“No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” (Matthew 6:24)
I chose the title of this and my last post for a couple of reasons. The first reason is that I found the quotes on television that I included in my last post on John Piper’s Desiring God website. The second is that I think there is a direct correlation to the conflict of the “worldly” Christian’s attitude toward God and television, and I think that Matthew 6:24 brings this out perfectly. In fact, I believe that for many lukewarm Christians, “television” could be appropriately inserted in the place of “mammon” in this passage. I say this because television is every bit as much a worldly influence in our time as the pursuit of riches was when Jesus taught the crowds who gathered to listen to his Sermon on the Mount.
Our television sets (with their countless channels of non-stop programming) and our computers (with the seemingly limitless possibilities afforded by the Internet) have become our favorite idols. These forms of technology, impressive and powerful though they may seem, are nowhere near as impressive and powerful as the God who created us. . . and who created us to worship Him above all else. And yet these technologies provide such a powerful enticement to those of us who can afford such luxuries that the result for most of us is divided loyalties.
Do we serve and worship the living God? Or do we serve and worship worthless idols created by the hands of man? This is not an easy question to answer, and quite honestly it is one most of us would rather not ask. To answer honestly, we have to ask ourselves where do we spend the most time and the most money? Not the most time OR the most money, but the most time AND the most money.
Are we spending more time studying God’s word, gathering with our brothers and sisters in the faith, ministering to our spouses and teaching our children the Word of God, sharing the glorious gospel of Christ with unbelievers? Or are we spending more time with technology–with our television, our computer, or our cell phone?
Are we giving more money to our local church, funding missions, helping the body and those with needs? Or are we spending more money on our cell phones, dish or cable service, movie rentals, big screen TVs, video game systems, Internet service, and on-line games?
What does our time and money say we worship? These are better much better indicators than what our hearts would like to say. (Jeremiah 17:9)
Here I would like to include some comments from some of the most profound expositors of the Word to date. I have no doubt after reading what Matthew Henry and John Calvin wrote, almost 300 and 500 years ago respectively, that they would include the “television” in our modern culture with the “mammon” of Christ’s.
Matthew Henry writes in his commentary about all of the verses from 19 through 24, and the common theme of worldliness contained within them. He begins with his comments on this section with the following paragraph:
Worldly-mindedness is as common and as fatal a symptom of hypocrisy as any other, for by no sin can Satan have a surer and faster hold of the soul, under the cloak of a visible and passable profession of religion, than by this; and therefore Christ, having warned us against coveting the praise of men, proceeds next to warn us against coveting the wealth of the world; in this also we must take heed, lest we be as the hypocrites are, and do as they do: the fundamental error that they are guilty of is, that they choose the world for their reward; we must therefore take heed of hypocrisy and worldly-mindedness, in the choice we make of our treasure, our end, and our masters.
Matthew Henry goes on to say with regards to verse 24:
We must take heed of hypocrisy and worldly-mindedness in choosing the master we serve, Mat_6:24. No man can serve two masters. Serving two masters is contrary to the single eye; for the eye will be to the master’s hand, Psa_123:1, Psa_123:2. Our Lord Jesus here exposes the cheat which those put upon their own souls, who think to divide between God and the world, to have a treasure on earth, and a treasure in heaven too, to please God and please men too. Why not? says the hypocrite; it is good to have two strings to one’s bow. They hope to make their religion serve their secular interest, and so turn to account both ways. The pretending mother was for dividing the child; the Samaritans will compound between God and idols. No, says Christ, this will not do; it is but a supposition that gain is godliness, 1Ti_6:5. Here is,
1. A general maxim laid down; it is likely it was a proverb among the Jews, No man can serve two masters, much less two gods; for their commands will some time or other cross or contradict one another, and their occasions interfere. While two masters go together, a servant may follow them both; but when they part, you will see to which he belongs; he cannot love, and observe, and cleave to both as he should. If to the one, not to the other; either this or that must be comparatively hated and despised. This truth is plain enough in common cases.
