This Tricky Combat Zone

Lord, you, the Ultimate General,
	you are my one
	perfect leader,
	unchained, in charge –
	compassionate and wise,
	completely good,
	reliable in every situation.

You have my back:
	you tell me who I am,
	speaking truth
	when the Enemy shouts lies—
	he says I have failed,
	pointing out issues,
	determined to mislead.

He tries to make my courage sway,
	to put my trust
	in other things:
	to see success and riches
	as the way to get ahead
	and find a place of safety
	in this chaotic world. 

But you in your great love 
	have chosen me,
	paid the high cost
	to make me your own kin.
	So you are here,
	shielding me, on guard
	in this combat zone.

For millions of people, life in this world is just a struggle to survive, whether the obstacles are war, extreme poverty, or no access to healthcare. For millions of others like me and most of my readers, the temptation is to put our confidence in a certain political leader or in adequate wealth to have a sense of peace when there is chaos all around. But at this time of year we sing the angel’s song, praying for “peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased” (Luke 2:14b, NLT). Whether it is peace in a secure community or peace in our hearts, we long to experience it.

The problem is that all too often those of us in relatively peaceful countries think that it will come from economic security, and our main focus becomes working hard to have more money than we do. It may start out with a longing to buy more Christmas gifts. It may become such a desire to have wealth that we lose what must be our main goal: obedience to our Master. Wealth in itself is not a bad thing—God blessed Solomon with much wealth due to his request for wisdom instead for honor and riches (2 Chronicles 1:11-12). But when we read King Solomon’s life story we cannot miss the truth that he wandered into accumulating goods, including the status that came to kings back then through owning many women. He lost his heart for godly wisdom.

Jesus issued strong warnings against this. He was not saying that it is wrong to work hard and provide for family or others as well as for oneself. But he was saying that we should not let prosperity be our “master.” A master in this sense is the one that we are constantly serving, listening to, obeying. Right after admonishing us to build up treasures that will last forever, in heaven, by practicing good deeds and especially generosity, he said:

“No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will hold to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon. (Matt. 6:24 NAS)

Since “mammon” is not a word familiar to us now, most translations say, “You cannot serve God and money.” The meaning of the original word, transliterated to English from Aramaic, actually had a broader meaning for the people of that time. The Friberg lexicon gives this explanation: [1]

μαμωνᾶς, , (also μαμμωνᾶς) transliterated from the Aramaic; usually in a derogatory sense property, wealth, earthly goods (LU 16.9); personification Mammon, the Syrian god of riches, money (MT 6.24)”

It is crucial to understand that in Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 6:24 and Luke 16:13, “ ‘mammon’ is personified as a rival to God for the loyalty of the disciple: To which master will obedience be given?”[2]

Any time increasing one’s worldly goods becomes all consuming, it removes one from undivided loyalty to God. He requires total commitment. In fact, the picture of serving a master in this verse is about being a slave, one who is owned by the master and therefore completely in his employment. If a slave were to start obeying instructions from a different master, he is traitorous.

So if we take our eyes off our Lord and give in to covetousness (remember the greedy eye in verse 22?), we are no longer walking in the light. In fact, we are not following God as our master but the “god of riches” who is personified here. We are showing who we truly love. Satan thought he could tempt even Jesus to change his allegiance from God to this “other power” to possess the whole world and its riches, but Jesus did not cave in:

Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’1 ” (Matt. 4:10 NIV)

When we no longer make doing God’s will our one objective, and we divert our efforts to getting whatever we want, then instead of storing up treasures in heaven, we are putting our efforts into storing up treasure here on earth. And that kind of treasure does not last.

It is sad that the “prosperity gospel” is spreading around the world. It basically turns the heart away from knowing and serving God to getting anything you may want, teaching that one can manipulate God into giving us any kind of wealth that is desired by saying the right words, praying in a prescribed manner. This is an insidious way of leading people to pretend that they are following their Master, Jesus, but with an assumption that this will lead to storing up treasures here on earth rather than obeying his lead. I was once in a service in Abidjan, the major city of Côte d’Ivoire, where an invited speaker unfortunately began to preach this very thing: “If you want an airplane to facilitate your travel, just claim it!” he said.

That is truly bossing around the King, the Ultimate General, our Master. It lacks respect for his goodness and wisdom. A servant who relies on the goodness of his master will trust him for the provision of daily needs and be on alert for his directives as to how to use them for Kingdom purposes. Jesus warned that being covetous leads away from healthy spirituality to a diseased essence (Mat. 6:23).

Instead of keeping our hearts open to the Master’s guidance and doing what he says to do, we can easily slip into selfishly putting our trust in our own abilities to store up riches for our own good. That could be through turning spiritual growth into a quest to make God give us riches, or making the accumulation of wealth our personal goal in life. It is a slippery slope.

Let’s serve our perfect Master, who is completely good and gracious and trustworthy! We do live in a combat zone in this world, and need to remember that the Lord of Heaven’s Armies (the “Lord of Hosts”) is our All-Powerful General.  When we belong to the One True God who is the Prince of Peace, we must trust his judgment and follow his directions. Material wealth can in no way provide the security that he gives: peace and treasure that last forever!

[1] Timothy Friberg, Barbara Friberg and Neva F. Miller, Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament (Baker’s Greek New Testament Library)

[2] Walter A. Elwell and Barry J. Beitzel, “Mammon,” Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988), 1384.

Published by Linnea Boese

After spending most of my life in Africa, as the child of missionaries then in missions with my husband, I am now retired and free to use my time to write! I am working on publishing poetry and on writing an autobiography. There have been many adventures, challenges and wonderful blessings along the way -- lots to share!

2 thoughts on “This Tricky Combat Zone

  1. Thank you Linn, as always! This is so well timed when the horrors of war are so often on our minds, to remind Who is our general as we struggle with battles of our own.


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