Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 6:24a “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.”
No one can be a slave to two owners. Full time service being the essence of slavery, the two owners’ commands would inevitably overlap and contradict each other, thus forcing a slave to fail in duty to one. Being coerced to choose which owner to obey, the slave would satisfy one, but neglect the other. Favoring one at the expense of the other, a slave would have thereby betrayed which he preferred.
The Bible assumes each individual is enslaved to a master. Absolute independence does not exist. Human nature causes us to give ourselves to something, to attach ourselves with supreme devotion to only one object. One’s highest love insists on being absolutely exclusive. The strongest feeling of life being indivisible, we cannot pursue two ultimate affections at the same time. In times of crisis, moments of choice, only one selection can win, and our allegiance is revealed.
Whatever we love most, to it we yield thoughts, feelings, and actions, thereby making it our master, yea, our god. With this truth as background, Jesus will now bring us to the gist, the crux of the matter, to the specific application we need.
Matt. 6:24b “Ye cannot serve God and mammon.”
“Mammon” refers to treasures, wealth, to all our possessions of earth. We cannot serve God and stuff. Biblical Christianity is materialistic, neither discouraging riches nor encouraging monasticism. It is okay to amass things, but our liberty to accumulate puts us in danger of giving supreme allegiance to what we possess. Having is dangerous, for holding makes it easier for us to clutch. Ever be on guard. Keep mammon, this world’s things, subservient to our devotion for Christ.
We cannot give ultimate service to God and stuff simultaneously. We cannot at the same time travel east and west or go up and down, nor be heavenbound when earthbound. We cannot be slaves to both God and mammon, for these two masters, diametrically opposed in philosophy, cannot agree. One commands humility plus prioritizing God and others, the other exalts pride and self. God demands selflessness and contentment, mammon requires selfishness and grasping all we can. One commands us to seek joy in the Creator, the other in the creation.
”Ye cannot serve God and mammon.” Both these masters are totalitarian rulers, demanding our entire devotion. It is all or nothing for each. Jesus said, “Every one who commits sin is the slave of sin” (JN 8:34 NAS). Nevertheless, people enslaved to sin believe they are free. They love their sin so much that their slavery to it has become like second nature. Satan deceives them into thinking they are free, but their slavery is real indeed, leading to a serious reckoning someday. What we sow, that we shall reap. Sin is an exacting, dictatorial paymaster.
Even as mammon is totalitarian, even so our God has chosen to be a dictator, a kind and loving one, but an absolute monarch nonetheless. Ours is a jealous God (EX 20:5) who expects from us nothing less than wholehearted service. Jesus intends to rule us, even down to the bottom of our bank accounts, even to the essence of our hidden thoughts, even to the innermost of our deepest darkest secrets.
Jesus’ greatest command cuts us no slack, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength” (MK 12:30). To add more poignancy, Jesus also said, “He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (MT 10:37). In other words–and please personalize this to your own case–John, if you do not love me more than you love Charles and Doris, Emerson and Velma, plus more than you love John, Jana, Caleb, Rebekah, and yes, even Ruth, then you, John, are not worthy of me. We may not know the actual measure of our love for God but we have no illusions as to the measure He expects from us. For us He gave up heavenly Father, plus earthly father and mother. He surrendered for us reputation, possessions, home, and life. He demands and deserves that we yield nothing less for Him in return.
Totalitarian indeed–“Ye cannot serve God and mammon.” Many find this hard to believe, and actually have the audacity to disagree with Jesus. They feel they can somehow serve both, and believe they will be the first to do it successfully, but this cannot be. To try to serve both God and mammon is to choose to serve mammon, for earthly things, when yielded to, so absorb us that they inevitably take over the whole self and cause us to neglect the very God we claim to serve.
Things of earth, once yielded to, ultimately grip the entire personality. Like an oozing slime, they slowly take over, gripping one’s total being. Stuff encroaches, stifling spiritual practices and thoughts, robbing of private prayer and Bible time, choking out God’s tithe, and competing for God’s Sunday morning time.
The St. Louis Arch stands some twelve miles below where the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers meet, yet even at the Arch one can still distinguish the two rivers. Next to the Arch is the calm surface of the Missouri; farther out the choppy Mississippi. The bodies of water flow side by side for miles, two rivers in one bed, but eventually the dirty waters of the Missouri (“too thick to drink, too thin to plow”) overcome the clear current of the Mississippi. Once the waters mix, the Mississippi takes on the muddy color for which it is famous in the South. The dirty inevitably contaminates the clean–an apt portrayal of spiritual vacillation.
Jesus warned us, “Remember Lot’s wife” (LK 17:32). She remains the perfect picture of spiritual indecision, of one who tried to serve both masters. She had enough religion to flee Sodom, but not enough to keep herself from longingly looking back on it. In the moment of crisis, she made a start for God, but her heart was not totally convinced. “She was reaching for the stars with one hand and fingering the mud with the other” (Charles Sheldon). The result was catastrophic.
“Ye cannot serve God and mammon.” To try to do so will not only end in degradation and bitter disappointment, but will also destroy inner peace along the way. The most restless thing on our planet is the ocean. It is always troubled, never at rest. Why? Because it is torn between two competing masters. Two gravities pull on it, earth’s and the moon’s. Earth says, “Stay with me.” The moon says, “No, come to me.” The ocean never chooses and thus never has peace. It suffers an agitation it can never cease. Augustine said, “You have made us for yourself, O Christ, and we are restless till we rest in thee.” Let me hasten to add, till we rest in thee totally and completely, with supreme affection and allegiance.