Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: Mammon

Who is our master?

And he said also unto his disciples, There was a certain rich man, which had a steward; and the same was accused unto him that he had wasted his goods. And he called him, and said unto him, How is it that I hear this of thee? give an account of thy stewardship; for thou mayest be no longer steward. Then the steward said within himself, What shall I do? for my lord taketh away from me the stewardship: I cannot dig; to beg I am ashamed. I am resolved what to do, that, when I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses. So he called every one of his lord’s debtors unto him, and said unto the first, How much owest thou unto my lord? And he said, An hundred measures of oil. And he said unto him, Take thy bill, and sit down quickly, and write fifty. Then said he to another, And how much owest thou? And he said, An hundred measures of wheat. And he said unto him, Take thy bill, and write fourscore. (Luke 16:1-7)

And the lord commended the unjust steward, because he had done wisely: for the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light. And I say unto you, Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations. He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much. If therefore ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches? And if ye have not been faithful in that which is another man’s, who shall give you that which is your own? (Verses 7-12)

No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon. (Verse 13)

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The parable of the unjust steward seems to mystify many of Christians. The conduct of this steward, in asking people to pay less than the original contract, seems contrary to our notion of good stewardship.

Our problem is a misunderstanding of the role of a steward. The owner of a large domain had many responsibilities and did not want to be troubled with arranging for the farming of his agricultural land. So he engaged a steward to handle that, on the proviso that the steward would provide the lord with his needs from the land. The steward would be remunerated by adding enough to each tenant’s payment to cover the needs of his own household. On a large estate, the second largest house was usually be the home of the steward.

In this parable, it appears that in some cases the steward was taking as much for himself as for his lord. The waste that he was accused of was in placing a burden on the tenant farmers that they could hardly bear. He is called unjust, not because of unfaithfulness to Mammon, but because of his close alliance with mammon, which itself is unrighteous (verses 9 and 11). As eventually happens to all who trust in Mammon, he finds himself betrayed.

The light now dawns and he turns around. Before, he had oppressed others in demanding payment to the maximum of their ability. Now, he administers grace to his master’s debtors in releasing them from a portion of their debts. It is within his power while still a steward to do this and it appears that he erased the portion that he was taking for himself. He now sees that in the long term it will be in his best interest to do what he can to lighten the burdens of others.

Verse 8 says “And the lord commended the unjust steward, because he had done wisely”. Jesus instructs us to take the conduct of the steward for our example. This interpretation may be problematic for Christians who see stewardship as being principally concerned with the gain and care of material wealth. We say that it is God’s will that we exercise good stewardship of our material possessions in order to be able to share with others and support mission programs. Is it possible that at times we are motivated more by the portion that we want for themselves than by the portion that we plan to give to God?

What place do the needs of others have in the minds of Christians who are  trying to be good stewards? How much room is there for compassion in this type of stewardship? It is convenient to decide that the poor are poor because they don’t want to work and don’t take care of what they do have. We make a distinction between the “deserving” poor and those not so “deserving”, which provides a neat way out when faced with those whose needs are very real, though self-inflicted.

The conclusion of this parable is found in verse 13: “No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.” This is integral to the explanation of the parable of the unjust steward. To separate it is to find the parable confusing and perhaps meaningless.

It seems to me that in order to be “good stewards of the manifold grace of God” (1 Peter 2:10) we need to consider the needs of others, not only in material things but also in the use of our time and talents.

Who is our Lord?

We are told in 1 Kings chapter 17 that the people of Samaria “feared the LORD, and served their own gods.” In reading the whole account, we find that the people understood that they needed to reverence Yahweh to save their lives from the lions. But when it came to the mundane affairs of life, they sacrificed to other gods for the fertility of their fields, their flocks and their homes.

Well, we may say, that was a long time ago, and maybe those people didn’t really know any better. What’s my excuse? and yours?

Jesus said “Ye cannot serve God and Mammon.” Of course not, we wouldn’t dream of doing such a thing. We are very punctilious in our worship of Yahweh. But what influences our choices in clothing, vehicles, homes, lifestyles? I don’t believe that we have to deliberately strive to be different, but what motivates our choices from the many options available to us? Some Christians seem to be trying to prove that a Christian can live and party just like anybody else. What motivates that desire? Jesus said:  “Ye are they which justify yourselves before men; but God knoweth your hearts: for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God.”

