There’s a fascinating verse smack dab in the middle of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. For the most part, Jesus taught in koine Greek, the everyday language of his time. But, at the end of this verse, he switched to Aramaic, his native tongue.

How Do You Say … ?

I imagine we’ve all spent time with people for whom English is their second language. They get stuck for an English word at times and revert to their mother tongue. Sometimes there is no English equivalent. That’s what Jesus experiences in Matthew 6. He says, “No one can serve two masters…You cannot serve God and mammon.” The whole verse is Greek until he gets to the last word, for which there was no Greek equivalent. So, he plucks out the Aramaic word, mammon.

Modern translations render mammon as money, riches, wealth, or gold. Some leave the word untranslated, like King James, while one translation gets it right. I’ll tell you which one in a moment.

The problem with translating mammon is that it takes a whole sentence as there is not one equivalent word in English.


Initially, the word mammon came from the ancient Chaldeans (The people group from which Abraham came) and has its roots in the terms, ‘confidence’ or ‘trust.’ The Aramaic word, mammōnás, means “to trust in treasure or to have our confidence in material wealth.” It’s the praise of possessions, the worship of stuff! The one Bible translation that gets the full meaning of this word is the Amplified Bible, “You cannot serve God and mammon [money, possessions, fame, status, or whatever is valued more than the Lord].”

A person who serves Master Mammon will live their life to progress in the accumulation of material wealth as more important than living to worship and serve God. Hence Jesus’ statement, “No one can serve two masters!” Jesus is not against us having material things he simply warns us that they should not have us!

Jesus personifies mammon by contrasting it with God. You cannot be devoted to the True God and be devoted to the god of riches. It’s that god who deceived the first humans in Eden. The slippery serpent suggested, “what you have is not enough,” even though they had a perfect relationship with God in paradise. The schemer insinuated God was denying them some gift. The humans were missing out, and God was to blame.

The Snakebite

The first humans believed this and snake bit. The poison has infected and affected people ever since. We witness this seduction even in the youngest children who have to be taught and coaxed to share. It’s challenging work.

We observe the same behaviour in adults. Consider the rise and rise of the self-storage industry. Australia and New Zealand are home to around 2,000 self-storage facilities with up to 52,000 of them in the USA. The self-storage industry is worth well over $1 billion in Australia and growing. What we have is never enough. We’ve suffered the snakebite and desperately need an anti-venom. So, here’s the good news.

The Anti-venom

The antivenom to counteract the poison of Mammon comprises two primary ingredients that are both emphasised by John the Baptiser. Luke tells the story of people flocking to John at the Jordan River to be baptised. John began his sermon with, “You brood of vipers!” Interesting choice of words there, brother! I can honestly say that in almost 40 years of preaching that I have never begun a sermon that way. But John called out the snakebite and was about to reveal its cure.

Three groups of people asked what they should do to be right with God – the crowd, tax collectors, and soldiers. Here’s what John says to each group:

The crowd:                  Share your stuff.

The Tax Collectors:     Don’t collect any more than you must.

The Soldiers:               Don’t extort money; be content with your pay.

John told the snake-bitten people to be content and generous, the two vital ingredients in the anti-venom.


Contentment says, “What I have is enough!” Jesus said, “You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are — no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.”

Remember, you are a spiritual being who has material possessions. We are to love people and use things, not the other way around.


The other ingredient in the anti-venom is generosity. Contentment says, what I have is enough while generosity cries, “What I have is more than enough!”

Paul instructed the young pastor Timothy to command the wealthy people in his church “to do good, be rich in good deeds, and 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.”

Exercising and growing in contentment and generosity breaks our bondage to mammon and frees us from the snakebite. I encourage you to develop contentment and look for opportunities to be generous, declaring that your trust, confidence and devotion are securely in God and NOT in material wealth. When we do this, we break the spirit of mammon that so easily entangles us.

