God, Money, and Mammon

When I researched the word "mammon" (Gr. mamonas), I was really hoping to find out that it referred to money personified, sort of a "money idol."

It might.

Surprisingly, the best article I could find on the meaning of the word "mammon" was the Wikipedia article. It links to a page in a Google book titled A Greek and English Lexicon of the New Testament by John Parkhurst, printed in London in 1809. The book is downloadable for free, but since we just want the mammon page, I'll give you (well, just gave you) the link.

Mr. Parkhurst says this about "mammon":

In Mat. vi.24, Luke xvi. 13, Mammon is beautifully represented by our Saviour as a person, which has made some suppose it was the name of an idol or god of riches worshipped in Syria. But I find no sufficient proof of this. (pp. 414-5, italics original)

The Wikipedia article suggests no one else has been able to find proof of this, either. However, despite the fact that mammon is not an actual idol, Syrian or otherwise, I agree with Mr. Parkhurst that our Savior "beautifully represents" mammon as a person. As such, you will find me referring to "Mammon" as though it were a person throughout the last half of this article.

To be technical, however, "mammon" is just a word that means "riches" or "wealth."

God and Mammon

Jesus tells us that we cannot serve God and mammon. Let's look at this translating "mammon" simply as riches or wealth.

"You cannot serve God and wealth."

How do we interpret a statement like this?

It seems to me that in the United States in 2015, "You cannot serve God and wealth" is very easy to interpret. Our culture honors and loves wealth—mammon—so much that one of the nation's most popular radio hosts begins every program by declaring his central theme to be "the pursuit of piles of cash."

Despite this bold declaration of his service of mammon, Dave Ramsey also ends every show by announcing, "There is no peace without the Prince of Peace, Christ Jesus."

Talk about serving God and mammon together!

All of us who are now living in the United States face a clarion call to pursue mammon. The purpose of our schools and colleges is to get us better jobs, meaning jobs that pay more money. The most popular web sites, blogs, and motivational speakers are those who teach people how to build wealth.

Building wealth has become more popular even than sports!

For example, DaveRamsey.com is ranked by Alexa as the 1,552nd most popular site in the USA, while espn.com falls far short at 13,228th.

The National Basketball Association playoffs are moving toward the finals as I write this, and because of this NBA.com is at its most popular. Alexa ranks it at 175th today. (Alexa ranks constantly adjust.) Nonetheless, Forbes.com is far ahead with a ranking of 75th.

What Are Christians To Do?

The first thing we should do is stop serving mammon by "pursuing piles of cash" or devoting ourselves to building wealth.

The question is, what does that mean?

Should we refuse to save for retirement because Jesus also said that we shouldn't worry about tomorrow? (Matt. 6:34). Should we only buy groceries for today because he taught us to pray for our "daily" bread? (Matt. 6:11).

Perhaps there are those who would interpret Jesus that way, but I can't. Times have changed. It is no longer true that the vast majority of us grow much of our own food and can pick what we need out of the garden each day. Daily shopping because we don't want to store food for tomorrow does not seem like trusting God for our provision. It seems like a legal game.

Jesus' point is clearly that we must not only serve God rather than mammon, but we must trust God rather than mammon.

All Christians face troubling decisions between trusting God and trusting mammon. I knew one man who had been searching for people living as the church—as the family of God—for many years. (An article on the church as the family of God will be forthcoming.)

When he found them, he had been in the military for over 19 years. If he had simply extended his enlistment a few months, he would have been given a retirement (half his salary) for the rest of his life plus free medical care. He chose to let his enlistment run out, lose his retirement, and give himself to the family of God, a decision his wife and children received with abounding joy.

I don't know that I could have done what he did. He asked me about the decision before he did it, and I confess I could not give him a recommendation but told him to give it to God in prayer. I can, however, describe what he did.

He poked Mammon in the eye.

I recommend this action to all Christians, especially those living in prosperous countries like the USA.

The Conflict Between Mammon and God

There is always a conflict between God and Mammon. Jesus said we can only serve one or the other, not both (Matt. 6:24). Anyone who diligently follows Jesus will find that truth for himself or herself.

The issue is that God and Mammon have two very different ideas about how live securely in this world. God believes that we create security by giving to those who have less than we do. Mammon believes and teaches that we gain security by increasing our income and our bank accounts.

They also have very different ideas about what wealth is. Mammon believes that possessing wealth means having a lot of money, possessions or both. He also teaches that "he who dies with the most toys wins," despite the fact that we all know that we came naked into this world and will go naked out of it.

God, on the other hand, thinks that the only true riches are eternal ones. Money and possessions can rust, wear out, or be stolen. Treasures in heaven are eternal and they are safe from thieves and the ravages of time.

