“Ye Cannot Serve 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.” —Matthew 6:24

RECENTLY THE Wall Street Journal had an article entitled, “More Spiritual Leaders Preach Virtue of Wealth.” To attract attention the writer said, “God has a co-pilot: Midas,” and then plunged into a reporting of the trends in church programs that involved the subject of money. The article said: “In a convergence of the conspicuous consumption of the 1980’s and the more spiritual focus of the 1990’s, the relationship between wealth and religion is becoming a hot topic in books, church programs, financial seminars and spiritual retreats.

Some religious leaders even preach that there’s a Biblical imperative to making money. “At Seattle’s Christian Faith Center last month, a lecture by Paul Zane Pilzer, author of ‘God Wants You to Be Rich’, drew 500 people who paid $50 each to attend. The church’s pastor, Casey Treat, says his congregation was hungry for the message because of its ‘positive perspective. If we’re all poor, who’s going to help the poor? ‘Mr. Treat says the church’s liberal arts college uses Mr. Pilzer’s book as a text. ‘It’s kind of a foundation for our economics classes’, he adds. “Mr. Pilzer says he receives about 100 letters a week from people all over the country who want to know more about his ‘theology of economics’. Mr. Pilzer bases his beliefs on an Old Testament story in which the nomad, Abraham, creates abundance for himself and his people by owning and cultivating property.”

The popularity of this type of teaching has increased immensely. Churches have taken a hand in guiding their flocks through the world of money and business. There has been an enthusiastic response to church-sponsored financial seminars. Quoting again from the article: “The mingling of money with the Bible isn’t new. In America’s early days, Calvinist ministers teamed up with businessmen to promote a capitalist agenda: many colonial church-goers heard a steady stream of sermons advancing the Protestant work ethic and God’s blessing of material success.”

The article then cited other best sellers such as, “The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success,” “Dare to Prosper,” and “Taking Stock,” as well as popular lectures on “Socially Responsible Investing,” “The Inner Life of a Leader,” “Money and Meaning,” and “The Empowered Lawyer.” To the credit of the writer, a word of caution was cited on Biblical warnings about wealth, in particular our Lord’s words in Matthew 6:19,20: “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, … but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven.”

How should we view these ideas from the pulpit? What part should money play in our lives? The Bible should be our guide in all matters, and this is especially true when it comes to earthly wealth. It is true, as Mr. Pilzer says that Abraham was rich. From the earliest times precious metals—in particular gold and silver—have been used as money and as a measure of a man’s wealth.


But in Biblical times the measure of wealth was not limited to gold and silver, but also included such possessions as flocks and herds. Thus, the first accounting in the Bible of a man’s wealth was that of Abraham and is recorded in Genesis 13:2: “Now Abram was very rich in cattle, in silver, and in gold.” No wealth is mentioned prior to this, because the Bible’s records to this point are devoted solely to genealogies and several principal events.

We know that Abraham used the silver—and most likely the gold—for monetary purposes, because later a transaction is recorded for the purchase of a cave for his wife, Sarah, when she died. (Gen. 23:9-16) This purchase involved 400 shekels of silver. The shekel in Abraham’s time was a weight measure corresponding to a little less than 0.7 ounces AV, or 20 grams. Later the shekel became the name of a coin, when coins were first introduced in Israel around 141 B.C.

The word ‘money’ first appears in the Bible where God instructs Abraham concerning the keeping of his covenant and circumcision, and in so doing includes as a part of Abraham ‘s household those “bought with money,” i.e., the slaves purchased by Abraham. (Gen. 17:12) It is interesting to note that the Hebrew word translated ‘money’ is keseph, which means money, or silver. It is translated ‘money’ in the Old Testament 113 times, and as ‘silver’ 287 times. Since silver was used as money in Biblical times, the two were considered synonymous. Examples of this can be found in Genesis 37:28 when Joseph was sold into slavery; and in Genesis chapters 42 and 43, when Joseph’s brethren went to Egypt to buy grain.