As Senior Pastor of Bayside Church, I am incredibly grateful for the generosity of our church community and for their faithful support, financial and otherwise. Every church, charity, and other not-for-profit organisation relies on members and partners who resonate with the vision to sustain that vision with finance. In turn, these organisations need to be honourable, trustworthy, and accountable, including how they raise money.

The Bible has much to say about this. 2,350 verses in the Bible speak about money – twice as many as devoted to prayer and faith combined. 15% of Jesus’ teaching was about finances. In fact, he said more about how we are to view and handle money and possessions than any other subject.

When I pioneered Bayside Church, I promised the people that I would never beg for money. I have kept that promise. In my teaching of Scripture, I have taught on giving, investing, getting out of debt and more. I have made needs known, but I have never begged for money.

Financial Abuse

But in my four-plus decades as a Christian, I have seen some horrendous abuses of people and their money by Christian leaders and organisations. One landed in my email inbox last week. It was from a large Australian, not-for-profit that regularly uses fear and alarm to motivate people to give. Upon reading this latest email, I believe the Holy Spirit prompted me to write this blog to help people recognise when they’re being manipulated.

The email was full of panic. It could be illegal to pray; Christians face hostility for their faith; churches, Christian organisations, and individuals can be harassed and silenced. Your religious freedom will be limited. You could be fined or end up in jail for praying.

It then quoted three instances to “prove” its point. By the way, these same three examples have been cited by others to support similar scaremongering.

Following these scary examples came the financial ask. Here’s the proof; now hand over your cash. We’ll make sure we’re fighting for your freedoms. It’s unholy fundraising!

Fearful Fundraising

I’ve wracked my brain, and I cannot think of ONE instance in Scripture where fear is used as a tool to raise money. If you find one, please let me know.

As mentioned earlier, the Bible has much to say about giving and supporting God’s ministers and work. The apostle Paul used the example of the poor but generous Macedonian Christians to stir up the generosity of the Corinthian church (2 Cor. 8:1-4). Scripture teaches about the blessings of generosity (Malachi 3:10). If you’re part of a church, you are responsible for making sure the pastors are supported financially (1 Tim. 5:17-18). Followers of YHWH and Jesus are challenged over two thousand times to look after the poor (Proverbs 19:17). But no fear, no intimidation, no shock tactics because that would constitute unholy fundraising.

The New Testament teaches us that God loves a cheerful giver (2 Cor. 9:6) and that we are not to give either reluctantly or under compulsion (pressure, coercion, force). The original word translated as “compulsion” can also mean “to torture somebody.” It infers outward pressure brought upon someone by using unholy methods to, in this case, hand over their cash. Paul says, “don’t respond to pressure like this as it doesn’t please God” (My paraphrase).

Christian Opposition

I do not deny that some Christians (as well as people of other faiths) in Australia face opposition from time to time. But we are not a poor, persecuted, picked-on minority. Christians still make up over 50% of the Australian population.

The Bible tells us to expect opposition and to rejoice when we do because we share Christ’s sufferings (1 Peter 4:13). Many people suffered opposition in Scripture, but they didn’t follow it with an offering! Peter reminds us that “If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed.” He continues by telling us to make sure that if we suffer, it’s because we’re doing right, not being foolish and unwise. “However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name” (1 Peter 4:12-19). In other words, don’t use this as an opportunity to scare people into giving.

I hope my comments here will help you discern honest, from unholy, fundraising. I encourage you to be generous to God’s work but to never give in to the profane tactics of fear and manipulation. In fact, challenge them and bring them into the light (Eph. 5:13).

Have you ever felt utterly overwhelmed by all the needs around you? I certainly have!  Whether they are needs in your family, church, this nation or other countries, it’s easy to be overcome by the seemingly endless ways that you can help others.  This is often compounded by a Christian worldview which encourages us to help those in need. So, who should we support?

