You cannot serve both God and money

From my time as a pastor, and certainly on reflection over recent years as a missionary in the city of Perth, I find one issue stands out as overwhelmingly important. The Church needs at this critical point in Australia’s history to be stronger than the secular forces (Heb 1:7 & Ps 104:4). The Lord needs to empower His people afresh so we can make an outstanding difference to our family, our neighbours and our nation. So I’m pursuing in this article the matter of the spiritual power in the believer. At this present time we would have to agree with the well-known Aussie social commentator[i] when he said, “Given the extent and depth of Australians’ doubts and uncertainties, the present time might be considered ripe for a revival of religious faith and practice. But the signs do not seem to be pointing in that direction”. We long to see the powerful goodness of the Lord through His people transforming lives and society so that the gospel in all its glory can be seen.

Jesus has power. What we don’t often do is learn how he disarmed all powers. The disarming by Jesus leads to an effective strength for His followers provided they have submitted to Christ’s lordship themselves and are free from all other powers (Col 2:9,10). Do you as a Christian have God’s power in your life? If you do, how would you describe it? How does it work?

There are many powers at work in our society today! Government has power to maintain powerful systems  like a justice system and a law system (Police) and then there are the many regulations flowing from these systems that proscribe how we will build houses, how we live next to our neighbours and how often and how long shops will open; to name a few. There are other powers too. In Jesus’ time we find him casting out demons and many Christians today reflect on those examples and wonder what that means today.

Asian people in particular are aware of the power of the spirits and what often Westerners call “superstitions” are rife in Asian countries. Go to Hong Kong and a huge modern multi-story building on the water front has a great “space” built into its front side to fit in with Feng Shui. If you Google “Feng Shui” you will find at least one Feng Shui Master is working in Australia to help people get their buildings and rooms right with the spirits!  Aboriginal peoples these days are very public in words and dance how the spirits are a part of their culture. So I want to introduce you to one of the powers taken seriously in the Bible. It is a power that has a huge effect on everyone in the world today, particularly in Western Culture. Then, in subsequent articles look at how Jesus related to this power and finally, what the early Christians did with that Lordship and from that begin to explore our situation today.

The power I’m referring to isn’t a spirit in the most usual sense of the word, but one of the more sophisticated powers that controls most people in our global society. I’m going to talk about money! All the important powers are fully revealed in the Scriptures and preeminently by our Lord. It has been encouraging that over recent years Christian leaders like John Howard Yoder, Walter Wink and Marva Dawn address the power of money and the Lordship of Christ in their writings on the principalities and the powers[ii]

Is money a power? Isn’t it simply a means of paying for goods? Isn’t it a convenient way that modern societies use to buy and sell? It certainly is, but it also has power and we need to see the Biblical evidence for this. If Jesus hadn’t addressed the power of money we may never have thought about it. Yet He did, and the Gospels record his multi-faceted and powerful response to money. In a future article we will look at some of the levels of His response to money and to the way God offers a valuable alternative to its power.

Money interests everyone. There are some issues about money that are very real for us today. The first is that we are all deeply involved in a world that runs on money. It intrudes on everything we do. Our whole culture is around money. To buy a house most young marrieds need a mortgage. By the time they pay off that mortgage they will have given the Bank about three times as much as what they paid for the house. It is a huge cost on their lives. For the normal family all the big items like a house, a car or a trip away are financed through a loan. Debt-financing is part of our society. Money also fills our minds each day. We wouldn’t leave home without a credit card in our pocket, or a wallet. We need those items constantly. Shopping is so much a way of life that we now proudly call ourselves “shopaholics”. Money is essential to shopping. Money is so much a part of our lives.

Secondly, we are aware that we are not as powerful as the Christians of the New Testament. Christ and his followers had a lot of power. They would heal people of diseases. They had courage to share the gospel. They lived unselfishly and helped many. We have lost much of that. Our struggles instead are with keeping our personal problems in check. Like we find our anger breaks out, and our anxieties won’t go away. Our personal issues are so big we can’t even see how we can be a blessing to others. We don’t even remember the last time the Lord gave us His power to work a miracle!

I raise these two issues of Christians and the power of money AND the lack of personal Christian power as possibly being related. If Christ is to be Lord of our lives, He will certainly not allow the power of money to control us. He is very jealous for the worship of His people. So let’s explore the Biblical idea of money as a power.

The Bible looks at money in a very special way. Let’s go to Luke 16:13 where
Jesus says

No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.(NIV). ”

In the original words, Jesus chose to use the word “Mammon” not the word “money”. Jesus used this word “Mammon” as a proper noun. The NKJV says, “You cannot serve God and Mammon”. Mammon does mean “money”. But Jesus uses the word “Mammon” for a special reason. He is choosing to use money as something very personal. In choosing to say “Mammon” Jesus gives money a name. He gives it personality. It is a creature. It can be a “Master”. So the money in my pocket is not simply a piece of plastic, or pieces of metal. Jesus says it has power. It is active. It is personal. It is powerful. It is so powerful it can remove God from your life and put itself there instead. So Jesus considers money a sort of god, an idol (to use an older understanding) and certainly a power to be reckoned with.

