Wealth and the Kingdom: discipling Mammon

Key points

  • Mammon causes us to forfeit our liberty in Christ
  • We do not serve money; money serves us as we serve God

“The renewal of our post-Christian societies begins with acts of personal desecularising.”

Mark Sayers1

“One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much.  If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own?  No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” (ESV)

Jesus Christ: Luke 16:10-14

There I was looking at a roller cage filled with shrink-wrapped bundles of £20 notes in a secure storage room. This was a serious amount of cash – by far the largest amount I had ever seen. There must have been hundreds of thousands of £ in this cage and, as I looked around, I saw many more cages filled with finished notes of various denominations. It was an amazing sight, and yet I remember feeling absolutely nothing about what I was seeing! It wasn’t mine, and I had no right to it. I was being paid to do the work for this Company, and this was their product. In the same way that Father was providing me with his provision through this consultancy work, so Father provides for us according to our needs. What we receive we have authority over to use wisely and righteously. Money is his gift to us. As Stephen De Silva says “I am not mastered by money, riches or wealth. They serve God through my hands.”2

God has no lack of resource and provision! What I was seeing was nothing compared to God’s ‘wealth’! It is striking how many parables that Jesus taught about the Kingdom of Heaven are to do with economic trade, merchandising or power, and frequently centred on return on investment, profitable trades and so. The irony is that he was speaking to people mastered to a greater or less extent my Mammon, yet he was teaching about heaven! The contrast is clear–we cannot serve God and Mammon.

What is Mammon?

The word translated in most Bible versions as money, riches or wealth is Mammon. The translators where attempting to capture the meaning of a word that is unfamiliar to our Western minds. Mammon is much different from simply riches, money or wealth. Its means: to place your confidence in, or personify, wealth. It is spelt with a capital ‘M’, like a person’s name is spelt with a capital first letter. It means, to deify wealth, or to worship or treat riches as a god. Mammon is a mastering spirit, one that displaces God in our sight. It is a ruler; it is possessive. It operates in opposition to the Kingdom because it is a ruler. Consequently, Jesus declares an absolute prohibition against this spirit. We must learn to master unrighteous Mammon, while recognizing that the very thing we handle seeks to master us. A Mammon spirit leaves these clues like fingerprints. It:

  • thrives on secrecy and untruth. 
  • encourages unhealthy comparisons and factions between individuals and groups. 
  • hungers for immoral and sensuous living. 
  • promotes greed and envy of others’ success. 
Mammon causes us to forfeit our liberty in Christ

The love of money deceives us into thinking that we can buy comfort, power and celebrity, which in turn fools us into thinking that we are in control of our destinies. It can subtly speak to our hearts to settle in our comfort when Jesus would probably call us “lukewarm, ready to spew us out of his mouth” (Revelation 3 v 15 – 18) and to counsel us to “buy from me gold refined in the fire, so that you can become rich….”

“The deception of Mammon is not simply to say that we need to hold onto everything we’ve got, but rather to say that what we’ve got is ours to dispose of as we choose.” (Welby, 2016)3. Mammon causes us to become driven and enslaved, forfeiting our liberty in Christ to being mastered by the greed for power. Jesus modelled true humility. He came from his place of ultimate power and glory to become nothing, and of no value in the world system of those he created. It’s difficult to conceive any of anyone being willing to be humble to this same extent. Taking on this mindset changes our worldview misshapen and warped by the lure of Mammon and frees us to take on the Kingdom worldview.

Displacing old mindsets

How do we can counteract Mammon? Welby3 suggests that worship and an appropriate and extravagant generosity in the way that we live our lives are the antidotes. 

We can see this as we look at two of Jesus’ parables.

  1. The unjust steward (Luke 16 v 1 – 15)

The steward faces the destructive result of worshipping Mammon. His position is lost, his career ruined, and he faces having to gain favour with his employer’s creditors or else begging as a means to fend off starvation. In this condition, he wakes up from his erroneous ways; money, riches and wealth are to be mastered, not to be mastered by. He quickly shifts gears, forsaking the love of money, and begins to make deals in the few relationships that remain. This information gets back to the master, who has an interesting response to the steward’s thievery. The master praises the steward on his shrewdness. Remember that the steward was not reinstated; he was still disqualified and faced a destroyed career and strong possibility of begging for his survival. 

One of the fascinating comments that Jesus makes is verses 8 and 9 – “the sons of darkness are more shrewd than the sons of light in their interactions with others. It is important that you use the wealth of this world to demonstrate your friendship with God by winning friends and blessing others …. Your generosity will provide you with an eternal reward.” Are we more shrewd with money than these were without Christ as Lord of their lives?

Where you deposit your treasure is where your heart is!

2. The rich young ruler (Luke 18 v 18 – 29)

In this parable Jesus told the young ruler that he lacked one thing and to combat this he had to “Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” He was held in the grip of Mammon. Radical and appropriate generosity was needed to dethrone Mammon in his life. Here was a man who was storing up treasure on earth as his source of comfort, power, and perhaps notoriety; Jesus instructed him to realign himself to storing treasures in heaven by forsaking Mammon and by giving his life to him. The line “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” is a great plumb line for us to honesty and humbly measure ourselves against.