Firstly, realise that you can’t help everyone, that you can’t meet every need – but that doesn’t mean you do nothing.  Jesus demonstrated this when he visited the pool of Bethesda in Jerusalem. At this pool “a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralysed.”  [1] By the time John wrote his gospel, there were no disabled people left at the pool. The reason for that is not known, maybe Jesus eventually healed them all, or perhaps the use of the area was changed over time.  The Bible tells us that Jesus visited this pool once, attended to one man who’d been an invalid for 38 years, and left.  The inference in the story is that Jesus took pity on him because he had been unwell for so long.  But what about all the others?  Jesus could have met every need but, for whatever reason, he chose not to.  Maybe he was giving us a life lesson that we should not feel duty-bound to meet every demand we encounter.

“You can’t meet every need – but that doesn’t mean you do nothing!”  I’ve been gripped by this truth for many years.  It’s easy to see the massive problems and be immobilised by them.  You can’t help every homeless person in Australia, but what can you do?   You can’t help every orphan in Africa, but what can you do?  It was this line of thinking that caused us to start a Forever Home in Johannesburg (through Acres of Love [2]) over a decade ago.  There are an estimated 3.7 million orphans in South Africa. I’d love to help them all but I can’t, but that doesn’t mean I do nothing. We have led our church to support well over a dozen of these children. Some have been adopted into loving families, some have grown up and gained a good education and employment. Others are still in our home and doing so well.  We’ve been able to give them a future and a hope. We’ve made a difference to them.

Secondly, recognise you can do so much more when you work in a community with others.  This year, I participated in Sleep at the G with 25 others from Bayside Church.  Through one night of slight discomfort we were able to raise $33,660 for Melbourne City Mission’s work with homeless people.  I could have done it on my own, but it was so much better working with others. We had fun, we got to know each other better and came to a deeper understanding of some of the challenges faced by homeless people in our city.  The author of Hebrews was correct when he said, “Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works.” [3]

Next, have a clear understanding of what you are passionate about as well as the way God has gifted you.  If you don’t have a clear vision, you will spread yourself (and your resources) too thinly.  Over the years, we’ve had some people join Bayside Church from other churches and they BYO Missionary with them.  They then tried to get us to buy into their missionary and support them. I did this a couple of times, but it didn’t go well as it didn’t align with our vision.  As a younger leader, I felt obliged to help, probably because of an unsanctified desire to please people.  These days I’m not such a pushover.  I have a clear vision of who and when to help because “You can’t meet every need.”

I also prefer to help through people I know and trust.  Individuals I speak with, especially those outside the church, want to help others but they are not sure how to help or who to support, and they want to make sure the money they give gets to those they give it to.  So, it’s best to help others either through people you know or organisations you trust.  Last week we heard from a friend in Indonesia that her staff members in Lombok were all homeless because of the earthquake.  Right now, all of these people are living in her back garden because they have nowhere else to go.  She mentioned to us that she wanted to raise $5,000 to repair and rebuild their homes, and so we brought the need to our church community.  Last weekend, all of the gold coin donations at our coffee cart, plus the sale of Brownie’s (made by a church member) raised $3,060.20.  The money was sent to our friend today, and we know that these funds will be used 100% to help those it’s been given for.

Always connect wisdom to compassion. There are those who prey on kind-hearted people and make up stories to get money. We have a policy at Bayside Church never to hand out cash, and we only help those from the broader community who have been referred by a reputable social welfare organisation. You can’t meet every need, but do your best to make sure those you do help are genuine.  As Jesus said, “be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” [4]

Finally, don’t forget to look after yourself; applying your own facemask before you help others with theirs.  Compassion fatigue is a real risk to those who are kind.  You can spend so much time and energy caring for others that you neglect yourself.  The apostle Paul put it this way, “Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.”  [5] But taking an interest in others doesn’t mean you ignore your own interests. There’s a difference between selfishness and selflessness.  American humourist Sam Levenson said, “As you grow older, you will discover that you have two hands, one for helping yourself, the other for helping others.” It’s wise advice.


[1] John 5:4


[3] Hebrews 10:24

[4] Matthew 10:16

[5] Philippians 2:4


Most people I speak to want to make a difference in the world; they want to help – but there’s a niggling question that pops up regularly – “how do I know that the money I give will go to help the people I give it to?”

