The Sermon On The Mount
"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. Ye cannot serve God and mammon"
Those who have read attentively the last few chapters of this series will scarcely need for us to point out the relation of this verse to the context. Its connection is obvious almost at a glance. All through this part of His sermon Christ was separating the precious from the vile, drawing a sharp line between the true and the false. He had discriminated between the two worshippers-the genuine and the hypocrite. He had distinguished between the two treasures-earthly and heavenly. He had differentiated between the two eyes or wisdoms-the single and the evil. Now He opposes the two masters-setting God over against mammon. Herein He teaches the ministers of His Word a most important lesson: that of drawing so clearly the line of demarcation between the regenerate and unregenerate, the possessor and the mere professor, that each hearer may have no difficulty in knowing which side of the line he belongs on. It is the general lack of such searching ministry, the substituting of superficial generalities, which is bolstering up formalists and encouraging multitudes in a vain hope.
But there is yet a closer link of connection between our present verse and those more immediately preceding it. As we pointed out in the introductory paragraphs of chapter twenty-eight (page 185), verse 19 to the end of chapter 6, our Lord's design was to turn the hearts of His hearers from a spirit of covetousness or setting their affections upon the things of time and sense: first He delivered the prohibition and commandment, and then amplified and enforced the same by a variety of cogent reasons. Those reasons so far as we have yet gone may be summed up thus: Make not material things thy chief good, because earthly treasure is of a perishing nature: moth, rust, and thieves of various kinds depleting it in spite of all precaution. Because earthly treasure captures the heart: men argue that it need not do so, but the Son of God declares it will (v. 21). Because its pursuit ends in darkness: people suppose that wealth brings light or happiness, but instead it ends in darkness and misery (vv. 22, 23). Because it will enslave us: if God be not our Master, the world and its representative, mammon, will be.
More immediately, verse 24 may be regarded as Christ's refutation of a second objection which the carnal heart of man is fond of making against the commandments He has laid down in verses 19 and 20. There He had forbidden the treasuring up of worldly riches and had commanded the seeking of heavenly treasure. First, He had anticipated the objection, if there be such an urgent necessity of laying up treasure in heaven and abstaining from the laying up of treasures on earth, why is it that the vast majority of men, including the shrewdest and best educated, bend their energies to the seeking of earthly treasure rather than heavenly? He bids His hearers to marvel not nor be stumbled by this, seeing that the unregenerate lack a sound or single eye and therefore are incapable of judging aright of the true riches. Here in our text He refutes the common persuasion that it is possible for us to seek both, and lay up for ourselves treasures on earth and treasure in heaven as well. Men think to compound with God and the world, dividing their affections and energies between them; but Christ here exposes the utter fallacy of such an idea and the impossibility of such a course.
Once again we must bear in mind the fact that our Lord was addressing Himself more immediately to His Jewish hearers and reprehending their false conceptions of His kingdom. They entertained certain vague notions of happiness in a future regime under the Messiah, but their minds were mainly engrossed with dreams of carnal prosperity, supposing that the expectation of worldly aggrandizement and spiritual happiness were quite consistent. Our Lord informs them of their mistake: they needed to "repent" of this also-undergo a radical change of mind. But it is not the Jews only who are infected with this delusion: it is common to the Gentiles also. In every age there are multitudes who fondly hope that though they seek their happiness in earthly objects, yet it is possible for them, at the same time, to secure the enjoyment of heavenly felicity. The hypocrite has ever argued that it is well to have two strings to one's bow, but Christ here exposes this cheat and demonstrates the impossibility of the human heart being divided between God and the world.
