God or Mammon?

LESSON 3 *January 13–19

Sabbath Afternoon

Read for This Week’s Study: Ps. 33:6–9; Matt. 19:16– 22; 1 Pet. 1:18; Heb. 2:14, 15; Exod. 9:14; Ps. 50:10.

Memory Text: “Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9–11, NKJV).

God does not waste words explaining His perspective on excessive obsession with money and material things. Christ’s words to the greedy rich man who, although blessed by the Lord, hoarded and hoarded what he had, should put the fear of God in us all: “ ‘Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?’ So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God” (Luke 12:20, 21, NKJV).

Serving God and serving money are mutually exclusive actions. It’s one or the other, God or mammon. It is a fantasy to think we can have it both ways, because living a double life will sooner or later catch up to us. We might fool others, maybe even ourselves, but not God, to whom we will one day have to give an account.

We have to make a choice, and the longer we hesitate, make excuses, or procrastinate, the stronger the hold that money and the love of money will exert on our soul. Faith requires a decision.

What should make our decision so much easier is focusing on who God is, what He has done for us, and what we owe Him.

* Study this week’s lesson to prepare for Sabbath, January 20.

SUNDAY January 14

Christ, the Creator

Read Genesis 1:1; Psalm 33:6–9; Isaiah 45:11, 12; Jeremiah 51:15; and John 1:3. What do these texts tell us about the goodness of the material world?

“It was Christ that spread the heavens, and laid the foundations of the earth. It was His hand that hung the worlds in space, and fashioned the flowers of the field. ‘His strength setteth fast the mountains.’ ‘The sea is His, and He made it.’ Ps. 65:6; 95:5. It was He that filled the earth with beauty, and the air with song. And upon all things in earth, and air, and sky, He wrote the message of the Father’s love.”—Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, p. 20.

Material things, in and of themselves, are not evil. Unlike some religions, which teach that the material world and matter itself are bad or evil and that only spiritual things are good, the Bible values the material world.

After all, Jesus Himself created it. How, then, could it be evil? It can, unfortunately, as with all of God’s gifts, be perverted and used for evil, but that does not make the original gift evil. The Bible warns against abuse and perversion of the things that God has created in this world, but not against the things themselves.

On the contrary, God created the material world, and He wanted His people to enjoy the fruit and benefits of this world, as well: “And thou shalt rejoice in every good thing which the Lord thy God hath given unto thee, and unto thine house, thou, and the Levite, and the stranger that is among you” (Deut. 26:11; see also Deut. 14:26).

Jesus is the Creator (John 1:1–3), and the earth is a mere sample of what He has made. His creative ability gives Him a unique perspective on life itself and those who live on the earth. He knows the value of material things, and He knows that He gave them to us for our benefit, and even for our enjoyment. He knows, too, what happens when humanity perverts those gifts, or even makes the gifts an end in themselves, when, as with all things, they were meant to be used to glorify God.

Look around at the incredible bounties of the created world. Even after the ravages of sin, we still can see the inherent goodness in so much of it. What does the created world, in its goodness, tell us about the goodness of its Maker?

MONDAY January 15

Son of God/Son of Man

As Christians, we believe that Jesus was fully God and fully human. This union of the Divine and humanity makes His perspective unique as to what is important on earth and important for eternity. That we can’t understand how He could have a divine/human nature doesn’t nullify this truth any more than someone’s lack of understanding about aerodynamics could cause an airplane not to fly.

“Here are two mysteries for the price of one—the plurality of persons within the unity of God, and the union of Godhead and manhood in the person of Jesus. . . . Nothing in fiction is so fantastic as is this truth of the Incarnation.”—J. I. Packer, Knowing God (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1973), p. 53.

One reason Jesus came to this world was to show us just how loving and caring God is and how much He cares for each of us. Far from being some cold and distant deity, as some believed, Jesus revealed our heavenly Father’s true character.

