A Theology of Money

In his treatise, The Use of Money from 1744, John Wesley wrote “Gain all you can, save all you can, and give all you can.” This is a marvelous summary theology of money, but what does it mean for a modern-day Christian?

John Wesley’s emphasis on stewardship began with his theological understanding that everything we are and have comes from God. God is at the very beginning of our existence; we did not bring it about ourselves. We are not the Creator; we are the created. God has provided us with life; but, even more importantly, God provides the grace that leads us to the full life of salvation.

Just as our lives come from God, the ways in which we use the gifts of life and grace are our offerings back to God. Therefore, Wesley emphasized that both inward holiness and outward holiness matter. How we respond in various circumstances, how we utilize our time, how we spend our resources, and how we treat others can be gifts to God when they reflect the holiness of Christ.

Gain all you can: Wesley put restrictions on the ways in which we gain all we can. Earning money was discouraged, if it came at the expense of our own health, whether physical or spiritual. This caution rules out gaining all one can through “workaholism” or through any means that leads us to cheat, lie, or in any way violate the standards that Christians ought to hold. Nor should we earn money at the expense of another person’s physical or spiritual health. The business we conduct should be fitting to a life dedicated to God.

Save all you can: The ways in which we save all we can also matter. Wesley’s idea runs much deeper than getting a good deal or buying things on sale. What we buy matters as much as what we pay for it. For Wesley, saving meant avoiding any expense that was simply for our own pleasure, rather than for meeting a legitimate need. He understood that indulging our desires could lead us away from God. He also understood that spending money on unnecessary items left less for us to give to others. This theology encourages us to distinguish needs from wants. In order to determine how much to save, we must first discern what is enough in the eyes of God. The point of saving is not hoarding; it is giving.

Give all you can: To give all we can is to reflect God’s own generosity and thus to participate in God’s work. We are to manage our money and our property to be able to use them for God’s purposes. If we think about the use of money as a spiritual discipline, then we can see that the point is not to give away what we think is extra. The point is to play our role in distributing God’s resources equitably—not denying our own needs, but seeing the needs of others to be as legitimate as our own.

The purpose of gaining all we can is to be able to save everything beyond that which is enough, and then to give all that we have saved to those in need. By doing this, we honor all that God has given to us, and we manifest God’s grace as faithful stewards in God’s kingdom.