2. The application of it to the business in hand. Ye cannot serve God and Mammon. Mammon is a Syriac word, that signifies gain; so that whatever in this world is, or is accounted by us to be, gain (Phi_3:7), is mammon. Whatever is in the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life, is mammon. To some their belly is their mammon, and they serve that (Phi_3:19); to others their ease, their sleep, their sports and pastimes, are their mammon (Pro_6:9); to others worldly riches (Jam_4:13); to others honours and preferments; the praise and applause of men was the Pharisees’ mammon; in a word, self, the unity in which the world’s trinity centres, sensual, secular self, is the mammon which cannot be served in conjunction with God; for if it be served, it is in competition with him and in contradiction to him. He does not say, We must not or we should not, but we cannot serve God and Mammon; we cannot love both (1Jo_2:15; Jam_4:4); or hold to both, or hold by both in observance, obedience, attendance, trust, and dependence, for they are contrary the one to the other. God says, “My son, give me thy heart.” Mammon says, “No, give it me.” God says, “Be content with such things as ye have.” Mammon says, “Grasp at all that ever thou canst. Rem, rem, quocunque modo rem – Money, money; by fair means or by foul, money.” God says, “Defraud not, never lie, be honest and just in all thy dealings.” Mammon says “Cheat thine own Father, if thou canst gain by it.” God says, “Be charitable.” Mammon says, “Hold thy own: this giving undoes us all.” God says, “Be careful for nothing.” Mammon says, “Be careful for every thing.” God says, “Keep holy thy sabbath-day.” Mammon says, “Make use of that day as well as any other for the world.” Thus inconsistent are the commands of God and Mammon, so that we cannot serve both. Let us not then halt between God and Baal, but choose ye this day whom ye will serve, and abide by our choice.
And on verse 24, Calvin expounds:
No man can serve two masters Christ returns to the former doctrine, the object of which was to withdraw his disciples from covetousness. He had formerly said, that the heart of man is bound and fixed upon its treasure; and he now gives warning, that the hearts of those who are devoted to riches are alienated from the Lord. For the greater part of men are wont to flatter themselves with a deceitful pretense, when they imagine, that it is possible for them to be divided between God and their own lusts. Christ affirms that it is impossible for any man to obey God, and, at the same time, to obey his own flesh. This was, no doubt, a proverb in common use: No man can serve two masters He takes for granted a truth which had been universally admitted, and applies it to his present subject: where riches hold the dominion of the heart, God has lost his authority. True, it is not impossible that those who are rich shall serve God; but whoever gives himself up as a slave to riches must abandon the service of God: for covetousness makes us the slaves of the devil.
I have inserted here what is related on a different occasion by Luke: for, as the Evangelists frequently introduce, as opportunity offers, passages of our Lord’s discourses out of their proper order, we ought to entertain no scruple as to the arrangement of them. What is here said with a special reference to riches, may be properly extended to every other description of vice. As God pronounces everywhere such commendations of sincerity, and hates a double heart, (1Ch_12:23,) all are deceived, who imagine that he will be satisfied with the half of their heart. All, indeed, confess in words, that, where the affection is not entire, there is no true worship of God: but they deny it in fact, when they attempt to reconcile contradictions. “I shall not cease,” says an ambitious man, “to serve God, though I devote a great part of my mind to hunting after honors.” The covetous, the voluptuaries, the gluttons, the unchaste, the cruel, all in their turn offer the same apology for themselves: as if it were possible for those to be partly employed in serving God, who are openly carrying on war against him. It is, no doubt, true, that believers themselves are never so perfectly devoted to obedience to God, as not to be withdrawn from it by the sinful desires of the flesh. But as they groan under this wretched bondage, and are dissatisfied with themselves, and give nothing more than an unwilling and reluctant service to the flesh, they are not said to serve two masters: for their desires and exertions are approved by the Lord, as if they rendered to him a perfect obedience. But this passage reproves the hypocrisy of those who flatter themselves in their vices, as if they could reconcile light and darkness.
Both Calvin and Henry rightly point out that indeed, the issue the Lord is driving at here is not just our attitude toward money, but toward anything which we will give our hearts when they rightly belong to God. It could be any of the “riches” or “pleasures” our society enjoys.
What passions do you pursue that consume your time and your mind that pertain not to God? What are you attempting to gain or derive your pleasure from? Insert this then in the place of “mammon” and ask yourself: Who or what do I serve? And who or what do I worship?