1 Timothy 6:10, Isaiah 55:2, Matthew 6:24, and Hebrews 13:5 CEB
The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. Some have wandered away from the faith and have impaled themselves with a lot of pain because they made money their goal.
Why spend money for what isn’t food, and your earnings for what doesn’t satisfy?
Listen carefully to me and eat what is good; enjoy the richest of feasts.
No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be loyal to the one and have contempt for the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.
Your way of life should be free from the love of money, and you should be content with what you have. After all, he has said, I will never leave you or abandon you.
In their book, Generosity, Stewardship, and Abundance, authors Lovett Weems Jr. and Ann Michel explain “Given the way a lot of church people talk about money, you’d think it is a pretty unholy, disreputable, dangerous thing. They remind us that Jesus threw the money changers out of the temple, that he told the rich ruler that he needed to sell all his possessions to be perfect, that he said it’s harder for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God than for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, and that one cannot serve both God and money. This negative attitude often affects how we regard ministries of generosity and financial management.” After all, some will believe they’re even quoting scripture when they say, “Money is the root of all evil.” However, scripture actually says, “The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.” Money itself cannot commit evil or perform good, only the user can. In his sermon “Use of Money,” John Wesley argues that money can do “all manner of good,” as we Christians can use it to feed the hungry, care for the poor, lift up the oppressed, and ease pain. In other words, it is not money but our use that matters for Christian discipleship.
We as Christians have always had a problematic relationship with money. As Weems and Michel point out, Jesus often confronted people about their love of money with repeated cautions of riches holding us back from the kingdom of heaven and God. Famously in Matthew, Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be loyal to the one and have contempt for the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” What Jesus principally points to here is what or who we love. Do we love God or money? Now, I know all of us here would probably say, “Of course I love God!,” so let me put it another way. Who do you trust? Do you trust God or do you trust money? That is the principal danger of love of money, loving it “can make us forgetful – forgetful of who we are, of what our responsibilities to others are, and forgetful of God.” We forget that God “will never leave you or abandon you.” We turn our trust to money to get us through hard times. We worry about it at night. We are cautious in the ways we spend it, and we certainly don’t like talking about it.
Though we don’t talk about it, the church still expects donations will be made, but would it surprise you to learn that giving to churches has gone down? It has been consistently decreasing in the last 40 years. From 1983-1987, charitable giving that went to religion made up 58% of giving, while from 2018-2022 religious giving only made up 29%. Before we rush to blame the younger generations for this decrease, it is important to note that a 2008 study found that “baby boomers give about 15% less than their parents gave at the same age.” Giving is a huge problem in our churches as United Methodists and Presbyterians only give about 1% of their annual income, and even Baptists are only up to about 2%. In fact, if we look at the larger U.S. populace, only 3-8% are likely to give 10% or more of their income to charitable causes. On the bright side, Americans gave “$499.33 billion to charity” in 2022, so where did this money go? It largely went to human services, those charities “whose mission is to meet human needs,” those “direct services to people who are struggling.” Whether that’s feeding the hungry, strengthening communities, caring for the elderly, or nurturing our young.
I think the other good news, strangely enough, is that this problem is nothing new. John Wesley, in his own time, lamented that the “right use of money” was widely spoken of by worldly people, while “not sufficiently considered by those whom God hath chosen out of the world.” Wesley’s main point was that the church stinks at talking about money. Why has giving gone up with other charities? I think in large part it comes down to the fact that they do a better job not only of talking about it but also telling people what good their money does in the wider world. Why do you give to the people and charities that you do? What letters, pictures, and stories tug at your heartstrings? In what ways have you been shown that your gifts make a lasting impact in the larger world and community? People are charitable when the case is made that their gifts will do good.
Now, how about the church? How well have we made the case for why you should give? Unfortunately, we either do not talk about it at all, or we can fall into the equally problematic practice of the prosperity gospel. The prophet Isaiah promises that God is generous, saying that God will give us good things to eat, “the richest of feasts.” However, the prosperity gospel teaches the heresy that “God bestows riches as a reward for faithfulness and it exhorts people to give by teaching ‘the more you give, the more you get.’” Prosperity gospel tells you that God is looking to reward you for your good behavior and gifts to God. Ultimately though, those gifts from God are still things like money and health, which is what many really want, so it is still wealth they trust more than God. Gifts from God are undeserved, and all that we receive from our Lord is a sign of gracious love not payment for what we have earned.
God promises unmerited abundance, and through our giving, we can make that abundance a reality. However, do not think that God is promising abundance as the “good life” as culture defines it. A Christian understanding of abundance should be that “God will provide for our needs – not satisfy our greed.” The right use of money helps us act as God’s agents of abundance, as people who can lift up and care for our neighbor. We cannot do that if we are too busy holding onto every penny, and we cannot do it if we only give with the belief that God will give us even more riches as a result. Our call as Christians has never changed. We are here to love our neighbor as God has loved us. Money, as John Wesley puts it, is “an excellent gift of God, answering the noblest ends,” but only if we use it well.
Over the next month, we explore this relationship with money. We will do this with the help of John Wesley's three rules related to money: “Gain all you can [...] Save all you can [...] Then, ‘give all you can.’” God’s abundance is realized for all of God’s people when we are generous and good stewards. When we are generous with God’s church, the church has the opportunity to act out the love of our neighbor through all of our missions and ministries. Generosity allows Community Federated Church “To serve God through hospitality, passionate worship, faith development, missions, and teaching generosity.” During the month of September, this church hopes to make the case of why you should give, and in particular, why you should give here. Amen.
 Lovett H. Weems Jr. and Ann A. Michel, Generosity, Stewardship, and Abundance: A Transformational Guide to Church Finance (Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield, 2021), 7.
 John Wesley, Sermon 50 “Use of Money” in The Works of John Wesley, ed. Thomas Jackson, WordsOfWesley.com (Accessed May 11, 2020)
 Abingdon Press, Saving Grace: A Guide to Financial Well-Being (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2020), 16.
 Ken Sloane, “5 Factors That Affected Your Church’s Income in 2022,” Discipleship Ministries, https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/articles/five-factors-that-affected-your-churchs-income-in-2022 (accessed September 2, 2023)
 J. Clif Christopher, Rich Church, Poor Church: Keys to Effective Financial Ministry (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2012), viii.
 Christian Smith and Hilary Davidson, The Paradox of Generosity: Giving We Receive, Grasping We Lose (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014), 101.
 Sloane 2023
 Sloane 2023
 Wesley 2020
 Weems and Michel 2021, 20.
 Wesley 2020
 Community Federated Church’s Mission Statement
Pastor Paul Grossman