August 18, 2019
“You cannot serve God and mammon.” Jesus here is clearly teaching the First Commandment: You shall have no other gods. What does this mean? We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things. Mammon is a false god. Mammon is often translated as money, but it refers to any type of riches or property. Martin Luther says that mammon is riches or temporal goods anyone owns over and above what his needs require, and with which he can benefit others without injuring himself. Of course, what one’s needs require is difficult to discern. Three-year-olds are not the only ones who use the phrase, “I need” quite liberally. The more money we have, generally, the more needs we seem to have.
But money, property, riches, all mammon are false gods. There is only one God, whom we should worship. The Father, who created all things through his Son, who died for us, and the Holy Spirit, who makes us holy through his word: three distinct Persons inseparably united in one Godhead. Apart from this Holy Trinity, there is no god. You make something your god when you fear, love, or trust in it most. This is why mammon is a false god. People fear, love, and trust in money and possessions more than the one true God, from whom come all good gifts. Your god is that which you fear losing most. Your god is that, which you serve. And far more people serve mammon than serve the one true God, who alone is deserving of service and adoration.
The First Commandment is law. When Jesus teaches us the First Commandment by telling us that we cannot serve both God and mammon, he is confronting us with our own sin. That is what the law does. “The law is but a mirror bright/ To bring the inbred sin to light/ That lurks within our nature.” (LSB 555:3) Through the law comes knowledge of sin. We serve mammon. We work hard to get it. We guard it. We prize is. We fear losing it. We are much more concerned that we might lose some of our extra mammon than that others lack what they need. Mammon is a false god that draws us away from the true God and his word and keeps us from serving our neighbor in love. This is a sin.
The law confronts us with our own sins, so that we repent. To repent means to turn from our sin. We must turn from serving mammon and serve the only true God. Yet, how can this be done? How can we make God our only master? The temptation to serve other gods we can feel, touch, and count are much too alluring to this sinful flesh!
The truth is, we cannot make God our master. Rather, he makes himself our Master, that is, our Lord. You are taught in your Small Catechism:
I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord,
who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and his innocent suffering and death,
that I may be his own and live under him in his kingdom and serve him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as he is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity.
This is most certainly true.
Jesus became our Master by purchasing us from sin, death, and the devil with his precious blood and innocent suffering and death. Jesus becomes our one and only Master, our God and Lord through faith, when we believe that he has forgiven our sins and rescued us from the condemnation of the law. And even this faith, he gives to us as a gift through the Holy Spirit, who works in our hearts through the Gospel.
You cannot make God your one and only Master by serving him. You are much too sinful to do that. You will fail. Rather, you serve God, because he has made himself your Master through Jesus Christ, whom you receive through faith.
Yet, what should we do with all this mammon? It still exists, doesn’t it? We cannot just act like it doesn’t. Yet, since Christ Jesus has become our only Master through faith, we certainly can’t serve it either. So, what ought we do with it?
Mammon is a gift from God. It shows us that God not only provides us with what we need to support this body and life, but he supplies us with much more than we need. Yet, he does not supply us with these gifts in order for us to abandon him and serve the gifts. Rather, since we are now God’s servants and he is our Master, everything we own becomes in the service of God’s kingdom. We do not serve unrighteous mammon, rather, unrighteous mammon serves us to the glory of God.
Jesus tells a strange parable. And it is made all the stranger by the approval of this dishonest steward, who stole from his master in order to be welcomed into the homes of his debtors. Yet, the master does not commend the steward for his lying and cheating, but rather for his shrewdness, because he worked diligently to secure room and board for himself by means of mammon, fifty measures of oil here and twenty measures of wheat there. Jesus does not want us Christians to emulate this shrewd steward in his dishonesty, but rather in his shrewdness and diligence. Make your mammon work for the kingdom of God as diligently as this man made his master’s mammon work for himself.
Jesus says, “And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous mammon, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.” Many falsely claim that here Jesus teaches us to earn our way to heaven by giving to the poor or giving to the church. Yet, we have already learned that we cannot earn our way to heaven, but rather, Jesus has purchased us from all sin, from death and hell, and has made himself our Master. And we his servants, live under him in his kingdom forever. We do not serve in order to get to heaven, but rather, we serve, because we are already heirs of God’s kingdom in heaven through faith in Jesus’ blood. Rather, here Jesus is teaching us how to serve him even now.
