GOD AND MAMMON

“No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.”  (Matt 6:24)

In our Western affluent culture you don’t hear too many pastors preaching on this verse. It is among what I would call an ‘untouchable sin’… meaning that pastors won’t touch it because it is so widespread they fear offending the guilty.  There are several of these untouchable sins in our culture, like gluttony for example.  We may hear sermons railing against the evils of ‘drunkenness’ but almost never on its biblical companion ‘gluttony’.  Why not?  Too close to home!  Overeating is as much a part of our culture as breathing.  Not to mention the fact that many of my contemporaries would have no personal credibility on the issue … if you know what I mean.

Mammon is an Aramaic word, that I believe Jesus carefully choose for this verse, because of its specific meaning.  It does not mean ‘money’ per se but would be better translated ‘riches’ or ‘wealth’.  However the translators choose not to translate it at all since it really means more than that.  It is a personification of wealth to the level of something you could actually worship.  The best example we have in English language is when someone would accuse another of “worshipping the almighty dollar”.  They don’t worship it in the traditional sense, but because they have allowed wealth to get such a powerful hold over them, money has become the master and they have become the slave.  We all know people like this.  The desire for greater wealth and possessions seems to drive every decision and nothing is too big a price to pay to achieve more.  They sacrifice their marriages and families, friends and employees, and often eventually their morals and ideals.  Bernie Madoff comes to mind.  He defrauded every person he ever met out of some $65 billion in the world’s largest Ponzi scheme.  In 2009 he was sentenced to 150 years in prison for his efforts.  The good news is that he is eligible for early release in 2139 and can spend some of the money he hid abroad… assuming he lives to 201.

Madoff is an extreme secular example of course, but there was a story coming out of South Korea last month that should alarm us all.  David Yonggi Cho the pastor of the Yoido Full Gospel, the world’s largest church, was sentenced to 3 years in jail for his part in embezzling $12 million from his congregation.  Cho, 79 founded the church 56 years ago in Seoul, South Korea and today boasts some 800,000+ members.  Over the last couple of years 28 of his elders have been accusing the iconic pastor of misappropriating close to $500 million from the church.  The allegations include privatizing church assets, borrowing money for other projects and not returning it, and electing to pay himself a $18 million severance package when he officially stepped down as senior pastor.  Last year at this time the 28 elders were all expelled from the church for not withdrawing the allegations.  Last month the Korean court agreed with Cho’s accusers on at least one count; that of selling the church shares of a stock for 4 times their actual value.  Cho claimed his miscreant son Hee-jun Cho, the church’s former CEO, had him sign to approve the purchase but he neglected to read the 1000 page document.  The court did not accept the ignorance plea but in the end gave the senior Cho a lenient 5 year suspended sentence and required that he repay $4.6 million.  Meanwhile Junior got sent up the creek for 3 years.  Cho’s defense was weak in that Hee-jun has a bad track record of 4 failed marriages, affairs with national celebrities and has already served prison time for similar crimes.  These facts alone proved that, at the very least, David Cho used extremely poor judgment in trusting his son.  It still doesn’t explain the whereabouts of the other millions of dollars the elders claim is missing. The story is far more complicated than I care to take time to explain but you can get most of the sordid details from this news report.  http://english.hani.co.kr/arti/english_edition/e_national/611326.html

When the news broke I read in sheer disbelief at astounding amounts of money involved in this scandal. I had an opportunity to meet Cho briefly once at a conference and heard him preach in person. I have read many of his books and it is impossible not to admire what the man has accomplished in the church world. The whole thing is very disappointing. This wasn’t a mistaken entry in his automobile mileage expense… it was millions and millions of dollars that belongs to God ultimately and not the church, and certainly not him and his family. Power corrupts, but apparently so does mammon.

The untouchable sin of mammon in the church today is most insidious because instead of preaching against it, we often hear preaching in favour of it.  In the Western church we have taken the American dream and woven it seamlessly into the gospel.  We take the scriptures that deal with prosperity and elevate them to a disproportional level.

