Profaning Money

Sermon Series on God and Money This Sunday I begin a 14 week sermon series on "money" - more precisely, on God and money.

Tomorrow morning in my sermon I hope to offer an "apology" (defense) from Jesus' Sermon on the Mount (6:19-34) on why money matters! 

In my sermon I will also mention that I have been profoundly challenged the last couple of weeks in regards to how I think about money by reading French thinker Jacque Ellul's book Money and Power.

In this chapter Ellul speaks about how Jesus refer's to Money as "Mammon". He also challenges Christians that to be faithful followers of Jesus they must "profane money."

In what follows I will give an overview of Ellul's teaching.

The god Mammon

Jesus says that "no one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money (Mammon)." (Matthew 6:24).

Ellul points out that "Mammon" is an Aramaic word that usually means “money” and can also mean “wealth.” Jesus is here personifying money, considering it a sort of god.

“Jesus gives this term a force and a precision that it did not have in its milieu. This personification of money, this affirmation that we are talking about something that claims divinity…What Jesus is revealing is that money is a power…Power is something that acts by itself, is capable of moving other things, is autonomous (or claims to be), is a law unto itself, and presents itself as an active agent. This is its first characteristic. Its second is that power has a spiritual value. It is not only of the material world, although this is where it acts. It has a spiritual meaning and direction. Power is never neutral. It is oriented; it also orients people. Finally, power is more or less personal.

 Ellul points out that Jesus makes a parallel between God and Mammon. Jesus "is not using a rhetorical figure but pointing out a reality. God as a Person and Mammon as a person find themselves in conflict. Jesus describes the relation between us and one or the other the same way: it is the relationship between servant and master. Mammon can be a Master the same way God is; that is, Mammon can be a personal master." (76)

Money as a Power

What does Ellul mean that "money is a power." By this he means that money brings us under its law and subordinates us to its aims; it also means that our total situation is under the “sphere” or “reign” of Money; that is, we are not free to direct the use of money one way or another, for we are in the hands of this controlling power.

What does it mean to be under the sphere or control of money?

What Money Does

The power of money establishes in the world a certain type of human relationship and a specific human behavior: it creates what could broadly be called a buying-selling relationship.

  • Everything can, in one way or another, be bought.
  • The world sees this behavior as normal; w/o constant exchange we could not continue to live.
  • This leads to the commodification of human beings; the valuing of human beings based on their “net worth.”

Spiritual Power that can “possess” us

Ellul points out that Money’s attack is not only exterior. Human life is at risk not only in the power struggle that money provokes. Money brings another familiar idea into play: temptation. The power of moneys is always actively tempting us. This temptation can lead to being “possessed” by the power of Money.

 “Possession by this power is broadly characterized by the general consensus which gives money effective social and political power in every human society. Money has not material force except as people attribute force to it. Money as an object is not the master of states, of armies, of the masses or the mind except by humanity’s consent to its authority. And it is possible to speak of laws of money only to the extent that people are willing to comply by them. Money would be nothing, materially speaking, without human consent.” (81)

Ellul continues:

“It is a strange sort of convention which leads people to attribute, both by judgment and by will, value to something which in itself has no value of use or of exchange. This is completely unexplainable and irrational. Nothing, whether in human nature or in the nature of things, whether in technology or in reason, adequately explains the original act of creating and accepting money. Nothing explains the blind confidence that we continue, in spite of all crisis, to place in money. This is an absurdity which neither economists nor sociologists are able to clarify. The collective attitude of all humankind, this consensus, this submission, are incomprehensible if they are not traced back to the spiritual power of money. If money is not a spiritual power which invades us, enslaving our hearts and minds, replacing God’s spirit in us, then our behavior is simply absurd. If people everywhere place such importance on the symbol of money, it is because they have already been seduced and internally possessed by the spirit of money.” (81)

The power of money to posses us calls us to make a choice! To either love God or Love Mammon!

Love God or Love Mammon

Ellul says it is vitally important to understand what the Bible means by love.

"Although it is possible to say, following biblical guidelines, that the conflict is ultimately a conflict of love, a decision to love either God or money, we must be careful not to take love to mean a rather vague sentiment, a more or less valid passion, in any case a limited relationship. In reality love, in the Bible, is utterly totalitarian. It comes from the entire person; it involves the whole person and binds the whole person without distinction. Love reaches down into the roots of human beings and does not leave them intact. It leads to identification and assimilation between the lover and the beloved. Jesus Christ teaches us in great detail that our love binds us to the spiritual future of the beloved. This is how we must understand the connection between Christians and Christ, which is a love relationship. Love led Christ to follow us in our entire condition, but inversely, today it joins us to Christ in everything – his life, his death, his resurrection and his glory. Where Christ is, there also is the one who loves Christ. Such is the force, the vigor, of this bond. Love for money is not a lesser relationship. By this love, we join ourselves to money’s fate. “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (82-83)

 He continues:

“To the extent that biblical love is totalitarian, it cannot stand sharing. We cannot have two spiritual lives; we cannot be divided. We cannot ‘halt between two opinions’; we can neither serve nor love two masters. Because love makes us follow the beloved and nothing else, we cannot love two things at the same time. Jesus firmly points out the necessity of choosing. ‘He will hate the one, and love the other.’ To love one is not simply to be unacquainted with or indifferent to the other; it is to hate  the other.” (83-84)

What does it mean to hate money, or to put it in Ellul's terms, to profane money? 

Make Money Profane

According to Ellul, to profane money…"is to take away its sacred character. It is to bring money back to its simple role as a material instrument. “When money is no more than an object, when it has lost its seductiveness, its supreme value, its superhuman splendor, then we can use it like any other of our belongings, like any machine. Of course, even if this relieves our fears, we must always be vigilant and very attentive because the power is never totally eliminated. Now this profanation is first of all the result of a spiritual battle, but this must be translated into behavior. There is one act par excellence which profanes money by going directly against the law of money, an act for which money is not made. This act is giving.” (110)

Ellul continues:

“In the biblical view, this is precisely how giving which is a consecration to God, is seen. It is, as a matter of fact, the penetration of grace into the world of competition and selling.”

I imagine Ellul's words have been a challenge to you as they have been to me. I look forward to going on this journey with you all as we learn that profaning money is the path to intimacy with and service to God!