Satan, however, has tried to separate humans from God. He has tried to depersonalize Him, characterizing Him as someone who doesn’t care about us. He does all that he can, through whatever means possible, to keep us away from knowing and experiencing the reality of God’s goodness and grace. An inordinate love of material things works well as one of Satan’s ploys to achieve this end.

Read Matthew 19:16–22. What does this story tell about how Satan can use our love of material things to keep us distant from the Lord?

Imagine Jesus Himself, God in the flesh, speaking to this young man who obviously knew Jesus was somebody special. And yet, what happened? He allowed his great wealth, his love of material things, to separate him from the very person of God Himself. The love of the world and of material things blinded him so that even though he was sad, that sadness wasn’t enough to make him do the right thing. He wasn’t sad because he was losing his possessions (he wasn’t). He was sad because he was losing his soul over those things.

Whether we are rich or poor, how can we make sure we keep the right relationship to the things of this world?

TUESDAY January 16

Christ, the Redeemer

Debt is not a principle of heaven. But Adam and Eve sinned, and a broken law meant death. Thus, humanity became debtors to divine justice. We were bankrupt, spiritually insolvent from a debt that we could never repay.

God’s love for us set in motion the plan of redemption. Jesus became a “surety” for us (Heb. 7:22). It is Christ’s identity as the Redeemer that reveals the most important transaction ever made. Only the sacrifice of His life could accomplish the required payment of divine justice. Jesus paid the debt of sin that we owed as justice and mercy embraced at the cross. The universe never had seen or witnessed the display of such wealth as was used in the payment for the redemption of humankind (Eph. 5:2).

“By pouring the whole treasury of heaven into this world, by giving us in Christ all heaven, God has purchased the will, the affections, the mind, the soul, of every human being.”—Ellen G. White, Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 326.

Read each text and list what Christ has saved us from: Col. 1:13; 1 Thess. 1:10; 1 Pet. 1:18; Heb. 2:14, 15; Gal. 3:13; Rev. 1:5.

The Greek word tetelestai in John 19:30 has been called the most important word ever spoken. It means “it is finished” and is the last utterance Jesus made on the cross. His final declaration meant that His mission was accomplished and our debt was “paid in full.” He did not utter it as one with no hope but as one who succeeded in the redemption of a lost world. Looking at the cross of Redemption reveals a past event with a present effect and a future hope. Jesus gave His life to destroy sin, death, and the works of the devil once and for all. This means that, although undeserving, we are redeemed (Eph. 1:7). To glimpse the wonders of salvation is to tread holy ground.

Christ as the Redeemer is the most sublime image of God. His supreme interest is to redeem us. This reveals His perspective toward humanity and especially how He values a relationship with us. With justice satisfied, Christ turns His attention to our response to His sacrifice. Think about it: Christ paid the debt, fully and completely, for all the evil you have ever done. What must your response be? See Job 42:5, 6.

WEDNESDAY January 17

A Jealous God

In His confrontation with Pharaoh, God declared, “ ‘ “ ‘For at this time I will send all My plagues to your very heart, and on your servants and on your people, that you may know that there is none like Me in all the earth’ ” ’ ” (Exod. 9:14, NKJV).

What did the Lord mean when He said that “ ‘ “ ‘there is none like Me in all the earth’ ” ’ ” (NKJV)?

“It is impossible for the finite minds of men to fully comprehend the character or the works of the Infinite One. To the keenest intellect, to the most powerful and highly educated mind, that holy Being must ever remain clothed in mystery.”—Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 5, pp. 698, 699.

God has no equal (1 Kings 8:60). He thinks, remembers, and acts in ways we do not comprehend. No matter how we try to make Him into our own image, God remains God. He is the One who made every snowflake, brain, face, and individual characteristic unique, and “there is no other” (1 Kings 8:60, NKJV). After all, He is the Creator, and, as Creator, He is certainly distinct from what He created.

What do these texts tell us about how different God is from His creation? 1 Sam. 2:2; Ps. 86:8; Isa. 55:8, 9; Jer. 10:10; Titus 1:2.

