Study Guide: Defying the Beast

Sunday March 7, 2010 | Greg Boyd

Focus Scripture:

Brief Summary:

Matthew 6:24 tells us that we “cannot serve both God and mammon.” Instead, we can live out kingdom principles with our finances.

Extended Summary:

Matthew 6:24 tells us that we “cannot serve both God and mammon.” This was the opening thought for this series on Kingdom finances. Greg started out by reviewing the results of a survey we took last fall. What we learned from the survey is that:

  1. Average income levels in our congregation have dropped over the last year.
  2. About 1/4 of our congregation is either unemployed or underemployed.
  3. Over 60% of families would like to be more generous in their giving to church and charities, but debt is a primary barrier to them doing so.
  4. Over half of our congregation lives “paycheck-to-paycheck”.
  5. Over 80% of people looking for guidance about their finances are interested in help with debt reduction and/or budgeting.

It is for these reasons that we are doing this series on economics. Another reason we wanted to do this series now is that the finances here at WHC are relatively stable right now. This is thanks to your generous giving the past few months along with some cutbacks we’ve made in our spending. So any suspicions that this series is aimed at increasing giving can be put to rest since we are on track financially right now.

Greg’s first major point was that money in-and-of-itself is not evil. Money simply quantifies labor. Each dollar is a unit of labor. This makes exchanging quantities of value more efficient than the old barter system. What follows from this is that wealth (the accumulation of more money than you need) is also not evil (1 Tim. 6:17; 2 Cor. 9:8). How we relate to that wealth is the key question.

However, when the pursuit of money and wealth comes into competition with God’s purposes in our lives money and wealth become idols that lead us away from God. This is the meaning Jesus had in mind in Matthew 6:24. Mammon, which means bread, came to represent money and wealth. Much like the hoarding of manna in the wilderness during the Exodus was directly disobedient to God, hoarding money for our own purposes is equally disobedient.

Sadly, just as the Israelites tried to hoard the manna in the wilderness, so too have Christians and others tried to hoard money and wealth. This has been going on so long that it seems totally natural to do this. The systems and structures we live with all support this sort of hoarding. In fact, the idea of credit was developed as a way to bet on this desire to hoard more money and wealth. Credit is basically borrowing against the future. The basic idea is that things will be better later and what I can’t afford now I will be able to afford—and pay for—later. Capitalism is based on the belief that the strongest incentive for ingenuity and productivity is self-interest and greed. Credit—borrowing against the future—is just one vehicle for encouraging this process.

When capitalism is the system we live in and greed is in the air we breathe, we have to wake up to how God views money and wealth and recognize the very real spiritual battle waging in our hearts about who we will serve, God or mammon. We have all fallen into the trap of selfishly desiring things we not only don’t need but are contrary to what God would have for us. But we can wake up from this and move in the direction of kingdom principles with our finances.

The first step in doing this is the same as it is for getting freed from any other bondage. We have to break the silence. If you are married, this should start by being sure both of you are clear about where things stand at the moment with the finances. Whether married or not, it is good to share these matters with a community of people who you trust and who have your best interests in mind.

Reflection Questions:

  1. What stood out to you most from this message and the supporting text?
  2. Did any of the information shared from the survey surprise you? Discuss those findings together.
  3. In Greg’s message, he talked about the lure of selfishly consuming more than we need and the way commercials fuel that fire. Which commercials do you find affect you most? How do they affect you? What can you do to resist this?
  4. What did Jesus mean when he said we cannot serve both God and mammon?
  5. How can we as a community encourage and challenge one another during this short series on finances? How much are we willing to share about this topic?