The Apostle Paul wrote: “All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.” Who, or what, has power over our choices?

Unless we allow Yahweh to be Lord over every aspect and every activity of our life, we are going to be very much like those people back in Samaria.

God and Mammon

No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.  (The words of Jesus, quoted in Matthew 6:24 and Luke 16:13.)

Here is a stark warning that the pursuit of spiritual gain and the pursuit of material gain are not compatible. In such a materialistic age as we live in it is hard for us to fathom that this could be true. Yet here is another pronouncement of Jesus for reinforcement:

Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. (Matthew 6:31-33).

Here is a clearly stated promise that if we make spiritual gain our goal, we will not suffer material ruin. On the other hand, it is clearly implied that to make material gain our main priority will lead to spiritual ruin.

This is a basic truth that is supported by many other statements throughout the New Testament. There is nothing in the New Testament to suggest that the pursuit of material gain will be beneficial to our spiritual life.

We must also resist the temptation to make either poverty or prosperity the gauge of a person’s spiritual life.  North America is a land of opportunity and  many Christians here have attained to a level of prosperity that is well above that of most Christians in other lands. This is no proof that we are more spiritual than they are, or that God is more pleased with us.

There are people in North America who have been denied access to the opportunities most of us take for granted. Others, for various reasons, seem unable to see or to manage the opportunities that are available to them. This is not proof that they are less capable of spiritual gain or that God is angry with them.

According to the social conscience of our time, material poverty is the one great sin of our society. In the light of eternity, the spiritual poverty of those who live for ease and pleasure is the great sin that will bar them from heaven.

A more honest version of the shepherd psalm

Mammon is my shepherd; I shall always want more.

He gives me no rest; he makes me to always desire greener pastures and more dangerous waters.

He gives me emptiness and leads me in paths that offer shiny and exciting things to fill that emptiness.

But when I come to the valley of the shadow of death, he abandons me to my fears; wealth and luxury give no help nor comfort there.

Though I have what I need, he shows me that others have more and better than I.

Surely envy and greed shall follow me all the days of my life: and I don’t want to think of what may be after that.

[Who is your shepherd?]

What does the Bible mean by “left thy first love”?

“Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.” (Revelation 2:4).

I have been part of many discussions over this verse. As far as I recall, we have always taken it to mean “I am disappointed in you because you’ve lost that loving feeling.” Then we discussed how we can tell if we’ve lost that loving feeling and what to do about it if we have.

What if it really means “I am disappointed in you because you’ve found somebody new?”  We don’t really want to consider that, do we? What if our love and devotion to Mammon has become more important to us than our love for our Saviour?

It happens so subtly. Mammon comes to us with an offer of immediate gratification and we don’t consider what that temporary benefit might do to our long-term relationship with our Lord. The first time we do it, it doesn’t seem like much has changed, so we go on, getting deeper and deeper into this adulterous relationship with Mammon.

Soon our attention is wholly taken up with the pursuit of the earthly benefits of wealth, pleasure, honour and pride that Mammon promises, and we forget the ultimate reason why we first entered into a relationship with Jesus.

The apostle Paul expressed his concern for the Corinthian Christians this way: “For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.” (2 Corinthians 11:2-3)

Who has control of your heart, Jesus or Mammon?

What is Christian Stewardship? Part 3

The New Testament admonishes us to “redeem the time”. Our understanding of this phrase is closely bound to our concept of stewardship.  Those who see stewardship primarily in material terms interpret this phrase as an injunction to occupy every minute with some gainful employment.

Interestingly enough, if we look at the context, we find the Apostle Paul was more concerned about spiritual things when he spoke of redeeming the time.  In Ephesians 5:16 the concern is to make sure of our own salvation.  In Colossians 4:5 it is our witness to those outside the Church.

The Greek word here does not refer to a quantity of time, but rather to the quality of time.  It is sometimes translated opportunity.  Are there are times when the Spirit prompts us to take time to pray, to meditate on God’s Word, but we are too busy being good stewards?  That is not redeeming the time.  Are there neighbours to visit, children to tell stories to, letters to write, but we are too busy?  That is not redeeming the time.  Did we meet someone today who seemed to be reaching out for answers, for a touch of human kindness, but we were too busy?  Is our concept of stewardship drawing us away from our real purpose in this world?

