The Idol of Money

Written by: Amy Hemseri-Sabala
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Idols and idolatry are not words we use very often today, unless perhaps we are discussing the popular reality TV series, American Idol.  It is our favorite Idol contestants that often become the objects of our devotion.

The halftime show of Super Bowl 2013 featured a provocative performance from Beyonce.  Fans screamed in adoration, lights in the shape of her face covered the field, spectators were riveted to their television sets. The following day Beyonce was being heralded the “Queen”. Modern-day idolatry has indeed moved beyond clay figurines and golden calves. Not only do we worship singers, actors and athletes, we are also a culture that worships things like independence, personal freedom, and money. We are praised for self-reliance and we are esteemed if we land a high-paying job.  How many hours of our lives are sacrificed for the job and the money it provides; how much personal time and family time are missed in lieu of work?  Yes, the pursuit of wealth has indeed become a form of modern-day idolatry.

In the Matthew 6:24 (RSV) Jesus says, “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 despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon [material wealth or possessions].”  There is no question that God and money are both important in our earthly lives, but the point is that we cannot serve, or be devoted to, both.  Mammon not only means money or riches, it is often used to refer to excessive materialism or greed.

Jesus warns against materialism specifically in Luke 12:15 (NRSV) “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”  Author Randy Alcorn offers, “Greed is money worship, a violation of the first and most fundamental commandment, “I am the Lord your God… You shall have no other gods before me…  Idolatry is worshipping and serving anything other than the one true God.  Everything material we have, including money, is either a tool or an idol.  If we fail to use it as a tool for God’s intended purposes, it mutates into an idol”

I understand this concept intimately. Just months after my wedding we received the devastating news that a close family friend had committed suicide. Suicide? That just didn’t make sense. He was a successful businessman with a loving family. He seemed to have it all, but the stock market took a downturn and by his estimation he had lost everything. By my estimation, he had developed an unhealthy devotion to his wealth, so unhealthy that when it was gone, his life did not seem worth living.

The money in our bank accounts is a gift from God and its value is only temporary. What is precious to us on earth, like gold and silver, will be the mere pavement we walk on in heaven according to the imagery in the Bible. Money is the single-most worldly distractor, and is discussed more than 1,000 times in the Bible. Not because God needs money, but because God knew that this would be a potential stumbling block for us.  Most people – most Christians – do not trust God more than they trust money and the false security money represents.

Our U.S. currency blatantly reminds us, “In God we trust”.  This motto first began appearing on U.S. currency during the turmoil leading up to the Civil War. It was a time when our country realized that apart from God, we would not succeed as a nation.  Secretary Chase instructed James Pollock, Director of the Mint at Philadelphia, to prepare a motto, in a letter dated November 20, 1861: ”Dear Sir: No nation can be strong except in the strength of God, or safe except in His defense. The trust of our people in God should be declared on our national coins.”  It seems that over time we have become immune to this statement, but now we can look upon it with fresh eyes.  Our money is only a resource in which to help us live our lives, and most of us strive to live our lives well. Perhaps today we can begin to see money in proper perspective, and give it its proper place, beneath our trust in God.

Money cannot buy happiness. Money cannot buy love, or health, or peace of mind. Money cannot buy our eternity.  Why do we choose to put our trust in money?  In the wise words of King Solomon, “Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income” (Ecclesiastes 5:10, NIV).

There is only One truly worthy of our trust and our worship.  No mere earthly idol can ever replace the love that God has for each of us. Are we ready to throw away the false idols that block our relationship with God?

It is my prayer that we will relinquish control over our idolatry of money. Will you pray with me?

“Father, help us to seek you and not the false security of wealth. You are our deepest desire and only You can fill the emptiness in our hearts. Give us grace to handle our finances as You call us to, and to trust You with everything we have. Amen.” 

Check out an earlier post by Amy here.