“Gain All You Can, Save All You Can, Give All You Can”
May 01, 2012 by Craig Blomberg | 2 Comments
“I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings” (Luke 16:9 NIV).
My breakfast-time appointment stood me up yesterday, so I had the “pleasure” of listening to the conversation of two enthusiastic businessmen sitting near me. I’d be surprised if they were much over 50, if that. With stereotypic Texas drawls and boisterousness, and oblivious to everyone around them, they were mapping out strategies to help their company and their personal shares in the company’s stock and investments take the least hit in 2013 when the Bush-era tax cuts expire. They were also speculating on various things Romney might try to do to ameliorate the situation, if he is elected.
A number of things struck me about their conversation. These two guys knew each other well, and they liked each other and were genuinely concerned about each other’s job and finances. From what I could tell, all their proposals were scrupulously within the law; they were not trying to cheat or cut corners or bilk anyone out of anything. For all I know, they might have been Christians who were actually concerned not to stray too much into personal matters on company time; they certainly never said anything about families, community activities, churches, or the like. They did, however, speculate for awhile on how soon they could retire, travel for recreation, and play more golf, and what financial moves would best facilitate this.
If they weren’t Christians, then they formed a perfect example of what Jesus referenced, ironically, in Luke 16:8b: “For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light.” They were doing their best to be as wise and prudent as possible with their company’s finances and their personal finances for the best economic profit for each.
John Wesley would have approved of two-thirds of these gentlemen’s plans, whatever their spiritual condition. In a famous sermon called “The Use of Money,” on Luke 16:9, preached at least 28 times in various forms in the mid-1700s, Wesley unpacked the three points, “Gain all you can,” “Save all you can,” and “Give all you can.” Of course, he explained that he referred to ethical profit that did not engage in immoral activity or bring physical or spiritual hurt to oneself or one’s neighbor. He himself fixed a modest standard of living for himself as a young man and, as his income grew considerably throughout his life, each year gave the growing surplus away to the Lord’s work and especially to help the poor. But he also realized that others could make even more money through savings and wise investments over a longer period of time and then have more to give away. Wesley was not averse to people providing reasonable amounts for their families, and leaving an inheritance, but warned against spoiling children with too much. And Wesley himself died with very little to his name.
Wesley’s exegesis of Luke 16:9 matches exactly the best of modern commentators’ understandings. Use the ordinary material possessions of this world, all of which are sooner or later tainted in some way, for kingdom purposes—first for “the household of faith” and then for others (Gal. 6:10)—so that those who precede us in death as Christians, ministered to in some way by our giving, will welcome us into the life to come. Not surprisingly, this was one of the few areas Wesley struggled to convince his Methodists to follow, though their church buildings were always modest, especially compared to the Roman Catholic and Anglican cathedrals of eighteenth-century England.
The part of the two businessmen’s conversation that Wesley couldn’t have supported was obviously all of their aspirations for retirement. Now granted, there may be all manner of details I never heard that would cast things in a very different light. Perhaps these two men were strategizing for early retirement so they could spend their remaining healthy years volunteering in the Lord’s work, and the extra travel and golf would just be very much “on the side” when they needed breaks from spiritually taxing ministry. But if so, nothing remotely hinted at such a scenario in what the patrons around them in the restaurant could all hear.
A convenient place to read Wesley’s sermon in its entirety is in the anthology of his sermons edited by Albert Outler and Richard Heizenrater published by Abingdon. It should be required reading for all Christians. Let me close with a few choice quotes.
“If you understand your particular calling as you ought, you will have no time that hangs upon your hands. Every business will afford some employment sufficient for every day and every hour. That wherein you are placed, if you follow it in earnest, will leave you no leisure for silly, unprofitable diversions.”
“It is amazing to observe. . .how men run on in the same dull track with their forefathers. But whatever they do who know not God, this is no rule for you. It is a shame for a Christian not to improve upon them in whatever he takes in hand.”
“Do not waste any part of so precious a talent merely in gratifying the desire of the eye by superfluous or expensive apparel, or by needless ornaments. Waste no part of it in curiously adorning your houses in superfluous, or expensive furniture in costly pictures, painting, gilding, books; in elegant (rather than useful) gardens. . .”
“’Render unto God’, not a tenth, not a third, not half, but ‘all that is God’s’, be it more or less, by employing all on yourself, your household, the household of faith, and all mankind, in such a manner that you may give a good account of your stewardship when ye can be no longer stewards.”
And all God’s people should say, “Amen, and amen!”