Let’s stop for a minute then and check on what we understand about money. When we normally think about money we think about the actual plastic or metal in our pockets, or in our Bank. The Bible calls this sort of money, our “wealth”. To be wealthy is to have lots of cash and lots in the Bank or in investments.

We also as Christians talk about the morals of using money. Like, “Are we using our money wisely?” or “Did I give the shop owner the correct amount of money?” Jesus is not talking about money at that level at all. Of course we should use money wisely. Of course we should give the shop owner the correct amount of money. No, Jesus is saying that money is a power. It has the power to replace God in your life. Let’s explore this by looking at three of the powers of money.

Firstly we should think about money and temptation. Surely if we do we will begin to see the power of money. Haven’t you been tempted to want something and decided it is so important you will go into debt to buy it? The temptations to purchase a house maybe, or a car, or a new gadget perhaps; aren’t these our temptations that lead us into seeing the power of money? Money of course is only the material sign of this inner possessive spirit that controls us. Isn’t it interesting that when the people of Israel got tired of waiting for Moses to come down from the sacred mountain they asked Aaron to build them an idol to represent god. Isn’t it interesting that the idol Aaron made was a golden idol and not a wooden or a stone one. Money, idolatry and power all go together in opposing God. Or to put it in modern terms we go into a shop with just a certain amount of money. Then the salesperson convinces us of a much better item for a little bit more. We are tempted! Should we settle for an IPhone5 or is the mini IPad just what we need? We don’t want a wooden idol, we want a golden idol! Money has power. Money tempts us each day. Jesus warned (Luke 12:15) “Don’t be greedy! Owning a lot of things won’t make your life safe.” Or, as Paul puts it in I Tim 6:10

“The love of money causes all kinds of trouble. Some people want money so much that they have given up their faith and caused themselves a lot of pain”

Money has the power to tempt.

Secondly think about money and reputation. The possession of money gives people lots of social and political power. If I were to ask you for the names of two of your city’s richest people, who would you suggest? The media is interested in your city’s “rich list” and at least annually will bring to our attention the latest updates. For people who are rich one of the things money does is buy them influence. Now let me ask another question: Can you put names to the two poorest people in your city? (Apart from every teenager who will put up their hand), can you name them? But isn’t it interesting that Solomon, the richest man of his time married many women even though the law of Israel warned him against that. Deut 17:17 says the king mustn’t have too many wives or too much money. His many wives attracted him to false gods and his money led him astray. You will also remember the rich young ruler (Luke 18: 18-26) whose money gave him so much personal power that when Jesus told him to sell all he had and come follow with Him, the man slipped away. To give up his wealth was to give up so much of himself. He couldn’t do that. What is it about money that it can trap us into believing it gives us power, reputation and glory? It is a power to be reckoned with. It has the power to give you social reputation. You must be wise; you must be intelligent; you must be attractive; you’ve got money!

Thirdly,we should see that money is a liar. That’s a strong thing to say, but it is true. The media tell us that if we have money we shall be happy. No one wants to be poor. Everyone wants money for food, clothing, sport, studies and retirement. So we fall into the trap of loving money for what it will give us. But it doesn’t. We only need to remember Ecc 5:10. “Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income.” I’ve never found anyone disagreeing with that. My current salary is never enough! So we will often make a job change solely on the rise in salary it offers. No matter we have to work longer, or harder. It’s the money. Money whispers to us that more money means settling your debts, buying that new car you desperately need or the musical instrument you’ve wanted for so long. “Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income. I’m not saying the desire for something better is not good in itself. Often it is. What I am proving is that money is a power. It is a liar. It promises a better life and the few moments it might do so passes very quickly and leads to a sense of powerlessness.

Concluding comments

So, what have we done in this article? We’ve talked about power and spirits and shown that the Bible considers and identifies that money is a power. What will you do with all of this? The big question I want you to answer is, “What power, if any, does money have over your life?”

Think about that and let me have your honest answers. Money and its power are dominant in our world today. The evening news always has a section on “Finance” and the global stock markets, the meltdown of economies in Europe and the slowing of China’s growth rate. The power of money is pervasive globally in our time. It also reaches through to us personally. We ourselves are affected by its power.

Unlike Jesus we have a credit card or two in our pocket, and money in the wallet and wouldn’t dream of leaving home without it. Everything depends on what’s in my wallet when we walk out that front door! Young marrieds don’t think twice about owning a home through debt-financing. Everyone does it. You can’t buy a home without a mortgage, and no one ever mentions that in doing so you will by the end of the mortgage have paid for the house about three times the original price. We are in every sense under the power of money. We need it. We need enough of it. We can’t retire without it.

In the next article I want to share with you the Biblical journey of our Lord’s attitude, preaching and disarming of this power and of God’s great alternative to the power of money.

Let me leave you with a question:            How would you know you are under the power of money?

Dr Garth Eichhorn

[i] Hugh Mackay, Turning Point: Australians Choosing their Future. Sydney: Pan Macmillan Australia, 1999. p219

[ii] Yoder, John H. The Politics of Jesus. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids: Wm B Eerdmans, 1994

Wink, Walter. Engaging the Powers: Discernment and Resistance in a World of Domination. Volume 3 of The Powers. Minneapolis:

Fortress, 1992

Dawn, Marva J, Powers, Weakness, and the Tabernacling of God. Wm B Eerdmans, 2001