Early Christianity recognized in all sharpness that religiosity is hostile to God. The message that Christ's first witnesses brought was of the "transvaluation of all values," God's kingdom to come. They testified to a totally different order, calling it the message wrapped in mystery, concealed from those who are lost because they have been blinded by the god of this world.
The god of this world epoch, the interim god, stands opposed to the God who will set up the kingdom of Jesus Christ: justice, unity, and love. The former is the spirit of this world, personified by the media. This god of greed and murderous possessiveness is the spirit of the world. The first witnesses testified that we have not received the spirit of this world but the spirit that searches the depths of God, the spirit that nobody can know without being known by him.
Jesus said, "No one can serve two masters for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and look down on the other. You cannot serve God and mammon."
"You may be a state trooper, you might be a young Turk,
You may be the head of some big TV network,
You may be rich or poor, you may be blind or lame,
You may be living in another country under another name
You may be a preacher with your spiritual pride,
You may be a city councilman taking bribes on the side,
You may be in a barbershop, you may know how to cut hair,
You may be somebody's mistress, may be somebody's heir
But you're gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You're gonna have to serve somebody,
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you're gonna have to serve somebody."
-Bob Dylan, from "Gotta Serve Somebody"
God and mammon - from mamona, the Aramaic word for wealth - are the two masters between whom one must choose, the two goals of living that cannot be reconciled. Already at the time of the early Christians, some scholars interpreted "Mammon" as a name of the devil Beelzebub. Others interpreted it as the name of a demon particularly connected with money in Satan's realm. Any attempt to combine service to God and service to mammon will end in failure. With one heart we must love God alone and cleave to him, despising mammon.
The materialist philosophy only makes demands for itself -comfort, bodily ease, satisfaction, and pleasure. Anyone who values the easy life values material goods and is dominated by their power. He has been made a slave because he only wants to take; he has been deprived of that wealth of life in which one wants to give and bestow. The attitude, "What can I get out of life what's in it for me?" serves mammon and knows only rights, though no responsibilities. Its uppermost goal is payment and gain.
It is simply a fact that most people, rich as well as poor, strive to secure property for their own benefit and comfort, often to the suppression of everything else. And many are literally carried away by their love of sensual happiness, comfort, and material things. For believers, love of money is the old (yet ever new) arch-enemy the omnipresent danger that threatened even the first Christians in the original church community.
Nothing but the overcoming of self can rid anyone of the debasement of a life lived in service of mammon. Even nonbelievers have recognized this. To quote the ancient Persian prophet Zoroaster, "Consume yourself in your own flame. How else can you become new, unless you first turn to ashes!" And then there is Goethe, who says in Faust, "So long as thou hast not / This 'die and live again' / A gloomy guest thou art / Here on this dark earth."
How is it possible to "re-become," as the mystic Eckhart put it; and how can one "de-self oneself" (Goethe) when one is bound and fettered as a slave of mammon? The answer is simple: Jesus. He alone can overcome, disarm, and bind the Enemy. His cross triumphs over every edifice of mammon constructed, maintained, and defended by the devil. The victory of the cross means deliverance from the sin of serving mammon, from the deadness of a debased life. He died for all, so that the living might no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised.
If we die with Christ, we shall live with him. Therefore set your hearts on what is above, and not on earthly things. For once you have died to mammon, you will become truly alive in God.
This article is an excerpt from our free ebook Salt and Light.