The Worship of Mammon - Evelyn De Morgan - 1909

During the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told his followers, “Do not store your treasures on earth where mice and moths can destroy them and where thieves may break in and steal them. Instead, store your treasures in heaven where mice and moths cannot destroy and where thieves cannot break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Jesus continued his sermon, telling his followers, “The eyes are the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your body will be full of darkness. If the light inside of you is dark – how great will be that darkness!”

Jesus then concluded, “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate one and love the other or you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”

What the story means to us today

God must come first in your life, not money or possessions

Jesus casts out the moneychangers from the TempleWhat happens if where there should be light, darkness dwells instead? What happens if a bad eye causes us to misguidedly focus on things that ultimately contribute nothing to our well-being? If we allow the love and misuse of money and belongs to cloud our morality, we find ourselves, as Jesus so eloquently put it, trying to serve two masters – a task that is impossible to sustain.

As Jesus taught, the heart tends to follow treasures, just as flowers follow the sun, and it is impossible to maintain a divided heart. Thus, it is imperative that you recognize that money and belongings may be the single-biggest competitor with God for whom we form our allegiances to.

Make sure you are investing in the treasures that matter most and consider the true permanence (or lack thereof) of the treasures that you seek during your time on earth.

Additional thoughts and considerations

Jesus follows his hypocrisy lessons with a lesson on worldliness

Note that while delivering his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus transitions from lessons on hypocrisy to this lesson on coveting worldly possessions. Hypocrisy is fairly easy to recognize but worshipping money, or any other temporal object, is likely a much greater danger as it can easily, and unexpectedly, take root in a person’s life and cloud their moral decisions.

Does money make you happy?

In most cases, a wealthy person is driven by pursuit, not money, and most will agree that money does not make you happy. What makes a person happy is relationships – with God and other people.

Those who do believe they need money to gain happiness will almost always continue reaching for more money no matter how much they have. James Altucher (an American hedge fund manager) once famously explained the unending pursuit of wealth when he said, “I thought, if I could make 10 million dollars then it must be too easy. In fact, I honestly thought, everyone else had probably already made 11 million dollars. So then I felt poor again. I now needed 100 million dollars to be happy.”

It is much more prudent for Christians to take a long-term view of their existence. In other words, don’t look at your short, temporary time on earth and focus instead on the true endgame. What you will discover is that happiness is a direct result of how you live your life, not what you possess.

The eye as a portal to our soul

In the Bible, the eye is often used to represent the attitudes of the mind or soul. This is an especially useful analogy when you consider that if both eyes looked in two different directions at once, you would hardly be able to take a single step without falling, much less make progress.

The eye is the entry point to our being, the passageway where information is received and used to make decisions. If the eyes are clouded, unable to see what is really important, you may make poor decisions and thus, allow “darkness” to enter (and eventually take over) your heart. Given that the heart influences and guides all of our actions (philosophically), a dark and defective heart will surely lead you down an ill gotten path. Thus, it is imperative that we bar anything from clouding our true vision.

No one can serve two masters

When Jesus says “no one can serve two masters”, he is saying that one’s loyalties cannot be divided. Just as you cannot serve two masters, you cannot serve both God and money. It simply will not work. You must consider your time on Earth as a temporary passage and rather than aiming for a goal at the end of a mortal lifespan, reach for an objective far beyond your corporeal existence. Doing so will give your life a profound level of purpose and thus provide a much higher level of happiness.

Is wealth and prosperity bad – can a camel pass through the eye of a needle?

Jesus casting out the money changers from the Temple by Giotto, 14th centuryMany wonder if Jesus’ lesson implies wealth is bad especially given a later statement by Jesus where he notes that “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven”. When contemplating this startling statement, many neglect to consider that Jesus’ very next words were “with men this is impossible; but with God, all things are possible”. Jesus did not say it was impossible for a rich man to enter heaven, only that it was not possible for a rich man to enter heaven without God by his side. When Jesus discusses the dangers of wealth, he is simply emphasizing that we must maintain the right attitude towards wealth and material objects and avoid the deep-rooted temptation to put them ahead of God.

