The word mammon comes from the Greek word mammonas. Similar root words exist in Hebrew, Latin, Aramaic, Chaldean and Syriac. They all translate to “money, wealth, and material possessions.”
In biblical culture the word mammon often carried a negative connotation. It was sometimes used to describe all lusts and excesses: gluttony, greed, and dishonest worldly gain.
Ultimately, mammon described an idol of materialism, which many trusted as a foundation for their world and philosophy. While the King James Version retains the term Mammon in Matthew 6:24, other versions translate the Greek as “money,” “wealth,” or “riches.”
The city of Babylon (Revelation 18), with all its avarice and greed, is a description of a world given over to the spirit of Mammon. Some cite Mammon as the name of a Syrian and Chaldean god, similar to the Greek god of wealth, Plutus.
Just as Wisdom is personified in Proverbs 1:21–33, Mammon is personified in Matthew 6:24 and Luke 16:13. Jesus’ words here show a powerful contrast between the worship of the material world and the worship of God. Later, writers such as Augustine, Danté (The Divine Comedy), Milton (Paradise Lost), and Spenser (The Faerie Queene) used personifications of Mammon to show the insidious nature of materialism and its seduction of humanity.
Worship of mammon can show up in many ways. It isn’t always through a continual lust for more money. When we envy others’ wealth, are anxious over potentially unmet needs, disobey God’s directives about the use of wealth, or fail to trust God’s love and faithfulness, our thinking is out of balance concerning material wealth.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches about our relationship to material goods.
“Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness! No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.” Matthew 6:19–24
The apostle Paul writes of the godly perspective toward mammon:
“But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment let us be therewith content. But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” 1 Timothy 6: 6–10
Solomon writes of the futility of chasing after mammon: “He that loveth silver shall not be satisfied with silver; nor he that loveth abundance with increase: this is also vanity.”Ecclesiastes 5:10.
Lust of any kind is insatiable, no matter how much time or effort is poured into the pursuit of the object of lust.
Jesus rebukes those who refused to hear His admonition to choose God over mammon: “And the Pharisees also, who were covetous, heard all these things: and they derided him. And he said unto them, Ye are they which justify yourselves before men; but God knoweth your hearts: for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God.” Luke 16:14–15
The parable of the rich fool (Luke 12:13–21) is the story of a man who lives to increase his wealth yet in the end he loses his soul because he “is not rich toward God” (verse 21). Mark 4:19 warns of the deceitfulness of mammon and its ability to “choke the Word, making it unfruitful.”
Mammon cannot produce peace in us, and it certainly cannot produce righteousness. A love of money shows we are out of balance in our relationship to God. “Riches and honour are with me; yea, durable riches and righteousness” Proverbs 8:18
Jesus teaches not to worry about our physical needs, about houses or clothes or food, but to “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” (verse 33). Matthew 6:19–34