12 October 2009

Why Slaves to Mammon Cannot Find Peace

by Phil Johnson

The following post is from an article that was published earlier this year in GraceTrax, a publication of Riverbend Church, Ormond Beach, FL—Roy Hargrave, Pastor.

ife is harsh. Ponder our existence from a purely rationalistic, human perspective, and it's hard to see how anyone could ever be optimistic. Our lives on this cursed planet are headed toward no good end. Everyone has an appointment with death, and the journey to that engagement is impeded by unavoidable potholes of tragedy, misery, heartache, and pain.

Scripture acknowledges the futility and brevity of earthly life. Job 14:1: "Man, who is born of woman, is short-lived and full of turmoil." "Vanity of vanities! All is vanity" (Ecclesiastes 1:2). "You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away" (James 4:14). "All flesh is like grass, and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls off" (1 Peter 1:24).

Think that sounds bleak? From a strictly human perspective, that is not even the worst of it: "It is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment" (Hebrews 9:27).

Those verses all sound a note that is prominent in Scripture. In stark contrast to the message that dominates some of the religious channels on television, the Bible never promises anyone health, material prosperity, freedom from strife, comfort, ease, or luxury in this life. On the contrary, those who are faithful are promised persecution (2 Timothy 3:12).

Sounds like a recipe for utter, hopeless pessimism, doesn't it? In reality, that is the necessary foundation of true peace and authentic hope. The innate despair of this present evil world ought to drive us to Christ, the only One who can deliver us from the bondage of sin's curse (Galatians 1:4). And those who do lay hold of Christ gain (through Him) a peace that "surpasses all comprehension" (Philippians 4:7). He grants freedom from the worries and cares of this dreary life—a real and palpable peace that is both incomprehensible and unattainable for those who are seeking fulfillment in earthly things.

It's a simple principle, really: if you set your heart on material goods and earthly pleasures, you are coveting things that are already set aside for destruction. You will therefore gain nothing but disappointment and everlasting misery. But "set your mind on the things above" (Colossians 3:2)—fix your heart on Christ; embrace the spiritual, eternal values of heaven—and you will have peace even in this life.

Therefore, right alongside Scripture's dismal assessment of the sheer hopelessness of this earthly life, we find Christ's simple command to His faithful followers: "Do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on" (Matthew 6:25). After all, "Which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?" (v. 27).

That, of course, is part of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. In the immediate context (starting with verse 19) Christ is attacking the twin sins of greed and worry. Those are no misdemeanors, Jesus says; they are serious, soul-destroying sins that annihilate our peace and undermine righteousness at the most fundamental level. They are hostile to hope and antithetical to genuine faith, and they breed every other imaginable kind of wickedness.

In other words, "The love of money is a root of all sorts of evil" (1 Timothy 6:10). Greed is a form of covetousness; and worry is an expression of unbelief. The two sins are always found in tandem, and they are the very essence of an earth-bound perspective—the polar opposite of a biblical world-view. In Jesus' own words, "You cannot serve God and [mammon]" (Matthew 6:24).

Therefore, Jesus says, we must let go of every vestige of mammon-worship. Stop hoarding earthly and material treasures, and invest our resources in heavenly things: "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (vv. 19-21).

The key to Jesus' whole point is that last phrase. What you invest in is what you truly love. Where you put your treasure not only reflects where your heart is, but to a very large degree it determines what you think about, what you care about, and whom you serve. Invest your resources in earthly mammon, and you indenture yourself as a slave to a world-system that is hostile to God and exists under His condemnation. There is no more sure way to cut yourself off from God's blessing and incur His wrath (James 4:4; 1 John 2:15).

The love of material things further undermines peace because it foments another sin: worry. That's why immediately after saying we cannot serve both God and mammon, Jesus says, "For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on" (Matthew 6:25).

Worry is the natural and inevitable by-product of setting one's affections on earthly things. It ought to be obvious that the end of all earthly things is destruction, whether by the slow decay of moth and rust, or rapidly by sudden loss. In either case, the end will surely be the same.

