First Mennonite Church
September 6, 2020
We Can Only Have One Master
Text: Matthew 6:19-21; 24-34
Matthew chapters five, six, and seven are what is known as the Sermon of the Mount. Besides the Beatitudes, Jesus also addresses interpersonal relations: anger, adultery, divorce, making oaths, loving the neighbor and even the enemy. Jesus then proceeds with issues related to religious practices: giving alms, prayer, fasting, and forgiveness.
In this section of chapter six, Jesus turns to issues that overtake the human heart, either the quest to serve God or to acquire wealth. The quest to serve God leads the person to a very specific way of life, a life of reverence before God, love for what is holy, a conscious use of time and resources, and besides those is the perspective of the world through a different set of lenses. A heart whose quest is to attain wealth also has a particular way of being. It is self-centered, therefore, the person goes through life seizing every opportunity, licit or illicit, to hoard material possessions. It goes through life with an insatiable appetite for pleasure and for everything money can buy. But most prominent in the life of those who seek wealth is their avoidance of religion because it reminds them that there is more to life than the material world. Religion also reminds them that life has an end and everything earthly will stay behind. But above all, religion also tells them that everyone will have to give an account to God about how they have lived their lives.
Therefore, sandwiched between Jesus’ commandment against hoarding of earthly riches and against worrying for material needs, Jesus makes two unambiguous assertions: (1) “no one can serve two masters,” and (2) “no one can serve God and wealth” at the same time. The truth of assertion number one is pretty obvious. It is difficult, if not impossible, to give your full attention to two demanding overlords at the same time. It is impossible to please two masters competing for the heart.
On the other hand, the veracity of assertion number two, regarding the impossibility of serving God and wealth, is debatable, at least that seems to be the common attitude. Often times, even Jesus’ followers try to prove they can serve God and wealth, despite Jesus’ saying the contrary. Jesus’ disciples will be faced with two forces demanding their loyalty: God and Mammon—the Aramaic word for wealth. You and I are confronted with two options to choose from: serve God or serve wealth. You see, we live in a place called, “The land of opportunity.” And by “opportunity” it is meant, the possibility of climbing the economic ladder, acquiring wealth, and of attaining financial security by our own wit and strength. “Opportunity” here does not mean to give, to help others, or to serve God. Land of opportunity means a place where people can pursue whatever they define as their source of happiness and security. Thus, they work their entire lives to achieve financial security, go after pleasure, and get whatever money can afford them.
This is the world we live in. How many times have we not heard that we live in the land of opportunity? Therefore, how can we as followers of Jesus overcome the temptation of placing our lives on the altar of Mammon? How can we consciously live in this “Land of opportunity” without succumbing to the temptation of serving Mammon?
Jesus answers this question for us in verse 33. Strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. The dictionary defines “strive” in the following way: to devote serious effort or energy towards a goal. To struggle forward despite the opposition. That means that Jesus was very clear about the challenges his disciples would face in their quest to serve God. To be in God’s kingdom or to seek God’s righteousness does not come by easily or naturally. We have to push forward, make a deliberate effort, and keep out attention focused on the will of God. To seek the kingdom of God means to discern what God wants us to do even in what we might consider the mundane things in life. Jesus is very specific and practical on this issue, according to verses 19-21. “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal;but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Jesus’ command to strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness does not mean we are not to work or prepare for the future. Rather, God wants us to align our lives to his will. God does provide for the birds, but obviously they have to go out to find their worm and seed to eat. In Proverbs, Solomon gives this advice:
Go to the ant, you lazybones;
consider its ways, and be wise.
7 Without having any chief
or officer or ruler,
8 it prepares its food in summer,
and gathers its sustenance in harvest (Proverbs 6:6-8).
Therefore, it is not only a wise thing to prepare for the rainy days, it is God’s will that we do that.
Paul also has a word of advice: And whoever does not provide for relatives, and especially for family members, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever (1Timothy 5:8).
Therefore Jesus is not saying that having money is the problem. God wants us to provide for our families. God wants us to prepare for the future as much as we can. In fact, Paul says the following: As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. 18 They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, 19 thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life (1Timothy 6:17-19).
God gives us everything for our enjoyment. God give us so that we can do good works. God gives us so we can share with the less fortunate and for God’s work, through the church.
God is not against having money. What Jesus was warning against is the greed that can grow in the heart. Or as Paul says again in 1Timothy: But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains. (1:9-10).
One major problem with greed is that it makes its victims to live a worried life. And again, this is what Jesus says about worry: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? 28 And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ 32 For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.
There are two problems with worrying, Jesus says. The first is that it does not help at all. You cannot add an inch to your stature nor extend your lifespan by an hour by worrying. It is useless to worry Jesus says. The second problem with worrying is that it shows lack of faith in God who created us. He is our Maker and he will see that we have what is necessary, not only to survive, but often times, even to give and help others and for our enjoyment, as Paul says.
You cannot serve God and wealth, Jesus says. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Let us love God, not only with our minds and strength, but also with our heart. The things that occupy us daily require mental and physical engagement. We work with our hands and our mind must remain focused on what we are doing in the work place. Idolatry is when not only our mind and body are dedicated to what we do, but also our heart. Jesus say that we must love God with our mind, strength and soul—the heart. However, if we are not conscious about how we love God, we risk loving God only with our mind and strength. Ancient Israel was condemned for having that kind of religion. God says in Isaiah:
“These people come near to me with their mouth
and honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
Their worship of me
is based on merely human rules they have been taught (Isaiah 29:13).
Let us be mindful to love God with our mind, strength, and our heart. Let us keep our heart dedicated first to God and his righteousness. For where our treasure is, there our heart will be also. God has created us with the capacity of giving our full allegiance to only one master. Let us give our heart only to God. Amen!