When we look at all that God is, all that He possesses, and all that He does, it’s remarkable that He could have competitors. And yet, He does, in the sense that He has to “compete” for human love and affection. Maybe that’s why He says that He is a “jealous” God (Exod. 34:14).

God created humans to be free, which means we have the option to serve Him or to serve anything else. That has been, in many ways, the essential human problem: choosing to serve other gods, regardless of what form they come in, as opposed to serving the only God worth serving, the One who created and possesses all the universe. That’s why He is indeed a jealous God.

What, if anything, in your life is competing with God for your affections?

THURSDAY January 18

True Ownership

We belong to God, both by creation and by redemption. And not only do we belong to God, but all our possessions do, as well. We, of ourselves, own nothing other than our own choices.

In contrast, a central tenet of worldliness is the idea that we are owners of our possessions. Yet, this is deception. For Christians to think that they are the ultimate owners of their possessions is to think something contrary to what the Word of God teaches.

God, not we, owns everything (Job 38:4–11). We are merely aliens and tenants (Lev. 25:23), just as the Israelites were in the Promised Land. We are even dependent on God for our next breath (Acts 17:25).

What we think we own, He owns. We are but His stewards, and as such we are to manage tangible and even intangible possessions to the glory of God.

List the things from the following verses that God owns: Deut. 10:14; Ps. 50:10; 104:16; Ezek. 18:4; Hag. 2:8; 1 Cor. 6:19, 20. What do these texts tell us about how we should view the material things that we have in our possession?

“All things belong to God. Men may ignore His claims. While He bountifully bestows His blessings upon them, they may use His gifts for their own selfish gratification; but they will be called to give an account for their stewardship.”—Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 9, p. 246.

God’s ownership and our stewardship mandate a relationship, one through which He may use us in ways that will prepare us for heaven and that will benefit and bless others. But unfaithful stewards can restrict the Owner’s access to His own possessions. As we saw yesterday, God does not force His will upon us. He created us and gave us possessions in this world to manage for Him until He returns. What we do with them reflects the kind of relationship that we have with Him.

Think through what it means that, in reality, you don’t own any of the things that you possess but that they belong to God. What should that tell you about how you should relate to the things in your possession?

FRIDAY January 19

Further Thought: Stewardship, as we understand it, started with God placing Adam and Eve in a beautiful garden home that they were to care for and manage (Gen. 2:15). In this perfect environment they were to make the garden livable, a task that could not have been that hard. God authorized their new role and taught them about their responsibility. Taking care of Eden would give meaning and bring happiness to the new family.

The Hebrew verb for “dominion” (Gen. 1:26, 28) means “to bring under control and rule.” This was, given the context, not a harsh dominion but a benevolent rule in caring for God’s creation. This responsibility has not stopped. In this environment Adam and Eve were to learn that God was the Owner, and they were His managers, or stewards.

From the start God intended that Adam and Eve have positions of responsibility and trust but not as owners. They were to demonstrate to God that they were faithful to their tasks.

“Adam and Eve were given the garden of Eden to care for. They were ‘to dress it and to keep it.’ They were happy in their work. Mind, heart, and will acted in perfect harmony. In their labor they found no weariness, no toil. Their hours were filled with useful work and communion with each other. Their occupation was pleasant. God and Christ visited them and talked with them. They were given perfect freedom. . . . God was the owner of their Eden home. They held it under Him.”—Ellen G. White, Manuscript Releases, vol. 10, p. 327.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does the fact that God owns the world teach us about our basic responsibility when it comes to the environment? While we have to avoid the political fanaticism of some environmentalists who all but worship the creation itself, what should our attitude, as Christians, be toward taking care of the environment?

  2. Dwell more on the idea of God as a “jealous” God. It’s not always an easy concept to grasp, especially because in human terms we look at jealousy as something bad, as something to be avoided. How, though, can we understand this idea as it is applied to God without any of the negative baggage the word usually carries?

  3. How can we learn to distinguish between the proper use and enjoyment of the physical things that God has created and the abuse of those things? Why is making this distinction so important?