How can anyone not worry who knows with absolute certainty that decay and ruin will be the inevitable finale of everything he holds most dear? Obviously, then, true peace is possible only for those whose driving affections are not worldly and materialistic, but spiritual, heavenly, and eternal.

Be sure you understand what is forbidden in Matthew 6:25-33. It's worry, not planning for the future per se. Some people misuse this passage to argue that it is sinful for Christians to buy insurance, or to have savings accounts, or take any measures whatsoever to build a hedge against future calamity. They would rule out all kinds of disaster preparation, earthquake readiness kits, or any kind of preparation for the future.

Can I be blunt? That's a foolish interpretation of this passage. Christ isn't forbidding normal, prudent, sensible, means of being prepared for possible future disaster. True biblical wisdom, not to mention common sense, teaches us that it is wrong and sinfully foolish not to make reasonable preparations for such contingencies. In some cases that is even the law of the land.

Remember that Joseph in the Old Testament rose to a position of prominence in Egypt because he led the nation to store enough grain to see them through seven years of famine. He was blessed by God with the foresight to prepare for hard times. God Himself revealed to Joseph that those years of famine were coming, and God through His providence gave him the wisdom to know how to prepare for it.

We're supposed to make reasonable preparations like that. In Proverbs 27:23-24, Solomon tells his son, "Pay attention to your herds; for riches are not forever, nor does a crown endure to all generations." He counsels him to plan and work diligently, to be prudent in his business dealings, to care for the welfare of his flocks and fields—so that he has food and sustenance for future contingencies. Proverbs 6:6-8 likewise tell us to take a lesson from the ant, who stores food in the summer to prepare for the harsh winter.

Those are common-sense, strategic preparations that insure us against disaster, and it is right for us to take such measures. It would be foolish to ignore the future so much that we neglect to prepare for it. Jesus said so Himself: "For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who observe it begin to ridicule him, saying, 'This man began to build and was not able to finish'" (Luke 14:28-30). He went on to say that it would be foolishly imprudent for a king to go to war without having counted the cost.

So when Jesus says "do not be worried about your life" in the Sermon on the Mount, He is not instructing us to live with no hedge whatsoever against possible disaster. He's not forbidding us to take out insurance in case something goes wrong. He's not saying it is wrong to prepare for hard times. He's not ruling out wise provisions for possible disasters.

What Jesus forbids is the sort of worry that is rooted in a love of things. Don't get so caught up with hedging against future disaster that you pour all your energy and resources into an earthly storehouse. Don't fret about the future. Don't become preoccupied with what may go wrong tomorrow. And above all, do not cultivate a love of material things. Don't sell yourself into the service of mammon.

In other words, get your priorities straight, and you will have true peace. Heaven is also the storehouse where your best resources should be invested. You can have true peace if that is where you are keeping your treasure. And if it is not—if you are more concerned about preparing for your retirement or for next year's vacation than you are with preparing for heaven—then your heart is in the wrong place. "For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also" (v. 21).

If your heart is in the right place, you will certainly have peace, because "The kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit" (Romans 14:17).

Phil's signature


Susan said...

Thanks, Phil. I needed to hear that tonight! :)

SandMan said...

It is truly amazing how God's Word speaks in absolutes, yet balances against extremes. Don't love your stuff or give your heart to it in the form of worry... but be wise in how you care for the stuff God has given you.

Word Verification: exessea--is that the Latin for having too much?

Aaron said...

Can I be blunt?

Can you? That I don't know. But you may, if you wish. ;)

This is a timely piece. Two thoughts. First, with the uncertaintly of the dollar and the economy, I take great comfort in the fact that it is God, not my material wealth that provides. My material wealth may not make it through Obama, much less God's refining fire.

Second thought. Many people fail to prepare for the financial expenses of life. They expect God to help them without any planning, preparation, or use of already provided wisdom (Scripture). It annoys me greatly when people, Christians included, fail to plan for certainties such as buying new tires for the car, painting the house, putting up a new fence, etc. Socialism isn't the product of compassion for others. It's the product of selfishness and poor planning.

lawrence said...

excellent stuff.

