.
Maybe this is why God doesn’t make this offer very often!
Solomon, however, asked for wisdom, which is a really great answer! Instead of asking for something of temporary to benefit himself, Solomon wanted a framework for managing his life and his leadership as the king of Israel. He recognized that, on his own, he was young and inexperienced and “knew next to nothing” (how many young people would admit that?). He needed help, he needed a background from which to make decision, and so he asked for wisdom.
This is why Solomon’s name gets connected with wisdom. In fact, there’s a whole genre of Scripture dedicated to wisdom for which Solomon gets much of the credit. Proverbs and Ecclesiastes are a couple of the books accredited to him as well as some extrabiblical books like the Wisdom of Solomon. Solomon was wise enough to ask for wisdom and that, according to the Scriptures, made him wiser than most.
So, what is wisdom? Well, we might define it as “aligning our actions with God’s intentions.” As I’ve said before, the Scriptures make it clear to us that there is the way and not-the-way, and finding that way isn’t just about obeying commandments—it’s an internal disposition to say and do what best. How do we get such wisdom? Well, the Scriptures also make that clear that such wisdom comes from God. As we said in our last series, it comes from being infused with the love of God and the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. The Spirit gives us a framework for decision-making and we are wise when we live and decide within that framework.
Solomon was the embodiment of wisdom—for awhile. I Kings 3 tells us that even though he hadn’t asked for them, God gave Solomon riches and power anyway as a result of his asking for wisdom. He had wealth, he had horses and chariots, and he had many wives which were the result of foreign alliances. But Solomon eventually drifted from pursuing wisdom to pursuing more and more gold, more horses, more buildings, and more women (700 wives and 300 concubines). These were things that the kings of Israel were warned against in Deuteronomy 17, but Solomon eventually rejected the wisdom that God gave him and chose to do it on his own, with disastrous results. He failed to manage what God had given him wisely.
Money, Sex, and Power
People are still pursuing these things: money, power, sex—those are really the big three. Interestingly, however, the church rarely talks about these things from the perspective of wisdom. In fact, I was once warned as a young preacher to stay away from these topics because they make people uncomfortable. People complain that the church only wants money, that politics are a black hole for discussion, and that sex is something we keep secret. But here’s the thing: the Bible talks about these things—a lot. Money alone is mentioned some 2,000 times in Scripture; more than prayer, more than most other things. If it was important enough for God to give us a large body of wisdom for managing, it’s something to which we should pay attention. It’s clear that we need wisdom, and there’s no better place to start than with the thing we deal with most every day—our money.
So, throughout my life as a preacher, I haven’t taken that old preacher’s advice. I think we need to talk about money, and sex, and power. We’ll be doing a series on sex in January, in fact, and then, with the election coming up in a year, we’ll also talk about the politics of Jesus. There will be plenty of opportunities to make people uncomfortable, in other words! But I would argue that one of the reasons these topics make us uncomfortable is because we live in a culture that hasn’t embraced the wisdom of God in these matters. It’s time for us to return there if we’re going to truly manage the gifts God has given us in ways that honor him and change the world.
We begin, then, with the topic of money. Now, most of us were taught that the Bible says that, “Money is the root of all evil,” which is probably why talking about it makes us uncomfortable. Actually, I think Mark Twain also said the opposite was true as well: The lack of money is the root of all kinds of evil, too! But this is a misquote of the Scriptures. In I Timothy 6:10, Paul writes to his young protege, Timothy, not that money itself is the root of evil, but the love of money is actually the cause of a lot of problems. For Paul, money itself was neutral—a thing that could be used for good and godly purposes, or for evil and self-serving purposes. When we love money more than we love God or anything else, that’s when we run into a problem with it.
Jesus said something very similar in the Sermon on the Mount: “Stop collecting treasures for your own benefit on earth, where moth and rust eat them and where thieves break in a steal them. Instead, collect treasures for yourselves in heaven…Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt. 6:19-20). Our treasure and our hearts are connected. In fact, you could take Jesus’ teaching and flip it around and it would be equally true—where your heart is, your treasure will be also.
In fact, that’s wisdom—not that we focus on getting money and then figure out what we’re going to do with it, but rather to orient our hearts toward God in such a way that money takes its proper place. Jesus talked about money a lot because how we deal with it says a lot about the disposition of our hearts and our discipleship.
