Lots of people seem to get upset with preachers because they’re always talking about money. Those same people wouldn’t have liked Jesus’ ministry very much, either. Almost half of his parables (16 of 38) have to do with money.
And that’s not all he had to say about it, either. Here’s a portion of the Sermon on the Mount:
Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness!
No one 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. (Matthew 6:19-24, NKJV)
Mammon? What’s mammon?
That’s a funny word, mammon. Most modern translations don’t use it any more. They have Jesus saying that you can’t serve God and wealth, God and money, or some such. But it’s worth taking a closer look at that word.
According to Strong’s concordance, mammon (Str 3126) simply transliterates a Chaldean word into Greek. That is, instead of finding a Greek word, Matthew (and Luke) simply spelled the Chaldean word in the Greek alphabet. Early English translations did the same thing.
Chaldean was the language of the Babylonian empire, not the Jewish people. Surely the Babylonian captivity had an impact on the Aramaic language. Mammon must have been a reasonably well-known word for Jesus to use it in his teaching.
Strong translates it as “confidence” and figuratively as wealth personified or avarice deified. In other words, mammon is a demonic spirit that demands worship and service. God said, “You shall have no other gods before me.” Mammon is a rival god.
A few verses earlier, Jesus warned against counting earthly wealth as treasure. Doing so will focus the heart on earthly wealth instead of heaven. That, in turn, amounts to the heart valuing earthly wealth, our stuff, above God.
That’s foolish. Our stuff will wear out. It’s not worthy of our worship. Considering stuff as worthy of worship is not only foolish; it’s evil. It directly violates the First Commandment.
Love of money
Money is a tool. We all need it. We acquire it. We spend some, save some, and give some–or we ought to do all three. As long as we regard money as a tool, it is not a spiritual snare.
I’m not especially handy. I have a hammer, some screw drivers, pliers, etc., but I don’t own a saw. I usually avoid doing anything that requires one. The few times I need a saw, I wind up borrowing from a neighbor.
Sometimes I don’t have enough money, either. At those times, I have to avoid doing whatever requires more than I have, or at least try. If I must do what requires more money than I have, I have to figure out how to get more. But getting more money must never become an end in itself.
The Bible doesn’t say that money is the root of all evil. It’s the love of money. Rich people may be tempted to love money, believing that it’s the source of their security. Poor people may be tempted to love money, believing that if they just had a lot of it, it would solve their problems.
Where’s the evil? Love of money causes people to store up treasure on earth (whether they have tangible treasure or only dream about it). Love of money turns money into mammon.
You cannot serve God and deified avarice.
Illustration is public domain, from Wikimedia Commons