The Book of Mark

Traveling Light — Part Four


Traveling LightMark 6:7-11Theme: Stewardship.This week’s lessons teach us how to honor God with the gifts he has given us.
LessonWe have an excellent example of the danger of wealth in Christ’s story of the rich man and Lazarus. The rich man did not perish because he had possessions; not a word in the story condemns him for his wealth. Nevertheless, we cannot escape seeing that there was some connection between his wealth and his neglect of those matters of mind and heart that would have led to salvation.
The reason why possessions are dangerous is that we tend to serve things rather than God, which means that things become an idol and our service of them becomes idolatry. Jesus taught this when he said in the Sermon on the Mount, “You cannot serve both God and Money” (Matt. 6:24). In the Greek New Testament the word Jesus used for “Money” is mamon, transliterated as “Mammon.”
It has an interesting history. The word mammon comes from a Hebrew root meaning “to entrust” or “to place in someone’s keeping.” Mammon therefore meant the wealth that one entrusted to another. At this time mammon did not have any bad connotation. A rabbi could say, “Let the mammon of thy neighbor be as dear to thee as thine own.” If a bad sense was intended, an adjective or some other qualifying word needed to be added, as in “the mammon of unrighteousness.”
However, as time passed, the meaning of the word shifted from the passive voice (“that which is entrusted”) to the active (“that in which one trusts”), and the concept became bad. Now the word, which was originally spelled with a small m, came (in English texts) to be spelled with a capital M as designating a god. The New International Version captures the idea by translating mamon as “Money.”
This is what often happens with those who possess great riches. They may begin with a sense of having received their possessions from God. But instead of entrusting them to him for safekeeping, they come instead to trust riches and thus idolize them. No one can do that and be Christ’s disciple.
Central to any biblical understanding of possessions is the concept of stewardship, the principle that possessions are not ours to do with as we want but rather that which has been entrusted to us by God to do with as he wants, to be used in his service. It is the principle behind Christ’s story of the landlord who went off on a trip and left his vineyard in the care of tenant farmers or the story of the master who entrusted certain talents to his servants. It is what Paul was talking about when he wrote young Timothy: “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life” (1 Tim. 6:17-19).
Study Questions

Why are possessions dangerous?
Following a semantic shift, what did the word mammon come to mean?
What often happens to those who possess great riches?
What is the concept of stewardship?

Further StudyStudy the parable of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31.
ApplicationHow are you exercising stewardship of your gifts and possessions? List concrete ways you are using your time, talents, and finances in the service of God’s kingdom.

Study Questions
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