Note: This commentary was delivered by PFM President Mark Earley.
It’s been a rough month financially for everyone. We’ve watched the stock markets plunge and our retirement or college plans shrivel up like autumn leaves. Hard times call for some hard thinking-and a re-examination of how all of us, as Christians, should manage our finances and plan for our futures. So let’s do it.
The famous preacher John Wesley had the right recipe for Christian money management. It was quite simple: Earn all you can, save all you can, and give all you can.
Simple, yes. But quite profound. In fact, Wesley delivered a lengthy sermon on the topic. It’s a sermon I would recommend you read. But let me warn you: Reading a Wesley sermon is not for the faint of heart. He had the gift of convicting his audience.
You also need to know that Wesley’s thoughts on how to use money are all grounded in the concept of stewardship. As he pointed out, you are not your own. You belong to God, and so then do your finances. You are not an owner, you are a steward.
So let’s begin with earning all you can. Wesley was no fan of leisure. But he was huge on hard work. “Gain all you can by honest industry,” Wesley said. “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.”
He was also quite clear what he meant about “honest industry.” He urged his hearers not to take employment that would damage their health, compromise their religious principles, or harm others.
Some jobs, for instance, cannot be performed “without cheating or lying, or conformity to some custom which is not consistent with a good conscience.” These kinds of jobs, Wesley said, “are sacredly to be avoided . . . for to gain money we must not lose our souls.”
On the topic of saving money, Wesley was uncompromising as well in a way that, I’m sure, made his audience squirm. “Do not waste any part of so precious a talent merely in gratifying the desires of the flesh,” he said.
He wanted to be sure his listeners got the point. When it came to fancy foods, the latest fashions, elegant furniture, he had this to say: “Cut off all this expense!”
He even urged Christians not to overspend on the kids. “Why should you purchase for them more pride or lust, more vanity, or foolish and hurtful desires?” he said. “They do not want any more; they have enough already; nature has made ample provision for them.”
Now there’s some tough talk in today’s times.
As for “give all you can,” Wesley again was blunt. You really haven’t saved anything if you merely hoard your money, he argued. “You may as well throw your money into the sea, as bury it in the earth . . . or in the Bank of England.” Not to use it toward a good end is to “throw it away.”
Indeed, according to Wesley, Christians are to use their money to ensure their own health and strength as well as the health and strength of their families, then to “do good to them that are of the household of God,” and then, “to do good to all men.”
Earn all you can, save all you can, give all you can. Simple yet profound advice in good times and in bad.