He who has his eye partly on God and partly on self, who desires and endeavors to grasp both worlds, deceives his own soul. Such a one is in danger of losing both, and if he does not he will certainly miss the kingdom of God. Our minds must be fixed supremely upon God in Christ, and the world sought only in strict subservience to Him. Our hearts must he given to the Lord, wholly or without reserve, and the eyes of our soul he fixed upon Him alone. Here, then, is the reason why spiritual blindness must inevitably be our portion unless both our eyes are fixed steadfastly on a heavenly Object: a man's affections cannot be divided; if he attempts to love the things of the world as well as love God, he will certainly fail of the latter, for "the friendship of the world is enmity with God: whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world, is the enemy of God" (Jam. 4:4). The serving of two masters is absolutely opposed to the single eye, for the eye will be at the master's hand: "Unto Thee lift I up mine eyes, O Thou that dwellest in the heavens. Behold, as the eves of servants look unto the hand of their masters, and as the eyes of a maiden unto the hand of her mistress; so our eyes wait upon the Lord our God, until that He have mercy upon us" (Ps. 123:1, 2).
The endeavor to lay up for ourselves both treasure upon earth and treasure in heaven is an utter impossibility, for "no man can serve two masters." But to seek both earthly and heavenly riches is an attempt to serve two masters, to wit, God and mammon; and therefore no man can seek them both. Proof of this is here set forth by Christ by the effect of such attempts to serve, in contrary affections and behavior: "For either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will hold to the one and despise the other." The conclusion therefore is unmistakable: "ye cannot serve God and mammon." To "serve God" is the same thing as to "lay up treasure in heaven," for by a Divine appointment true happiness is to be found only there, and He who has made this appointment has also ordained certain means by which we may attain unto this happiness. He who makes the attainment of this happiness, by the appointed means, the chief object in life is the servant of God-for he does the will of God. Contrariwise, to "serve mammon" is the same thing as to "lay up treasure on earth."
"No man can serve two masters." The force of our Lord's declaration is more apparent in the Greek than it is here in the English. First, the word "serve" does not signify to do an occasional act of obedience, but to he a bondservant, a slave, the property of his master, constantly and entirely subject to his will. No one can thus serve two masters. The same Greek word occurs in, "Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin" (Rom. 6:6). It is also found in "but now we are delivered from the law [as a covenant of works], being dead to that wherein we were held, that we should serve in newness of spirit" (Rom. 7:6). Second, there are two different words in the Greek which both mean "other," but the one signifies another of the same kind or order, while the second denotes another of an entirely different genus or sort. When Christ here declared, "No man can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one, and love the other," He employed the latter term-signifying a master diametrically opposed to the other. Therefore it is evident that no one can be devoted unto two different and opposing masters.
"A man may be a servant to two masters in succession, even although they should be of very different and directly opposite characters. A man may serve two masters of opposite characters-the one in profession, the other in reality. A man may serve two masters unequally-occasionally doing an act of service to the one while he usually, habitually, serves the other. A man may serve two or more masters, if they are all on one side, all subordinate to one another: a soldier may serve his king and at the same time his commanding officer and his inferior officers, for in obeying them he is obeying his prince; but no man can be at the same time, in reality, habitually the servant of two masters who are hostile to each other, and whose interests are entirely incompatible. In this sense our Lord says, 'Ye cannot serve God and mammon'" (Jay).
"No man can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one"-that is, the master commanding him, disliking that he should be his master, and displeased with his orders-"and love the other"-that is, the master in whom he takes delight and with whose orders he is well pleased. "Or else he will hold to the one and despise the other," which words are an amplification and application of the former clause, showing how it is made manifest that a servant hates one master and loves the other. His holding to-leaning toward and cleaving unto-the one declares his love unto him: that is, he applies himself to respecting his master's pleasure and doing his commandments. And his "despising the other" denotes his hatred-seen in his having no regard to his master's will. Thus our Lord shows the impracticability and impossibility of any man seeking to serve two opposing masters from the contrary affections and behavior exercised by the servant.