I’ve had a number of such conversations over the past couple of weeks since the Shane Warne Foundation came under investigation when it was revealed it had donated an average of only 16 cents of every dollar of $1.8 million raised from 2011-2013, to institutions that care for sick and underprivileged children.

And then last week we were stunned by disclosures that only 6 cents of each dollar donated to the EJ Whitten Legends Game has gone to cancer research.

A CHOICE survey found 81% of respondents didn’t know how much of their donation reached a charity’s beneficiaries after fundraising costs and overheads were subtracted. But over 90% of respondents said they wanted to know.

It was timely then that the ACNC (The Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission) last week launched a landmark report which comprehensively analyses the charity sector’s finances for the first time.

The Key report findings were:

  • Charities have a combined total income of over $103 billion (almost $7 billion of this comes from donations and bequests), which makes Australia one of the most generous countries in the world.
  • The largest 5% of charities receive 80% of the sector’s income (this includes World Vision, Compassion, Salvation Army, Cancer Council, Australian Red Cross, National Heart Foundation and St. Vincent de Paul)
  • Last year, Australia’s 54,000 charities spent $95 billion.
  • Charities are financially healthy.
  • Most charities operate a balanced budget. They have a surplus or deficit of no more than 20% of their total income and were more likely to have a surplus.
  • Around 40% of charities have Deductible Gift Recipient (DGR) status.
  • Charities employ over one million staff and engage approximately two million volunteers.

All in all the report shows that Australia’s charities are healthy and make a major contribution to our society as well as helping overseas. But the report falls short in that it doesn’t answer the key question that is on everyone’s mind, “how do I know that the money I give will go to help the people I give it to?”

While some will use this as an excuse not to give at all, those who genuinely want to help will simply do their homework first. May I suggest the following?

  1. Decide what cause or need you have a passion for.
  2. Research the charities that work to meet that need (there’s plenty of information online and the Remember Me website is particularly helpful
  3. Contact the two or three charities you find are doing the best job in that area
  4. Ask the tough questions including the percentage they take out of each dollar for administration and promotion (if it’s more than 20-30% keep looking)
  5. Once you’ve selected your charity of choice commit a regular amount of money to them but keep your eyes open. Charities need to continue to be transparent and accountable.
  6. Consider giving some time as well as money. Most charities are crying out for volunteers.

It’s my personal belief that 54,000 charities are way too many. Multiple charities doing the same type of work means that there are massive double-ups of resources that could be far better used if they amalgamated. While I understand that some celebrities want a Foundation named after them, how good would it be if they adopted an already functioning charity and used their profile to promote it? Chris Judd is a great example of this by getting behind YGAP with Elliot Costello and also the Mirabel Foundation (Mirabel assists children who have been orphaned or abandoned due to parental illicit drug use and are now in the care of extended family).

I also understand that when someone has lost a loved through chronic illness, accident or crime, they desire to establish a foundation in memory of that person. The Daniel Morcombe Foundation is an excellent example. Again, the question needs to be asked, “Is there a functioning charity that is already addressing that issue?” If so, would it be a better use of resources, time, money and energy to get behind something that’s already established and working? I believe it would be extremely helpful over the next few years for existing charities to look at merging in order to make the Australian charity sector more streamline, more effective and less confusing to those who want to help.

I’ve heard many Christian people over the years – including preachers – talk about how God calls us to live a “selfless” life. But is that true? Is that what the Bible demands? I would like to suggest not.

It’s true that Jesus taught self-denial: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

The Bible also teaches self-control as one of the products of the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives (see Galatians 5:23).

Neither of these things means that we are to be selfless though. In fact the Bible also teaches us to look after our own needs as well as the needs of our family. The apostle Paul was very blunt when he wrote, “Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Tim 5:8).
Paul hit the nail on the head when he was writing to the Macedonian Christians from prison: “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:4).

