“No one can serve two masters.
For you will hate one and love the other;
you will be devoted to one and despise the other.
You cannot serve both God and mammon.”
The word I highlighted, mammon, is translated in the English as 'money' or 'wealth'. I highlighted it because the typical English translation of the word really doesn't do justice to what Jesus is actually getting at. Tyler Wigg Stevenson describes the concept of 'mammon' in his book, Brand Jesus:
"The connotation when Jesus talks about 'mammon', therefore, is that of a proper noun. It is not a generic concept that can be translated between different languages; no, Mammon is the name of a force in opposition to God." pg. 46
Stevenson goes on to show the contrast in how Jesus talks about 'mammon' and other opposing forces, such as human government. Even though Caesar was in someway opposed to the Triune God, Jesus teaches his disciples to give to Caesar what is Caesar's. He never says you can't serve both God and Caesar. It is interesting then that Jesus would say that money, or 'mammon', are completely mutually exclusive. You cannot serve both. Mammon is a complete alternative to God in a way government doesn't have to be. Stevenson continues:
"For Jesus to isolate Mammon like this, and to such a degree, gives Mammon the force of a veritable super-idol. If Mammon and God cannot be served simultaneously, then Mammon must be an idol above all other things that can become idolatrous for us. For, while it would be true to say we cannot serve both God and an idol, note that 'an idol' is not an independent entity. An 'Idol' describes something defined by improper devotion to it. A statue is a statue; only when people start worshipping it does it become an idol. It's idol-ness comes from its devotees rather than anything inherent to it...But Mammon, it is, in itself, necessarily idolatrous..."
"Mammon, as Jesus uses it here, is another name for the spiritual goal to which the original humans (Adam and Eve) aspired in their first sin...They wanted to claim something that could be their own; not as a gift, because everything they had was a gift. No, they wanted something free and clear, something they could possess, hang on to, say, 'I have rights toward this.' In the first sin, they tried to be owners rather than stewards that God had made them to be. They tried to become wealthy. They were willing to trade the stewardship of all God's gifts-in which they owned nothing-for ownership of one thing, knowledge of good and evil. And ownership depends on a concept of wealth, Mammon, to rule it. The first humans, in seeking to own themselves, gave birth to the one who would rule over them (Mammon)." pg. 47
In essence, 'Mammon', is in direct opposition to God because its very nature inverts the proper Creator-creature distinction. 'Mammon' is the driving force behind humans wanting to be God. It compels us to live in self-autonomy. It is exactly what Paul was talking about in Romans when he wrote, "because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator" (Romans 1:25). The concept of 'Mammon' captures the absolute pride and arrogance of our human race in seeking to build our own kingdom (or system of wealth) over and against God's Kingdom. This explains why, when Jesus came proclaiming the Kingdom of God, the imperative to "repent" or turn from your own little kingdom was also given. These kingdoms are in opposition to each other. The proud continue their vain pursuits of 'Mammon', while God graciously reveals himself to the humble. Stevenson closes his chapter on Mammon by writing:
"Mammon embodies original opposition to God and God's wishes for us. That is why Paul writes in 1 Timothy 6 that the root of all evil is the love of money. I know many Christians reading this will say that they do love God and they don't love money. But in our culture, regardless of what we say with our mouths, the way that many of us live expresses most of all a love of money. We speak about our love of God, but we live out of our love of Mammon." pg. 48
I know these are all hard words to swallow, and I don't write as one who is innocent of these realities. No, I write as a fellow culprit. I haven't really processed a response to these strong claims, but I do know that I need to repent of my love of Mammon.
Tyler Wigg Stevenson, Brand Jesus: Christianity in a Consumerist Age (Seabury Books, NewYork, 2007).