The chief use of the law is to show us our sin. This is the chief use, because it shows us our need for a Savior. The law condemns us for our sin, in order that we see our need for Jesus’ blood and forgiveness. Yet, since we are Christians redeemed by Christ and no longer under the threats of the law, we do not fear the condemnation of the law. There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. We are forgiven for Christ’s sake. Yet, the law still has its use for us Christians. Now, instead of condemning us, the law teaches us. Here Jesus teaches the law in order to teach us Christians how to serve our Master with the unrighteous wealth he gives us.
Mammon is called unrighteous, because it can be used for evil. That is why people steal. Mammon is a very disloyal god. It helps whomever happens to have it in his possession. Stolen money will buy a car just as well as hard earned money. And money can be used to satisfy sinners’ most vile desires just as easily as it can be used to feed hungry children and build churches. But you can use mammon for good, and that is what God calls us to do.
Mammon always fails, but God calls us to use it to make friends we will have for eternity. Who are these friends? They are our fellow Christians, who will receive an eternal dwelling with Christ on the basis of His merits, His suffering, death, and resurrection. Scripture teaches us to do good to everyone, especially to those who belong to the household of faith. We are going to live with them for eternity, so we should start getting along with them now.
The steward in Jesus’ parable was not working with his own money. He was playing with his master’s money. He used his master’s money to his own advantage. Yet, he made his master look generous. News surely spread that this master forgives debts, is merciful, kind and patient. We too do not work with our own property. Everything we own comes from God. And in reality, God owns all that we have. We are stewards, managers.
This realization should result in two things: great confidence in God and great generosity toward those in need. We should have great confidence in God, because God has given us all that we have and he promises to not let you starve, or be in need, but to provide you with everything you need in this body and life. You can be confident that you will not lose anything by using your unrighteous mammon to help those in need, because God will richly supply you and will make up for whatever you need. This should result in us being generous and eager to help. This truly is a fruit of faith, which shows that we have confidence in God.
Generosity with unrighteous mammon glorifies God. Scripture says, “If anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?” (1 John 3:17). Yet, what is the result when the opposite happens? Then instead of God’s love being hidden, God’s love is revealed. All good gifts come from God. When you help those in need, particularly those who are members with you in Christ, what is their response? Is it not thanksgiving to God for his ever-enduring mercy? Yes, by your actions you can cause someone to praise God and to have confidence that God does indeed provide daily bread.
Your generosity also should extend to the Church and her mission to proclaim the Gospel both at home and abroad. The Lord commands in Scripture that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel (1 Corinthians 9:14) and that those who are taught should share all good things with their teacher (Galatians 6:6). Yet, the Lord does not want you to give out of compulsion, but with a free heart. As Scripture says, “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Corinthians 9:7)
This can only be done as a fruit of faith by one who has confidence that God will supply him with every good thing. This is what our fathers Abraham and Jacob did. Melchizedek did not command Abraham to give him a tenth of all he had, nor did God command this of Jacob, yet they did it with a free heart, because they trusted in God’s goodness and protection. Likewise, Moses had to command that the people of Israel stop bringing free will offerings for the construction of the tabernacle, because they brought gifts according to their hearts desire every morning in such abundance that they had much more than they needed to build God’s sanctuary.
This is how God uses unrighteous mammon, which fails in all its endeavors, to do work that will last through eternity. Through free-will gifts given by previous generations, we all have established churches where we have heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ, through which we are saved for eternity. And through our free-will offerings now, God helps friends in future generations, whom we may never know in this life, but who will be our friends in our eternal dwellings.
Yet, this generous spirit has an adversary. Our old sinful flesh. And when we examine ourselves, the law which we should use as an example to live in service to Christ, again convicts us for having a less generous spirit than we ought. The law tells us that we aren’t good enough servants in Christ’s kingdom. That instead of putting our mammon to work for God, we serve it. The law causes us to doubt our place in God’s kingdom.
This is why we must always remember how God becomes our one and only master. It is through faith in Jesus Christ, who has purchased and won us by his suffering and death. That is the only way that we are placed in his kingdom and it is the only way we will remain in his kingdom. And this faith will produce fruit. Christ will work in you. But this fruit only comes when your heart believes that you have a generous God, who willingly forgives all your sins for Christ’s sake and gladly provides you with all you need both now and for eternity. May such faith in Christ produce fruit from us, so that we may make friends now, who will greet us when we enter our eternal home. Amen.