John Wesley knew that the ways in which we handle money are indicative of what’s going on in our hearts and so he crafted a sermon “On the Use of Money” which he preached about two dozen times in an eleven year span. By 1766, Methodism was becoming more popular with those in the wealthy class of society and Wesley feared that along with this burgeoning prosperity would come a complacency and a neglect of the poor—that Methodism would have “the form of religion without the power.” And so he offered them some biblical wisdom, a framework for how to manage money in ways that reflected their commitment to Christ.
Notice, however, that Wesley was not preaching a stewardship campaign. The purpose of his sermon was not to raise money for the movement. Sometimes the church does this, which is why it makes people suspicious when we talk about money—that we’re talking about it so that you will give the church more of it. Now, I’m going to be up front here—we are going to ask you to give us an estimate of your giving for the coming year at the end of this series, as we do each fall. We do need your giving, of course, in order to do the things that the church does. But the question we’re going to deal with here is one that concerns our financial lives in general—how we manage the resources God has provided to us. Giving is one part of that wisdom, but there is much more to it than that—it’s about our attitude towards money in general and how we manage it as disciples of Jesus Christ that really matters.
In fact, you’re likely to hear things in this series that you may never had heard before in church. For example, Wesley’s first rule for money was one that we might find surprising: he says, “Earn all you can.” Wesley began with a positive view of money; he called it, “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…it is an excellent gift of God.”
Did you catch that—money is “an excellent gift!” (so are sex and power, by the way) but only when they are used wisely and in context. Wesley knew what he was talking about. He was a prolific author and speaker and earned a lot of money during his lifetime, but he managed it well and wound up giving most of it away. For him, money was a gift to be used in ways that pleased God. That’s really what we’re after here. As the writer of Proverbs (maybe Solomon?) put it: “Happy are those who find wisdom and those who gain understanding. [Wisdom’s] profit is better than silver and her gain is better than gold.” When we look for wisdom first, the value of money becomes a lot more clear.
After all, there’s a lot of bad wisdom out there about money. The culture would have us spend all we can on things we think will make us happy but, as Jesus said, these things will eventually get worn out, discarded, or stolen. Having money doesn’t mean we’ll be happy and fulfilled. There are lots of miserable rich people out there! The pursuit of more is a never-ending one. Nelson Rockefeller, the super rich tycoon of the 20th century, was once asked how much money he needed in order to be content. His answer? “Just a little more than I have.” The unbridled pursuit of wealth for wealth’s sake leaves us unsatisfied. That’s not the kind of wisdom we’re talking about.
Nor are we talking about the so-called “health and wealth” gospel that is popular today in so many churches, which preaches that God really wants you to be rich and so all you have to do to get wealth is “name it and claim it.” This wacky wisdom wants you to believe that God is just waiting to shower riches on you at any moment if you just want it bad enough (and if you give the televangelist preacher some money so that he can demonstrate the principle in action by buying a bigger private jet). Sorry, but the Bible just doesn’t give us that kind of wisdom.
Nor, on the other hand, are we talking about money in order to take you on a guilt trip. So many people want us to “give until it hurts,” but actually what Paul says in 2 Corinthians is that God loves a “cheerful” giver. The purpose of God’s wisdom on money is not to cause us more anxiety, but rather to alleviate our anxiety about money. As with the rest of God’s wisdom, the more closely we follow it, ask for it, and heed it, the better our lives tend to become because we’re living for a larger purpose.
It’s that wisdom that we’re after, and John Wesley gives us some guidelines to follow. When it comes to money: Earn all you can, save all you can, and give all you can. That’s where we’ll be focusing for the next three weeks. Plan to be here or, if you’re out of town, to listen to the podcast each week (or read the text right here on bobkaylor.com). To take a step further, we’re offering several classes that will be studying Wesley’s wisdom using Jim Harnish’s book Earn, Save, Give. We also have a daily devotional book I encourage you to pick up and use with your family during this next four weeks. When we talk about these things together, it’s helpful for everyone, especially our children. Building wise money habits is important at any age. I think you’ll find Wesley’s wisdom to not only be helpful but potentially life-changing for you. After all, as Jesus said, when we get a handle on our treasure, our hearts will soon follow.
Solomon was offered a blank check from God to ask for whatever he wanted. Solomon wisely asked for wisdom, but he didn’t keep seeking it. It’s a lifelong pursuit.
Many of us have made mistakes with money in the past. Many of us have taken on too much debt at one time or another, or made a bad investment, or have blown money on things that haven’t made us happy. We know what the effects of poor money management can be. We know that we need some wisdom so that we can do a better job. This is a great place to start.
Earn all you can, save all you can, give all you can.
That’s wisdom for life!