We can’t serve God and Mammon.  If we were to truly put the spiritual stewardship first, would we have such a problem with materialism?  At the very least I doubt that it would be such a mystery.  If we try to find our security in material things: money and the things money can buy; having a secure source of income; keeping up appearances; always doing things just about right; that is “covetousness, which is idolatry”.  Our choice is clear: choose Mammon who promises earthly security but delivers oppression; or choose Jesus who offers us the true security when all these earthly things fail.

What is Christian Stewardship? Part 2

The parable of the unjust steward, found in Luke 16, has mystified many commentators.  The conduct of this steward is clearly contrary to popular notions of good stewardship.  Yet verse 8 says “And the lord commended the unjust steward, because he had done wisely”.  Some commentators try to wriggle out of this corner by noting that this was the lord of that steward speaking, and our Lord would never condone such behaviour.  This mind-set misses the point that Jesus instructs us to take the behaviour of the steward for our example.

The conclusion of this parable is found in verse 13: “No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other.  Ye cannot serve God and mammon.”  This verse is an integral part of the explanation of the parable of the unjust steward.  To separate it is to find the parable confusing and perhaps meaningless.

What is the message of the parable of the unjust steward?  Here is a man who has been a servant of Mammon, exacting all that was due his master in order to gain a living and security for himself.  It was his responsibility as steward to set the rent each of his lord’s tenants in order to provide for the needs of the lord’s household.  He then added enough to each tenant’s rent to cover the needs of his own household.  The steward in this parable appears to have been living in abundance.

He is called unjust, not because of unfaithfulness to Mammon, but because of his close alliance with mammon, which itself is unrighteous (verses 9 and 11).  As eventually happens to all who trust in Mammon, he finds himself betrayed.  All that he trusted in is to be taken from him.  In this setting the light dawns and he turns around.  Before he had oppressed others in demanding payment to the maximum of their ability.  Now he administers a measure of grace to his master’s debtors in releasing them from a portion of their debts.  It is entirely within his power while still a steward to do this and it would appear that he simply erased the portion that he was taking for himself.  He now sees that it will be in his best interest in the long term to do what he can to release others from their burdens.

This interpretation may be problematic for Christians who see stewardship as being principally concerned with the gain and care of material wealth.  We may say that it is God’s will that we exercise good stewardship of our material possessions in order to  be able to share with others and support mission programs.  However, an onlooker might question whether we are motivated more by the portion that we want for themselves than by the portion that we plan to give to God.

Are the needs of others very high in the minds of Christians who are busy endeavouring to be good stewards?  Indeed, there is not much room for compassion in this type of stewardship.  It becomes easy to see that the poor are poor because they don’t want to work and don’t take care of what they do have.  A distinction is often made between the “deserving” poor and those not so “deserving”, which provides a neat way out when faced with those whose needs are very real, though perhaps self-inflicted.

We say that everything we have belongs to God and that we are only stewards.  Would an impartial observer of our business practices and lifestyle come to that conclusion?

“They feared the LORD and served their own gods”

The title comes from 2 Kings 17:33 and describes the people of Samaria during the time of their subjection to the king of Assyria.  We shake our heads in disbelief, wondering how those long ago people could have been so blind.  What were they thinking?

Let’s take a closer look; who was the LORD and who were the other gods?  LORD (uppercase letters) in the AV is substituted for JHVH, the name of God, in the Hebrew text.  Early translators added vowels to make Jehovah; the preponderance of recent scholarship would be that Yahweh is more correct.  All agree that the name is derived from the “I AM” by which God identified Himself to Moses.  French Bibles translate JHVH as “l’Éternel,” (the Eternal) which is an entirely fitting name for the Creator God who has always been and will forever be.

Other gods went by many names, the most common in Canaan being Baal, which means “master” or “lord.”  Baal was the god whom they believed to give increase to family, field, flocks and herds.  He was believed to show himself in rain and thunderstorms.  The worship of Baal tended to licentiousness, making it in some ways more exciting and appealing than the staid worship and strict moral code of the LORD.

It appears that the people tried to reverence the LORD and maintain the outward forms of His worship, but feared to neglect also offering sacrifices to Baal for fear that their wives, fields and flocks would be infertile.  Does this begin to sound like what a lot of evangelical Christians are doing today?

We want to have an assurance that our eternal destiny is assured in the heavenly mansions.  Meanwhile, we want to prove to ourselves and our neighbours that we can be Christians and have it all in this world, too.  Fashion, music and entertainment are very important to our family, friends and neighbours and we don’t want to give the impression that we are being deprived of anything that is good.  In many cases, worship services are heavily infused with these influences and Christians call it good, despite their sensuous nature.

