Word of the Week
December 16, 2023
Mamōnas: The Great God of Possessions
You cannot serve God and mammon.
Matthew 6:24 NASB
Missing a paycheck is a nuisance. Missing two paychecks really pinches your budget. Going for weeks without pay is frightening.
We know what it’s like. I taught for over two decades at a wonderful Bible college in Arizona, where I could help equip students for ministry all over the globe. Unfortunately, the school struggled financially. Several years we had to wait for paychecks that didn’t come until year-end giving refilled the coffers. One year we went six months without a paycheck!
On paper, we should have been in deep trouble. But in reality, we found that God took care of us. He used unexpected sources to provide just what we needed. In fact, our income tax form for that showed that our income was higher than the year before!
That’s when we adopted the slogan: God provides our needs, and sometimes he uses our employer to do it.
What gives you a sense of security? Your job? Investments? Bank balance?
If you are trusting those things to provide your needs, a false god has usurped the throne of your heart. Jobs are nice, and solid investments are wise, but only God ultimately supplies our needs.
That’s part of what Jesus meant when he declared, “You cannot serve God and mammon” (Matthew 6:24).
Mammon is an unusual word, worth a closer look. It occurs only in this passage in Matthew and three times in the parallel passage, Luke 16. It is actually an Aramaic word, which the Gospel writers took directly from that language, switching to the Greek alphabet to spell it.
It seems to come from a root word meaning “that in which one trusts.” In Luke 16, there might even be a play on words, because “faithful,” “entrust,” and “true” are all Greek words that might stem from words in that same Aramaic word group. In any case, it lets you know that “mammon” is something that a person would be likely to rest his trust on.
The rabbis used it in the Talmud to mean not just money, but all of a person’s possessions, everything that had value, everything that one possesses other than his body and his life.
The word doesn’t necessarily describe possessions as bad, but it was often used in contexts where it had a bad connotation. Sometimes it was even used to describe wealth gained dishonestly.
Matthew 6:24 is almost identical to Luke 16:13, but the Luke passage adds more detail to help explain what Jesus had in mind.
He specifically calls mammon “unrighteous” in verses 9 and 11. Even though it doesn’t have to be harmful, mammon is risky. You have to scrutinize it carefully. Possessions can easily possess their owner. Jesus tells His listeners to use mammon to benefit others, to accomplish something of eternal value. He makes it clear that material possessions are worth little compared to genuine spiritual riches.
In Luke 16:13, as in Matthew 6, Jesus uses a figure of speech called personification, describing mammon as if it were a person. We must decide whether to serve God or mammon. In the Middle Ages, some Bible students wondered if there were an actual deity in the Middle Eastern culture called Mammon, but we have found no record of such a god.
However, we make an idol of our possessions whenever we look to them for security, rather than to God. We show our allegiance to the god Mammon whenever we base our decisions on the bottom line, rather than on the will of God.
Christ’s pronouncement applies to all of us, not just the rich, because a poor person can “worship” the few items that he does have. Jesus makes the point that we must put God first. Nothing else, big or little, can take His place on the throne of our heart.
By the way, we recently repeated the learning experience of trusting God for our needs. The organization where I worked closed operations, and we went two years without a full-time job. I just recently began teaching full-time at a local Bible college. Once again, we found that the Lord provided all of our needs in unexpected ways.
God provides our needs, and sometimes He uses our employers to do it!
December is a good time to recalibrate our thoughts about finances.
It’s a time when we are expected to spend more than we can afford – paying for parties and piling up gifts for a long list of family and friends.
It’s a time when we are inundated with appeals for donations – offering a chance to share with others and enhance our deductions at tax season.
It can be a time when things are tight and we wonder how to climb out of the financial pit.
Expectations hang over our heads, and the consequences of questionable decisions loom large.
Christmas offers a chance to turn our attention to the Savior who entered the world so long ago, focusing on Him amid the cacophony of holiday extravaganzas. It is also an ideal time to untangle our complicated financial issues by turning back to God’s perspective on money. That’s where we find the joy and peace that we sing about at Christmas.
Christmas is an ideal time to take a break, and that’s what Ezra Project is going to do. We won’t be sending out a word study article next week. Look for a fresh start in the new year. Thank you for journeying with us in the Word!
©Ezra Project 2023