The first association of money in religious matters occurred when Moses was instructed in building the Tabernacle. The financing for this work is described in Exodus 30:11-16, where Moses was told by God to ask for 1/2 shekel from every male, 20 years old and older, which had been numbered. The money was to be used to provide means for carrying out the atonement rituals, and was called atonement money. This money was not in the form of coins, but rather, a specific weight of silver. Exodus 30:15 tells how God wanted full and equal participation of all the males in this matter, so that “the rich shall not give more, and the poor shall not give less.” The reason for equal participation was so that contributions by the wealthy could not be used as a means of control. In today’s society, wealth brings influence, and God clearly did not want the wealthy to control any religious matters.


Coins as money were deemed to have originated in Lydia in the seventh century B.C., when Israel as a nation was about to become captive in Babyion, and the Babylonian Empire came upon the scene. Coinage became accepted and became national money as new empires arose. The Persian empire had its money, and was followed by the Grecian empire and its coins, called drachmas, which were the pieces of silver in our Lord’s parable of the lost coin. (Luke 15:8-10) Little is known about Babylonian coins, though it is believed by some authorities that the dram mentioned in Ezra 2:69 is not the daric, a Persian coin, as generally supposed, but rather refers to dariku, a weight or measure of gold or silver in Babylon which became a coin. What is most interesting about coins and monetary systems is that their adoption coincided with the beginning of the Gentile

Times, or the time of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign. During our Lord’s First Advent, Rome was in power, and Roman coins were in circulation. The Jews had to pay tribute money to Rome, which they detested doing. This paying of tribute money was used by the Pharisees to test Jesus. We read: “Then went the Pharisees, and took counsel how they might entangle him in his talk. And they sent out unto him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, Master, we know that thou art true, and teachest the way of God in truth, neither carest thou for any man: for thou regardest not the person of men. Tell us therefore, what thinkest thou? Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not? But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, Why tempt ye me, ye hypocrites? Shew me the tribute money. And they brought unto him a penny. And he saith unto them. Whose is this image and superscription? They say unto him, Caesar’s. Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s. When they had heard these words, they marveled, and left him, and went their way.” (Matt. 22:15-22) The Pharisees were seeking a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer! A ‘yes’ would displease the Jews, and a ‘no’ would displease the Romans.

What is most important about this incident is that worldly wealth as symbolized by the Roman coin was not the type of wealth that belonged to God, or in which God was interested. It belonged to Caesar. It is true that money can buy cattle, sheep, land, and other possessions on earth which all belong to God, in the first place. As our wonderful Creator has reminded us, “Every beast of the forest is mine, and the cattle upon a thousand hills. I know all the fowls of the mountains: and the wild beasts of the field are mine. If I were hungry; I would not tell thee: for the world is mine, and the fulness thereof.” (Ps. 50:10-12)

Money, therefore, is only a convenient means of exchange, whereas property and goods are the more significant measures of wealth.


The Scriptures do not give a definite statement about the wealth Jesus possessed. For example, when Jesus and the disciples went to Capernaum, and Peter was approached by the tax collectors concerning paying tribute, although Jesus reasoned that they were not subject to the tax, yet, lest he offend the authorities, he instructed Peter to cast a line into the sea to catch a fish. In the fish’s mouth he would find the tribute money, and this could be used to pay the tax for both of them.—Matt. 17:24-27

On another occasion, a particular amount of money is mentioned. (John 6:1-13) Judas was the treasurer for the disciples and carried the ‘bag’, but the others also knew what funds they possessed. Jesus had gone to a desert place to escape the crowds; however a great multitude sought him because of his miracles. When the time for a meal came, Jesus asked Philip, “Whence shall we buy bread that these may eat?” Philip’s answer was that two hundred denarii would not “buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” (vs. 7, RSV) Jesus knew what he planned to do even before he asked Philip, and Philip’s answer involving 200 denarii probably represented what they had in their treasury at the time—a sum approximating 120 inflated U.S. dollars. As recorded, Jesus produced a miracle whereby five thousand men, plus women and children, were fed. (Matt. 14th chapter; John 6th chapter) It is reasonable to assume that Jesus and the apostles worked to supply their everyday needs, although once in a while, God’s miracle-working power was used to supply their wants.