"Ye cannot serve God and mammon." Mammon is a Syriac word which denotes "riches," or as men term them, the good things of this world. But it is evident that the word is used as a personification: one can scarcely be said to serve inanimate things. Moreover, the figure used here is that of "two masters," and as mammon is here opposed to God, we must understand it to signify the god of riches, the Prince of this world and the love of the world-its treasures and pleasures-which is really the service of Satan. As, then, it is impossible to serve "two masters," how much less two gods! "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him" (1 John 2:15). The influence which material riches exert upon men's minds and affections, leading them to seek happiness in them and moving them to devote their time and energies to the acquiring of the same, indicate the fearful power of this prince or master, and their yielding to that influence is the "service" which multitudes render unto him. How utterly incompatible, then, are the obtaining of heavenly happiness and the means thereto, and the seeking of earthly happiness and the efforts put forth to secure the same.
"Their orders are diametrically opposed. The one commands you to walk by faith, the other to walk by sight; the one to be humble, the other to be proud; the one to set your affections on things above, the other to set them on the things that are on the earth; the one to look at the things unseen and eternal, the other to look at the things seen and temporal; the one to have your conversation in heaven, the other to cleave to the dust; the one to be careful for nothing, the other to be all anxiety; the one to be content with such things as ye have, the other to enlarge your desires as hell; the one to be ready to distribute, the other to withhold; the one to look at the things of others, the other to look only at one's own things; the one to seek happiness in the Creator, the other to seek happiness in the creature. Is it not plain there is no serving two such masters? If you love the one, you must hate the other; if you cleave to the one, you must despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon" (Jay).
From our text we may perceive clearly what it is to serve God. This is a thing much spoken of, but little known, and practiced still less. To serve God is to "love" Him and to "hold to" or "cleave unto" Him. Alas, how very few out of the present-day multitudes who profess to serve God manifest these marks! Love to God consists not of words and lip patronage, but in deed and in truth. And it is to be carefully noted that in this verse Christ insists God must be loved not only as Father, but as He is a Lord and "Master," that is, commanding us. It is in His Word, especially in the preceptive parts thereof, that His will and pleasure are made known. It is there He has revealed the service which He requires at our hands, and if our service be sincere and genuine we must love God in His right of commanding, even though He should bestow no reward upon us. The Lord God has Himself expressly joined these two things together: "showing mercy unto thousands of them that love Me and keep My commandments" (Ex. 20:6). David exemplified this principle very clearly in Psalm 119: "I will delight myself in Thy commandments, which I have loved" (v. 47 and see vv. 16, 54, 97, 127, 140, 159, 167).
Moreover, our text makes it crystal clear that if we are to serve God acceptably it must be a wholehearted service that we render to Him. He is a jealous God, and will brook no rival. He is a holy God, and will tolerate no idols in the secret chambers of our souls. His demand is stated in unmistakable language: "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might" (Deut. 6:5), and nothing short of that will satisfy Him: let it be duly noted that the Lord Jesus insisted on no less in Matthew 22:37. He who serves God must serve Hun singly, and his eye must be "single." God requires all our affections and will not permit us to divide them between Him and the world. Caleb could say, "I wholly followed the Lord my God" (Joshua 14:8)- can we? David declared, "I will keep Thy precepts with my whole heart" (Ps. 119:69)-is such our resolution? Or must the Lord say of us, "They have not wholly followed Me" (Num. 32:11).
Furthermore, our text makes it plain that if we "serve" God acceptably we must "hold to" or "cleave unto" Him, and thereby testify our love. What is meant by cleaving to Him? This is answered for us in Luke 15, where we are told of the prodigal son that he "joined himself to a citizen of that country" (v. 15), which means that he resigned and gave himself up to his service: so to cleave unto God is for a man to resign himself unto His service, obeying all His commands and embracing all His promises, not suffering himself to be drawn away from any Divine precept, either by unbelief or disobedience, even though all the world should set itself against him. This was the policy of David: "I have stuck unto Thy testimonies: O Lord." "Then shall I not be ashamed, when I have respect unto all Thy commandments" (Ps. 119:31, 6). On the contrary, when a man leans unto his own understanding, follows the corrupt desires of his heart, gives place to self-pleasing, or takes "the way of the heathen" (Jer. 10:2), he departs from and despises the Lord, and if that be the general trend of his conduct it is clear that he hates God, no matter what he professes by his lips to the contrary (see Titus 1:16).