Poking Mammon in the Eye

"Poking Mammon in the eye" means aggressively pursuing God's idea of wealth and his means of obtaining security while also aggressively rejecting Mammon's methods and treasures. (I coined the phrase, so I get to define it :-D.)

The day before yesterday I had a young lady ask me about plying her trade, massage and muscle therapy, among friends away from the clinic in which she works. Should she charge her friends, or should she offer her services for free?

I explained to her that she has every right to charge for her business services even to her friends and even away from the clinic. Jesus never set down any principles about our business being limited to United States work schedules or business locations.

On the other hand, I told her, what a great opportunity to poke Mammon in the eye. She could show, loud and clear, that she was not a servant of money, riches, or wealth, but a servant of people. She could show, loud and clear, that she was fiercely pursuing being the greatest in the kingdom of God (Mark 10:44), not the kingdom of the darkness of this world, by giving when she had no obligation to give.

She was silent. While I hadn't told her what to do, a speech like that to a loving, fervent disciple like her almost removes her options. I didn't want to remove her options, but I did want to give her honest advice ... advice that I would follow myself in the same situation.

I will add that I gave her some cautions. Some of her friends have a lot more money than she does. I would never let this young lady take the knots out of my back for free. Massage can be a terrible line of work, but this young lady is godly and works for a legitimate clinic. Her business is legitimate, and I am thrilled to support it. I am certain some of her friends would feel the same way.

I also told her that her time belongs to God. Using her free time to give free massages to well-meaning friends might not be the best use of her time.

I ended, though, with advice we all need. Your motivation can never be money. Go after Mammon. Poke him in the eye. Slap him in the face. Stomp on his precepts. Spit on his ideas. Give as much as you have faith for, trust God without limit.

Give and It Will Be Given to You

Jesus said, "Give and it will be given to you. Good measure, shaken down, pressed together, and running over will men give into your bosom" (Luke 6:38).

What an extraordinary promise!

Mammon wants me to increase my income using brilliant business methods that belong to this world. I don't necessarily object to this as long as the object—the honest object—of my income is giving to those in need. Jesus did say to be faithful in unrighteous mammon (Luke 16:11). Nonetheless, he ended even that discussion by saying that we cannot serve God and Mammon both (v. 13).

I've never been a brilliant businessman, nor even a decent one. I can be a great employee because God's teachings—hard work, honesty, loyalty—are exactly the assets needed by an employee. Conducting business, however? I was taught to share. I never felt comfortable getting the best end of a deal.

Not the greatest business attitude.

So I gave. I gave when it hurt, and I gave when it didn't hurt. I counted each needy person that crossed my path as a gift from God to secure provisions for myself in the future when I was in need. While I can't support the whole world, nor any significant portion of it, I can give till my money runs out. I made choices, telling some I wouldn't help and others I would based on my best judgment, but I was always trying Jesus' way of securing my future and diligently rejecting Mammon's.

In return for my giving, I have been forced to live with my parents, with friends, in a tent next to a lake, and in RV's and school buses. My parents and my in-laws have been there for me in need, as have a number of my fellow Jesus-followers.

But that's what Jesus said, didn't he? That overflowing, packed-down cup was to be filled by "men," which usually means "people" and includes women.

Down the road, though, I have had two of the best blessings anyone can ever have.

First and foremost, I found the church. I found the church as it is described in the Bible. It is the place where those who give up houses, fathers, mothers, children, and fields find that they have a hundred houses, fathers, mothers, children and fields (Luke 18:28-30).

Second, despite my own business shortcomings, I both accidentally started my own business and had others come along to make it work successfully. I applied God's ideas to my business, giving good pay and good praise, and employees gave—and are giving—hard work into my bosom, pressed down, shaken together, and running over.

Leukemia

This included running my business almost without me for three of the last four years while I danced with leukemia and lymphoma, a dance that is just ending as I write this. I can testify that Romans 8:28 is true, can be lived out, and that many of my fellow cancer patients suffer in joy and grow in Jesus.

As a result, I have been able to help many of those who helped me as well as many who will never be able to help me.

Giving works, and God is always faithful. My family, including my children, have been broke a lot, "homeless" once, and I have never had to hold up a sign saying "homeless and hungry." Nor did I bother with a sign saying "will work for food." Instead, I went to employers, filled out their applications, and told them I would work for an income so I could buy food.

I address the homeless signs a few paragraphs down. I think some of them are legitimate, though most aren't.

I have always had my "daily bread," and I have even always had shelter, something Jesus never promises us. He only promised food and clothing. Thus, I have been wealthy all my life.

God's Collection Agents

There are a lot of people claiming to be collection agents for God. They read all the verses on giving to the Lord, then they line up to collect God's money.

Interesting, but I want to see their credentials.

