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.

Martin Luther put it this way, “Satan doesn’t care which side of the horse we fall off, as long as we don’t stay in the saddle.” Some people fall off the horse on the side of poverty.

The poverty gospel claims that money is inherently evil and avoiding it is the best policy. Believing this message, countless Christians over the centuries have taken a vow of poverty and submitted themselves to some bizarre practices. They believed that doing this made them more spiritual as well as more acceptable to God.

But if we follow this reasoning to its logical conclusion then:
• The poorer you are the more spiritual you are
• Sell everything and live under a bridge
• Don’t help the poor because you’ll make them unspiritual!

And yet the Bible teaches that poverty is a curse (see Deuteronomy 28). Over 2000 times in Scripture God tells His people to help relieve poverty – Why would He ask this if poverty was spiritual? Jesus said, “… do to others what you would have them do to you.” If you and your family were hungry what would you want prosperous Christians to do for you?

"Give me neither poverty nor riches." The other extreme to those who have a poverty mindset is people who hold to what has become known as the prosperity Gospel. This teaches that money is a sign of godliness as well as God’s favour on a believer’s life. But the Bible teaches that financial blessing is a sign of God’s goodness not ours …

Matt 5:45, “[God] causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” There are plenty of wealthy people who don’t care for God or others. The psalmist lamented this very thing when he observed, “… the ungodly, who prosper in the world; they increase in riches.” (Ps 73:12; cf. Psalm 37:35-36; Eccl 7:15; Jeremiah 12:1)

The poverty mindset views money as always evil. Prosperity teaching sees money as always good. But money is neither good nor bad. Things don’t have morality – people do! Think about that $20 note in your pocket. What has it been used for in the past? What will you use it for? What will it be used for in the future? For all we know it could have been used in a drug deal or to buy porn. You might use it to buy lunch. The next person could donate it to charity. It is the person who has the money that makes the money good or bad. It’s what resides in the person – their goodness or lack thereof.

The apostle Paul addressed this when he wrote, "For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” (1 Tim 6:10). Money isn't evil but the inordinate love of it is. “In the midst of prosperity, the challenge for believers is to handle wealth in such a way that it acts as a blessing, not a curse.”

The balance between these two extremes is generosity. I believe this is one of the signs of true spirituality, and generosity doesn’t depend on the amount of wealth you have but rather on what you do with what you have! One day Jesus was observing people putting money into the Temple treasury. All the wealthy people were putting in large sums of money but it was only a small percentage of what they had. Then a widow put in two small coins – everything she owned. Jesus declared, "I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything-all she had to live on." She was demonstrating generosity. In Matthew 27 we're introduced to Joseph of Arimathea, a rich man who was also a disciple (follower) of Jesus. He was wealthy and also demonstrated generosity by donating his tomb to the deceased Jesus.

The Bible is full of examples of both poor and wealthy people who lived lives of generosity (read 2 Corinthians 8:1-4; 9:8, 10, 11; 1 Kings 17:7-24; 2 Kings 4:1-7, 8-37). Over the years I've met generous poor people and stingy poor people. I've come across generous wealthy people and stingy wealthy people. I t's not how much or how little we have its whether or not we have a generous heart. And so it doesn't matter if you find yourself with plenty or little or somewhere in the middle, practice living a generous life.