“The blessing of the Lord makes one rich and He adds no sorrow to it. (Prov 10:22)

“Beloved I pray that you would prosper and be in good health just as your soul prospers” (3 John 1:2 ) 

“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich.” (2 Cor 8:9) 

All true and valuable promises of God, if kept in the proper context of their counterbalances like:

“A faithful man will abound with blessings, But he who hastens to be rich will not go unpunished.”  (Prov 28:20)  

“It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” (Mark 10:25)

“But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition.”  (1 Tim 6:9)

Scripture presents money as both a blessing and a curse.  It is a blessing when restricted to a means to an end… to buy food and shelter, pay the bills, advance the Kingdom of God and care for the poor.  It is a curse when it becomes an end to itself.  When it turns into the ‘love of money’ the desire for the things of this world begins to consume us so that we no longer have money, money has us.  We in North America have become accustomed to listening to some highly gifted and articulate preachers with oratory skills that surpass any speakers in any field, secular or otherwise.  They have built mega-churches, written best-selling books and in the process have amassed enormous sums of money.  Some of them have adopted lavish lifestyles, living in gated mansions, driving Rolls Royces and flying Lear jets.  What message does that send the faithful?  How about, that you can serve both God and Mammon?

This is supposed to be the home of one of your favourite female preachers.  Which one belongs to her?  Apparently, all of them.  I wouldn’t know for certain as I have not been invited for tea.

This is reported to be the home of the man sometimes known as the Prophet of Prosperity.

A 34 year old preacher was shocked when he was criticized for building this 16,000 square foot home.  His initial defense was, “It’s not that great a house.”

I realize that it is easy to criticize when you are in a place where you do not have to deal with the burden of great wealth.  Fortunately there are still good examples out there of preachers that actually figured out that you cannot serve both God and Mammon.  When Rick Warren pastor of Saddleback Church in California wrote The Purpose Driven Life he was surprised that it became the second best-selling non-fiction book in history next to the bible itself.  Instantly he was a multimillionaire and needed to figure out what to do with the money.  He started a charitable foundation with a focus of helping some of the biggest social problems on earth including poverty and AIDS.  He gives over 90% of his income away, lives in the same house as before and drives a 12 year old truck.  He also paid back his salary for the first 25 years and works as a volunteer pastor now since he really doesn’t need the additional income.  The contrast to many other uber-successful preachers was significant enough that Forbes (the money magazine of the rich and famous) ran an article on it.  http://www.forbes.com/sites/robertlaura/2013/03/21/pastor-rick-warren-is-practicing-what-he-preaches-and-getting-ready-for-retirement/

The interesting thing about mammon is that you do not need a lot of it for it to get a hold of us.  The love of money is never restricted to the rich.  I have seen 10 year olds that have already fallen prey and have developed a greedy spirit.  They then go through life as takers and not givers.  The antidote to greed is generosity.  If we cannot give it away when we have a little… we will never be able to give it away when we have a lot.  You simply cannot serve both God and Mammon.

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24 Responses to GOD AND MAMMON

  1. Bruno says:

    Since it seems like a hot topic at the moment, what is your thought on the concept that a recognized church does not need to pay taxes?

    I’m guessing that on the positive side, it was instated since a church was going to reinvest it in the city anyway, but it has definitely been an easy rant for anyone who sees a church who has lucrative earnings and not enough services that uses that wealth.

    • Mark Hughes says:

      Most small churches could not survive if they had to pay taxes. You are correct that as a charity they add value to the community and do always do their social work for free. The rules on the distribution of income for charitable purposes only are very strict in Canada. What happened in Korea could never happen here. Nor could a church own a mansion for the pastor to live in as is common with some American mega-churches.

      What most people in Canada don’t know is that big churches like ours do pay property taxes. In Winnipeg a church building is only tax exempt up to 2 acres of land. Our facility is 11 acres meaning we pay substantial taxes on the 9 remaining acres. We don’t object since if we can afford a building this size then presumably we should be able to afford to pay tax on it.

  2. Anessa says:

    Rick Warren is wishy washy on homosexuality, he says it MIGHT BE a sin for gays to have sex with each other. Read your Bible RW!!

  3. Anessa says:

    And Rick Warren’s cozying up with the Islams is suspicious,

    • Mark Hughes says:

      Again incorrect. Here it is form the horse’s mouth.

      QUESTION: Do people of other religions worship the same God as Christians?

      WARREN: Of course not. Christians have a view of God that is unique. We believe Jesus is God! We believe God is a Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Not 3 separate gods but one God. No other faith believes Jesus is God. My God is Jesus. The belief in God as a Trinity is the foundational difference between Christians and everyone else. There are 2.1 billion people who call themselves Christians… whether Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, Pentecostal, or Evangelical… and they all have the doctrine of the Trinity in common. Hindus, Muslims, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christian Science, Unitarians, and everyone else do not accept what Jesus taught about the Trinity.

      QUESTION: A recent newspaper article claimed you believe Christians and Muslims worship the same God, that you are “in partnership” with a mosque, and that you both agreed to “not evangelize each other.” You immediately posted a brief refutation online. Can you expand on that?