The best credential is to be poor. Proverbs 19:17 tells us that the person who pities the poor lends to the Lord, and the Lord will repay it.

Awesome! The Lord is their Co-signer! So giving to the poor is sure way to get the money to the Lord so you can be repaid.

So some of those with the "homeless and hungry" signs qualify as collection agents for God, though I find it better to give to organizations that work with the homeless. Those organizations have time to distinguish between the scammers and the poor.

It is also safe to give to those appointed by the church—your church; one you know and trust—to teach. Galatians 6:6 tells us we are to share "all good things" with those who teach us. 1 Corinthians 9 tells us that those who preach are also worthy to be supported. Preaching is different from teaching, and a preacher is an evangelist or church planter, not an elder.

Elders are the pastors of the New Testament. Some of them have the work of teaching, and those who lead or teach the church well are "worthy of double honor" (1 Tim. 5:17).

Those are all legitimate places to give your money if you want it to get to God and earn you Jesus' promised rewards.

Now for those who are not God's collection agents, but Mammon's.

Treasures in Heaven

It seems obvious that the best reward of all is not money or possessions on earth. Jesus told us treasures on earth just tie our hearts to the earth (Matt. 6:21).

There are those who teach that if we avoid setting our heart on our earthly treasures, we will be okay. Jesus said no such thing. Jesus' conclusion about what he said was that we should store up treasures in heaven and avoid storing up treasures on earth. When we try to conclude that it's okay to store treasures on earth because we can control our heart, we are contradicting Jesus. That is never a good idea.

Those who teach us to give in order to get earthly treasures are indeed preachers/evangelists, but they are Mammon's evangelists, not God's. God's principles and goals are the polar opposite of Mammon's, so when you find men or women preaching the principles and goals (earthly treasures) that belong to Mammon, be assured that your gifts are being given to Mammon, not to God.

Old Testament Riches and New Testament Riches

Prosperity preachers (or teachers) like Kenneth Hagin, Kenneth Copeland, Creflo Dollar, and others have actual Bible verses that they use to justify their teachings. Almost every one comes from the Old Testament because the New Testament has no place for such teachers, warning us ...

Having food and clothing, let us be content with those. Those that want to be rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires, which drown men in destruction and perdition. The love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, which when some have coveted after, they have erred from the faith and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. (1 Tim. 6:8-10)

"Erring from the faith" is no small thing. If you have to be rescued from your error, says James, you are being rescued from death (James 5:20).

There is a reason that the New Covenant is different from the Old Covenant on the matter of riches. Under the Old Covenant, God had an earthly kingdom of earthly people pursuing earthly rewards. They had no promise of eternal life. Their role as God's nation was to show us all, Jew and Gentile alike, that Adam and his descendants are defective. We are not righteous, and we cannot be won to righteousness. We can long for it, but we cannot obtain it (cf. Rom. chs. 7, 10-11).

God's earthly kingdom received earthly riches, and earthly riches were promised to them.

We are not earthly Israel. We are spiritual Israel. What they received in the flesh, we receive in the Spirit.

The carnal and earthly-minded will mourn the loss of earthly riches. For the rest of us, we bear the glorious mark of the New Covenant: we are indwelt by the Spirit of the living God. With this great central promise of the New Covenant there is nothing to compare. Nothing.

Obtaining the incredible benefits and promises of the New Covenant means setting our minds on things above and turning away from the things of the flesh (Rom. 8:5-8; Col. 3:1-4).

Earthly treasures tear our heart away from heavenly things, destroying our fellowship with God and ending the procession from glory to glory that hinges on our turning to the Lord and beholding his face as in a mirror (2 Cor. 3:16-18).

Never let anything turn your eyes away from Jesus, and earthly treasures and riches will do that as quickly as anything else.

Back to God and Mammon

There is a lot of teaching on this page, but it all boils down to one thing. Diligently serve God. Love his ways. Seek his goal, which is for you to possess all the treasures heaven can provide: unshakeable love, overflowing joy, ongoing spiritual power.

Actively overthrow Mammon. Give when you could have taken. Pursue heavenly things, and show Mammon by your actions that his possessions are meaningless to you. Give his treasures away. Share even the things you need with those who have less. Call nothing your own. Diligently remind Mammon that his treasures are not treasures, but worthless, temporary distractions from eternal glory.

You have probably heard that one man's junk is another man's treasure. Let Mammon's treasure be your "dung" (Php. 3:8). Let's get rid of the weights which so easily entangle (Heb. 12:1), and let's race for the prize of the upward call of God in King Jesus (Php. 3:14).

We can replace Mammon's dung with God's treasures: knowing Jesus, having the power of the resurrection in us, fellowshipping with Jesus in his sufferings (cf. Php. 1:29), and being conformed to his death (Php. 3:10).