Your decisions should not be guided solely by the desire to maintain or increase wealth (which would then mean your riches have become an idol to you), but rather, should be guided by your moral Christian code. You should also recognize that the desire for money and material belongings (instant gratification) can be strong, making it easy for man to veer off the righteous path when chasing riches.

Remember, it is not wrong to possess things, but is wrong for things to possess you. If God grants you riches and you use them for the right purpose, they are indeed a blessing. In contrast, if you misuse those riches, you will almost certainly find that they are a curse.

Persons striving for wealth, and even nations that are structured to drive the economic engine of their realm through the quest for wealth, bring about their own potential pitfalls which you must be keenly aware of and guard vigilantly against. In 1992, North American scholar Craig Blomberg wrote:

“Many perceptive observers have sensed that the greatest danger to Western Christianity is not, as is sometimes alleged, prevailing ideologies such as Marxism, Islam, the New Age movement or humanism but rather the all-pervasive materialism of our affluent culture.”

The science and history behind the story

Rabbis consider wealth a measure of God’s blessing

Jesus’ ideas regarding wealth and prosperity likely raised a few eyes in his day. At the time, people believed that wealth was a sign of God’s blessing. In fact, even the disciples believed this. Rabbis of the day placed such great importance on personal belongings, they even taught that a person should value a neighbor’s property as highly as their own (good principle, wrong motivation). Only the most radical sects believed material possessions were worthless.

Jesus’s proposal that treasures on earth were temporary, but treasures in heaven everlasting was surely an entirely new frame of reference for his listeners.

Did early Christians maintain wealth and possessions?

The Adoration of the Golden CalfAccording to biblical and historic sources, early Christians shared possessions voluntarily with each other, as needs arose. Some groups, particularly during the initial birth of Christianity when a small group began to grow in Jerusalem, lived communally but the arrangement does not seem to have lasted long. We know for instance, that shortly thereafter, a great famine prompted Christians to collect money from each other to help those in need and biblical sources tell us that many early Christians retained their own homes.

We know too that early Christians were not “communists” as some religious-detractors often claim. Firstly, early Christians did not treat private property as immoral and any selling of possessions and donation of proceeds to charity were purely voluntary. The communal manner of living that the Jerusalem-based Christians first practiced was merely a small community of people banding together against a hostile culture. Even the communal life practiced in the earliest days was not made the norm for Christians throughout the land and in fact, was not even suggested to be the norm. Finally, we know that Paul instructed early Church leaders on the importance of hard work and pay for work done. According to Paul, “If a man will not work, he shall not eat”.

The Epistle to Diognetus notes early Christians were good people doing good works

Early Christians were not overtly against maintaining personal possessions. They were simply good people doing good things. An excellent description of their lifestyle and demeanor comes from a Greek letter written in AD 130 called The Epistle to Diognetus.

“ii. For the Christians are distinguished from other men neither by country, nor language, nor the customs which they observe. For they neither inhabit cities of their own, nor employ a peculiar form of speech, nor lead a life which is marked out by any singularity. The course of conduct which they follow has not been devised by any speculation or deliberation of inquisitive men; nor do they, like some, proclaim themselves the advocates of any merely human doctrines. But, inhabiting Greek as well as barbarian cities, according as the lot of each of them has determined and following the customs of the natives in respect to clothing, food, and the rest of their ordinary conduct, they display to us their wonderful and confessedly striking method of life.

They dwell in their own countries, but simply as sojourners. As citizens, they share in all things with others and yet endure all things as if foreigners. Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers. They marry, as do all others; they beget children; but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table, but not a common bed. They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh. They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives. They love all men and are persecuted by all. They are unknown and condemned; they are put to death and restored to life. They are poor yet make many rich; they are in lack of all things and yet abound in all; they are dishonored and yet in their very dishonor are glorified. They are evil spoken of and yet are justified; they are reviled and bless; they are insulted and repay the insult with honor; they do good yet are punished as evildoers. When punished, they rejoice as if quickened into life; they are assailed by the Jews as foreigners and are persecuted by the Greeks; yet those who hate them are unable to assign any reason for their hatred. To sum it all up in one word — what the soul is to the body, that are Christians in the world.”