      WARREN: Sure. All three of those statements are flat out wrong. Those statements were made by a reporter, not by me. I did not say them … I do not believe them… I completely disagree with them … and no one even talked to me about that article! So let me address each one individually: First, as I’ve already said, Christians have a fundamentally different view of God than Muslims. We worship Jesus as God. Muslims don’t. Our God is Jesus, not Allah. Colossians 2:9 “For in Christ dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.” Second, while we urge our members to build friendships with everyone in our community, including Muslims and other faiths, (“Love your neighbor as yourself”), our church has never had any partnership with a mosque. Friendship and partnership are two very different levels of commitment. Some of our members have hosted a Bible study with Muslim friends, which I applaud, but I’ve never been to it, and a Bible study certainly isn’t any kind of partnership or merger! It’s just crazy that a simple Bible Study where people explore Scripture with non-Christians would be reported as a partnership and others would interpret that as a plan for a new compromised religion. Just crazy! Third, as both an Evangelical and as an evangelist, anyone who knows me and my 40 year track record of ministry that I would never agree to “not evangelizing” anyone! I am commanded by my Savior to share the Good News with all people everywhere, all the time, in every way possible! Anyone who’s heard me teach knows that my heart beats for bringing others to Jesus.

  4. Theresa says:

    I occasionally read your blog when a friend posts it. I’m surprised at how freely you hand out judgment, considering you are as much a critic of these wealthy preachers, as those who criticize Rick Warren. And you seem to understand that critics can be very very wrong. You might be surprised to learn that some of the very wealthy preachers you just finished tearing down, earned their money fair and square through investments and personal above board business. How is it okay for you to pick apart and judge Christians with money? Do you ever spend $ on extras? Starbucks? Higher quality toilet paper? Music lessons for your kids or shoes over $10/pair? Because that puts you into the overspending category since you COULD find those things in much cheaper forms. You do not know everything about other pastors and it’s shameful for you to judge them or their spending. Going to jail? Sure ! It’s plain. Owning a big home? Not your business at all.

    • Mark Hughes says:

      The fact that Christians support and defend the lavish lifestyles of celebrity preachers is even more surprising. Meanwhile, Rick Warren gives his money away and is the subject of more (false) criticism than the rest of them put together. It tells me that we really don’t believe Jesus when He says you cannot serve God and mammon. We don’t want to believe it… and we certainly don’t want to hear it.

  5. Bruno says:

    Mark, are you surprised that pastors are apparently under much more scrutiny? 😀 (hm… I think I could hear a ‘argh!’)

    Here, I know a few pastors who work directly with ex-prostitute transgenders in hope of bringing them back to a sane life. I wonder how people would react knowing that they’re not currently trying to throw them in a pit of fire. We tend to go: “Rick Warren hasn’t done X as clearly as I’d like!” yet completely forget that he’s done “Y” way better than most of us.

    It’s true that we often look for the speck of sawdust to discredit an entire man, while we, ourselves are not so direct with all of our beliefs. Apparently we have to say exactly what we think otherwise someone will try to twist it as people tend to do with Rick Warren but if you mention someone that spends millions on themselves, you get chastised?

    On the other hand, this is the Internet (although I am kind of curious if people are that confrontational / direct with you in real life.)

    I’m surprised that this is going to be another one of ‘those threads’ and just to think that you might post about the Easter Theater play in a month, the yearly online reaction is always… entertaining 🙂

  6. Sally says:

    It was unfortunate that Yonggi Chou did not oversee his eldest son’s and elders actions more closely in the 12 million dollar embezzlement because I know that he was not the one who did the embezzlement but since he was the head of the church he had to take the fall for it as well. And it was because of his good reputation that the court sentenced him to a lesser sentence; of I think house arrest and not imprisonment. Yonggi Chou himself lives in a small 1000′ apartment and does not even own a car. He said one thing he learned from this experience is that Christians should not own anything. And another thing I can think of is don’t trust your prodigal son to manage the churches finances. We all live and learn!

  7. Steve says:

    God bless Church of the Rock and all the Churches of Winnipeg.
    The Lord told me yrs back that there would be a great revival here in Winnipeg. I thought that He wanted to judge the Churches, the prosperity gospel, the lukewarm, those who would have taken the Bible and used it to advance their own kingdom.
    But God has shown me He isn’t about pointing the finger and holding the blame over anyone but rather He is all about forgiveness, mercy, restoration and giving people a way out of their sins.
    I feel that the Lord wants to forgive His people this day, offering forgiveness wherever it is needed that we might all come back together in unity, love and forgiveness for one another. That we would stop pointing the fingers at each other and start caring about one another. Taking away any oppressive yokes and building each other back up in love.
    The Lord is waiting to pour out His anointing on His people. He is waiting to lavish His love on us. He is wanting to do a mighty thing in Winnipeg!

