You cannot serve God and Mammon

By Rick Kirk

In the book of Matthew chapter 6 and verse 24 (Mt 6:24), Jesus said at the sermon on the mount, that  “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.” He was summarizing what He had said earlier, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Mt 6:19-21).

One of the biggest challenges to man is the issue of mammon that can be the master of lives. Mammon is treasures, wealth and riches where it is personified and opposed to God (Thayer’s definition). Jesus is aware of the difficulty of mankind who may be caught in between the treasures of the heart and a heart yearning for God. 

A young man had kept the commandments: “’You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not bear false witness,’ ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (Mt 19:18-19). And when he persisted in wanting to be complete in his good work, he was advised to “Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me” (Mk 10:21). The young man “was sad at this word, and went away sorrowful, because he had great possessions” (Mk 10:22). Jesus observed in Mt 19:23-24 that “it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. And that it is “easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God,” though it is not impossible for “with God all things are possible” (Mt 19:26).

James, the brother of Jesus Christ, stressed in his letter in James chapter 5:1-6 that the rich ought to reflect on their wicked and wasteful ways as impending destruction is nigh. The wicked rich were fraudulently reaping their wealth by not paying their workers or withholding the salaries and not paying on time. They had exploited the poor who were powerless. They had used the ill-gotten gains to serve themselves only, when the needy and destitute were neglected and suffering. 

God will always have compassion for the poor and the helplessly oppressed. He commands employers to be just and fair (Col 4:1). They are never to exploit workers (Mal 3:5) and to ensure the wages for the work done is paid on time (Lev 19:13; Deut 24:14-15). 

The rich who are exploitative, self-serving and covetous are condemned. Throughout history, God has greatly blessed some of the righteous men with great possessions – Job, Abraham, Joseph, David, Solomon of the Old Testament and Barnabas, Philemon and Lydia in the New Testament. King Solomon was not only the wisest man before and after his time, but also the richest ever (1 Kg 3:12-13). However, we are warned in 1 Tim 6:9-10 that “they that will (seeking to) be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.”

It would therefore be wise of us to be cautious in how we acquire our wealth and use it. 

We ought to be vigilant for the deceitfulness of riches that choke the word, and we become unfruitful (Mt 13:22) and erred from the faith. When we start to think that money will solve all our problems, we will be described like “the man who did not make God his strength, but trusted in the abundance of his riches, and strengthened himself in his wickedness” (Ps 52:7). In 1 Tim 6:17-19, Paul told Timothy to “Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy. Let them do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share, storing up for themselves a good foundation for the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life.”

Jesus also counselled His disciples to “take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses” (Lk12:15). The parable following clearly exhorted us against the sin of covetousness when a certain rich man found himself with a bumper crop and was happy toward himself. Luke recorded the parable in Lk 12:17-19 when the self-centered rich man said ‘What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?’ So he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.” It was a tale with a sad ending when he was not able to eat, drink and be merry for God decided that that night his soul will be required of him (Lk 12:20).

Our love, faith and loyalty to God will be tested when we trust in uncertain riches (Lk 16:13-14). Worse still, we may even scoff and despise our Heavenly Father. The deceitfulness of riches is real and will be a temptation and snare that lead to destruction and perdition (1 Tim 6:9-10). It can lead us to think that we are more capable and powerful than the Creator. Such was the warning Moses gave to the people of Israel as they moved towards the promised land of milk and honey (Deut 8:10-18). Pride and complacency have no place in our daily walk when we seek to live a life that pleases God. Remember that it is the blessing of the LORD that makes one rich (Prov 10:22).

Let us always be rich toward God (Lk 12:21). 

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