Jesus never advocated the amassing of wealth. On the contrary, his advice to the rich young ruler who came to him seeking to gain eternal life (Matt. 19:16-22) was, “Sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.” (vs. 21) The account says, “When the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions.” (vs. 22) Note how Jesus suggested to this rich young ruler that he exchange his earthly wealth for “treasures in heaven,” but he could not do it. And so it is with those who pursue earthly wealth. They find it difficult to give these possessions up.


When Jesus began his ministry, and delivered the well-known sermon on the mount, an important part of his message was: “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through nor steal: but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”—Matt. 6:19-21

What a profound message! Later he said, “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.” (vs. 24) What a difficult lesson this has been for the world of mankind to learn, and what a difficult lesson has this been for many of those who have been called to follow in the footsteps of Jesus. Much depends on our knowledge of the treasures in heaven, and so we ask, what are these special treasures in heaven? These are primarily the personal love and friendship of God and his Son, Jesus. They include the honor of the invitation to be part of the body of Christ. They involve the development of Christ likeness by acquiring the fruits of the Spirit. Such treasures laid up in heaven have no comparison upon earth.

When Jesus said, ‘Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also’, he knew that treasure would suggest pleasure, comfort, joy, and delight. The heart representing our inmost desires would reflect where our pleasure, joy, delight, and comfort would be. Would these be in heaven, and in the joy of his wonderful plan, or would they be on earthly matters? Wealth is deceiving. We can have it momentarily and then it can disappear as moth and rust corrupt, or thieves steal our possessions.

The pursuit of wealth can bring avarice. Such was the situation with the scribes and Pharisees who were lovers of money. After the Babylonian captivity, many Israelites lived in foreign lands, but would come to Jerusalem at the time of their solemn feasts. The money of their land was not acceptable as a free will offering until it was changed into Temple money, or money coined by Israel. Hence, there was a need for facilities to exchange all other money into Temple money. In Jerusalem, money changers had stalls in the city; as a particular feast approached they were admitted to the precincts of the Temple, and placed their tables in the Temple court. The premium paid for exchanging a half shekel was called by the Talmud a kollubos, equal to 12 grains of silver, and roughly 10% in value of the half shekel.

Jesus was not only aware of the high premium charged, but he also knew of the avarice and dishonesty of merchants who were selling animals for sacrifice. When he saw these traders in the Temple, he became so filled with righteous indignation that, as described in the three Gospel accounts, he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons and drove them out, saying, “It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves.” (Matt. 21:12,13; Mark 11:15-17; Luke 19:45,46) The Apostle John recalls a similar experience when Jesus went to Jerusalem at the time of Passover, and had done the same thing. (John 2:13-16) Monetary gain was never intended from the worship of God.

Quite often we hear it said: “Money is the root of all evil.” This is a misquotation of I Timothy 6:10, which read: “The love of money is the root of all evil.” Money in itself is only a convenient means of exchange for goods and services. It does, however, represent wealth because of its potential for acquiring property and goods. Those who love money are covetous, and covetousness is evil. (Exod. 20:17) The Pharisees were lovers of money, and are described as ‘covetous’ in Luke 16:14. The Greek word translated “covetous” is philargarous, which literally means ‘lover of silver’, or ‘lover of money’.

Jesus made it plain that wealth and riches—called mammon—could interfere with service to God. He emphasized this point in his sermon on the mount, and also brought it out at the conclusion of a parable recorded in Luke 16:1-8. The parable of the unjust steward has had many interpretations, and as a consequence the objective and force of the lesson can be missed. For a clear understanding of the parable we are dependent on the words of Jesus recorded in verses 9-13. Certainly the Pharisees did not miss his lesson, because they “derided” Jesus after he explained the lesson. (vs. 14) Luke tells us plainly why they scorned him—because they “were covetous,” lovers of money.

