by John Thomas Lowe
Sermon on the Mount - Matthew 6:24 (Two Masters)
24 "No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.
No one can serve two masters, particularly those whose orders are directly contrary to one another: otherwise, if they were the same or both agreed, both might be served, but this is rarely the case and seldom done. This is a familiar expression used by Christ in Luke 16:13 – "No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money." The Jews have sayings pretty much like it, and of the same sense:
"We have not found that 'any man is fit for two tables.'"
Moreover, "that it is not proper for one man to have two governments."
Their meaning is that two things cannot be done together (at the same time), for either he will hate the one and love the other; he will have less affection and regard for the one than for the other; as the service or orders of the one, are less agreeable to him than the others; or else he will serve the one; hearken to his commands, obey his orders, and abide in his service; and despise the other; show disrespect to his person, neglect his orders, and desert his service: ye cannot serve God and Mammon. The word "mammon" is a Syriac word and signifies money, wealth, riches, substance, and everything that comes under the name of worldly goods. Jerom says that riches, in the Syriac language, are called "mammon,"; and so the word is often used in the above senses, in the Chaldee paraphrases, and the Talmudic writings; were "financial judgments," or causes relating to money affairs, in which were monetary transactions, as opposed to, the "judgment of souls," or causes relating to life and death. The account and interpretation Irenaeus gives of the word is very wide and foreign; who says that
"Mammon, according to the Jewish way of speaking, which the Samaritans used, is greedy and would have more than he ought; but, according to the Hebrew language, it is called Mam, and signifies one that is gluttonous; that is, who cannot refrain himself from gluttony."
Whereas it is not a Hebrew word, nor is it procedural, but practical, and signifies riches; which are opposed to God, being by some men loved, admired, trusted in, and worshipped, as if they were God; and which is incompatible with the service of the true God: for such persons, whose hearts go after their covetousness, and are set upon earthly riches, who give up themselves to them, are eagerly and anxiously pursuing after them, and place their confidence in them; whatever pretensions they may make to the service of God, as did the Scribes and Pharisees, who are particularly struck at by this expression, both here and elsewhere, they cannot honestly and heartily serve the Lord. "Mammon" is the God they serve, which word may well be thought to answer to Pluto, the God of riches, among the Heathens. The Jews, in Christ's time, were notorious for the love of "mammon," and they own that this was the cause of the destruction of the second temple: the character they give of those, who lived under the second temple, is this:
"We know that they labored in the law and took care of the commandments and the tithes and that their whole conversation was good; only they "loved the mammon" and hated one another without a cause." God or Mammon, not both together, will be the ruling power with him.
Mammon. — The word means in Syriac "money" or "riches" and is used in this sense in Luke 16:9. It frequently occurs in the Chaldee Targum, but no word resembling it is found in the Hebrew of the Old Testament. In the fourth century, Jerome found it in use in Syria and Augustine in the Punic dialect of his native country. There is no ground for believing that it ever became the name of any deity who, like the Plutus of the Greeks, was worshipped as the God of wealth. Here, there is an approach to a personification to contrast the service or worship of money with that which is due to God. Milton's description of Mammon among the fallen angels is a development of the same thought.
Worldly-mindedness is a common and fatal symptom of hypocrisy, for by no sin can Satan have a surer and faster hold of the soul under the cloak of a profession of religion. The soul will have something that it looks upon as the best thing; it has pleasure and confidence above other things. Christ counsels us to make our best things the joys and glories of the other world, those things not seen which are eternal, and to place our happiness in them.
There are treasures in heaven. It is happiness above and beyond the changes and chances of time, an inheritance incorruptible. It is our wisdom to give all diligence to make our title to eternal life sure through Jesus Christ, and to look on all things below, as not worthy to be compared with it, and to be content with nothing short of it. The worldly man is wrong in his first principle; therefore, all his reasonings and actions from that place must be wrong. It is equally to be applied to false religion; that which is deemed light is thick darkness. This is an awful but typical case; we should, therefore, carefully examine our leading principles by the word of God, with earnest prayer for the teaching of his Spirit.
A man may do some service to two masters, but he can devote himself to the service of no more than one. God requires the whole heart and will not share it with the world. When two masters oppose each other, no man can serve both. He who holds to the world and loves it must despise God; he who loves God must give up the world's friendship.