Breaking Mammon's Power
This is part 2/3 in the The Generous Life series.
Last week we looked at Luke 6 where Jesus gives us this radical challenge. Today we will look at a different passage where He gives us a radical choice.
He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much; and he who is unjust in what is least is unjust also in much. Therefore if you have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches?
Jesus teaches that if we can’t deal well with material things, God won’t entrust us with the spiritual things of His Kingdom either. This is, exactly why I’m doing this series. I long to see all of us flourish in the things of His Kingdom, and Jesus says, that in order to flourish spiritually, we do need to get a good grip on how we handle possessions. It is a deeply spiritual matter.
And if you have not been faithful in what is another man’s, who will give you what is your own?“No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.”
Jesus brings us to a very clear choice here. You either serve God, or you serve mammon. You cannot divide your life up into little parts. You cannot just be a Christian in weekends and a secular person on week days. You cannot divide life up into material and spiritual, thinking that they aren’t connected. There is a clear choice, and you cannot do both.
Who is this mammon?
Mammon was the Syrian god of wealth. The Jews of the first century were very familiar with the Syrian culture and religion through the Aramaic language. When Jesus used the word ‘mammon’, He didn’t have to explain to the first hearers what it means.
What we need to understand about the Syrian religion of that time is that it came forth from the religion of the Babylonians. Babel has always been the place of rebellion against God. We see this in Genesis, in the story of the tower of Babel. We see this in the life of Nebuchadnezzar in the book of Daniel. All the way until the book of Revelation, Babel is the counterfeit of Jerusalem. Where Jerusalem is the city of God, Babel is the city of rebellion against God.
1. Mammon is an idol
An idol is something that is treated as a god but is actually not God, or something that is taking the place of God. It is an alternative for the true God.
Mammon tells us:
If you have me, you do not need God
If you have me, you possess happiness, security, fulfilment, power, freedom and identity.
Mammon can be an idol for you, whether you have a lot or a little.
When you have a lot, the trap can be that you start believing that your happiness, security and identity is in that. If you have very little, you could start believing that if you would have it, you would finally be happy, fulfilled and secure!
But mammon, the god of wealth, is a deceiving alternative for God. It’s distraction tactics of the devil to steal away everything that we have in Christ. In Isaiah 44, there is this long poem illustrating how foolish idolatry actually is. It talks about a wood-carver that is about to make an idol.
Isaiah 44:15-17 (NLT)
Then he uses part of the wood to make a fire.
With it he warms himself and bakes his bread.
Then—yes, it’s true—he takes the rest of it
and makes himself a god to worship!
He makes an idol
and bows down in front of it!
He burns part of the tree to roast his meat
and to keep himself warm.
He says, “Ah, that fire feels good.”
Then he takes what’s left
and makes his god: a carved idol!
He falls down in front of it,
worshiping and praying to it.
“Rescue me!” he says.
“You are my god!”
Do you understand God’s jealousy and frustration here? How can you bow down to something you made for yourself? Don’t you understand? Why would you replace Me with a piece of firewood?
You know what else is made of wood? Paper… Money… It is perishable. We cannot build our lives on something as perishable as money.
2. Mammon is the ‘love of money’
In some translations, the word mammon is translated ‘money’. I wonder if that is the right choice. The Bible never talks about money as something that is inherently evil. There is nothing wrong with possessing. Quite often in the Old Testament, possessing is equaled to blessing.
This is what the Bible does teach us though:the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil (1Tim 6:10). Money in itself is neutral. It just is. It is not good or evil. It all depends on how you perceive it and what you do with it. Do you own it, or does it own you?
3. Mammon wants to reign
Mammon is an idol, and mammon wants to reign. It wants that place in your life that only belongs to God. It won’t settle for second place, nor will God. That’s why Jesus says: you cannot serve both God and mammon, because they both long first place.
We serve mammon when we think that:
Possessing = happiness
Wealth = status
More = better
Having = being
Hebrews 13:5-6 (NIV)
Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you. So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?”
Everything that we are looking for, we find in God. The answer to your problem is not ‘more money’, but understanding that you can fully rely on God.
1 Timothy 6:6-10 (NIV)
But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.
The road that mammon will take you on is one of destruction. It will lure you in with false promises, and you end up putting your own life on its altar.
Breaking mammon’s power
In a world that tells us a different story and is luring us into the lies of the god of wealth, how can we break its power?
1. Live generously
When we freely give from what we have, sharing it with others, we break the power of always desiring more. Instead of gathering it, we are giving it away.
1 Timothy 6:17-19 (NIV)
Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.
Please understand that exercising generosity is not something you start doing when you’ve got a lot. If you don’t start practicing generosity now when you have little, you will not be able to do it when you have more.
Start now, start today. Don’t be afraid that your generosity will result in a lack, because God promises you the opposite.
2. Give 10% back to God
I would like to briefly touch on this, because I firmly believe in this. The Bible teaches us from beginning to end to give 10% (tithe) of what we earn back to God.
Proverbs 3:9-10 (NIV)
Honor the Lord with your wealth,
with the firstfruits of all your crops;
then your barns will be filled to overflowing,
and your vats will brim over with new wine.
There are many other passages that I can pull out from Genesis, where Abel sacrifices the best from his flock and Kain the leftovers of the harvest, or where Abraham gives his tithe to Melchizedek. Later in Exodus and Leviticus God gives specific tithing instructions, in Malachi God reprimands the Israelites form withholding it and promises to bless them when they start again. Jesus confirms this habit in his teaching and the standard in the book of Acts seems to go much further than just tithing, but even to sell possessions in order to give significantly to the church.
Yes, in the NT this is something that we do by choice and not by law, but the Biblical principle still stands that the tithe belongs to God.
Through tithing we acknowledge that everything that we have, we have received from God.
It’s hard, perhaps. You don’t have to teach a child to hold on tight to something they’ve been given. If I’d try to take a bite off an ice-cream that I gave to my 2-year-old daughter, she’ll fly into a tantrum, I’m sure.
This may be new to you, and this may seem incredibly hard or impossible to you. Perhaps you’ve been pushed into doing this in the past, or people promised you gold mountains in return. The only promise I’ll make on this topic is that it will break the power of mammon over your life.
Again, this starts even when you have very little. I remember about 10 years ago when I hardly made anything, pursuing a life in ministry, I compared my income to my spending and discovered that going over my finances and he if I’d stop tithing, I’d have just enough. But I kept on tithing, and never lacked. God has provided every step of the way.
90% WITH God’s blessing is more than 100% WITHOUT.
3. Invest in the things God cares about
Let’s go back to where we started, in Luke 16:11
Therefore if you have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches?
What are these ‘true riches’? PEOPLE.
People were intended for eternity. People are created and loved by God. People were the reason Jesus died on the cross. People make God’s heart beat faster. That’s what He cares about. And so, that’s what we should care about.
Serving God with your finances, will always have something to do with people. That’s why I believe so strongly in giving to the local church, because the local church is all about bringing people back to God.
The return on investment
And so, let me close with this final thought:
God can turn your perishable possessions into something that has eternal value – through changed lives.
He is inviting us to give back to Him everything that we have and everything that we are, put it on His altar, and then see how He is using it to change lives. It’s the greatest return on investment you could ever dream of.