From what has been before us we may clearly perceive the gross blindness and superstitious ignorance of the world. How many there are in this so-called Christian land and day of enlightenment who think that if they repeat the Lord's Prayer and the Apostles' Creed they serve God well, let their lives be never so worldly and carnal. But Christ here teaches us that in order to serve God acceptably we must cleave unto Him both in the affections of our hearts and in the activities of obedience of our lives. Thus did Abraham, the father of all them that believe, for when God called him to leave the land of his nativity he "went out not knowing whither he went"; and when the Lord bade him slay his well-beloved Isaac, he promptly proceeded to do so. Alas, Christendom is filled with atheists, for to hate and despise God is rank atheism, and all who withdraw their hearts from God, setting themselves to seek the things of this world to the neglect of obedience to the Divine commandments, are here accounted by Christ the despisers and haters of God, which is the very worst form of atheism.
From the fact that God and mammon are here opposed as two "masters," we may learn that "mammon," that is earthly riches, is a great lord in the world, and therefore does Christ warn us against the same. If it be asked, How can riches be a master or god? the answer is, They are not so in themselves, being merely creatures, but the corrupt hearts of men make an idol of such unto themselves. setting their love and delight upon them, and trusting in them more than in God: for this reason is covetousness called idolatry (Col. 3:5), and the covetous person an idolator (Eph. 5:5). Whatever a man sets his heart upon, making it his true happiness, that is his lord and god. Proof that men do set up riches in their hearts as idols, and so become servants unto that which should serve them, appears in the following facts: they neglect the service of God for lucre and take greater delight in earthly things than in heavenly graces: they derive more satisfaction from them than from Divine ordinances: their loss of earthly goods produces greater vexation and sorrow than all the Divine promises produce comfort.
Herein we may perceive the dreadful state into which Christendom has fallen, for the vast majority in it are plainly worshippers of mammon. They are far more eager and diligent in their quest after worldly gain than they are for personal piety and conformity to the image of Christ. A spirit of covetousness possesses State and Church alike. Greedy landlords (and landladies), profiteering merchants, the cornering of commodities, on the one hand; discontented laborers, ever demanding higher wages and more and more of the luxuries of life, on the other: the rich hoarding up wealth and the poor insisting that it be divided among them are sad witnesses to the idolatry which now reigns supreme in the hearts of men. And God's professing people are infected with the same evil spirit: the denying of self and living as strangers and pilgrims here is a thing of the past, as their extravagantly furnished homes and richly laden tables only too plainly attest. And, worst of all, the rising generation of preachers, with their motor-cars and elaborately furnished parsonages and manses, are giving a lead to this wicked self-indulgence and mammon worship.
Is there any wonder, then, that the judgments of an angry God are now falling so heavily upon us? Judgment began first at the house of God: a grieved Spirit withdrew, and His power and unction are now noticeably absent from the preaching of the Word. But instead of God's people humbling themselves beneath His mighty hand, repenting of and forsaking their sins, they have in large measure "lived in pleasure on the earth and been wanton" (Jam. 5:5). Read Amos 6:1, 3-6, and see if the extravagance of Israel has not been duplicated in Christendom: and as God's wrath was poured out on them, so it is now being poured out on us. Many scores of church buildings and hundreds of the homes of rich and poor alike have been reduced to rubble and ashes. Why? Why has God so visited us? Because He will not be mocked with impunity. For the last fifty years Christendom has attempted to serve both God and mammon: and having sown the wind, God is now making us reap the whirlwind. "He that hath ears to hear, let him hear."