The More Excellent Way

Following is an excerpt from John Wesley’s sermon, “The More Excellent Way.” This excerpt is included in a series of selections from sermons of twelve spiritual fathers, that can be found (free of charge) on Seedbed’s website. I post this today as a word of encouragement for those considering the role of money in life as Tax Day approaches. No one understood Matthew 6:20 (“Store up your treasures in heaven”) better than Wesley. What if Wesley (and Jesus) were actually right about money?

Giving money

There is one point that still needs to be considered, that is, the use of money. Specifically, we must ask ourselves, what is the way that Christians generally tend to use money? And is there not a more excellent way?

Generally, Christians tend to set apart something yearly for charitable uses perhaps a tenth or even one-eighth of a part of their yearly income or salary. I have known very few people who, like Zaccheus, have said, Lord, half of my goods I give to the poor. O, how pleased God would be to see an increase in such friends of humankind, such benefactors!

In addition to those who have set a standard amount of giving, there are thousands who give large sums of money to the poor, especially when a compelling and heart-moving story or situation arises before them.

I praise God for all of you who do this. May you never grow tired of doing such good! May God restore in your heart seven times more than all that you have given! However, let me still show you a more excellent way.

Blessed to be a blessing

God is the owner and giver of all things in heaven and earth. You may consider yourself as someone to whom God has given some of his goods, that you might give those goods away according to his direction. His direction is this — that you should see yourself as one of a certain number of needy persons who are to be provided for, and you should do it out of only a portion of the goods he has given you. You have two advantages over everyone else: one, that it is more blessed to give than to receive; two, that you are able to serve yourself first and then others. This is the light with which you are to see yourself and others. To be more precise, if you have no family, after you have provided for yourself, give away everything else that remains so that each Christmas your accounts may clear, and wind your bottom round the year.

A living example

This was the practice of all those at Oxford who were called Methodists. For example, one of them had thirty pounds a year. He lived on twenty-eight and gave away the other two. The next year, when he received sixty pounds, he still lived on twenty-eight and gave away the other thirty-two. The third year he received ninety pounds and gave away sixty-two. The fourth year he received a hundred and twenty pounds. Still, he lived on only twenty-eight pounds and gave away ninety-two pounds to the poor. Was this not a more excellent way?

Treasures on earth, treasures in heaven

If you do have a family, seriously consider before God how much each member needs for life and godliness. In general, do not allow them less and do not allow them more than you allow yourself. This being done, make it your purpose to gain no more. I charge you in the name of God, do not increase your standard of living! As it comes daily or yearly, allow the extra to go. Otherwise you lay up treasures upon earth. Our Lord forbids this as flatly as he forbids murder and adultery. By storing up such treasures, you would be storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed.

But what if it was not forbidden? How can you, on the basis of reason, spend your money in a way that God may possibly forgive, instead of spending it in a way that he will certainly reward? You will have no reward in heaven for what you lay up. You will have a reward for what you lay out. Every pound you put into the earthly bank is sunk. It brings no heavenly interest. But every pound you give to the poor is put into the bank of heaven, and it will bring glorious interest. Indeed, it will accumulate for all eternity.

Who then is the wise person, and who among you is endowed with wisdom? With the Lord’s assistance, let that person resolve on this day, in this hour, in this moment to choose from what is stated above the more excellent way. Let that person steadily keep to the way with regard to sleep, prayer, work, food, conversation, and amusement. And may it especially be true in regard to the employment of that important item, money. Let your heart answer to the call of God: From this moment, with God as my help, I will lay up no more treasures on earth. This one thing I will do, I will lay up treasure in heaven. I will give to God the things that are God’s. I will give him all my goods and all my heart.

— John Wesley

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Who owns you? (or, “Its not about the money … but it is.”)

How do you make decisions? What role does money play in that process? I asked this question of some Facebook friends a while back and got great answers:

  • “I have a friend who complains she is so broke that money rules her home and keeps her from having a relationship with her family. She actually shared that it has ruined her relationship with her teenage daughter.”
  • “Thankfully, I grew up in a home where good management of money was a priority and I have been able to make ends meet even when I was a single parent/school teacher working on my masters degree. But what about my (church) family? How many are living in – or close to – the financial survival mode? How do our stories, our experiences affect our (corporate) spirit? Are we operating in a spirit of poverty?”
  • “What decisions does money make for me? Mostly the big ones, the ones I’ve never really cared about before now. Before now, I didn’t care about my future. I didn’t really want one. I believed I would die young and my parents would take care of my children.  I know better now. God has plans for me, and I am responsible to and for my children.  My money makes decisions for them, too.”
  • “I hate that I am concerned about money.  But I don’t really have much choice.  Jesus isn’t dropping a life savings in my lap.  I have to earn it.”

The crazy thing with money is this: we can’t own it. Precisely at the point that we try to make “ownership” our posture toward money, it begins to own us. It begins to make our decisions for us.

Kingdom wisdom is counter-intuitive.

The whole thing is counter-intuitive. What feels like ownership is really our money owning us. Jesus talks about this in his story about the unethical manager (Luke 16:1-10). John Wesley is the one who put into words what is probably the most profound and fundamental statement ever made outside the Bible on the use of money. He said this is the key to maximizing both financial and spiritual potential: Earn all you can. Save all you can. Give all you can.

Earn all you can.
Honestly earning and working diligently at God’s purposes gets us past victim status to the place where we can spot potential and opportunity as it comes our way. Jesus’ parable of the unethical manager is all about this. It is really a story about unleashing creativity so we’re thinking beyond greed to a place of rewarding generosity. It is about stretching vision toward Kingdom ideals.  Earn all you can so you can (as Richard Foster says) “conquer it and use it to advance the kingdom of God.”

The caution is about how having money can change our posture. Money tends to inflate the ego. JD Walt says, “Making plans is good. Making money is good. Making yourself the captain of your own ship . . . . not so much. At least this is not the way for the followers of Jesus. The “world” will be the world. We can predict it and expect it, we just can’t imitate it. Our options are arrogance or humility, and there’s nothing worse than arrogance.”

Save all you can.
Mark Rutland defines it this way. He says that saving means “setting limits on my lifestyle in order that more might be made available to the kingdom of God and not go up in the smoke of mere consumerism.”

Let me state that again so it sinks in. Saving means “setting limits on my lifestyle.” This is not the same as hoarding or becoming possessive about our possessions. This is about voluntarily limiting myself so that more is available for the kingdom of God. It is a choice about the direction of my investments. Because remember, we’re not earning just for the sake of having or saving for the sake of security. We’re saving for a vision.

Give all you can.
Without this one, the others don’t matter. If we miss out on the first two, we minimize our influence. If we miss out on this third one, we negate our influence completely. The goal is Kingdom influence.

The ownership of money is counter-intuitive for those of us who follow Jesus. We don’t believe humans own money. We can manage it but we can’t own it. In fact, any attempt to own it actually creates the opposite effect. The more we try to own it money, the more it owns us.

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