Posted by: Philip Rushton | August 3, 2015

“Mammon Detectors:” Discerning whether our relationship to money has become unhealthy

In my sermon yesterday, we looked at Luke 12:22-34 where Jesus invites us to not worry about material provision. This teaching often seems out of reach for us.  Anxiety over finances seem to be part of the human condition.  After all, we are vulnerable to tragedy, unemployment, and sickness.

Jesus was not unaware of this when he issued this call to live without anxiety.  In fact, his first listeners were much more vulnerable than us.  They did not have life insurance or 401k’s.  Most of his listeners probably only had one extra tunic and enough money to get through the day.  So Jesus is not calling us to live in denial of our material needs.  Our Father, “knows that you need them.”  He also recognizes that we are vulnerable to people, time, and nature (thieves, rust, and moths).

I suggested yesterday that the road towards less anxiety begins with a change in both our priorities and our perspective.  Jesus suggests that our ability to hold lightly to material things is aided when we pursue something deeper.  Life is more than the abundance of possessions.  We are invited to seek first his kingdom and live for something that lasts.  We overcome our unhealthy desires not by suppressing them but by redirecting them toward God.

The road to freedom is also aided by cultivating an awareness of God’s work in our midst.  “Consider the ravens and the lilies,” he says.  Quoting James Martin, I suggested that the practice of the daily examen (see previous post), helps awaken us to how “beautiful our yesterday is.” By ending the day with prayers of gratitude our faith and awareness of God is strengthened.  This helps us work against the disposition of discontent and fear that is reinforced by our media culture.

After the service I had some important conversations with folks who were still uncertain as to how we ought to relate to money.  Jesus’ call to radical generosity is very countercultural and it seems a bit impractical, especially for those of us trying to support our family.  Is it o.k. to own a car and a home?  Is saving for retirement a bad thing?  When have we crossed the line from being responsible to being idolatrous?

I am reminded of a talk that my professor Darrell Johnson gave titled, “Mammon Detectors.”  This talk was based on the passage in Matthew 6 where Jesus says, “you cannot love both God and mammon.”  Mammon is the word for material possessions.  It includes both money and things.  I referenced these “detectors” in a post a few years ago, but I thought it might be helpful to publish them again.

In essence, Johnson suggests that money isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  Making a living and caring for your family does not have to lead us to greed and idolatry; however, our relationship to money becomes unhealthy when it becomes our sole source of joy, meaning, and security.  These questions help us discern where we stand in relationship to our wealth:

Detector One: What do I turn to for joy in life?
A lot of us turn to material things for joy. If our main response to this question is our material possessions, than this is a good indicator that our hearts are set on money rather than God.

Detector Two: What gives you hope or security?
If the main thing that gives us hope or security is the fact that we have lots of money, or that we have a lot of material things to comfort us and entertain us, then this is a good indicator that we have attached too much importance to money.

Detector Three: What do I fear?
A lot of times we are fearful for our possessions. Jesus says in Matthew 6:19-22 that our earthly treasures are not worthy of our allegiance because they are destroyed by moth and rust, and can easily be lost and stolen. A good indication that we are too consumed with our stuff is if we are constantly worried that it will be damaged or stolen. To remedy this Richard Foster suggests that every once and a while we should give away something that we really care about. This is a good discipline that insures we are not too attached to our things.

Detector Four: Does my use of money force me to contradict the gospel?
The reality is that consumerism can hurt ourselves, others, and the environment. I quoted one of my professors yesterday who said, “growth for the sake of growth, without any other purpose, is the definition of cancer.”  If our pursuit of material goods is not guided by kingdom values then people and God are quickly sacrificed on the alter of profit.  It is important to  ask whether our attachment to money is causing us to contradict what Jesus has called us to do. The pursuit of money, for example, can consume our time and prevent us from investing in relationships with both others and God. It may also prevent us from giving generously to those in need, or tempt us to buy cheaper products that are produced in ways that harm people and the environment. Sometimes we need to spend well not spend less!

Dale Bruner paraphrases Luke 12:34 saying, “where our goals are, their our treasure will be also.”  This really gets at the root of the issue.  These “mammon detectors,” help reveal the true desires of our heart.


  1. Wow, Phil, that was a challenging and clear message you built around what Jesus says.
    Thank you for your courage and boldness, given with humility and gentleness.

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