  8. Sally says:

    Yes, I agree Steve, there is a group of young people(and some of us old ones too) that are going to be the “burning ones” that will burn with the fire of God reaching out to the lost and dying with no thought of themselves. Lord prepare us to be those “burning ones” for you! The old southern prophet Bob Jones known as the prophet of Love passed away this past Feb 14th and one of his prophecies was that a billion young people would rise up to bring in the harvest. I believe that God is now raising up these young people. The enemy of our soul would like nothing better than to thwart this plan of God by bringing about WWW3 which is brewing in the Crimea area right now. We as believers must pray against this plan of the enemy. Russia and Iran have signed an agreement to build nuclear weapons and this is not a good thing for us as we know what will happen if Iran has nuclear weapons. I encourage everyone to keep praying that the enemy’s plans are nullified and that God’s plan comes forth!

    • Steve says:

      Amen! Steve Hill also had a very important vision from the Lord and he also passed away recently. His vision was for the body of Christ in these last days.

      • Steve says:

        Yeah Sally, thx. God’s doing some great things these days. I pray that I will be apart of that revival and not left out. I don’t want to miss out on what God is doing today!

  9. Christie Braun says:

    Let those that defend gluttony have mouths, for my ears are bought and paid for, in the name of Jesus, Bless God, Amen

  10. Sally says:

    Back to the prosperity message, I personally don’t have a problem with Christians having wealth as long as wealth doesn’t have them. I think we can do more with money than without it and we do need funds to advance the kingdom of God.
    I do believe that God blessed people in the Word like Abraham Isaac and Jacob etc. and apparently they could handle it. If God has blessed these people today with a big home and planes to do His work then so be it and if they are still advancing the Kingdom which it is obvious to me that they still are; I have no problem with that.
    I am sure there are some who are not being above board and are not using God’s money properly but that is between them and God and in the end all will be exposed when we stand before Him.
    One thing I have learned is that the more you give to the Kingdom the more blessed you become and it is more blessed to give than to receive. It still surprised me when I learned at our annual meeting that it is still only the 20% giving to the Work of the Lord in our churches. We are all called to tithe but apparently not all Christians are doing so. I think this withholding spirit is more of a problem for us than having too much wealth.

  11. Steve says:

    With Christ and His word we can weed out what is right and wrong with any teaching out there.
    If it doesn’t line up with God’s word then it won’t steer us in the right path.
    Thankfully Jesus offers forgiveness through repentance. Grace through turning to Him and away from sin.

  12. Jordan Baribeau says:

    Pastors ought to release their annual earnings.

  13. Sally says:

    I am not sure that would be a good idea as the Word of God says we are to support those who teach us; and it might prove very embarrassing to some churches as it would show how little some pastors are expected to live on! I believe in making sure our pastors are paid well so they don’t have to worry about finances and they can concentrate on all aspects of doing their job.

    • Jordan Baribeau says:

      What does embarrassment have to do with it? In my opinion Pastors are required to lead and I would argue that leading requires transparency in order to ultimately facilitate trust. I don’t think a particular burden is placed on Pastors if that information is released. In fact, if a given Pastor feels uncomfortable about releasing such info then maybe they have something they’re hiding.

      The question really is “How much is too much?”

  14. Evelyn Bennett says:

    This response is clearly mine and my thought process alone. I will take the time to read all responses later.

    All I can say is this: Jesus said it perfectly when he said sell all your riches and you can follow me. There is also a scripture in Timothy stating you cannot love money and God.

    We should all start reading the Bible from beginning to end. Then maybe we will see the difference when other people paraphrase. Some scripture are not even read completely. The moral is usually with in the chapter.

    Thank you for your time.

    No other comment except the promise that I will read the other responses at a later time.

  15. Ex victory Edmonton staff member says:

    WOW just like some Health/Wealth Pastor’s in Alberta like Switzer’s and many others we know in Canada like Henry Hinn,William Prankard etc

  16. Darrell Watamanuk says:

    When you put your complete trust in God he always provides. He has made me very wealthy. God does not want money He wants you..If you can give it all away until you have nothing left but faith He will fill your life with love and riches that are not of this world..but His own.

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