Our money lies to us, constantly. Whenever we see our accumulation of assets or the increasing dollars in our account, Mammon whispers: I am your security. I am your hope. I make the good life possible. Meanwhile, Jesus is shouting, “It’s a lie! One’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:15).
In the church today, it’s common to interpret biblical teaching on sin in a way that shies away from specifics so we are able to walk away unscathed.
We walk through the sin lists of Scripture and quietly check off each one, thinking, Not guilty. In some cases, we grow accustomed to hearing the warnings of Scripture, falling prey to a familiarity with the words that keeps us from feeling their full force. Worst of all, we read about sin in Scripture and think about others who struggle, never letting those unflattering adjectives (“greedy,” “lustful,” “hot-tempered,” “foolish”) come too close to our self-perception. Too often, we think of sins as actions we perform and miss the subtle ways we sin in our attitudes or develop sinful patterns of the heart.
The New Testament on Money
The best example, I think, is the way many Christians in America interpret and apply the clear and consistent teaching of the New Testament on the desire for and acquisition of wealth. Here’s how we rationalize:
Making money is a good thing, right? Spending money is neutral, right, as long as it’s not on something immoral or unjust? Therefore, as long as I’m honest in how I make and spend money, and as long as I’m sincerely seeking to steward my wealth well, the warnings about wealth don’t really apply to me. Sure, there are “greedy” people out there—rubbing their hands together with gleeful anticipation of acquiring more wealth and surpassing others in stature—but that’s not me!
Having adopted this mindset, when we read the account of a man asking Jesus to intervene in an inheritance dispute with his brother and hear Jesus’s command to “watch out and be on guard against all greed” (Luke 12:15, CSB), we may hope greedy and covetous people take note, but we don’t see any imminent danger for our own spiritual lives.
But the inability to hear, truly hear, the seriousness of Jesus’s warning is a problem. And it’s dangerous. It reflects our obliviousness to the spiritual jeopardy the accumulation of riches brings to the human soul.
Mammon on the Move
Jesus says “Watch out!” and “Be on guard” as if there’s a silent, stealthy enemy creeping up on an unsuspecting person, ready to pounce. We like to think of wealth and possessions as inanimate objects, helpful to us if we use them correctly, but basically neutral. And so, in our churches, we warn against the abuse or misuse of wealth, and we teach on good stewardship so we can maximize and increase our wealth. But rarely do we sound the alarming note of Jesus and the apostles in this matter.
Preachers in the United States sometimes come under fire for tiptoeing around sensitive subjects, failing to boldly and courageously take on respectable sins in our society, most notably those related to sexual behavior.