Theme: The Danger of Wealth
In this week’s lessons, we see that the Christian life is one of warfare, in which we are called to flee from unrighteousness, and pursue that which is pleasing to God.
Scripture: 1 Timothy 6:11, 12
For a New Testament example on the danger of wealth, we turn to the story of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5. The early church had established a kind of community life where people still had their own possessions but were sharing very openly the things that they had. One of the practices of the church involved the sale of property. When an individual chose to sell property, they would give all or a portion of it to the church to distribute to those in need. This was not a requirement, but rather, something that people chose to do.
Ananias and Sapphira were among the church. They, too, decided to sell a piece of property, and they chose to bring the money before the church. However, they pretended to give all of it to God, when, in fact, they had kept a portion of it for themselves. God doesn’t tolerate dishonesty and false dealing, and so judgment came on Ananias and Sapphira for their sin.
There’s a great danger in wealth because it tends to get a hold of you and control you, rather than your controlling it and using it well for the good of others. Have you ever asked the question why it seems to be that as you look out across the Christian church, there are so few rich Christians? Well, it might be that it’s hard to become a Christian if you’re wealthy. Jesus said that it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God, likening it to a camel going through the eye of a needle. Another thing to consider is that Christians might not make the best choices if they come into a lot of money. Suppose you inherited a million dollars tomorrow. Would that enhance your godliness, or would you begin to say, “Oh, what can I buy with this? I think I’ll take a trip to Europe, and after that buy another house, or do this or do that”?
Perhaps for most of us, our first thought would not be, “Well, here’s a great sum of money that God has entrusted to me. How can I best use that for the extension of His kingdom?” Jesus knows how we would tend to react if we received a small fortune. In his famous Sermon on the Mount, in Matthew 6 he said that you cannot serve God and money. For “money” the King James Version has “mammon.” What is mammon? Well, “mammon” is one of those words that has been transliterated directly from Hebrew, and it refers to worldly possessions in general. It has an interesting history. In the early days the word, “mammon,” meant “that which you entrust to somebody else for safekeeping.” So if you had a sum of money and you took that and gave it to a banker to keep, you were entrusting that to him. It did not necessarily refer to something bad; it could simply be money you had gotten honestly and were taking it to the banker for safekeeping and to earn interest. So it was a neutral term in regard to its nature and how the person had come to acquire it.
Over time, however, the meaning of the word shifted from referring to that which one entrusts to somebody else for safekeeping to, instead, “that in which one trusts.” At this point, the material possession has now gotten a hold on the person so that he places his trust or reliance upon it. The individual comes to view mammon as something on which he depends and that he cannot do without for his future and security. He now trusts in mammon more than, or instead of, the Lord. This change in its meaning from that which is entrusted to another to that in which you trust led people to put adjectives with the word to explain what kind of thing you were talking about when you were talking about mammon. So Jesus, for example, referred to the mammon of unrighteousness, or unrighteous mammon. When mammon becomes something in which a person trusts, at that point it’s become a bad thing. And eventually, some came to spell the word with a capital “M” because it functions as a god in that person’s life.
I think Paul, although he doesn’t spell it out that way here, would say virtually the same thing. There is nothing wrong with wealth in itself. If God gives it to you, praise him for it and use it in ways that please him. But there is a real danger in having too much money because it can pull you away from the Lord and cause you to use it for your own materialistic benefit. This is why Paul tells Timothy in verse 10, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.”
A story is told of a farmer who had two calves born on his farm. He went to his wife and said, “We just had two calves born today, and I decided that what we’re going to do is give one of the calves to the Lord and one of the calves will be for us. As the calves grow up, when they get old enough to go to market, we’ll sell the one and give that money to the Lord. His wife asked, “Which one is the Lord’s calf?” He answered, “Well, it doesn’t make any difference now. We’ll wait until it’s time to sell one.”
Well, time went by, and some months later this farmer came to his wife with a very sad face and said, “The Lord’s calf has died.” And she said, “What do you mean, ‘the Lord’s calf’? How do you know it was the Lord’s and not ours, since you said you were not going to decide which one belonged to God until it was time to sell one of them?” The farmer replied, “Oh, yes, I always determined in my heart that the Lord’s calf was the white one, and it’s the white one that has died.”
It’s always going to be that way if we don’t get our priorities straight. The Lord’s calf is always the one that’s going to die. The Lord’s concerns are always going to lose out to our own selfish plans. This is how we can think and act, even as Christians, and so Paul tells us to guard against this.
For Further Study:
Read the story of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5. What was their specific sin that brought about their condemnation? What happened to them? What was the effect on the church?
Explain the meaning of the word, “mammon.” What was its original meaning, and how did its meaning change? What is the significance of this change in its use?
Prayer: Ask the Lord to guard you from the love of money.
Key Point: It’s always going to be that way if we don’t get our priorities straight. The Lord’s calf is always the one that’s going to die. The Lord’s concerns are always going to lose out to our own selfish plans. This is how we can think and act, even as Christians, and so Paul tells us to guard against this.