Rachael Starke said...

This is so timely for our family! At this moment, my Phil is interviewing for a different job at his company that would mean fancier title, better pay (which our budget indicates we sorely need), but a lot more work and a lot of travel. We know we have a tendency to "spiritualize" covetousness - "Lord, if we had a nicer kitchen we could have more people over for fellowship; Lord, if we had more money we could give more to our church's building fund", etc. So I prayed yesterday and this morning that God would keep us from "spiritual" covetousness, and to even say no to this job if it would lead us down that tempting path.

I'm ashamed of how hard it was to pray that way! Thanks for another reminder of how right it was.

Craig and Heather said...


For almost a year now, God's been prompting me to root out and burn the idols I carry in my heart. This is yet another confirmation that the struggle isn't merely a concoction of my imagination.

Thank you for offering perspective on the touchy and confusing subject of " selling everything I have in order to follow Jesus"

Socialism isn't the product of compassion for others. It's the product of selfishness and poor planning.

Interesting statement. I've often thought of socialistic government programs as being based on principles that Jesus actually taught. Even have heard liberals argue that Jesus would approve and that Christians are just selfish hypocrites for not wanting to share. It is interesting, though, that communist/socialist countries tend to be strongly anti-Christian societies.

In Jesus' "socialistic" kingdom, He is the ultimate ruler and people share not because He forces us but because we are motivated on a heart level to care for others.

Government enforced socialism is a natural result of prideful humanity trying to be "good" without God.


Nash Equilibrium said...

Heaven = our (new) birthright.
This world = bowl of porridge.

FX Turk said...

So how is Dr. Hargrave, Phil? I lost track of him after the Founders conference way back when we went.

Aaron said...


Is it wrong just to say "I'd like a new kitchen?" Is there anything wrong with wanting things? Or is it only wrong when we live for those things?

Aaron said...


I've often thought of socialistic government programs as being based on principles that Jesus actually taught. Even have heard liberals argue that Jesus would approve and that Christians are just selfish hypocrites for not wanting to share.

Indeed, many Christians are easily seduced by the language of socialism in that it is often masked in descriptions such as "compassion." But as you noted, societies that have fully transitioned to socialism or worse, communism, are neither compassionate nor caring.

But Jesus doesn't force us...he changes us so that we desire to live according to his will.

Anonymous said...

Thank you. I have needed something like this badly. I have been very stressful lately with college and social life that I have broken down several times. The Father reminds me to reorganize my priorities and stop worrying that much about your schoolwork and future and "think on heavenly things".

Craig and Heather said...

Sir Aaron,

I've come to think of socialism as the more readily accepted springboard to full blown communism. The sugary blanket of "equal wealth distribution" is what's sweetening the "people control" flavored Kool-Aid.

Regardless of what people call it, the result tends toward oppression of the masses by the ruling elite.

I've been thinking about this post most of the day as it is yet another Pyro piece that hits me where I live.

In other words, "The love of money is a root of all sorts of evil" (1 Timothy 6:10). Greed is a form of covetousness; and worry is an expression of unbelief.

Isn't displaying a lack of thankfulness and contentment the same as telling God that He doesn't really know what's best?

Romans 1:21 is interesting when I look at it in this context...

Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.

The entire list of evils that follows begins with not glorifying God or being thankful to Him.


Unknown said...

Thank you very much Pastor Phil. I have been very much edified by this message.

Can I use it for our next Sunday School at church? :)

Phil said...

This reminds me of J. Mac's sermon on Treasures in heaven. http://www.biblebb.com/files/MAC/2245.htm

Rob Steele said...

For many of us, being concerned enough about retirement and vacations to save for them is progress. We're prone to indenture ourselves to creditors, which makes us doubly slaves to mammon.

Stefan Ewing said...

Phil: Great post.

Rob: Great point!