There it is – look after your own interests, just don’t stop there! And that’s the problem. Most people just look after their own interests. The Bible doesn’t teach against leading a selfless life, it teaches against living a selfish one. The Bible has much to say about having a good work ethic, being a good employer / employee, providing for your own needs. There’s nothing selfless about that. But we’re instructed to want more than enough. One of the most selfish statements I hear is, “I just want enough to get by.” Sometimes it’s said by people with a sense of pride like, “See how little I need. See how holy I am.” But God wants us to have more than enough to get by so that not only will our needs be met but we have some left over so that we can meet the needs of others. Consider this verse in 2 Corinthians 9 where the whole chapter (and the next one) deal exclusively with money: “Moreover, God has the power to provide you with every gracious gift in abundance, so that always in every way you will have all you need yourselves and be able to provide abundantly for every good cause …”

All you need yourselves AND be able to provide abundantly for every good cause. That’s not selfless and it’s not selfish either. Daniel Goleman put it this way in his book Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships, “Self-absorption in all its forms kills empathy, let alone compassion. When we focus on ourselves, our world contracts as our problems and preoccupations loom large. But when we focus on others, our world expands. Our own problems drift to the periphery of the mind and so seem smaller, and we increase our capacity for connection – or compassionate action.”

Much of the First World is embroiled in selfishness. Like Russian author Fyodor Dostoyevsky said, “I say let the world go to hell, but I should always have my tea.” We may be shocked by such honesty but do our lives reflect anything different? In 1998 the United Nations put out a statement that if everyone in the developed world gave the cost of a cappuccino each week to combat world poverty we would be able to eradicate poverty completely. The fact that 14 years later poverty is still rife is testament to the fact that most people live selfishly. For just $4 per week poverty could be banished. It starts with you and me. Will you take the challenge? Don’t be selfless – but don’t be selfish either!

For many it’s a problem they’re aware of, but it’s so big – and they can’t do much – so they do nothing.  And so poverty is largely ignored.  We see the pictures on TV, but it’s so far away and such a big problem that we turn away and go back to what we were doing.
Others try and justify their inaction by asking questions like: How do we know these people are really poor?  Isn’t it largely their own fault?  If I give money how do I know it’s going to get to the people who really need it anyway?  So the ostrich sticks its head back in the sand and pretends the problem isn’t really that big and hopefully it’ll just go away.  But it won’t – not without our help!
Some Christians do little or nothing to help the poor because they have a poverty mindset.  I’ve met so many of these people over the years.  They talk so much about helping the poor, but they have such an issue with money that they’re not able to help much because they don’t have much.  They think that being poor is in some way being spiritual.
Of course if you push that thinking to its logical conclusion then the poorer you are the more spiritual you are, so you might as well sell everything you have and live under a tree.  Then you’d be really spiritual!  If poverty is spiritual why would you help the poor?  If you help them you’re actually making them less spiritual.
The Bible teaches that poverty is a curse.  Over 2,200 times in Scripture, God tells His people to help relieve poverty, but why would He do that if poverty were spiritual?  And, you only relieve poverty if you have something to give – i.e. wealth.
Two words sum up a right response to world poverty:  appreciation and generosity.  Rather than being judgmental of what we (and others) have we need to be full of appreciation to God and have a thankful heart.  I am so grateful that I live in Australia with all its blessing, prosperity and opportunity.  I am also grateful that I have something that I can give to those who have little or nothing.  I love to be generous and helping the poor and needy.
Sir Winston Churchill said, “We make a living by what we get; we make a life by what we give.”  In a prosperous country like Australia we have a responsibility to help those who are less fortunate than us.  It is not God’s will for people to suffer as much as they do.  He expects those of us who have to help those who have not.  And it doesn’t take a lot – it just takes everyone doing what they can.
It’s easy to say; “The problems too big;” or “Not everyone’s going to help.” But it’s got to start somewhere.  All God is asking us to do is to do what we can do.
In Luke 16 Lazarus was “longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table.”  That is what many in poor nations desire to do.  The rich man’s crime was that he didn’t even give Lazarus the food scraps.  Let us not be guilty of the same crime – let’s do our part in responding to poverty.