What can surround an ugly little man with beautiful women? What can make people running for public office say things they don’t believe? What makes an old, worn flap of leather riding around on my hip something I’d hate to lose? Money.
How is this? It’s just a piece of paper. I take this 10-dollar bill. It’s no heavier than this five-dollar bill. It’s the same color, shape, and size as this one-dollar bill. So, why, if you asked me for some, would I rather part with the one-dollar bill than the 10? Or the five-dollar bill over the ten?
What’s in money that makes it so essential? It isn’t just that we need it to buy things with. It carries such weight in the world. Wars are fought for it. Reputations are made and destroyed on account of it. Decisions made about money on the other side of the world disrupt our lives. Money is a mystery and a grievance and a power.
Jesus called that power mammon.
Mammon is an old Semitic term for wealth and property. Not only does it have a name, it also has a personality. It shapes our agenda. It takes over our lives. It’s pushy! That’s why Jesus called mammon a master. It masters the world. It will master us-if we let it.
How does mammon display its control over us? Here are just a few ways:
Here’s a family that can’t seem to make a meal at home. It’s Burger King for breakfast, McDonald’s for lunch, and Pizza Hut for supper. Practically everything in their house floats in on a little plastic raft called a credit card. The daughter just turned 16. She’s demanding a new car. Dad is already working 80 hours a week. Mom wants him to put a second mortgage on the house. They fight a lot.
Here’s a man with a savings account. Every now and then, he likes to go down the steps into the basement and pull the chain on the light. He takes out his passbook. He looks at the figures, like ladder rungs, row on row of deposits. He’s not thinking about saving for a rainy day. He just wants to look at the figures in his passbook. His wife would like to take a trip somewhere, anywhere. But that would alter the course laid out in his passbook and change the history of his savings. Things would go differently, and he likes them going the way they are.
John borrows $100 from his friend, Jake. John tells Jake he’ll pay it back the first of the month. But the first of the month comes faster than John thought it would. And the next month comes and goes, but John’s got this “serious cash-flow problem.” By the third month, Jake is getting overly anxious about his money and making snide comments-at least, that’s the way John sees it. By month six, they’re actively avoiding each other. By year’s end, their friendship-which survived grade school squabbles, romantic rivalry and two years in the military-is but a memory.
Call it wealth, property, money or mammon. It jerks us like a chain on a dog, doesn’t it? It causes fear, frustration and friction. If it’s just paper, why can’t we punch our way out of this paper bag?
It’s because it’s not just power. It is a power, a spiritual power against which we struggle. Paul writes of that spiritual warfare in
Country singer Del Reeves sang, “Money is the root of all evil, and you spent the devil outta mine!” He was wrong about money being the root of all evil. It isn’t money. As
It isn’t just money that tempts us, nor the things it’ll buy. It’s the status, the significance, the self-worth that it appears to offer. This is what advertising is all about. They’re not selling a product; they’re selling a life. You’ve seen the recent Macintosh computer commercials? Nobody wants to be an aging fuddy-duddy like “PC.” Everybody wants to be young and cool like “Mac.” How do you get that way? Why, friends, buy a hunk of metal and some wires, and you’ll have arrived!
On one level, I enjoy these commercials for the clever bits they are. On another level, though, I watch them like a snake. For they lie like the original liar, the devil. There are at least three big lies in this series of ads: 1) They’re telling a generation that already has little use for the older generation (save for its money) that aging is contemptible, something to be feared. 2) You needn’t fear aging if you have state-of-the-art technology. 3) Technology is salvation.
But, of course, this “gospel” isn’t free, is it? It’ll cost you. Haven’t got the money? Hey, that’s OK, too. That’s why the Lord gave us credit cards! Do you know me? If you do, it’s only because I never leave home without it! After all, it’s my life, my card!
What do we hear when we hear those catchphrases? Not a marketing strategy (at least, the marketers of Visa and American Express hope we don’t) but a call to pleasure, power and prestige. It sounds awfully familiar, doesn’t it? As familiar as the serpent in the garden: You shall not surely die! You will be as God!
This is the power that we’re dealing with, the demonic face behind money’s mask. Far from cutting themselves free with credit, Americans are slashing their wrists with these little plastic knives. According to a new survey released by CardTrak.com, the average credit card debt load is nearly $9,900. Nearly two million Americans will seek help from a credit counselor this year, most of them trying to escape bankruptcy.
Beloved, be careful with mammon. It makes a good servant, but a bad god.
Are you sweating under its weight? How do you deal with it? Let’s go back to the battlefield described in Ephesians 6. God provides his children with an array of weapons. For our purposes today, we need choose only three.
First, the belt of truth (
Next, the shield of faith (
What’s the big message? What you want is right in front of you. You can see it. Take it. Isn’t it a message that glorifies pride and passion, things and stuff, the world and the flesh? These are the flaming darts, the bullets the devil fires at us daily. There’s only one thing that’ll stop them before they penetrate: Faith. It isn’t a crutch. It’s a shield. Faith teaches us there’s more to life than what we see on a screen, more than what we see period. Faith will shield us from flaming fantasies about the nature of mammon.
Finally, the Word of God (
Hear what the Word says about Jesus in
How does that work? My family got a taste of what Paul is talking about one Christmas several years ago. The Robinsons were shoveling out from under a tremendous pile of debt. We’d made the decision we wouldn’t buy anything for anybody that Christmas. Without those culturally mandated gifts, we were prepared to have a rather lackluster celebration.
Instead, we found joy. We sat that Christmas afternoon and shared our love for one another, telling each other what we appreciated about each one in the circle. We shared our favorite scriptures. We prayed together. The snow flew outside, but we were warmed inside in more ways than one.
That day we discovered something: when Jesus is present on Christmas, you don’t need presents on Christmas!
He died for us. He lives for us. He will be with us whether we have a little or a lot. When He’s around, a little goes a whole lot further. And a lot doesn’t seem like so much.
Two masters, Jesus said. Two gods. One offers so much-but takes so much more. The other offers what appears at first to be very little-but turns out to be a lot more than expected.
Two masters. Two choices. Which is yours?