Proverbs 11 v 24 is instructive: 

“One person gives freely, yet gains even more;
another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty.” 

Proverbs 21 v 25 – 26 (TPT) is telling:

“Taking the easy way out is the habit of a lazy man,
and it will be his downfall.
All day long he thinks about all the things that he craves,
for he hasn’t learned the secret that the generous man has learned:
extravagant giving never leads to poverty.”

1 Samuel 2 v 7 says that the Lord sends poverty and wealth; he humbles and he exalts (NIV). We are not immune from God humbling us and bringing poverty to us if we maintain a heart attitude of pride in our wealth accumulation. As Proverbs says (13 v 18):

“Whoever disregards discipline comes to poverty and shame, but whoever heeds correction is honoured.”

Better for us to be confronted with the enthroned Christ and turning around to display the fruits of repentance than to refuse him and be humbled by him.

Grey asceticism or celebration of joy?

“Do we use money in the service of God, extending the Kingdom and using it to wash the feet of the world; or do we put it in the service of Mammon and use it to insulate ourselves from those whose feet smell bad? (adapted from Welby). In the context of the Kingdom of heaven if we seek power through worldly ways then we are living in an old-age. Now worldly power and status exist only for the sake of service. And this causes a great joy within us. Stephen De Silva says that Jesus, the lover of our souls, wants to romance us, to take us on an adventure that will put to shame every thrill and pleasure Mammon has to offer. Justin Welby says, “Dethroning Mammon is not a grim commitment to austerity and grey asceticism, but leads to joy, to mastery and to celebration”3. I suggest that this sounds like a recipe for abundant life! The lie that Mammon sells us as an idol is scarcity, and this compels us to hold onto what we have. It is borne out of fear. We can be wealthy but still be controlled by scarcity thinking (poverty mindset). We need to replace this thinking with generosity and abundance, taking on the grace of Jesus, who lavished his love on us beyond what we can imagine.

Cheerful generosity

So, defeating the spirit of Mammon can be easy when our hearts are bound to Christ’s purposes. Just as poverty thinking is displaced by radical generosity, so is Mammon dethroned. It is broken by the Macedonian grace Paul spoke of to the Corinthian Church, a grace that celebrates their generosity and encourages the church to adopt their forceful and intentional generosity. This kind of giving is nothing less than spiritual violence against strongholds of Mammon and poverty. When Mammon is overcome, we do not have idolatry, injustice and abuse of power, but the demonstration of God’s love and grace.

Radical generosity, to the point of sacrifice, is the primary weapon against Mammon and poverty. It needn’t be limited to money. It can be time or letting go of power that has been used in an abusive way to control other people – anything that has mastery over us. Cheerful givers understand what they are giving away; they know what they are sacrificing, and they do it anyway. This is the grace to give with understanding!

What we have is on loan from God

“To displace Mammon and dethrone its power involves an agenda of hope and love, rejecting the idea that we only evaluate what we measure, or that we hang on to what we have, keeping it from others”3.Putting this another way what we have is not truly ours but on loan from God! Holding our possessions, power and influence lightly is a really useful practical means of counteracting Mammon’s hold in our lives. In this way, when Holy Spirit challenges us to give of our resources we are less likely to have conflict about giving generously.

How do we defeat mammon and keep it in check? By emulating the radically generous God who has freely given us all things.  What did Jesus say?  Freely you have received – freely give.

Money is a good slave but a terrible master! Welby says that “wealth’s…. malicious power is confined to the times in which it sits in power over us, rather than in service to us”3. It’s meant to be used but not used to abuse. Get the priority wrong and it wraps us up in its tentacles. My advice is steer well clear of letting the love of money and its acquisition master you. Rather use it for the benefit of others.

To summarise this two part examination of wealth in the Kingdom:

“The value of things is determined not by their monetary value but by their relationship to Jesus”.3

Poverty v Mammon

  1. They both cut us off from the work of the cross; poverty by crushing us with condemnation and shame, Mammon by stuffing us with things and drowning out our hunger for forgiveness and restoration;
  2. they both cut us off from recognising our adoption as sons or daughters. Poverty keeps us as a nobody, Mammon tries to keep us being somebody through accumulation and achievement;
  3. they both keep us from looking up and looking out; poverty promotes a negative focus on self, Mammon promotes an over-inflated focus on self, but they both prevent us from seeing what is greater than ourselves, and from embracing the race that is set before us. 

Finally, a quote from Francis Frangipane4:

“The true, eternal God cannot be alloyed with the false gods of the age. We cannot serve two masters. We cannot have His power and holiness in our lives without having Him in our life. And if we are not being progressively transformed into His holy and powerful image, we may be serving an idol, the Idol of False Knowledge.”

  1. Sayers, Mark. Reappearing Church. Moody Publishers. 2019. ISBN: 978-0-8024-1913-2.
  2. De Silva, S. K. Prosperous Soul – Foundations Course, 2010. ISBN: 978-0-9968853-8-6. Available from https://stephenkdesilva.com/prosperous-soul-foundations
  3. Welby, J. Dethroning Mammon – making money serve grace. Bloomsbury Continuum, 2016. ISBN 978-4729-2977-8.
  4. Frangipane, Francis. In the Presence of God. New Wine Press, 1994. ISBN: 1 874367 27 2.