In Search of True Stewardship
by Tommy Ferguson
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In 1760 John Wesley gave a sermon entitled “The Use of Money.” Its message and others like it helped shape the American work ethic for generations. Followers of Christ will align their finances to follow Him, and may want to read the sermon in its entirety. It can be found at www.umcmission.org.
The Great Commandment (to love God and love man), and the Great Commission (to go and make disciples in all the world) are inevitably implemented with money. Wesley’s encouragement to gain, save, and give provides a relevant framework for stewardship. One might think of these as three strands of a rope. The strength of the rope does not come from each strand in isolation but from all three strands woven together.
Gain All You Can
Stewardship in the Bible is not confined to giving and managing; it is also concerned with productivity. The bare fact is that by hard work man is to wring out a living (Gen. 3:19). Understanding that the word “calling” includes secular work in the Puritan mindset, the modern reader of the sermon can feel the urgency in Wesley’s words about “gaining”:
"Use all possible diligence in your calling. Lose no time. If you understand yourself and your relation to God and man, you know you have none to spare...And “whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might.” Do it as soon as possible: No delay!...Put your whole strength to the work."
Scripture places limits on making money; obviously stealing (Ex. 20:15) and cheating (Pr. 20:10) are ruled out. The pursuit of gain should not be at the expense of life and health (1 Tim. 6:10), nor should it entangle a person in a manner that destroys his soul (Mark 8:36-37). Also, one’s work is to be done without hurting one’s neighbor (Mark 12:31).
Save All You Can
In today’s world of near 0% interest, the threat of inflation, and the relentless pressure to consume, saving feels like rowing against the wind. Saving really has two facets: one is to accumulate and the other is to spend wisely. Wesley primarily speaks of the latter:
"I do not mean avoid gluttony and drunkenness only; an honest heathen would condemn these. But there is a regular, reputable kind of sensuality, an elegant epicurism. Do not waste [money] merely in gratifying the desire of the eye. Lay out nothing to gratify the pride of life, to gain the admiration or praise of men."
People entrenched in popular culture would likely ridicule this part of the sermon for its Puritanism. However, Scripture is what popular culture is really at odds with. As a culture have we not overindulged and borrowed to do so? Have we not wandered away from the faith, and pierced ourselves with many a grief (James 1:14-15, 4:3-4; 1 Tim. 6:10)?
Give All You Can
The third strand of the message, “give all you can,” validates and completes the first two. For the believer, the whole reason for toiling and saving is not just to provide for one’s own need, but to broach the dark world with the light of the Gospel:
"But let not any man imagine that he has done anything...by “gaining and saving all he can,” if he were to stop here. All this is for nothing...if he does not point to a farther end...Render unto God not a tenth, not a third, not half, but all that is God’s."
Generous giving in the name of the Lord is radical in the culture’s eyes. But if believers see God for who He is, then generous giving is a fitting response. The psalmist asks, “What shall I render to the Lord, for all His benefits toward me” (Ps. 116:12)? It is a good question at all times, especially now.
Doing it Right
An organization whose mission is to “challenge coaches and athletes on the professional, college, high school, junior high and youth levels to use the powerful medium of athletics to reach the world for Jesus Christ” is Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Learn more at www.fca.org and find a local chapter.
See John Wesley's sermon at www.umcmission.org.
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