In this parable, the steward is about to lose his job because he has not done well. He calls in debtors to his lord, and reduces their bills. For doing so he is commended by his lord that he had done wisely. (Luke 16:8) This is considered contrary to good business. When someone is owed a debt, the goal is to receive full payment for that debt. But, if a debtor is unable to pay the debt, he may declare bankruptcy, and the creditor may lose all of that debt. There are many poor people in the world that cannot pay back what they owe to creditors. There are entire nations today who cannot pay back their indebtedness. At any moment, such nations may refuse to repay their debts, and financial crises would spring up everywhere’. Our Lord’s lesson was intended for his people who recognize that all they possess belongs to the Lord, and is not their own. As stewards of these possessions we are to use them wisely and well in the Lord’s service. How probing Are Jesus’ words when he asks: “If therefore ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon [the wealth in our possession], who will commit to your trust the true riches?” (Luke 16:11) Continuing he asks, “If ye have not been faithful in that which is another man’s [what we have belongs to God], who shall give you that which is your own?” (vs. 12) Jesus then follows these questions on our performance as stewards over worldly wealth with the lesson given in the sermon on the mount. “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.”—vs 13

The parable’s lesson involves the struggle that Christians can have in handling the wealth in their possession, and over which they are stewards. Earlier in our Lord’s comments on this parable, he stresses that earthly wealth is to be used to do good, and if so used it will be pleasing to God and his Son, Jesus. God’s people are aware that there are permanent and temporary things in their lives. The Apostle Paul says, “We look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.” (II Cor. 4:18) Mammon—earthly riches—are temporal; the treasures in heaven are eternal.

Since the Apostle Paul has clearly told us that the love pf money is the root of all evil, we would expect that the Adversary would use this weakness in men to exploit them. A review of history reveals greed and selfishness everywhere, and evil running rampant. As mankind has multiplied on the earth, so, too, has acquisition of wealth given Satan the opportunity to use his devices.


We should not wonder, therefore, that the end of this present evil world should be characterized by financial collapse. The introduction to one prophecy dealing with our day speaks of the “evil” that comes, and states that “the end is come.” (Ezek. 7:5,6) Complete financial collapse is spoken of in Ezekiel 7:19: “They shall cast their silver in the streets, and their gold shall be removed: their silver and their gold shall not be able to deliver them in the day of the wrath of the Lord.”

In the New Testament a more detailed prophecy is uttered by the Apostle James: “Go to now, you rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you. Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are moth-eaten. [See: Matthew 6:19,20] Your gold and silver is cankered [rusted]; and the rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as it were fire. Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days. Behold the hire of the laborers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, cruet: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of Sabbath.”—James 5:1-4

Gold and silver are noble metals, and do not rust. Therefore, the allusion to gold and silver ‘rusting’ is symbolic that their use for monetary purposes fails. This is the collapse of the system using the mammon of unrighteousness.

We who have been waiting for God’s kingdom see in this prophecy the fulfillment of one of many significant events of the last days of this old world order. Soon, however, the husbandman—Our Lord—sill bring in the precious fruit of earth, his church, and then it will be possible to usher in the blessings of that kingdom the blessing of all nations of the earth.—James 5:7

Selfishness and greed, which have been characteristic of this present evil world, are not the only reasons for the imminent failure of our monetary system. It is noteworthy that James mentions fraud, as well, being involved in the acquisition of wealth. (vs. 4) The only way any system of monetary exchange can operate properly and justly is when fraud ceases. The potential for this will exist when God’s law is obeyed in his kingdom. Among the many features of the Law given to Israel was a requirement forbidding fraud. It stated: “Thou shalt not defraud thy neighbor, neither rob him: the wages of him that is hired shall not abide with thee all night until the morning.” (Lev. 19:13) We note that when Jesus asked the rich young ruler whether he was keeping the commandments, he included the statement, “Defraud not,” as one of the examples. (Mark 10:19) How wonderful it will be in God’s kingdom when men will not defraud one another!


Then love and unselfishness will have replaced greed and selfishness! Leviticus 19:17,18 tell of this feature of God’s law being fulfilled: “Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart: thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbor, and not suffer sin upon him. Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself: I am the Lord.”

Keeping this law in God’s kingdom will bring absolute honesty. Israel was admonished to be honest, but failed because of the fallen flesh. In God’s kingdom it will be possible to do all that God commanded Israel to do, including the commandment in verses 35-37: “Ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgment, in meteyard, in weight, or in measure. Just balances, just weights, a just ephah, and just hin, shall ye have: I am the Lord your God, which brought you out of the land of Egypt. Therefore shall ye observe all my statutes, and all my judgments, and do them: I am the Lord.”

Then, and only then, will the world learn to serve God alone, and never to serve and love mammon again.

Dawn Bible Students Association
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