A Maxim to Remember

John Wesley, founder of the Methodist movement in the Church of England, coined a wonderful maxim regarding the proper perspective of money. It is, “Make all you can; save all you can; give all you can.”

That is, Christians should first work hard, using their God-given abilities and opportunities to make money, but making sure they do so honestly and without violating any of Christ’s commandments.

Second, they should live frugally and simply, spending as little as possible on themselves, which enables them to “save all they can.”

Finally, having followed the first two steps, they should then “give all they can,” not limiting themselves to a tenth, but denying themselves as much as possible so that widows and orphans might be fed and the gospel proclaimed around the world.

The early church certainly practiced such stewardship, and sharing with the needy among them was a regular feature of New Testament life. Those first believers took seriously Jesus’ command to His followers, “Sell your possessions and give to charity; make yourselves purses which do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near, nor moth destroys” (Luke 12:33). We read in Luke’s account of the early church:

And all those who had believed were together, and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions, and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul; and not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own; but all things were common property to them….and abundant grace was upon them all. For there was not a needy person among them, for all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales, and lay them at the apostles’ feet; and they would be distributed to each, as any had need (Acts 2:44-45; 4:32-35).

Scripture is also clear that the early church fed and provided for the pressing needs of poor widows (see Acts 6:1; 1 Tim. 5:3-10).

Paul, the greatest apostle to have ever lived, entrusted by God to take the gospel to the Gentiles, human author of a large majority of New Testament epistles, considered ministering to the material needs of the poor an essential part of his ministry. Among the churches he founded, Paul raised large sums of money for poor Christians (see Acts 11:27-30; 24:17; Rom. 15:25-28; 1 Cor. 16:1-4; 2 Cor. 8-9; Gal. 2:10). At least seventeen years after his conversion, Paul journeyed to Jerusalem to submit the gospel he’d received to the scrutiny of Peter, James and John. None of them could find anything wrong with the message he’d been preaching, and as Paul recounted the occasion in his Galatian letter, he remembered, “They only asked us to remember the poor—the very thing I also was eager to do (Gal. 2:10). In the minds of Peter, James, John and Paul, showing compassion to the poor was second only to the proclamation of the gospel.