Does money make a person happy?

Mammon by George Frederick Watts in 1885 depicts the disparity of an unhappy rich kingResearch studies waiver on the subject of money and happiness. A 2014 study concluded that people in higher income brackets were slightly happier than individuals in lower-income brackets but not for the reasons you may expect.

Lower income brackets bring about an entirely different set of problems and often times, a person has the means to climb to a higher income bracket but chooses not to do so. For those that feel “trapped” in a lower income bracket, indeed their happiness may suffer.

However, with regards to wealthy individuals, research shows that it is not the money or possessions that make them happy, it’s how they spend their money that determines their “happiness factor”. For instance, those who give money away were happier than those who lavished it upon themselves.

The same study also concluded that those who spent money on an “experience”, rather than a material good, tended to realize a higher happiness factor from their money. An Associate Professor of Psychology at San Francisco State University explained:

“People think that experiences are only going to provide temporary happiness, but they actually provide both more happiness and more lasting value. And yet we still keep on buying material things because they’re tangible and we think we can keep on using them.”

The study also found that people adapt to their income level and more money didn’t necessarily make them happier – at least in the long term. The study found that an increase in income provides a short increase in happiness which fades over time. This behavior also suggested that even depriving yourself of possessions for a time (for instance, by loaning them with someone else), may increase happiness for a brief time after those possessions are returned. In short, the study found that how people lived their lives is what made them happy, not the riches that they possessed.

Notes on Biblical translation

You cannot server both God and “money”

There is no direct English translation for the word used to denote “money”. The word, often translated in biblical texts as “mammon”, only occurs here and in a few verses in Luke. The translated word means wealth, property, profit, or worldly goods.

Bible Text

Mammon and his Slave Wood engraving, published by J. J. Weber, Leipzig c. 1896NIV

19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!

24 “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.

The New International Version. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011. Print.

The Message

19–21 “Don’t hoard treasure down here where it gets eaten by moths and corroded by rust or—worse!—stolen by burglars. Stockpile treasure in heaven, where it’s safe from moth and rust and burglars. It’s obvious, isn’t it? The place where your treasure is, is the place you will most want to be, and end up being.

22–23 “Your eyes are windows into your body. If you open your eyes wide in wonder and belief, your body fills up with light. If you live squinty-eyed in greed and distrust, your body is a dank cellar. If you pull the blinds on your windows, what a dark life you will have!

24 “You can’t worship two gods at once. Loving one god, you’ll end up hating the other. Adoration of one feeds contempt for the other. You can’t worship God and Money both.

Peterson, Eugene H. The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2005. Print.

The Spectrum for Happiness - By Leonid Afremov (http://http://afremov.com/)The NET Bible

6:19 “Do not accumulate for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. 6:20 But accumulate for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. 6:21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

6:22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. If then your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light. 6:23 But if your eye is diseased, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!

6:24 “No one 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.

Biblical Studies Press. The NET Bible First Edition; Bible. English. NET Bible.; The NET Bible. Biblical Studies Press, 2006. Print.

King James Version

19 Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: 20 But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: 21 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. 22 The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. 23 But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!

24 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 Holy Bible: King James Version. Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version. Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009. Print.

Sources: NIV, The Message, The NET Bible, King James Version, NET Bible Notes, Faithlife Study Bible, The Apologetics Study Bible, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Jamieson, Fausset, Brown Commentary, The Bible Reader’s Companion, Matthew Henry’s Commentary, Holman Concise Bible Commentary, The Bible Exposition Commentary, The Teacher’s Bible Commentary, The Teacher’s Commentary, The Bible Guide, Word Studies in the New Testament, Holman Bible Handbook, Calvin Commentaries, Wiersbe’s Expository Outlines, The New Manner and Customs of the Bible, Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, The Lexham Bible Dictionary, Easton’s Bible Dictionary, Harper’s Bible Dictionary, Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible, The Archaeological Encyclopedia, Biblical Archeology Review, The New Bible Dictionary, The Lexham Analytical Lexicon, Glossary of Morpho-Syntactic Database
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