Earn, Save, Give 2
Passage: Luke 16:1–16:13
Have you ever read the Bible and been stopped short? Have you ever read the Bible and been completely surprised? When a story ends in a really surprising way? When a character doesn’t act like we think he’d act? Like when Peter gets a question right. It’s really surprising!
This morning we are going to look at a tough and surprising piece of Scripture. This morning we are going to read a story Jesus told, a parable Jesus told, that has always stopped me short. We are going to look at a parable Jesus told that has always been difficult for me to understand. But figuring it out, unlocking its truth, can help us navigate one of the hardest things for us in life.
This month we are talking about money. We are talking about finances. We are talking about our personal economics. Jesus drew a connection for us between the expression of our faith and the choices we make around money. He talked about storing up treasure in heaven because where our treasure is, there are hearts will be also. Money and the use of money make up a huge percentage of things the Bible talks about.
But I think many of us 1) think money is a private thing and 2) don’t want to talk about money in church because deep down we struggle with how to live our financial lives in a faithful way. Those two are related. We want money to be private, separate from faith because we struggle to know how or if we can use our money in godly and righteous ways. We see money as a means to an end, we do what we do with our money and we live out our faith in other ways.
This month we want to change that outlook. John Wesley, the founder of United Methodism, published a sermon called “On the Use of Money” and outlined to his followers how they could exercise their personal finances in a faithful way. Their financial lives could be a key component to their discipleship. And his sermon “On the Use of Money” has three simple rules that if we follow we can use our money to glorify God. Our Scripture text this morning will help explain the first rule.
Luke 16:1-13 New International Version (NIV)
16 Jesus told his disciples: “There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. 2 So he called him in and asked him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.’
3 “The manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg— 4 I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.’
5 “So he called in each one of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’
6 “‘Nine hundred gallons of olive oil,’ he replied.
“The manager told him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred and fifty.’
7 “Then he asked the second, ‘And how much do you owe?’
“‘A thousand bushels of wheat,’ he replied.
“He told him, ‘Take your bill and make it eight hundred.’
8 “The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. 9 I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.
10 “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. 11 So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? 12 And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?
13 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”
So I find this story quite difficult and surprising. We’ll go back through it to try to figure out not only what’s going on but what about this is tough for me.
Jesus begins by telling his disciples that there was a dishonest manager who was being brought in for a performance review. The dishonest manager realizes that his time has come and he’s about to get fired. You can only be bad at your job for so long. Unless you’re in Congress. Sorry. So the dishonest manager is very afraid that he’ll have to eventually find honest work, he doesn’t really want to do honest work, so he figures if he’s about to get fired he might as well sew his own golden parachute. So he calls in all the people that owe his master things, debts that it was his job to manage. So basically this is a story about a Wall Street guy.
He calls in the people who owes his boss money and he slashes their debt in half. He wants friends who will take kindly upon him after he gets fired. But then his boss finds out. He says open up your spreadsheets during the performance review and sees that all this creative refinancing has happened. Now we would expect that the boss who has just lost half his total liabilities is going to be furious. Fire the dishonest manager for cause and, since this is the ancient world, perhaps even hurt or kill this dishonest manager. Instead the boss praises the dishonest manager. Instead of firing him, he gives him more responsibility. Why? Because he acted shrewdly. And Jesus says that what is prized in this world is the ability to be shrewd.
And then Jesus goes in to explain what this parable means for his followers. And I kind of expect Jesus to say that Jesus’ disciples aren’t to be shrewd like the people of this world, but are instead to be honest. They should not cheat others in order to achieve personal gain. They shouldn’t lie or hustle. They should do good, hard work and live modest lives.
Instead Jesus says that the disciples to use worldly wealth to gain friends. Jesus says to the disciples use worldly wealth. And this is where I stop short. Because I’m accustomed to Jesus talking about shunning wealth. I’m used to Christians and preachers talking about living simply. I’ve never heard a preacher tell me go get that paper. Which is how the young people talk about making money. And yet here is Jesus telling his disciples to use wealth in order to inherit eternal homes.
And its at this point that I reveal Wesley’s first rule on the use of money: Earn all you can. Seriously. John Wesley told his followers Get That Paper! We are not accustomed to talking about money like this in the church. But Wesley did have some caveats when it came to earning all you can. Wesley had three qualifiers for earning all you can.
“Earn all you can by honest industry. Use all possible diligence in your calling.”
Usually we only talk about calling as it pertains to preachers, but all of us have a calling. The word vocation doesn’t mean job, although that’s often what we take it to mean. Really vocation is being employed to do what God created you to do. My mom was called to be a teacher, she was made to be a teacher. When Wesley says earn all you can he isn’t saying get all the money you can regardless of the ethics or your love for the profession. Do what you were made to do, Wesley says, but don’t be afraid of making as much money as you can in doing what you were made to do. Also, don’t earn all you can by means that are unhealthy or unrighteous. There are lots of ways to make money that prey upon people in our society. God didn’t make you to do something that sucks life and joy and goodness from creation or community. Earn all you can by earnest industry!
“Earn all you can, by common sense.”
So this is where I make a confession: I’m a spender. I’m not the best at managing my own finances. My wife is amazing at saving money, at keeping a budget, at not trifling away money on things we don’t need. I could gain a good deal more wealth just by being better with money. Knowing tax laws. Saving and investing wisely. Doing some basic things right. Earn all you can by realizing the time value of money. Earn all you can using all the resources available to you. Earn all you can by going through Financial Peace University or another money management course. Earn all you can by marrying someone who is really good with money. Earn all you can by being informed and smart about your money.
“Earn all you can without paying more for it than its worth.”
On the one hand this rule makes it sound like Wesley wants us to earn all we can by shopping the deals and clipping coupons. But that’s not what he’s really getting at here. What he means by paying more than something is worth is that our lives and our souls are worth infinitely more than we sometimes believe. How many people trade their souls for a paycheck? How many people trade their families for a promotion? How many people risk their lives for a little bit more money? Your family isn’t worth the promotion. Your soul is worth vastly more than an even seven figure paycheck. Your life is worth more than a 10% pay differential. Earn all you can, but realize that your family is of paramount importance. Earn all you can, but realize that life is priceless. Earn all you can, but realize your soul is invaluable to the God of the cross.
Jesus ended the parable by saying, “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own? No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” What Jesus says is that the way we live out our financial lives can witness to our faith. We can be trusted with our money or not. We can be dishonest with our money or honest. But if we are honest, if we are trustworthy, if we are faithful with our money, how much more will that reflect what we believe, whom we love, what is important to us.
There are two other rules. It’s not about just earning all we can for the sake of earning all we can.
It is so that we can use money, use wealth, in order to witness to and show our faith. Those rules are save all you can and give all you can.
We aren’t accustomed to talking about money in this way in church. However its how John Wesley talked about the proper way to use money and it’s the way Jesus talked about money in this part of Scripture. This month we are going to talk about how we can use our money to bear witness to our faith. Part of that is going to be asking you to look at what financial commitment you can make to this church for the upcoming year. We have pledge forms that we are asking everyone to take, prayerfully consider, and fill out. If you know now what financial commitment you can make to this church next year you are welcome to return it today. However we ask that before the end of the month you fill this out and turn it in as a way of being intentional about letting your finances witness to your faith. Let us pray.