Providing for the needs of our families is a virtue clearly taught in the Scriptures.  Somehow that has become confused in our minds with the need to present an aura of prosperity.  In too many cases this is obtained at the cost of a heavy debt load.

Education is also useful in providing the tools for being an effective Christian witness.  We need to be articulate, literate and numerate.  It is good to have an understanding of history and how government works (it is much easier to be critical of those in government when one doesn’t really understand what’s going on).  Learning another language not only makes us able to communicate with more people, but opens our mind to the fact that other nations and other cultures don’t look at things the same way we do.  A good education is also necessary for making a living.

But what is a good education?  Much time and money is dedicated to obtaining a recognized diploma or degree from a college or university.  In many cases the intellectual atmosphere of these places is hostile to Christian faith.  But that official document is so highly regarded that many Christian parents see no alternative and anxiously labour to get their offspring accepted in a good university.  The losses may be twofold: young people who leave university with a seriously compromised faith; and all the time, money and effort spent to obtain an impressive piece of paper that may not represent skills that are actually needed in the marketplace.

Jesus said “Ye cannot serve God and mammon” (Luke 6:24 and 16:13).  Mammon represents all the things mentioned here and much more.  Mammon is not just money, but all the stuff and transient pleasures that money can buy and all the schemes that promise to help us obtain more money.  There is a thrill in all this that appeals to the senses.  In fact, the love of Mammon engenders a sensuality that can lead to excusing immorality before and after marriage and the breakup of families.

Do evangelicals today “fear the LORD and serve mammon”?  Before we answer for other people, perhaps we should look at our own lives, the choices we have made, why we made them and the effects those choices have had on our life and the lives of our family members.

Choose ye this day

Joshua was nearing the end of his life and he wanted to challenge the people to remain faithful to God, who had given them so many victories.  The people pledged their determination to serve God only.  Joshua challenged them again “You will not have the strength to serve the Eternal” (Joshua 24.19 Louis Segond translation (French)).  The people repeated their pledge: “Nay; but we will serve the Lord.”  We find the testimony a few chapters later that they were faithful to that promise: “And the people served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders that outlived Joshua, who had seen all the great works of the Lord, that he did for Israel” (Judges 2.7).

Then in Judges 3 we read that God had a test for the following generation: “Now these are the nations which the Lord left, to prove Israel by them, even as many of Israel as had not known all the wars of Canaan; Only that the generations of the children of Israel might know, to teach them war, at the least such as knew nothing thereof; . . .  And they were to prove Israel by them, to know whether they would hearken unto the commandments of the Lord, which he commanded their fathers by the hand of Moses” (Judges 3.1,2 & 4).

This is the challenge facing the people of God today.  Past generations have been valiant in fighting the good fight of faith, have won the victory and passed from the scene.  However, there are still enemies remaining for this generation to contend with.  What will we do with them?  We do not have the strength to overcome them.  God must fight for us.  Still, there will be no victory unless we are fully determined to take up the battle with all our might.

We are being tested today in the same manner as the generation that followed Joshua.  The world and the flesh have not been eradicated.  They appear to be willing to be our servants.  Very subtly they will try to lure us into taking a step or two away from the Shepherd.  If we are not on our guard, we will someday find that they have become our masters.

Baal was the god of fertility in Canaan.  The Israelites never abandoned the worship of Yahweh, at least they thought they hadn’t.  However, they came to believe that their fields, their livestock, even their wives, would be infertile if they did not sacrifice to Baal.  So they maintained all the forms of the worship of Yahweh, but trusted Baal for help in all the everyday conduct of their lives.  Eventually a day of reckoning came, their land was laid waste, the temple of Yahweh destroyed and the people carried away captive to Babylon.

Today Mammon is the chief rival to Yahweh.  Many Christians faithfully maintain the worship of Yahweh, yet look to Mammon for help in their everyday life.  Mammon is the god of material things.  We worship him by seeking educational credentials that are said to be the keys to success, by accumulating debt to attain a lifestyle that denotes success, by spending lavishly on sports, entertainment and leisure activities so our children will not be left out of anything.  We think this is what it takes to be successful in life.  Will our judgement be any less severe than that of the Israelites?

“Choose ye this day whom ye will serve.”

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