Serving Both God and Mammon?
When we work in the marketplace as Jesus followers, there’s a phrase that often rings in our ears. The words come from Matthew, chapter 6: “You cannot serve both God and money.”
The central message of what Jesus says here is clear enough – we can have only one Master, one primary allegiance in life. Jim Wallis notes that the things that dominate our time, energy, thoughts and money are most likely the best indicators to what controls us – or what we worship.
That’s all very well, but if my job or my business requires me to give substantial energy to ways of making money, is this wrong? Have I then allowed money to become my master?
It’s the line between “pursuit” and “entrapment” that most of us find notoriously difficult to pin down. At what point does an energetic commitment to our work, edge onto the slippery slope towards enslavement? Can we draw a line between the two, or are we just kidding ourselves?
Rob Bellingham notes that there are three broad approaches Christians take in dealing with the tension between God and money.
God and money
Viewing financial prosperity as a sure sign of God’s blessing is an age-old response to the tension. It assumes that there is no conflict between the two. Not only can both be pursued at the same time but, in fact, one will automatically lead to the other. This is the creed of the “prosperity doctrine” or “health-and-wealth gospel”, and it’s usually backed up by many Old Testament passages and verses which reinforce the prevailing view of ancient Judaism: that material prosperity is a sign of God’s blessing.
God or money
Another way of responding to the tension is to draw a sharp line between loving God and the pursuit of money. Treat them as mutually exclusive … a straight choice: one or the other. When Jesus says, “You cannot serve both…”, this statement is taken to its logical conclusion. The result is that a faithful Christian should not get into business. Such “secular” work badly compromises one’s faith. Better to exit the marketplace and work “fulltime for the Lord”.
God then money
The alternative to both the others is to view it as a question of priorities. Jesus’ statement is a challenge to elevate God to the position of first place in our lives – first over everything else, including our business activities. Primary allegiance is the key. Which master will rule? This approach accepts the reality of an ongoing tension – one that will never be fully resolved. In this sense it is riskier and messier than the other two approaches which both offer simple resolutions. The “God then money” way assumes engagement in the marketplace.
None of us have any difficulty with the idea that God wants us to work for our living. We all agree that we should do our daily job to the best of our ability. We would be failing God if we did not give full value during the hours we work.
Let’s take that a step further. If we have a special skill at some particular activity, we should have no hesitation about giving it all we’ve got. In the film Chariots of Fire, the Olympic sprinter Eric Liddell says, “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel his pleasure.”
Who would suggest that Michelangelo should not dedicate himself to his art? Who would stop Martin Luther King from giving his life for civil rights? Who would take Mother Teresa from her task of caring for broken people?
That which fulfils us, that which we excel in, should bring us pleasure – as running did to Eric Liddell. If there is an area of our work that does that for us, let’s embrace it as part of our lives for God, not something that is in competition with God. If that area is skill at making a profit – creating money that can be used for good in countless ways – then we have no need to feel it is wrong.
The crucial factor is that we do these things with God, that our love for them is within our love for God. Of course, that is not an easy balance to keep. Pursuing a profit can take the place of God, but so can any enthusiasm: a love of music, a spirit of adventure, a career in politics – the list is endless.
The key is that in our lives God comes first. Knowing this, we need to keep a watchful eye on our passions, whatever they are. We need to pursue them with wisdom. With God. Let’s always remember that Jesus made a special point of mentioning the deceptive allure of money. For a rich man to enter Heaven really is difficult. As we are about to see.